This singing Yellow-headed Blackbird seems to point the way to Malheur NWR, Oregon. Photographed near Hines, Oregon on 28 May, 2010 by Greg Gillson.
Many birders in the Pacific NW make an annual pilgrimage to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon. This gem of the wildlife refuge system is one of the top refuges for birds in the Pacific NW. Indeed, this refuge usually appears in lists of the best birding hotspots for refuges nationwide.
Thousands of Snow Geese, Ross's Geese, and Sandhill Cranes stage here during migration in April, feeding here before taking the final northward leap. The John Scharff Migratory Bird Festival offers field trips to see the concentrations of these birds present then, and even offers trips to see Sage Grouse on their strutting grounds.
Late September and early October have pleasant weather, and fewer biting insects. The road up the 9000 foot elevation of the Steens Mountain may allow you to view Black Rosy Finches at the summit and perhaps Bighorn Sheep.
But for many regional birders, Memorial Day weekend in late May is "Malheur Day weekend." Hundreds of birders spread out at the many ponds, creeks, and oases from Burns in the north to the Nevada border some 150 road miles to the south. Besides the numerous spring breeders, myriads of migrants pass through the Great Basin on their way north and stop where they can find water in this region. Not a small number of birders daily search each favored birding site such as Refuge Headquarters, Benson Pond, Frenchglen, and the Fields oasis, searching for rare vagrants.
It should be noted that Malheur Refuge actually begins about 30 miles south of Burns, and continues to Frenchglen, about 40 miles further south. From there it is a 75 mile drive to the tiny town of Fields and its oasis. However, once one leaves Burns and heads south, birds are abundant in the fields and ponds and "Malheur" birding has begun.
My wife, Marlene, and I went to Malheur this past Memorial Day weekend, May 28-31. I took over 600 photos of birds, which I will eventually whittle down to a hundred or so. Over the next several weeks I will try to show daily a new bird species of Malheur and talk a little about the land and the birding in this amazing place.
[Click to read all Memorial Day weekend at Malheur posts.]