The first dusting of snow covered this old shed near Redmond, Oregon. Winter is on its way to the High Desert!
The first dusting of snow covered this old shed near Redmond, Oregon. Winter is on its way to the High Desert!
Like the rest of you out there, I’ve been spending a lot of time at home. This week I’m featuring photos taken in a High Desert yard near Bend, Oregon.
If your gaze is focused downward lately, look at the elements of earth in a new light. This layer cake rock is interesting in color and form.
As your gaze moves up, notice the textures you may have overlooked. The multilayered bark of juniper trees always catches my attention.
Though we can’t be together right now, we get the opportunity to watch those who can. These Eurasian collared doves are sharing a tender moment.
We can smile at those taking advantage of the situation. These two mule deer bucks are pausing to share a drink while my dogs are inside.
And when all seems bleak, we may be rewarded by lightness at the end of the day. Spectacular sunsets are a surprise worth waiting for.
If we keep looking up, things should get better. In a High Desert yard, this splash of color emerged after a dark storm – a special gift from Mother Nature. 😀
In the morning light
Fireworks light up the fall sky
When the day breaks bright
We find our comfortable place
Basking in its warmth
In the light of day
Our differences stand out
Yet we share our songs
In the morning light
Snow melts from prickly branches
Revealing warm hearts
We have a water feature in our yard so we have lots of backyard birding adventures. This summer I bought a special mount to take digital pictures through my spotting scope. This process is referred to as “digiscoping.” Unfortunately, many of the pictures I first took turned out blurry. I’m having much better luck with my brand new mount.
Here’s a photo of one of our California scrub-jays taken with my Google Pixel phone. Isn’t it a beautiful bird?
I used my point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix camera for this one. It was a little tricky to hold it in place on the mount. This a European starling and an American robin.
We get tons of robins at this time of the year and they chase other birds away.
This image is blurry but it captures a frequent visitor, a robin, next to an infrequent one, an evening grosbeak. Glad I got a quick glimpse of the grosbeak!
Here’s another infrequent visitor, a hermit thrush, and, you guessed it! – a robin. Five different thrushes are in our yard at this time of year.
Mountain chickadees are a common visitor.
Lesser goldfinches are also common. Here’s a group shot of these little lemon-colored birds next to a house finch. We also see American goldfinches occasionally.
Dark-eyed junco are frequent visitors. They aren’t afraid of the robins.
The pygmy nuthatches are a bit more shy.
The house finches, on the left, and northern flickers, on the right, are not shy at all.
One day I took a lot of pictures through the spotting scope (with the old mount) that didn’t turn out great. Google turned them into a GIF and I like how it turned out. It gives you an idea of how fast these birds actually move. 😀
I’ll share more of my backyard birding adventures as I get better at taking pictures through the scope.
Last summer we took a trip to southeastern Oregon where we saw the brilliance of the desert.
Contrasting colors atop 9,733-ft Steens Mountain.
Colorful soils rounding a bend.
Rabbitbrush in bloom near Big Indian Gorge.
Mountain mahogany trees growing on a ridgetop.
Some think of deserts as dull and boring. However, if you look at things in a different way, you’ll witness the brilliance of the desert.
Shooting stars up close. Wildflowers blooming on Glass Buttes in the High Desert of Oregon.
I have been busy filling up space and time by creating a High Desert mural. I recently posted more details on creating my Outdoor Pronghorn Painting. This weekend I added three additional paintings to the mural.
As I mentioned in my post about the pronghorn painting, I use photos I have taken and other sources to do my first sketches. I like to refer back to field guides and set them up for easy viewing.
Creamy white paint is painted onto each piece to make the colors stand out. Here are the three back painted pieces.
Once I start applying the colors, the piece of paper I use for cleaning my brushes and trying out color mixes becomes a work of art.
Why did I choose these specific critters? They are all characters in books I’m working on. I once heard an author speak about surrounding himself with “artifacts” his characters use while he is writing. I’m displaying some of my characters so that I’ll see them every day, even on the days I’m frustrated with writing and revising.
Black-billed magpies are one of my favorite local birds. In my work-in-progress book, the magpie character is named a Chinese word that means “bright.” They are very intelligent birds.
The golden-mantled ground squirrel helps save the day in the book she is featured in. Her name means “green” in Spanish because she is the protector of green petrified wood.
The American badger is featured as a secondary character and is also featured in a fable. Though unnamed, the badgers are important characters.
I particularly liked how this painting turned out – especially the eye. This badger is guarding some of the rocks featured in my I like rocks! post.
With the addition of these three animals, my High Desert mural is complete. Well… at least until I come up with another idea for a book. 😉
Lens- Artists Photo Challenge (LAPC) – Creativity in the time of Covid
Here’s a photo of ice plants up close from my garden near Bend, Oregon. I always look forward to seeing their bright, long lasting blooms.
You may have heard of this plant referred to in the classic western, Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey. But did you know purple sage is not actually in the sagebrush family? It’s a type of sage in the mint family, Lamiaceae, and one of its common names is “mint sage.” If you crush the leaves in your hand you’ll be able to tell why.
I’ve seen purple sage, Salvia dorrii, in various high desert locations in eastern Oregon. Gray Butte, just northeast of Smith Rock, is a great place to see this native shrub in full bloom.
Purple sage grows in the western United States and northwestern Arizona, south to the Mojave Desert. It grows on open slopes, flats, or foothill areas receiving 7-15 inches of annual precipitation. This shrub grows in low to high elevations in sandy, rocky, and limestone soils. It often grows in stands of sagebrush and in pinyon-juniper habitats.
This plant is a semi-evergreen shrub that grows to a height of 1-3 feet and a width of 2-4 feet. Its narrow, grey-green leaves are rounded at the tips. The flowers are purple and dark blue and they appear in spike-like clusters. Purple sage blooms from May through June. Their gray to red-brown fruit is 1/8 inch or smaller.
Purple sage can be grown in gardens. This plant grows in full sun and has very low water requirements. Purple sage is propagated by seeds, dividing the plants in early spring, or taking cuttings of new growth. It attracts bees, butterflies, and birds, including hummingbirds. This shrub is deer and rabbit resistant. Purple sage grows in USDA plant hardiness zones 4b through 10a. That includes areas with an average annual extreme minimum temperature of -30 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Native Americans made use of this plant throughout its range. Stems and leaves of purple sage were used as a cure for colds by the Kawasiiu, Paiute, Shoshoni, Okanagan-Colville, and Washoe tribes. They also applied poultices to the chest, smoked the dried leaves, and made steam baths from parts of the plant. It was used in various forms to treat headaches, stomachaches, fever, influenza, pneumonia, gonorrhea, swollen leg veins, eye problems, and general illness. Hopi, Kumai, and Paipai used this sage to treat epilepsy, headaches, stomachaches, and other conditions. The Kawasiiu people threw it into the fire to ward off ghosts.
Fun Fact: The genus name of this plant, Salvia, comes from the Latin word salveo. It means “Be well/ in good health.”
These wild buckwheat blossoms were photographed in the High Desert near Bend, Oregon. I believe this is a variety of Eriogonum umbellatum, the sulfur flower. Their yellow blossoms brighten up the desert like little rays of sunshine!
Last week I helped preserve a bit of the desert, one acre at a time. Sometimes it isn’t apparent how your $$$ help a cause. When you donate to conserve.org, you can see your money in action.
For only $46 per acre, you can help the Oregon Desert Land Trust purchase part of the 118,794 Diablo Mountain Wilderness Study Area in eastern Oregon. You can view a 360-degree photo of each individual acre and choose which you want to help buy.
They are trying to purchase 880 acres that are currently in private hands. The Land Trust and Global Wildlife Conservation organizations will match funds for each donation to make the $182-per-acre purchase.
Once the purchase is complete, the public will have access to the land. The purchase ensures that the site will not be developed in the future.
This bit of the desert includes interesting natural and archaeological features. The salt flats and rimrock hillsides are home to mule deer, pronghorn, greater sage grouse, and burrowing owls. Migratory birds live in the sagebrush and greasewood habitats.
The Paisley Caves contain evidence of humans that dates back to over 14,000 years ago. The nearby Fort Rock Cave and Catlow Caves contain similar artifacts.
If you donate to this site, you can visit “your” acreage. I haven’t visited the parcels I helped purchase yet, but I can’t wait to see them in person. It will bring me great joy to see how I made a difference, one acre at a time.
There is a new weekly photo challenge called “On the Hunt for Joy Challenge” and the topic this week is “Get Outside.” I thought this would be a perfect time to feature this conservation opportunity.
We stopped at the Kiger Gorge overlook on Steens Mountain in August and saw tiny flowers at our feet. These are prostrate lupines, Lupinus lepidus var. lobbii. I put my hand in the picture just to give you an idea of the scale.
This native plant grows in alpine habitats. The tiny blue or purple flowers measure 1/3 inch across. The plant grows to a height of 4-6 inches. Another common name for this low profile plant is “dwarf lupine.” Lupines have distinctive leaves that are almost star-like in form. The seedpods are often covered with soft “hair.”
Prostrate lupine blooms in June, July, and August. The plants I saw in late August were growing at 9,000 feet in elevation. Everything blooms later there.
This lupine ranges north to the Cascade and Olympic mountains in Washington State, south to northern California and east to western Idaho and Nevada. Prostrate lupines grow on talus slopes and in rocky pumice soils at high elevations.
Prostrate lupine is a perennial that grows in areas with heavy snowfall in the winter and short dry summers. Like other lupines, its flowers attract pollinators.
See also Crane Creek Ranch Sculpture
All About Birds describes this bird as “a handsome, round soccer ball of a bird with a rich gray breast, intricately scaled underparts, and a curious, forward-drooping head plume.” A great description of this bird!
I’m lucky that they are common where I live and sometimes even show up in my garden.
Granny Shot It – BOTD
I saw plenty of raptors on a Birds of Prey tour in the wide-open country of Harney County, Oregon last April. We ventured briefly into the Malheur National Forest in search of eagles. Though we didn’t see any eagles, we did get a nice view of an American kestrel.
We saw immature and mature bald eagles later that day. It’s always exciting to see them.
Some of the wildlife out there was keeping an eye on us. This herd of elk on a distant ridge top watched us for a while.
Raptors were common and we saw many of them perched on fenceposts and telephone poles.
Ground squirrels hang out in the irrigated fields and the birds of prey congregate there to find an easy meal. They like to perch on the pivot irrigation systems.
Turkey vultures also enjoy some nice fresh ground squirrel. This one was close to the road and we had a great view of it having a little snack.
We were lucky to see a prairie falcon, the only one we spotted that day.
Mule deer were common. This herd had 30+ deer.
We stopped in another spot to take pictures of deer then noticed something else in the foreground. Two burrowing owls! Can you find both of them in the photo with the deer? That was my favorite observation of the day.
This tour was part of the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival. Our guides that day were Ben Cate, from the High Desert Partnership, and Melanie Finch, wildlife technician with the U.S. Forest Service .
Though I know certain species well, I’m no expert when it comes to identifying raptors. I rely on helpful tour guides and field guides. I have field guide books and the iBird Pro app, but this handy fold out pocket guide is really helpful.
This guide includes silhouettes, identifying markings, and different color morphs. It was a dark spring day on this trip and the silhouettes page helped make identifying birds easier.
We saw quite a few raptors so it was a successful seven-hour field trip. Until next year…
This spring I tried something new by going on two nature walks with llamas. The first hike was part of the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival in eastern Oregon. The second hike, just north of Burns, Oregon, was to help a llama get certification for the Pack Llama Trial Association (PLTA).
On the first 4-mile hike, my llama was Marty McFly, AKA “The Professor.” He was not the most dominant llama there, but he was considered to be the smartest. He was always on the lookout. Llamas have large eyes, much like pronghorns, so they can spot predators.
If you go on a hike with pack llamas, they can carry all of your gear. Well, at least 60 pounds of gear. You have to weigh each pack so that they are about even on both sides.
On both of the hikes I went on, I worked with llamas from the Burns Llama Trailblazers group. They have llamas that are trained in packing, cart pulling, and livestock guarding. They train the llamas to do packing from a very young age by having them carry miniature packs.
So what’s it like walking with a pack llama? Kind of like walking with a very big and inquisitive dog. These highly-trained animals keep a loose lead and they’re very sure footed. Though some are more spirited than others, they have an overall gentle nature.
We stopped for lunch at a small lake and tied off our animals. My llama had been quiet the whole trip, but once we stopped he became more vocal. I thought he sounded like Chewbacca from Star Wars. The reason he was complaining was because he wanted to keep going. Llamas can walk many miles in a single day.
On the second hike I went on this spring, we traveled three miles. My llama that day was a young female named Manzanita. She was going for Basic Pack Llama Certification. She had to walk a three-mile course with 250-500 feet elevation gain. The llamas in this level carry 10% of their body weight.
We would encounter five different obstacles. These would include walking through tight places, moving up/over/across obstacles, and walking at least ten feet down a flowing creek. Did you know llamas often have a fear of water? Neither did I.
Manzanita did fine and passed all of the tests with flying colors. There are four levels of PLTA certification. At the highest level, the llamas walk on a 10-mile course with 2,500-3,000 feet elevation gain. There are 20 obstacles. The animals carry 25% of their body weight.
I was happy doing the shorter hike. My llama companions had a good walk and so did I.
If you are interested in helping out with pack trials, they can always use more volunteers to lead the llamas so contact the Pack Llama Trial Association .
I don’t see the desert as barren at all; I see it as full and ripe. It doesn’t need to be flattered with rain. It certainly needs rain, but it does with what it has, and creates amazing beauty.Joy Harjo
Here are a few delicate beauties growing in the High Desert near Bend, Oregon. Enjoy their rainbow colors and gentle grace.
Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Delicate
The sand lily, also known as the star lily, is a delicate perennial wildflower found in western North America. It grows in sagebrush deserts, open montane forests, and in sandy and rocky soils.
The plant above is growing near sagebrush in an uncultivated part of my property near Bend, Oregon. There is only one plant and I look forward to it blooming every spring.
I have seen “fields” of sand lily growing in other locations. This field was seen on a hike near Tumalo dam.
Last year I planted two sand lily plants I purchased at WinterCreek Restoration and Nursery and they bloomed a couple weeks ago. This nursery specializes in native plants that use little water.
If you see sand lilies in nature, you may be tempted to dig them up to plant in your yard. Unfortunately, this plant, with its long rhizome growing beneath the soil, does not transfer well.
Please enjoy them in nature and purchase them from a trusted source. They will grow in USDA zones 5-9. They do well in rock gardens with lots of sunlight. Sand lilies require very little water to shine brightly in your garden.
Here’s a haiku about this plant I featured in a previous post – Tiny Oasis
“I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance.” e.e. cummings
At this time of the year, I often think of harmony in nature. Every time I go outside, I hear the songsters of spring. Here are a few local songsters whose voices and plumage are full of gold.
Click on the word “song” in the caption below each photograph to hear the harmony in nature these birds share with us.
Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Harmony
The River Ranch Barn at Summer Lake Wildlife Area in eastern Oregon is weathered to perfection. Here are a few pictures of its exterior from a distance and close up. Winter Ridge rises majestically behind the barn.
The shakes of its roof line up in irregular and interesting patterns.
Here are a couple pictures of an outbuilding next to the barn. The weathered barn wood has a variety of warm tones and a distinct personality all its own.
This pale knotty eye watches the wildlife visiting this oasis in the desert with a look of approval.
Lens Artists Photo Challenge – Worn & Weathered
I’m sharing the March issue of the High Desert Voices newsletter. It’s a newsletter for volunteers and staff at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. I help out with the newsletter and I’m particularly proud of this issue.
This issue of the High Desert Voices newsletter includes a History event – 19th Century Making & Mending; Art – a new exhibit by Native American artist, Rick Bartow; Nature – a fact sheet on white sturgeon; People – a profile of our Communication Director; and Recreation – a trail through the colorful Blue Basin. There’s a little more related to updates for the different areas of the Museum and kudos, for work well done.
Enjoy the newsletter! To see more, go to Volunteer Newsletters.