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.
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.
These images from Fort Rock, Oregon focus on looking up. In this photo you see what a town from the early 1900’s may have looked like. Buildings were moved to this site to create the Fort Rock Valley Historical Society Homestead Village Museum. Each building is decorated with artifacts so it’s easy to imagine yourself stepping back in time.
Pioneers were promised rich and fertile land. That was not the reality in this arid high desert. Many settlers moved away after unsuccessfully trying to cultivate the land.
The antelope bitterbrush appears to be reaching for the sky in this photograph. This plant gets its common name due to the fact that it is so important to wildlife. Deer, elk, moose, mountain sheep, and pronghorn (antelope) browse on its small three-toothed leaves and use its dense growth for cover. It’s also important for deer mice, kangaroo rats, sage grouse, and Lewis’ woodpecker.
I have seen plants over twelve feet tall but in my yard, they only reach a height of about three feet. My “landscapers” love to prune them. In certain parts of this plant’s range, bitterbrush can comprise up to 91% of mule deer’s diet in September.
There are three short hikes near the covered picnic area. The Geologic Time Trail winds along ¼ mile to connect you to the other two trails. Interpretive signs note the changes of the last 50 million years. The colorful small signs explaining the geologic history looked brand new. The Trail of Fossils takes you up a ¼ mile loop trail on the hillside and shows you fossils that left their imprints in large boulders.
Last night my dog was shaking with excitement looking at something right outside the sliding glass door. A baby bunny! However, it wasn’t just any rabbit. This one was a tiny “kit” that was just a few inches long.
I have seen jackrabbits and cottontails in the shrub-steppe High Desert habitat where I live. This could be a cottontail or maybe even a pygmy rabbit. It’s hard to tell when they are young.
Yes, the background is not the best for this shot. But sometimes nature comes to you and you have to take advantage of it and grab your camera. The sprinkler head is just over an inch across so this gives you an idea how small it was.
Needless to say, my dog did not get to go outside for a while. The bunny went back to its burrow which is probably under our porch. Life goes on for this little cutie.
The Central Oregon Wildflower Show is on hiatus in 2018 but the Native Plant Sale is taking place this weekend, June 9 and 10, at Sunriver Nature Center. Click on Sunriver Nature Center – Upcoming Special Events for more information. I am sharing an article I wrote last year about the show.
Getting to know local flora at the Wildflower Show
Colorful examples of native plants drew crowds to the 29th annual Central Oregon Wildflower Show at Sunriver Nature Center on July 1-2, 2017. Participants could visit a room packed full with cuttings of plants, each of which were clearly labeled. Visitors could go on short staff-led wildflower hikes near the Nature Center to see some of the featured plants growing in the wild. Volunteers working at the event were ready to answer questions visitors might have.
I went on a field trip recently to one of my favorite places–Glass Buttes. Obsidian is everywhere you look! It’s like being a kid in a candy store. In fact in one of my previous posts, Glass Butte Dragonglass, I show a picture of some obsidian I have collected displayed in a candy bowl.
Glass Buttes – Rockhounding and habitat
Located about halfway between the towns of Bend and Burns in eastern Oregon, this site is a rockhounder’s paradise. You can dig and crack open obsidian with a rock hammer, but you really don’t need to because it’s all over the surface. The Bureau of Land Management oversees most of this site. Individuals may collect up to 250 pounds of obsidian per year.
Here’s a photo I took in March of three twisted swans at Summer Lake in Central Oregon. The northern shovelers surrounding them seem to be doing some contortions of their own. Can you find a raptor hiding in the background taking it all in?
The three swans have bands on their necks. I saw them there last fall and turned in my sighting to find out where they came from. I found out the young birds were banded in the spring of 2017 at Summer Lake so they haven’t strayed far from where they hatched.
This area hosts thousands of snow geese at certain times of the year. Summer Lake Wildlife Area is open to hunting so in order to avoid confusion, they have this sign posted for hunters. From a distance, snow geese and swans can be hard to tell apart.
Do you want to learn more about trumpeter swans? See my post Swan Song to learn about the conservation success story associated with this beautiful bird.
The hike to Gray Butte, located in the Crooked River National Grassland near Terrebonne, Oregon, is great to walk in the spring because of the wildflowers. I went here in May and we saw quite a few colorful flowers. The habitat is sagebrush steppe with scattered western juniper trees.
View of Mt. Jefferson from Gray Butte trail
I have been here twice with Leslie Olson, one of my favorite guides with Bend Parks and Recreation. One time we went on Cole Loop Trail #854 and the other time we went on Gray Butte Trail #852. The roads to the trailheads have sections that are rough but passable. We did out-and-back hikes of around four to five miles total distance. They are listed as easy to moderate hikes. Here’s a map that shows both trails.
McCoin Orchard at Gray Butte trailhead
A piece of history
My most recent hike began at Gray Butte trailhead, elevation 3,800 feet, near the McCoin Orchard. The orchard was originally planted by Julius and Sarah McCoin in 1886. The property was purchased by the U.S. Forest Service in the 1930’s. At one time there were 100 fruit trees here – apple, pear, plum, etc. Grassland range specialists saved the surviving trees in the 1980’s. When I was there, the trees were in full bloom.
Lupine plants were in full bloom on a recent trip I took to Glass Buttes, Oregon. They have beautiful flowers and a unique leaf form. The palmately divided leaves of lupine can have five to 28 leaflets. Water often funnels down the leaflets and collects at their base.
On April 6, I was up bright and early for a birdwatching trip that would encircle Steens Mountain in a single day. Being a bit of an introvert, I wasn’t sure I wanted to partake in a tour like this one. The Steens Mountain tour was one of 22 tours available for nature enthusiasts at the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival. The festival, which started in 1981, takes advantage of the annual spring bird migration in the Harney Basin. More than 300 species of birds use this area annually.
A land full of drama
At 6:00 am, participants in the Circle the Steens Mountain & Alvord Desert tour met at Burns High School. The weather was not cooperating for the 200-mile trip. A big storm system was blowing in. Twelve hours and 76 bird species later, we returned to the high school. Though we didn’t see any rare birds, we did see a lot, considering the weather conditions. Our views were framed by the dramatic landscapes of Harney County. The pale colored sands of the Alvord Desert stood out in contrast to the dark stormy skies. Steens Mountain provided beautiful panoramas from many different angles. We also had great views of pronghorn and deer.
We traveled east of Steens Mountain, south to Fields, then north along the west side of the mountain. Our tour guides, Joan Suther and Rick Hall, worked for the Bureau of Land Management locally for many years. The first brief stop was to look at burrowing owls. The small owls were seen braving the wind on this tour and the one I was on the next day. Flocks of snow geese and Ross’ geese were in fields nearby. Our next stop, at Crystal Crane Hot Springs, was much longer.
At this time of year, mule deer are migrating and breeding in Central Oregon. Your best chances of seeing this nighttime-feeding deer are in the early hours of the morning or in the late evening. On a chilly November morning, High Desert Museum Curator of Wildlife, Jon Nelson, led a group of people eager to learn more about mule deer.
Mule Deer in the West
The mule deer is uniquely adapted to the environment of the American West. In the spring and summer they browse on plants in mountainous areas. As winter approaches, mule deer pack on the calories and move to lower elevations. Deer in the Cascades migrate eastwards and have to navigate their way past Highway 97. Underpasses help large numbers of deer make that journey. As the deer continue eastwards, hundreds can be seen in the area between Silver Lake and Fort Rock during fall and winter months.
In Central Oregon, deer feed mainly on bitterbrush, Idaho fescue grass, and sagebrush. They are not as dependent on the availability of water since they get much of what they need from their diet. On the field trip, Sand Spring was one of the few water sources we saw. It’s fenced to keep cattle out but the deer, as you probably know, can easily clear most fences if they want to get a drink.
Should you feed deer in your yard? No. If deer eat food provided by humans, it can have devastating effects. Their gut has evolved to process certain foods. If they eat other foods, it can kill the good bacteria in their stomachs. This can cause illness or even death. Certain diseases are spread to other deer via their saliva so you may not want to give them salt licks either.
Mule deer can often be found in ecotones, edge habitats between two plant communities. They can also find their preferred food plants in areas that are becoming re-established, including those affected by fires and clear-cutting. Deer seek out certain areas using behavioral thermal regulation. For example, they bed down on south and east facing slopes where it tends to be warmer.
This young scrub jay patiently followed its cheeky parent around even though they kept dropping bark on its head. The young bird was waiting to be fed but maybe it should be thinking about leaving the nest soon. 🙂
“Its trunk had twisted and turned over the years as the roots sought water far below. The tree was more than a thousand years old. Crinkled yellow-green lichens adorned dark bare branches reaching skyward. Clumps of scaly foliage and tiny silver-blue cones clung to a scattering of branches.” – Description of Enebros de Sueños, the Juniper of Dreams, in a magical realism story I’m working on.
I have lots of western juniper trees on my property but this particular one serves as my muse. I have included it in many photos – see Juniper Muse – but now it is also a mysterious character in a children’s book I’m working on. The tree is old and twisted with age, yet it persists.
Turning in his saddle and tilting his dusty hat to shade his eyes, he finally sees it in the distance. The round barn. The year is 1887 and he and the other vaqueros are moving a herd of horses collected over the sagebrush covered plains of the High Desert in Oregon. He had worked so many hours that week that when he finally settled down each night on a bed of hard sandy soil, he instantly fell into a deep sleep.
Moving cattle, horses, and mules for his boss, Pete French, was a hard but satisfying life. Guiding his horse with worn leather reins, he moves to the back of the herd of mustangs and starts driving them towards the barn.
Round barns – marvelous structures with a purpose
The Pete French Round Barn, near Diamond, Oregon, was built in the 1880’s. The center pole and supporting poles are made from ancient western juniper trees. The juniper shows cuts and gouges from past use but is still strong. Umbrella-like beams radiate out from the center to support the rounded roof of this 100-foot diameter barn. Horses were stabled in the middle part of the building. The 63-foot diameter rock wall in the middle section forms a round corral in the building’s interior. A 20-foot wide circular paddock surrounds it. During the long winters, 400 to 600 horses and mules were moved through and trained in the barn, safe from the harsh conditions outside.
One of my favorite things to do when I get up in the morning is to look out my window at this night-blooming primrose. I love getting a glimpse of its bold yet delicate blossoms before they go to sleep and close up during the day.