McCoin Orchard apple blossoms
I saw these apple blossoms in the McCoin Orchard near the trailhead for the Gray Butte trail. This orchard, near Terrebonne, Oregon, was originally planted in the late 1880s and it was rescued by range specialists 100 years later.
There’s a nice hike here with some spectacular views of the country. The close up views of spring flowers are great as well.
Pretty but invasive
These honeysuckle blossoms are pretty but they are on an introduced plant that has been so successful it’s considered invasive in some parts of the country. These tall shrubs are growing along the Deschutes River and they produce a lot of berries later in the summer.
Red Hot plants in the garden
Sometimes the common name of a plant really fits. Here is one of those plants. The red hot poker plant is native to Africa and it grows well in the high desert of Oregon. It is a drought tolerant perennial that has both herbaceous and evergreen species. They are also known as torch lilies.
Red hot plants can grow to a height of five feet and their colorful flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. Orioles are also attracted to the nectar. Here’s a post from Mountain Valley Growers showing orioles busy sipping nectar. This plant is deer and rabbit resistant.
The Better Homes and Garden site refers to this plant as “an eye-catching burst of color that is both whimsical and architectural.” Yes, that description fits the red hot poker well. 🙂
Stopping at Shaniko
I visited the ghost town of Shaniko, Oregon this spring. The town is right on U.S. Route 97 and I’ve driven by it many times but didn’t really know much about it. The 1910 census showed its population at its peak level of 600 people. By 1911, the population plummeted. It’s called a ghost town today but according to the 2010 census, 36 people still call it home. They originally named the town Cross Hollows.
The first thing I wanted to know was where the current name came from. In 1867 Oregon received a grant to build a military road from The Dalles to Fort Boise, Idaho. They discovered gold in Canyon City and thousands of miners relied on small towns nearby for supplies. Settlers traveled to areas that had previously been hard to access. They grabbed up large parcels of land under the Homestead Act of 1862. One of the settlers was August Scherneckau, and he established a post office in the area. Members of the local Wasco tribe pronounced his name SHAN-i-koh, and the name stuck. As someone with an unusual name, I can relate to that!
Boom to bust
By 1900, Shaniko was the center of production of wool, wheat, cattle, and sheep in eastern Oregon. The Columbia Southern Railway rail line, originating from Biggs Junction 55 miles to the north, reached Shaniko in 1900 and they shipped products from here throughout the region. Incoming supplies included farm equipment, building materials, fence posts, and coal and wood fuel. In 1901 it was one of the largest shipping centers in the world.
The soil was not good for farming but it worked well for cattle and sheep. Shaniko was known as the “Wool Capital of the World.” It marketed 4 million pounds of wool in 1901. In 1903 the Moody Warehouse Company recorded sales totaling over a million dollars in a single day!
In 1911 the Oregon Trunk Railroad, created by railroad magnates Edward Harriman and James J. Hill, began operating. It linked Portland to Bend and fewer trains traveled on the route to Shaniko. Business in Shaniko began to decline. Fires destroyed much of the business district in 1911. The Interstate Commerce Commission stopped rail service to Shaniko in 1943.
Shaniko’s recent past
The Shaniko Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Buildings include the Shaniko Hotel (designated in 1979), the Sage Museum, Shaniko School, City Hall and Jail, Wedding Chapel, and the Wool Warehouse.
If you visit, look for some of the interesting old doors like the one above. There’s another one on my post The Watcher Within.
Oregon businessman Robert B. Pamplin, Jr. purchased the hotel and a few businesses in 2000. He planned to renovate historic buildings and develop new properties. However, in 2008 there was a dispute related to access to water to serve the hotel and café. He closed those businesses, tried to sell them for $3.2 Million, and later decided they were no longer for sale (as of 2016).
Life goes on in Shaniko…
- The Shaniko Preservation Guild maintains several historic buildings and operates a small museum. When I was there with my group, one of them found an old article about one of her relatives who lived there tacked onto the wall. Cool!
- The Shaniko Restoration Group works to restore historic buildings.
- If you peek inside the Shaniko Livery Barn, you’ll see a collection of antique cars.
- Hundreds of people attend Shaniko Days in early August.
- There is an annual Wool Gathering in mid-September.
- Musical events include the Tygh Valley Bluegrass Jamboree in late September and the Ragtime and Vintage Music Festival in early October.
About page story
Yes, that pronghorn is kind of bossy, but I hope you’ll take a minute to look at my “new and improved” About page. Thanks for visiting!
Bend Branches About page
Three guys cooling their jets
When it’s as hot as it’s been (102 degrees here yesterday!) I wish I could do a little cooling off by being an otter. Here are three cooling otters in motion.
They always look like they’re having so much fun.
Can you imagine sliding down an embankment and cooling off in a clear mountain stream?
I’m also including a short video of three North American river otters at play at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. You can hear fellow volunteer Jonny Goddard, AKA Otter Brother, in the background “directing” them.
Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Cooling
Tiny worlds beneath me
I often have to remind myself to look down and notice the worlds beneath me when I’m taking pictures. Here’s a picture of aquatic plants being combed by the waves and highlighted by the sun.
Here’s a picture of a lichen “forest” growing on weathered wood. Worlds of wonder exist in landscapes large and small.
Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Wonder
A dawn lily
Here’s a photo I took in the early morning hours of a daylily splashed with rain. It looks like a perfect little cup of gold.
You get a two-fer today since this is being posted under Friday Flowers and Cee’s Flower of the Day . Enjoy!
Doors with eyes
I took this picture on a trip to the ghost town of Shaniko, Oregon and didn’t notice the watcher within until I edited the photo. I thought it was something inside but realized later it was a reflection of the Shaniko Hotel across the street. It looked like some alien creature out of a Star Wars movie watching me. I found some interesting doors in Shaniko but apparently they were keeping an eye on me.
Silent Sunday: End of the trail to Clarno Arch
Great Horned Owl Up Close
Here’s a shot of the piercing gaze of a great horned owl. The bird looks even more powerful and full of wisdom in black and white.
Cee’s Black And White Photography Challenge – Birds
Stepping back in time at Clarno Palisades
In May I visited the Clarno Palisades area, 18 miles west of Fossil, Oregon in the Clarno Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. This unit gets light usage. We only saw a few other visitors.
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.
An almost-tropical forest covered this region 44 million years ago. 120 inches of rainfall per year, compared to about 9 inches today. Bananas used to grow here! Bear-like predators, four-toed primitive horses, and other creatures once roamed this land. The Clarno Arch Trail takes you up ¼ mile trail (yup, another ¼ mile one!) to the base of a cliff with a natural arch cut into the stone. This trail has a 200 foot elevation gain. If you hike all the trails out and back, it adds up to 1.25 miles.
Spring shrubs and flowers
When I was there in mid-May, wildflowers were in full bloom. The rose bush featured in one of my earlier posts—Wild Rose: Friday Flowers—was near where we parked. The “trunk” of that shrub looked like a formidable weapon! We saw orange globemallow blooming along the trail. Large netleaf hackberry shrubs grew on the slopes near the cliffs.
Birds of the cliffs
There were a handful of birds out that day. Canyon wrens serenaded us with their descending song. A prairie falcon, American kestrel, and golden eagle flew near the cliffs protecting their nest sites. A California quail called Chi-ca-go in the background. Swallows flitted overhead.
Logs and lichens
We spotted several fossilized leaves and branches along the Trail of Fossils. When we went up the Clarno Arch Trail, we saw large fossilized logs sticking out of the cliff face. The colorful lichens covering the rocks attracted my attention as usual.
Stairway to the arch
The columns of the Palisades were formed by volcanic lahars 54-40 millions years ago. They are stately and beautiful but the stair step-like structure beneath the arch really got my attention. Water must have pooled up in each “step” before falling.
When we were there with Bend Parks and Recreation, it was a cool day. I imagine it gets hot in the summer here so plan your visit with that in mind.
Other attractions nearby
Here is a Trail Guide for hikes in the Clarno, Painted Hills, and Sheep Rocks Units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
Looking for layers
I was just thinking about a kayaking trip last fall to Three Creek Lake near Sisters, Oregon. When I was looking for photos of layers for the Travel at Wit’s End challenge, that trip came to mind.
Yes, there were obvious layers in the rock faces bordering the lake, but there were other layers as well.
- Green reflections of trees in the lake.
- Snow covering parts of the scenery.
- Reflections in the lake highlighted by snow.
- New growth in a forest bordered with an edge of sedges.
- Rocks in volcanic-hued rainbows of color.
- Waves lapping at the shore.
Sometimes you need to look a little harder to find nature’s hidden layers.
Travel At Wit’s End – Layers
A stately lupine
This lupine flower stands tall and stately in my garden. Though different from its wild cousins, it is just as beautiful.
New life in the form of a baby bunny
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.
Tuesday Photo Challenge – New
Things to come
Delicate pink strawberry blossoms capturing the passing rain to feed the succulent fruit to come.
The theme for the very last Weekly Photo Challenge was All-time Favorites. I’m late getting these up because my computer was in the shop and I was traveling. So without further ado…
All-time Favorite Critters
I have a lot of photos of animals so it’s hard to choose favorites but here goes. Here’s a handful for you.
All-time Favorite Landscapes & plants
This was even harder to narrow down! Here’s another handful.
All-time Favorite History Photos
And here’s a dash of history for good measure. Hope you enjoy them!
Final Weekly Photo Challenge – All-Time Favorites
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.
Teams of volunteers headed out on the day before the show to collect wildflowers and other plants. They collected plant cuttings in the Cascade Mountains and near Metolious, Odell, and Crescent Lakes. They also collected specimens near Bend and eastwards into the Ochoco Mountains. Nearly 300 specimens were collected and identified for the wildflower show, the only event of this type in Central Oregon.
Up close and personal
If you’ve ever wondered what a particular plant was, this was a good place to find out. “Is that what balsamroot looks like?” I heard one visitor say. She was happy to put a “face” with that name. Seeing labeled plant cuttings of certain plants that are hard to identify, such as grasses, helped visitors figure out what they may have seen in the field.
There were cuttings from grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees at this show. Cuttings of the plants were neatly arranged in water-filled vases around the room. Many were in full bloom. Lavender-colored Mariposa lilies shared the room with scarlet red paintbrush, yellow Oregon sunshine, blue and purple showy penstemon, and delicate white queen’s-cup. It was interesting to see so many plants in one place and think about which types you might want to put in your own yard.
Going native with plants from the Wildflower Show
The Wildflower Show had a limited supply of native plants for sale that were provided by a local nursery. Planting your yard with low-water usage plants can not only help you spend less on your water bill, it can also ensure your plants grow well and attract butterflies, bees, and other wildlife.
One of the most interesting displays at this show consisted of weeds that grow in the area. Yes, the Dalmatian toadflax plant is pretty with its snapdragon-like yellow flowers and interesting leaf structure. However, it can easily get out of control and push out native species. Knowing what some of these noxious weeds look like can make it easier for you to know what to pull in your yard. Here’s a link to a brochure that has pictures of some of the invasive weeds that grow locally. Noxious Weeds: Your Responsibility.
Learning from our community
Booths representing several local groups were set up outside at this show. Local author, LeeAnn Kriegh, featured in the July 2017 High Desert Voices newsletter, was among them. Participants had many questions and the representatives from the different groups were very helpful in answering them. There were several wildflower-related lectures at this show. Damian Fagan, of the High Desert Museum, gave a lecture about locations where you might find various wildflower species. Other lectures were about getting to know some of the state’s flora, native plant landscaping, and how to provide habitat for monarch butterflies.
If you are curious to learn more about native plant species, consider going to this show next year. It is small, but it’s jam-packed with helpful information. Proceeds from the native plant sale and admission benefit the non-profit Sunriver Nature Center.
A moment with a rose
There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I was fortunate to share a moment with a wild rose near Clarno, Oregon. It is beautiful and delicate when viewed close up.
Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.
Zooming out you can see how its blossoms and fruits are protected by sharp thorns. As you make your way through the thorns of life, keep looking forward towards the moments of peace offered by its flowers.
Bright yellow flowers on a currant shrub with colorful flags flying in the background. The bridge passes over the Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon.
See my post about one of the short, easy trails in this area here.
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.
Glass Butte, elevation 6,388 ft., and Little Glass Butte, elevation 6,155 ft., tower over the surrounding hills. Sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and bunchgrass cover the landscape. Western juniper and mountain mahogany are interspersed over the land. Sagebrush-dependent species such as Brewer’s sparrows, sagebrush sparrows, and sage thrashers were seen and heard the day we were there. A pair of mountain bluebirds was seen perching high in the juniper trees. We caught glimpses of ferruginous hawks.
Geological history of Glass Buttes
Glass Buttes formed during the Miocene and Pliocene periods, 5-5.8 million years ago. Three layers of lava flows from volcanic domes and vents formed the buttes. The first flow was basalt, the second rhyolitic lava, and the third another layer of basalt. Rhyolite contains a high percentage of silica and it forms much of the substrate. Due to a rapid rate of cooling of magma at Glass Buttes, larger mineral crystals didn’t have time to form. The silica-rich “glass” of obsidian formed as a result of this process.
Here’s an interesting article with more details about the obsidian at Glass Buttes for you geology geeks. Obsidian is Hot Stuff.
This area is in the Brothers Fault Zone of the High Lava Plains physiographic province. The many faults are easily observed in aerial photos and through the use of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data. A 2011 map of Glass Buttes based on LiDAR can be seen here.
Flint knappers then and now
Obsidian from Glass Buttes has been used in making tools for thousands of years. Native Americans made arrowheads, spear points, and other cutting tools with the glass-like stone. Obsidian from this site has been found throughout western North America.
Modern day flint knappers take advantage of the abundance of obsidian at this site. Some groups meet annually at events such as the Glass Buttes Knap-in to work on their craft. My first photo on this post shows what flint knappers left behind at one of their campsites.
Types of obsidian at Glass Buttes
There are MANY types of obsidian at Glass Buttes. I will quote Tim Fisher who runs the Oregon Rockhounds Online website. “Need a list of what’s here? OK, here goes: black/mahogany, leopardskin, mahogany, Midnite lace, triple flow, double flow, pumpkin, purple and silver sheen, gold sheen, silver sheen, rainbow, peacock, purple sheen, fire, green, Aurora Borealis rainbow, black, opaque black, opaque banded, gunmetal, and probably many more!” If you want detailed information on where to find the different types, please purchase the Ore Rock On guide from his website. We own it and it contains invaluable info for sites in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and western Montana.
Some rockhounds search for specific types, such as rainbow and fire obsidian, and they can be the most difficult to find.
Other land use
We made a couple additional short stops on the field trip. We stopped at an abandoned mercury-bearing cinnabar mine. The site was discovered in 1933 and mined until 1957. Another stop was made at an exploratory geothermal well site. No development is currently taking place but it may happen in the future. Greater sage-grouse live and breed here and that may limit development.
This is a great area to visit but I should remind you of a couple things. Obsidian is SHARP so make sure you have good tires and a spare tire. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for certain areas. There is no water or facilities here. If you visit, be prepared. Access to this site is on an unmarked road near mile marker 77 on Highway 20. Drive south a couple miles to find obsidian. Additional information is available from the organizations listed here.
I have been to this site several times. My recent trip was with Bend Parks and Recreation. I always wish I could stay at Glass Buttes just a little bit longer. It’s a hard place to leave if you love rocks!
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.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Twisted
Scenic views all around
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.
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.
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.
Did I make it to the top of the butte yet? Nope, but we had fantastic views from the Gray Butte Trail. Gray Butte reaches an elevation of 5,108 feet. We stopped for lunch on a rocky overlook known as the Austin Creson Viewpoint, elevation 4,200 feet. Austin Creson was involved in the planning of this trail. The viewpoint is 1.9 miles from the trailhead and this was where we turned back.
The Austin Creson Viewpoint is on the northern edge of the Crooked River Caldera. This caldera is enormous. It encompasses 425 square miles. In fact, the volcanic eruption associated with this caldera was the sixth largest on earth. Woah! Right here in Central Oregon. That’s impressive.
From our lofty perch at the viewpoint we had great views of Mt. Jefferson, the Three Sisters, Broken Top, and Black Butte. Yes, it was a bit cloudy but seeing the peaks peeking through is always thrilling.
We saw and heard eagles, swifts, and sparrows on our hike. We also saw a weird beetle known as the American oil beetle. Nice to look at but don’t touch them because they will produce an oil that will irritate your skin.
Gray Butte wildflowers
Seeing the wildflowers on this hike made my day. They are so beautiful! I am including photos from my most recent hike and from my earlier hike a couple years ago. Enjoy!
For driving directions, see Gray Butte Trailhead. Note that if you stay on the trail for about 6.5 miles from the Gray Butte trailhead, you’ll end up at Smith Rock State Park. Please use applicable maps for this route.
Be prepared on any trips you make into the backcountry and help to preserve its beauty for the rest of us. Thanks!
Blooming lupine amidst obsidian
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.
Hiking on a caldera
Today I took a hike up Gray Butte, northeast of Terrebonne, Oregon. It was a nice hike with lots of wildflowers and spectacular views. This view is from the edge of the Crooked River Caldera looking west to Mount Jefferson, on the right, and Black Butte, on the left. The rocks in the foreground are splattered with messages left by lichens.
My place in the world is out in the wild places of central Oregon. From dry sagebrush steppe in a caldera to lush meadows bordered by pine forests. There are so many special places to explore…
Weekly Photo Challenge – Place in the World
An unlikely sighting
Last week I was out walking my dog on the Mill A Loop Trail in Bend, Oregon and I happened to see an osprey pair in the process of creating more ospreys. Spring is in the air!
Ospreys often nest in areas close to human activity. This nest is right next to the Bend Whitewater Park. There are perches and platforms installed on both sides of the Deschutes River here for birds. I’m glad to see them using the site after the initial disturbance caused by the park’s construction.
The osprey pair will lay 1-4 eggs and incubate them for 36-42 days. The nestlings will be in the nest for 50-55 days. It will be great to see more of them flying around in a couple of months.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Unlikely
Up with the birds for a Steens Mountain tour
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.
Visits to places wet and wild
Crystal Crane Hot Springs is a resort with a large hot spring-heated pond and a recently created cold water pond for wildlife. We checked out the wildlife in both ponds. I’m not sure if the people visiting the hot spring appreciated a bunch of people walking nearby with cameras and binoculars.
Waterfowl seen here, and at other ponds and lakes on this tour, included swans (tundra and trumpeter), northern shovelers, cinnamon teals, redheads, common mergansers, and American coots. Western grebes were starting to do a little mating behavior but we didn’t get to see them do their unique walking-on-water display. American avocets and black-necked stilts gracefully waded through shallow water. Killdeer were seen and heard as they tried to make sure we didn’t get too close to their nests.
We saw quite a few raptors on the Steens Mountain tour. Northern harriers drifted over marshy areas. Bald and golden eagles hunted near fields. Swainson’s hawks, red-tailed hawks, and rough-legged hawks perched on pivot irrigation systems looking for prey. American kestrels perched on power lines watching all the birdwatchers driving by. On the field trip I was on the next day, we saw a ferruginous hawk peeking out of a nest in a lone juniper tree. This tree is one of their favorites for nesting, but last year ravens took it over.
Small but significant
Songbirds sought shelter from the weather but luckily we saw several species. It was a little early to see some of the shrubsteppe-dependent songbirds, but western meadowlarks and sage thrashers perched high singing their bright songs. Yellow-headed blackbirds, red-winged blackbirds, and marsh wrens sung in marshy areas. The descending call of the canyon wren was heard near rocky buttes. Say’s phoebes were seen perching briefly then flying out to do a little fly catching.
Dining at an iconic location
We stopped for lunch at the Fields Station Cafe, at the southern end of Steens Mountain. The isolated small town of Fields is famous for the burgers and shakes it serves at the cafe. We ordered ahead for our large group. I didn’t know if I would partake in slurping down one of the giant milkshakes but ended up splitting one. I think I was able to finish one-quarter of a coffee milkshake. It was just enough to give me a much needed infusion of caffeine. After lunch, we crossed the highway to a grove of trees. A great horned owl, perched in the cottonwoods, eyed us warily.
Home on the range
Wranglers were out on horseback herding cattle on the west side and east side of Steens Mountain. Harney County is 10,226 square miles in size. It is the largest county in Oregon and one of the largest in the United States. Yet with a population of only 7,200 people, it somehow still has a small town feel. One of our guides recognized a cowboy working the range many miles from Burns, where we started our tour.
This was a long, but good, day in Harney County. Our guides knew the country well and helped us spot wildlife. They also told us some of the interesting history related to the area. They pointed out to us what makes this country so special and that’s what made the Steens Mountain tour great.
Daily prompt – Partake