Rabbits make quick distraction in Malheur Wildlife Refuge

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A black-tailed jackrabbit pauses before crossing the road.

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A great white egret wades in a flooded meadow.

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A meadowlark sings on a bright spring morning.

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A pair of sandhill cranes strut among the flowers at Dialmon Loop.

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A redwinged blackbird hops aboard a crane for a ride.

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Buena Vista overlooks allows a view of Steens Mountain — with a long lens.

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High water kept visitors mostly out of the famed Peter Finch Round Barn.

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Kiosks provide information at many sites, including the Diamond Craters.

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Snow-capped Skeens Mountain looms in the distance from the Frenchglen area.

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The Buena Vista Overlook stretches to Steens Mountain on the far southeastern Horizon.

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The hotel at Frenchglen provides breakfast and lunch for travelers.

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The P-Ranch near Frenchglen features the storied Long Barn.

Editor's Note: This is Part 2 of a three-part series from the Malheur Wildlife Refuge and other sites in Harney County, Ore. Part 3 will appear here on June 8.

BURNS, Ore. - Darlene saw the jackrabbit at the Buena Vista Overlook turnoff and pointed.

As I swung the camera into action, the wiry rabbit hopped away among the big sage.

I slipped from the truck, followed by Nora the Schnauzer, and tiptoed among the bushes in the rabbit's direction.

The hare appeared briefly, and I clicked an image, a blurred one of its black tail and long ears.

Well, shucks.

Back at the truck, I drove 20 yards to a kiosk, and we read the information before continuing up the dirt road to the overlook.

We read the signs there and viewed the swampy vista all the way to the 9,775-foot-high Steens Mountain, a fault-block landform.

According to Wikipedia, "Fault-block mountains are formed by the movement of large crystal blocks when forces in the Earth's crust pull it apart. Some parts of the Earth are pushed upward and others collapse down."

Snow often limits travel on the mountain until late July or August.

Anyway, we started our first full day in the Burns area later than intended, and the pause at Buena Vista didn't help our schedule.

I wanted to reach the P-Ranch, near Frenchglen, and the tall tower there to see the dozens of red-faced turkey buzzards hanging out to dry their wings.

Actually, it had been years since I witnessed that show.

I remembered the scene. It reminded me of a Dracula movie.

So, we had lost time.

Then with Frenchglen in the distance, Darlene spotted another jackrabbit beside the road.

I coasted to a stop, turned around and drove back slowly with the camera handy. I saw the rabbit, but it slipped off among the sage.

When another rabbit crossed the road, I hurried past.

We drove through Frenchglen at 9:39 a.m., too late for a Frenchglen Hotel breakfast by nine minutes.

We reached the P-Ranch three minutes later, and a naked tall tower reached skyward. Not a single buzzard dried its wings in the morning sun.

Well, Nora and I toured the crumbling, yet still impressive P-Ranch Long Barn before heading north again for the Diamond Loop, the Peter French Round Barn and sections of the 42-mile Blitzen Valley Auto Tour Route.

We followed our BLM loop map (also available in numerous area pamphlets) toward Diamond Craters (a 17,000-acre Outstanding Natural Area and a unique lava bed), the Round Barn (a 100-foot-round structure built in the 1880s for training horses in the winter) and back south through Happy Valley to the community of Diamond.

Each stop allowed us to stretch our legs and read signs. Of course, we stopped to ogle the frequent egret, crane, curlew or avocet.

Near the lava beds, for example, I stopped to photograph a meadow lark on a post. As I snapped away, Darlene saw a jackrabbit hop onto the road. I snapped it sitting still and jogging off into the sage.

Alas, high water flooded the storied Round Barn. The man at the visitor center, however, said some visitors waded inside. We didn't.

We gasped at views from Happy Valley and reached Diamond, with its half-dozen buildings, including the hotel, at 3:04 p.m.

We continued the 12 miles to Highway 205 and drove north 17 miles to The Narrows. We turned toward the refuge visitor center again.

After we strolled briefly among the squirrels, I asked the expert at the visitor center when buzzards dried their wings on the tower at P-Ranch. She wasn't sure. She assumed the birds still gathered there in the evening to roost.

I pondered that on the way to dinner at the open 24-hour Apple Peddler in Burns.

"We just reached Frenchglen too late today," I philosophized over an omelet. "We could leave by 5:30 in the morning and reach Frenchglen well before 7," I said. "It's only 60 miles. We can see the buzzards then have breakfast at the hotel."

"Sounds like a plan," Darlene said.

"Right," I mumbled, feeling a tad queasy about "a plan."

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com.

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