Buzzards abound at Malheur Wildlife Refuge

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A turkey buzzard balances on a tree limb at P-Ranch, near Frenchglen.

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Turkey buzzards awaken and dry their wings on their roosting tower.

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Nora decides a snake should slither away unmolested.

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An antelope looks for brerakfast near Wright's Point.

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Breakfast winds down on a recent morning at the Frenchglen Hotel.

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A turkey buzzard takes a look at Nora the Schnauzer.

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A turkey Buzzard takes a close look at a photographer.

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A turkey buzzard launches from cleaning its plate near Frenchglen.

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A swan recently visited Benson Pond on the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.

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A swallow rests before taking flight.

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A bull snake slithers past.

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Turkey buzzards on their roosting tower.

Editor's Note: Part 2 of this report from the Malheur Wildlife Refuge and other sites in Harney County, Ore., appeared here on June 1, 2011.

BURNS, Ore. - We rose early and hustled out of town without breakfast.

We had P-Ranch buzzards on the day's menu.

Actually, Darlene and I snacked on cups of orange juice and mini-bagels smeared with cream cheese in our motel room.

Nora the Schnauzer ate kibbles, a hunk of canned stuff and bites of bagel smeared with cream cheese.

The dashboard clock said 6:11 a.m. as we turned south on State Route 205 toward Wright's Point, a 200-foot-high, 200-foot-wide ridge tabbed inverted topography by geologists.

In the flat again, we saw three antelope ("Cantaloupe," Darlene said and pointed past my nose), including a trophy pronghorn.

Despite itching to see the buzzards at P-Ranch, 62 miles from Burns, I paused to crank off some clicks with the big lens.

Then, alas, sandhill cranes, jackrabbits, white egrets, and so on, also popped up.

"We better hurry along," I said.

So we did until, with Frenchglen in sight, a jackrabbit hopped across the road. Unable to resist, I pulled onto the road's edge.

The front wheels sank into mud up to the axel.

My spirits dropped deep, like the wheels.

"Mournful grumble," I explicated.

Darlene, Nora and I leaned forward and back in rhythm as I worked the gears and backed onto the pavement again, after five minutes or so. It seemed longer.

Then we saw the tower at P-Ranch.

"It has birds on it," Darlene said. "They look like crows."

Then I counted 32 turkey buzzards. Nora and I walked to the tower, and I snapped many photos of the handsome, bald-faced birds .

Handsome? Depends.

On the way back to the truck, I counted 28 buzzards in the tall and leafless cottonwood trees. I stood beneath the trees and snapped away.

We made it to the Frenchglen Hotel at 8:38 a.m. I parked beside a small SUV with a robust 600-meter Canon lens on the front-seat console.

"Must to be a professional," I thought, figuring the lens cost $10,000 or more.

A few minutes later, I met a man in the hotel yard. He had found a stray dog on a barren back road, and he asked a hotel worker to help find its home.

The woman agreed - she eventually located its owner at Diamond - and I soon discovered the man drove the SUV with the giant lens.

Mark I. Brown is a freelance, world-traveling professional wildlife photographer, and we shared stories about the wildlife we had seen in the area. When Darlene dragged me inside for breakfast, Brown and I exchanged cards and web addresses.

Darlene and I wrapped ourselves around bacon and French toast, which Darlene proclaimed to be "wonderful" by asking if the hotel cook made the bread. She didn't.

After breakfast we drove north to the turnoff for Krumbo Reservoir. We passed a cliff with many marmots and a VW Beetle-sized boulder with petroglyphs abused by less ancient markings.

At the parking area, Nora sniffed a mature bull snake and gave it a wide berth. It slithered right up to my foot before I moved.

We drove back to the Auto Tour Road and visited Benson Pond, Knox Ponds and eventually P-Ranch and Frenchglen one more time. We saw trumpeter swans at Benson Pond.

We met Brown again at P-Ranch. We shared more tales about what we had seen, and he headed toward Benson Pond and the refuge headquarters.

We headed toward The Narrows so Darlene could buy a gift or two. Then we lumbered toward Burns for dinner and to pack for the scenic drive home the next day.

We had seen the buzzards, so we did not plan an early start.

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


If You Go

If you drive through Pendleton, Pilot Rock and Ukiah on Highway 395, Burns is a scenic 236 miles from Walla Walla.

The Blitzen Valley Auto Tour Route is a 42-mile self-guided auto tour route that takes you the length of the historic Blitzen Valley. The full tour requires three to five hours to complete, depending on the amount of time you wish to spend. The tour will take you along a gravel road through a number of outstanding features of historical, geological and biological interests. The amount of wildlife you will see depends on the season, time of day, speed at which you drive, and your ability to spot movements. Please take care not to disturb wildlife along the way.

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