Ogling, aiming and ambling fill four-day trip

A northern harrier flushes birds along Hotchkiss Road near Burns.

A northern harrier flushes birds along Hotchkiss Road near Burns. Photo by Don Davis.

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Despite two days of wind-driven sand across Harney County, Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I declared our recent four-day trip to Burns/Hines and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge a total success.

We observed American avocets, white-faced Ibises, hopping sandhill cranes, tiny pied-billed grebes and fluffy American white pelicans.

We spotted antelope and coyotes at a distance and more deer within whispering distance than we could count.

We ogled panoramic scenes while scoping fields and slopes all along the drive to Burns.

We aimed one arrow-straight, 50-mile detour west on Highway 20 to Glass Buttes. After turning south near mile-point 77, we saw a grey coyote in the sage and found small hunks of obsidian on the dusty road.

Mainly, however, we ambled along various auto routes and loops south Burns, where we also looked for photogenic wildlife and rim-rock.

When I say “ambled,” I don’t exaggerate.

After a visit to the Diamond Lava Beds, for example, we turned south toward Frenchglen, and a sheriff followed us for half-a-mile before pulling us over with blazing Christmas-tree lights.

As I rolled down my window, Nora leaped onto my lap. With nubbin wagging furiously, she shinnied onto the window sill to lick at the officer’s face.

Darlene’s eyes puckered.

“Oh, oh,” she whispered.

She clutched the camera with the big lens on her lap.

A very pleasant, profßessional officer said he thought I had been drinking because I kept slowing down, weaving to the right and driving at 30 mph.

No problem, however.

“Obviously, you haven’t been,” he said after I explained we were looking for critters and scenes to photograph.

He wished us good luck and left.

Ironically, the sheriff’s car was the only one we had seen in two hours, and I thought he wanted to pass.

Speaking of irony, the majority of our wading-bird photo opportunities came along two roads that go directly east to Highway 205 from our Best Western motel in Hines: Hotchkiss Road and Green House Road.

Each time we left on Hotchkiss in the morning, we stopped often for shots of yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds, black-necked stilts, avocets, ibises, cranes, willets, dunlins, sandpipers, sanderlings, dowitchers, coots, snipes and such.

Then, along Highway 205 on the north side of Wright’s Point, we saw two antelope each morning and afternoon.

On a morning with no wind rippling the waters, Avocets, stilts and American white pelicans cast shadows on the water near The Narrows on the MNWR.

And terns smacked the water after minnows.

We drove the MNWR Auto Route directly south from the headquarters toward Frenchglen.

A single great white egret foraged along the east side of Benson Lake, but I missed the photo.

A few ducks and two pied-billed grebes floated on a roadside marsh. Dozens of glossy-feathered ibises dined with jerky eagerness in a flooded field beside the road to Steens Mountain.

Accidentally, of course, we timed that drive to lunch at the Frenchglen Hotel. We had BLTs so thick that I stretched my maw to the limit and squeezed with fingers on both hands for each bite.

Hours later, we stopped again at the MNWR Headquarters. Hummingbirds remained out of season, but I snapped photos of a male and a female yellow warbler.

And, surprise, cute little Belding ground squirrels swarmed all over the place. I say “surprise” because on our visit last fall we saw none. The little critters had been exterminated from the headquarters grounds.

The person at the headquarters’ gift shop said they were back now “in full force.”

They’re called “sage rats” and considered major pests by many locals, especially those raising alfalfa. Shooters visit the area and large fees for guided trips to shoot sage rats (For a YouTube video Google: Shooting Sage Rats).

So, despite a bit of a breeze, we had a really good trip.

Two calm days out of four is a .500 percentage, after all, and that’s a glass half full.

Contact Don Davis at darleneanddon@msn.com. More of Don’s photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .

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