Saturday, September 12, 2015

An Apology To Oregon

Dear Oregon,

About a year ago, in the second-most successful post in this blog's short history, I outlined a Birder's Map of America. I thought it was pretty good, personally - except there was one glaringly obvious problem with it. I completely swindled you, my dear Beaver State. A question mark, an ignorant statement about a lack of visiting birders, and an all-too-easy cable television reference was all you got from me. I received several complaints about this oversight, which started to nag at me. Could I really have screwed up that map? Well, it's time for me to admit that I did.

By a stroke of complete luck coupled with a slight dose of irony, I found myself at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in your southeastern corner, where I interned for the summer. I have to say, I've never seen so many birders in my life. Not to mention that two months of relatively nonchalant birding and working (a blurred line in some respects) has yielded me 191 species of birds.  This all in one county, under "birders don't go here either" on the map. Yeah, yeah, I messed up. It was so far from the truth it could probably just be interpreted as shitty sarcasm.

Malheur NWR
What makes this place so special? Hell, just about everything. It's a giant waterfowl-laden wetland in the middle of a desert, surrounded by beautiful lava cliffs and sagebrush country. I've peered into Golden Eagle nests, been mobbed by Long-billed Curlews, gotten face-to-face with Common Nighthawks, and had both Long-eared and Short-eared Owls in one binocular view at the same time.

Just 5 feet from a nighthawk.
Is that a LONG-EARED OWL fledgling? Out in the open in the evening light? Yes, yes it is.
Then there are the vagrant traps, a somewhat alien concept to an easterner like me, where off-course migrants get concentrated in unusually high numbers. I have to admit, finding a Least Flycatcher in my backyard out here was quite a surprise, as was watching a Rose-breasted Grosbeak feeding amongst a flock of Black-headeds. The locally-rare male American Redstart that showed up at Fields Oasis made me stop and appreciate this rather dapper bird, a common migrant in my neck of the woods.  And the Cattle Egret I stumbled on out near Benson Pond ended up being a state bird for many Memorial Day visitors.

The only trees for miles around can be a haven for lost passerines. This doesn't happen in the East, because literally everything is forested.
From the Harney Basin it's just a short drive up into the mountains, where Townsend's Solitaires, Black-backed Woodpeckers, and flocks of Red Crossbills can be found. Red Crossbill has been a bit of a nemesis for me, so it was pretty sweet to see a mega-flock of about fifty up in Malheur National Forest (along with around 300 more over the course of my trip).

What a bad-ass finch.
Oh- and all of this was all just in once county. A few forays into outlying areas, including the beautiful coast, brought my Oregon trip list up to around 230, a pretty satisfying number in my opinion.

I could go on and on - but in essence, Oregon, you've been good to me. And I'm really sorry, despite your excessively low speed limits and bizarre rule about not pumping your own gas. I hope you will look past my blundering oversight and accept my apology. It would mean a lot to me.

Sincerely,

Lucas