Monday, April 21, 2014

The Silvies River Flood Plain

Irrigation Canal with a flooded field in the background
The Silvies River provides the irrigation water for the Burns area as it flows into Malheur Lake. Most of the fields are flooded providing great habitat for ducks, geese, and shorebirds. When I first saw all the flooded fields, I assume it was just a high water table after the spring rains. I was wrong. Their preferred method of irrigation here is to flood the fields in the spring which will hopefully provide enough moisture to last the season. A few farmers have put in pivot irrigation systems, but the wildlife experts are hoping that this does not become the norm as pivot systems do not provide habitat for water fowl.
No one was sure, but we assume the large size means goose eggs. This was right next to the highway.
This tour took us around the neighborhood, so to speak. We drove in all four directions from Burns never more than about ten miles from the city center. We saw many of the flooded fields, some for the second or third time. But since the birds move around every view is different.

We started the day with spectacular views of thousands of Ross’s geese along with a few late-leaving snow geese. While most of the snow geese had already headed for northern Alaska, the Ross’s geese were all headed to northern Canada. Those snow geese remaining may stay here all summer. At least two were injured and probably unable to make the flight. For them, the summer months will be difficult as they must evade the coyotes and raptors without the flock as protection.

Today, we did stop to see the owl and had some good looks at both Mom and Dad. Mom was lying across the nest while Dad was just sitting in the tree a few feet below waiting. Both were waiting for the night hours when the hunting would be better.

Look close to see Mom lying across the nest.
Today was the best day for shorebirds as we saw everything we expected to see including long-billed curlews, black-necked stilts, willets, white-faced ibis, long-billed dowitchers and even a few killdeer. Most of the good birds were too far away for good pictures, but I did get a few. The long-billed curlew is an amazing bird with a bill about 1/3 of its body length. Some of them reach ten inches as this is one of the larger shorebirds anyway.
Long-billed Dowitcher
Black-necked stilts in flight
We ended the day driving along some desert landscape where we were able to our first sage thrasher and a loggerhead shrike. Shrikes have a hooked beak giving them a sinister look. They are best known for storing their insect kills on thorns. We did not see any of this today, but I have seen it other places. It is a bit disconcerting to see this and think about the bird’s mind that came up with such a gruesome storage plan.

The tour ended at noon so I ventured back downtown for one last meal before heading on the back roads to Sun River where I would spend the night before returning home and getting Linda at the airport as she returned from her San Diego girls’ weekend. 
Fort Rock
I made one stop at Fort Rock to see what raptors might be visible there. I had passed a golden eagle nest a few miles earlier and managed to add three bald eagles and a pair of prairie falcons to my list for the day. I was surprised to see rock pigeons there too. These are the same birds that populate our city streets and were the subject of one beautiful song from Mary Poppins. London no longer allows their feeding in Trafalgar Square. Fort Rock looks like a huge fort from a distance but is really an extinct volcano that rises 325 feet above the plain. Prehistoric artifacts over 9000 years old have been found in some of the caves that were inhabited on the interior of the ‘fort’.

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