I’m looking down on smoke produced by fires in British Columbia and driven out the valleys of the Fraser and Columbia. With no strong westerlies, or rain, to stop it, the haze now covers the west from Medford to Whistler. And it’s hot, very hot – a hundred and five in Portland. So I’m up here at eleven thousand feet where the air is clean and the temperature comfortable. There’s even snow. I’m looking for Mountain Bluebirds, Clark’s Nutcracker and other high country species but most other visitors aren’t so inclined. They trudge past carrying skis and snowboards heading for the runs a mile away. Good on them – they’re all a lot younger than me. Skiing in August is just about the last thing I feel like doing.
The Ski Hill
I carry on, sidestepping rivulets of melt water and blooming alpine plants, going higher. Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels seem to be everywhere, gathering and storing food for the winter. Several species of butterflies chase each other across the broken terrain, flashing orange and black. The biggest are Tortoiseshells, strong fliers and fast. I find a comfortable-looking boulder and sit to admire slopes adorned with yellow wild buckwheat, purple asters, fleabane and lupines – how clever of nature to do the complimentary colour thing. Then I empty my shoes of ash and pumice and head down the mountain towards the smoke and heat. Ah, me. At least they have good food and wine in Portland.
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel
Paintbrush, Aster Fleabane, Alpine Aster
Lazuli Bunting – W.L. Finley Refuge
Once a year I take my 86 Alfa Romeo on a birding trip, usually to Oregon. My route this year, down I-5, though the Willamette Valley, up the Oregon coast and then looping back to BC, takes me past some of the best birding spots in the northwest – Nisqually, Baskett Slough, W.L. Finley, Fern Ridge, George Reifel. The car is sparkling and bright at the start, dust covered and bug plastered when I ease her into the her parking bay at home. What lingers is the remembrance of the joy of motoring through incredibly beautiful countryside, top down, listening to snatches of bird song, alive to the smell of blossoms, new hay, and the medicinal aromas of conifers — and of the wonderful birds I saw and heard along the way.
Bittern – Fern Ridge Refuge
Sandhill Crane – George Reifel Refuge
Black-headed Grosbeak – W.L.Finley Refuge
Spotted Towhee with Caterpillars
Red-Breasted Sapsucker – W.L. Finley
Live Moss – Fern Ridge
Marsh Wren – Nisqually
Alfa Bird – Oregon
The Road to Burns
I visited Malheur National Wildlife Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in the middle of the summer a few years ago – before the unhappy events there in 2016. I’m delighted to report that the temperature was moderate and I heard only a single mosquito – in spite of warnings of excessive heat and a plaque of bugs. Not surprisingly, with that kind of a rep, few birders visit here at the end of July.
The Refuge certainly wasn’t busy. I saw no more than a half dozen people, including rangers monitoring the narrow track that leads, ultimately, to less than teeming metropolis of Frenchglen. Of course, for wildlife, the fewer people the better. Young animals and birds seemed to be everywhere reminding me again how important Wildlife Refuges, like Malheur, are for breeding species, as well as being vital stopovers for migrating birds.
Loggerhead Shrike Family
Eared Grebe Family
Young Coyote on the track to Frenchglen
Fawn at Malheur