Audubon group heeds call of Malheur

  • Sharon Wootton / Outbound Columnist
  • Saturday, November 4, 2000 9:00pm
  • Life

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is famous for its flocks of migrating waterfowl during spring and fall.

If you’re lucky you might spot a bobcat or a pronghorn antelope, but for most visitors, the lure is on wings, thousands of birds on Harney and Malheur lakes, assorted moving waters and ponds located 32 miles south of Burns, Ore.

This is high desert country, about 4,100 feet above sea level. Drive through 185,000 acres of birdwatcher heaven, where more than 200 bird species can be seen on a regular basis.

Pilchuck Audubon Society has heard the call of all those winged things and is planning another trip in the spring.

While that seems a long lead time, the area’s popularity in the spring forces birdwatchers to make their reservations early to stay at the field station on the refuge or in Burns.

Darryl Thompson will show his slides from a trip to Malheur at the society’s program meeting Friday. Others will share their photographs as well.

Keith Lehn, who has birded mostly in Washington state, made his first trip to Malheur last spring.

"I saw 22 new lifetime species that I had never seen before," he said.

Water and a variety of habitats are the main attractions of the T-shaped refuge, Lehn said.

Included on his spring trip were white pelicans, white-face ibis, American avocets, black-necked stilts, black terns, snowy egrets, Forster’s terns and Clark’s grebes, "all kinds of birds you don’t usually see here," he said.

Learn more about Pilchuck Audubon Society’s trip to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge at PAS’ program meeting at 7 p.m. Friday, PUD building, 2320 California St. For more information, call 425-252-0926.

The hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone, as the old song goes, and in ecology, things are tied together as well.

The latest case in point comes from Yellowstone National Park, where researchers suggest that a sharp decline in aspen trees over the past century can be linked to the elimination of wolves.

The researchers, from Oregon State University, have been studying the decline in aspen groves, using historical documents, aerial photographs and ring-dating.

They reported in the journal Biological Conservation that for more than 150 years, until the late 1920s, young trees were able to mature within existing groves.

That changed around the time that wolves in and around the park were eliminated (the last wolves were seen in 1926).

Here is the theoretical connection: Wolves are natural predators of elk, and elk like to munch on aspen suckers in the winter, stunting the trees.

When the wolves disappeared, the numbers of elk increased. They no longer avoided areas like aspen groves, where they were vulnerable to wolf attack.

The researchers can test this theory now that wolves have been introduced into the park. But it’s too early to say whether their reintroduction will help the aspens.

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