Friday, May 4, 2012
Malheur NWR...Oasis in the Oregon desert...
As I mentioned in a previous post the southeastern corner of Oregon is the least populated in the Lower 48 states. Highway 78, in the opinion of many including your intrepid reporter, is way lonelier than Nevada's famed Highway 50...the one Charles Kuralt (I think?) labeled the "The Loneliest Highway in America."
Regardless, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge sits amid high desert, a semi-arid landscape dominated by sagebrush and juniper clad and rocky barren hills. The refuge itself is surprisingly wet: big shallow lakes, marsh, the Donner and Blitzen River and several lesser creeks. The lakes, marsh and wetlands are almost entirely snowmelt runoff from the Steens Mountains. There are no outlets to the lakes and the underlying geology is impermeable so any water loss is left to evaporation.
As you might expect wildlife, especially birds--waterfowl, water birds, songbirds, game birds, raptors, you name it--flock to this oasis like bees to wildflowers. Something like 320 species have been observed many of which nest within the refuge. Spring and fall migration attracts waterfowl and shorebirds in mind-boggling numbers--tens, even hundreds thousands at a clip.
The surrounding high desert is considered semi-arid with a scant annual precipitation of about 9-inches per year. Many, many square miles signs of human habitation are all but non-existent. Pronghorn abound; in fact south of Malheur lies the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge (Lakeview, OR.)