Friday, August 15, 2014

July on the Zumwalt Prairie

We are back in Zumwalt Prairie volunteering for The Nature Conservancy (TNC). We were here last September - it was our first volunteer gig in our new home on wheels. Geez- have we had an amazing year!! We have learned so much about ourselves and the world around us:)

We were excited to be back on the prairie for the months of July and August because we were hoping to get a chance to spend some time observing many of the baby grassland birds as well as raptors coming through the area.

In 2000, TNC purchased 27,000 acres of the Zumwalt Prairie located in Wallowa County in the northeast corner of Oregon. In 2006, TNC added 6,065 acres, making the 51-square-mile preserve Oregon's biggest private sanctuary.

Prairie and grassland habitat across the country is being lost at alarming rates to the increased implementation of cattle farming and the growing of food for cattle. We have seen this ourselves in our drive across the country last June to get our Driver's licenses in South Dakota. 

TNC's Zymwalt operation is working with ranchers across the Zumwalt landscape to manage cattle grazing to maintain the ecological health of the prairie and the economic viability of working ranches. Hopefully that work provides a blueprint that can be expanded to other areas of the country resulting in less of a negative impact on the environment and associated wildlife. 

Our primary responsibilities are to take care of Summer Camp by mowing the lawn, watering the young trees, monitoring mouse traps and taking energy reading of the solar/generator power system. In addition we enjoy participating in other projects such as bird surveys, junk removal,invasive species removal and fence modifications to make fences more wildlife friendly as well as inspection of Aspen exclosures.  Of course we are here to help TNC (we do usually carry our binoculars everywhere we go :)). 

Summer Camp

Watering the young Aspens and Lilacs

Removal of junk 

Removal of invasive species 

Fixing trail markers

It was very apparent Summer Camp is home base to a busy cattle operation. 

This photo was taken out our dinette window as we were eating breakfast. Holy Cow!!

In regards to birding, we have not been disappointed! Baby birds  were everywhere. It is an amazing time to bird since the parents are busy feeding the young- they are much more vocal and active which makes it easier to see them. 

The following provides a glimpse of  some of the scenery and wildlife around us at Summer Camp and the surrounding area. 

We only had a few good looks at the elusive American Badger whose holes can be found everywhere on the prairie. 

Tree Swallows tried nesting in a new nest box but we don't think they were successful. Sometimes it takes a few years. 

Summer Camp is blessed with lots of nesting Cliff and Barn Swallows. 

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow nest- see the babies head sticking out

Barn Swallows have beautiful split tails 

One day we noticed someone a little different looking..... It was a Bank Swallow that stopped by ....

to hang out with the Cliff Swallows. See how much smaller the Bank Swallow is (on the right)- it also has that distinctive chest band. You never know who you are  going to see:)

These juvenile European Starlings have a face only a mother could love at this stage:) They were actually nesting right next door to an American Kestrel family and there was a Great Horned Owl in the barn. Lots going on there...

The Say's Phoebes are early nesters. We did see the immature birds flying around Summer Camp when we arrived. 

The resident Great Horned Owl that lives in the barn

Here are some of the spectacular views around the area. 

Views from the Canyon Vista Trail

There are large herds of elk on the Prairie. We can here them calling at dusk and dawn. 

Views from the top of Mt Howard ( the Wallowa Tram takes you to the top)

Wild flowers

I think this is the Sage Mariposa Lily of the many incredible dragon flies

We saw the snakes below as we were walking along Camp Creek behind Summer Camp ( we did run into a few Rattlesnakes but did not stick around for photos)

Bob rescued this trout that was caught in a pool in a canyon stream up Devil's Gulch. It was a sitting duck - so to speak. Bob had a trusty recycled plastic bag with NO holes and filled it up and carried the fish in the bag full of water 2 miles down to Little Sheep Creek where the little trout was happily released and swam away :)

Now for the birds.... (Sorry for the great number of photos but each little being was so special and we have very limited internet access so I have not been able to share on a regular basis). 

I originally thought this was an immature Red-tailed Hawks since we have been seeing so many light-morph Red-tails around us. A friend let me know that this is actually an immature Ferruginous Hawk-note the legs are feathered to the feet, yellow cere and a thick brown eyeline. I am always learning:)

Everyone was feeding babies. 

Here is a Brewer's Blackbird with a mouthful!

This Brewer's Sparrow  is busy gathering food for their babies. 

I think this Chipping Sparrow has a grasshopper. 

This was a new bird - the Grasshopper Sparrow (named so because their call really sounds like a grasshopper). The Grasshopper Sparrow are challenging to see- they are very secretive grassland sparrows....but since they breed here we got lucky to hear them calling and even coming up from the grass to sing!! Amazing!!
Notice the large bill and short tail
We think this is a juvenile Grasshopper Sparrow

How about this remarkable looking Horned Lark- what spectacular markings and they even have little horns. They seem to be abundant on the prairie. 

Here is the juvenile Horned Lark. It has a ways to go to come into adult plumage. 

Western Meadowlarks were perched on many of the fence posts along the Zumwalt Rd. We came upon their nests in the grass and would have to reroute our activities so we would not disturb them. 

This is a juvenile Western Meadowlark- looks like some kind of chicken 

This Savannah Sparrow was enjoying a bath. 

Another Savannah Sparrow

Vesper Sparrows are thick along the roadside - we think they like to perch on the fences. 

A gangly juvenile Vesper Sparrow

This is the striking Lark Sparrow - another sparrow that breeds in the forest edges of the prairie. 

A mouthful for their young.

A Prairie Falcon enjoying a meal on the telephone pole. 

Lots of wrens live in the area:

Canyon Wren with its sweet song 

The House Wren removing a fecal sack from the nest which was actually inside the metal gate. 

A juvenile House Wren- see the gape. The juveniles have these gapes so they can open up extra wide to get food from their parents. 

A singing Rock Wren

And the juvenile Rock Wren

The Kildeer and it's brood- the little ones are roughly the size of a quarter

Even though they are so hard to identify we love flycatchers!
Here is a Western Flycatcher that was nesting down the creek from Summer Camp. 

We think this is a Willow Flycatcher that was hanging out in the willows right behind the barn. 

We visited Wallow State Park a few times because there were so many birds and a lovely forest setting on the lake. 

We saw a number of Cassin's Finches - the one below looks like a female

This looks like a juvenile Cassin's Finch female
This female was enjoying a bath

The photo below blew us away- the little gray fuzzy blob is 2 Common Nighthawk chicks!! Common Nighthawks lay their eggs on rocky terrain (no nest). Thank goodness someone had warned us that there was a nest or I think we might have stepped on them!

We saw this gorgeous male Lazuli Bunting along the creek behind Summer Camp. In early June we could see and hear the Lazuli Buntings busy defending their territories and beginning the nesting process. 

The male Mountain Bluebids don't even look real!

We were doing some trail maintenance along Devil's Gulch in early July. When we got out if the truck we could hear the Red-eyed Vireos and Yellow-breasted Chat singing and calling along the river. It was quite extraordinary - we later learned that Red-eyes Vireos and Yellow-breasted Chats love these river canyons for breeding. We are alway learning something new!

We spied this Spotted Sandpiper in Wallowa State Park in its breeding plumage of dapper spots on the chest

We were admiring this Hairy Woodpecker along Canyon Vista Trail- we saw lots of evidence of woodpeckers in many of the forests but we did not see or hear them around.

We were lucky enough to see a group of nesting Lewis's Woodpecker. 
The Lewis's Woodpecker adult is feeding its young 

Red Crossbills are always a treat to see. Typically they feed on pine cones at on the tree tops and are hard to see. This is a male Red Crossbill. 

This male Spotted Towhee was busy taking care of young the day we saw it along Canyon Vista Trail. 

Another new bird surprised us sitting in a Spruce tree along the McCully Trail- a male Spruce Grouse. 

Look at the red around the eye- that is one of the indicators of a male bird. 

We had a number of Swainson's and Hermit Thrushes singing on the McCully Trail. This photo is of (we think) a Swainson's Thrush since there is no rufous coloring on the flanks and tail.

We caught a quick glimpse of what we think is an immature female Williamson's Sapsucker near the Buckhorn Lookout for Hell's Canyon. 

These immature American Dippers were flitting along the edge of Hurricane Creek, probably waiting for their parents to feed them. 

This family of Wilson's Phalaropes was living in a local stock pond. 

What an adorable family of Common Mergnasers on Lake Wallowa. We learned that Common Mergansers often nest in tree cavities! So they may have nested in one of the many cavities in the forest next to the lake. 

This is an immature Bald Eagle that hatched in a nest on Lake Wallowa. It had just left the nest. It's other sibling was still in the nest. It takes a few years for the head to turn to white.

Last but not least is this Mallard family that was raising its young in a stock pond along the road. We were able to see their progress on a regular basis since we drove by the pond often. 

Life continues to be full of beauty & wonder,

Turtle & Hawk


  1. Fantastic photos and lovely insights. Thank you Turtle and Hawk for sharing!
    - Rumphius

  2. I am so glad I found your blog! This sounds like the perfect volunteer opportunity and I am going to research it further. We LOVED that part of OR when we visited briefly in June and intend to return and stay for at least a month. Thank you for bringing this to my attention!