Where the Deer and the Antelope (and the Birders) Play
Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge includes about a quarter million acres in Lake County, OR. It is not close to anything, but is definitely worth the trip. The weather here in early June tends to be cool and breezy, and my recent visit was true to form.
In the morning, I parked at the campground and walked up toward the top of the large fault block that is Hart Mountain. It was a four-hour round trip through low sage steppe with aspen groves along the creeks. The riparian areas held MacGillivray’s and Yellow Warblers, Dusky Flycatchers, Bullock’s Orioles, and lots of Robins. In the more open habitats, the most common birds were Brewer’s and Vesper Sparrows, Rock Wrens, and Horned Larks.
Pronghorns are the main reason this refuge came into being. Not actually antelope, Pronghorns are the fastest land animals in North America, having evolved alongside the now-extinct American Cheetah. Most of the Pronghorns I saw that day were rather skittish, keeping a good distance from me.
Near the top of the ridge is this large cairn, which stands almost eight feet tall. I’m not sure why some people are compelled to stack things. Monty Python addressed this issue with their Royal Society for Putting Things On Top of Other Things.
On my way back down the mountain, I again passed the unconcerned Pronghorn.
Despite the cold, he has already started to shed his winter coat. If you look closely, you can see just a bit of a yellow tag in his left ear. This identifies this animal as part of a study tracking Pronghorn migration between Hart Mountain and Sheldon NWR in Nevada.
Farther south on the refuge lies a little patch of Ponderosa Pine forest known as Blue Sky. Since the habitat is so different from the surrounding sage steppe, it is worth exploring for different bird species, especially in migration. On this cold blustery day, I found Lazuli Bunting, Green-tailed Towhee, Warbling Vireo, and White-crowned Sparrows. The large trees are attractive to various owls, I am told.