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Better than ever bird-watching in southeast Oregon?

Better than ever bird-watching in southeast Oregon?

Reports of flooding in southeast Oregon's Harney Basin may have discouraged you from taking in the spectacular spring migration at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. (It's 15 miles south of Burns, 150 miles from the California border via U.S. 395.) But this spring, both state highways leading to the refuge are open, as are most roads on the refuge's driving tour. Bird-watching may be better than ever.

Oregon's largest body of water? Six years of high precipitation and low evaporation have caused the refuge's three lakes to merge. Together, they now cover at least 175,000 surface acres. Since 1983, high water has frequently closed roads through the refuge and flooded nearby ranches.

As a result, two years ago the roadbed of State Highway 205 through the refuge was elevated. With numerous potholes, it makes for slow driving, and spring run-off sometimes still floods the road temporarily. To check road conditions, call the refuge at (503) 493-2323. Headquarters are open weekdays from 8 to 4:30.

You'll see the largest variety of birds in mid-May. High water has driven many species to the perimeter of the lake, and the raised road leads to excellent viewing of diving birds, shorebirds such as avocets and curlews, and others such as snowy egrets. For good views of white-faced ibis, try the road near Lawen, 14 miles southeast of Burns on State 78.

Spectacular numbers of Western grebes have been seen along State 205 near the refuge road. Concentrations of lesser sandhill cranes can also be seen--and heard trumpeting--along State 205.

To reach refuge headquarters from U.S. 20/395 at Burns, take State 78 east about 2 miles to State 205; turn south and go 24 miles. At the refuge sign, turn east on a county road and follow signs for 10 miles (the last 6 miles are gravel).

Field station lodging. Malheur Field Station, sited near some of the refuge's best viewing points, serves as a base camp for college students and as a hostelry for groups or individuals. Directors Mary and Ethen Perkins are knowledgeable about the area and can direct you to good birding. Five trailer hookups are available ($5) and trailers sleeping up to six can be rented for $7 a night per person (bring bedding and towels). Some dormitory lodging is available at $6 a night. You can cook your own meals or dine family-style at the main hall ($3.25 for breakfast and sack lunch, $4.50 for dinner). Spring weekends fill up quickly, so reserve ahead: call 493-2629.

To get there from State 205, go east 5 miles on the road to refuge headquarters.

Other accommodations. The historic Frenchglen Hotel, located 34 miles south of refuge headquarters, has reopened with seven guest rooms ($25 to $35 nightly); call 493-2825 to make reservations. The inn offers inexpensive breakfast, lunch, and light dinner to drop-in guests; call a day ahead to make a reservation for the hearty family-style dinner ($7.50 to $12.50).

The Burns area has 10 motels (doubles, $15 to $40); for information, call the chamber of commerce at 573-2636.

Near Frenchglen, Camper Corral (493-2415) has "bunkhouse' trailers ($25 and up a night) and trailer hookups. Page Springs is a BLM primitive site for free tent and trailer camping.

Photo: Spreading beyond their usual boundaries (dashed line), three lakes now are more than 30 miles across (solid colored line). Gray tone shows wildlife refuge boundaries

Photo: Synchronized swimmers, Western grebes are among many species of birds you'll see at wildlife refuge
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:May 1, 1986
Words:593
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