The wildlife areas of the west simply must be placed high on the destination list when the autumn migration season rolls around. As far as bird watching is concerned, there is no better time to visit a wildlife refuge, especially in a wetlands area. There is a large basin in central Oregon that is covered with meadows, patches of forest, a few lakes and plenty of wetlands that are perfect for a birding venture. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is large marsh next to a big lake in this vast basin, which makes this the best place to be when the snowbirds start heading south!
The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is located at the southeast end of Malheur Lake, which is a fairly large body of water. This is a marshy wetlands area that has many patches of dry meadows with tall trees in outlying areas, so the migrating birds can see the local raptors from quite a distance. The setting alone is conducive to large bird flock numbers and the geographic location has even more to do with why this is a migratory hot spot. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is where the mountain waters drain into the north end of the Great Basin Desert, so this is the last spot to find food and water for quite a distance when flying south. Malheur is a migratory bottleneck of sorts, so needless to say, this is a great place to do some serious bird photography.
Because this is a wetland area, the birding will be good on any given day. The birding does get better during the spring or fall migration seasons and the temperatures are usually comfortable these times of year. Waterfowl and wading birds of all kinds are always around in numbers, while the songbirds tend to be a little bit shyer and less likely to pose for much time. Malheur is a great place to test bird identification skills and for a photographers there will be plenty of opportunities to capture a once in a lifetime image.
The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge experience actually caused me to take a second look at the direction my own photography was going. Using a decade old Nikon D90 with kit lenses that are thoroughly worn out had started to show in the quality of recent photos, so it was time to make a change. I plan to get the old D90 rebuilt because at 12.5 mega pixels is a good camera for internet media applications. In the mean time, I recently purchased a Nikon factory refurbished D7500, which will be used as the new workhorse camera. With a much more sensitive image sensor and a greatly improved focusing system, the D7500 is capable of doing some serious wildlife photography, so I purchased a Nikon 200-500mm lens to complete the package for a fair price. What this all means is there will be sharper wildlife photos in upcoming articles with more attention placed upon flying birds!
No matter whether you use a camera or not, touring the wildlife refuges of the west is definitely is worth doing in the autumn migratory season. Malheur is one of the best and because of the remote location, this National Wildlife Refuge is rarely crowded. Huge flocks of birds can be seen approaching from miles away, so there is always plenty of time to get in position to do some great birdwatching. Just one word of warning is necessary, because all it takes is clicking a few snapshots to get hooked on the bird photography game!
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