Sometimes bad ideas produce good results. Because of the strength of Big Ag lobbying and anti-government politics in America much of our public land outside national parks is regularly used for extraction of profit and resources, from oil drilling and water bottling to burger production. Fremont National Forest covers large swaths of forest and sagebrush steppe in Oregon east of the Cascades. Most of this land is arid, much of it ponderosa, lodgepole or juniper forest. We passed through a section of this forest east of Klamath Marsh NWR as we drove from Ashland to Malheur on our recent field trip for donors to Klamath Bird Observatory.
At a spot called Antelope Flat [no antelope, not even a pronghorn] the”pastures” are fenced in for cattle grazing. The feds lease out this land to private ranchers. It is not really pasture this time of year, more like hundreds of acres of parched brillo pad. There is no running or standing water so a well has been dug to pump water from the aquifer and thus supply whatever walking burgers are put upon this land. In some tortured [why do some political positions enjoy torture so much?] political resentment the large cement water tank at Antelope Flat is a target for gunners. It belongs to the federal government–and even though the government, again, is subsidizing private burger ranchers–it is therefore a political target worthy of subversion so it is riddled with bullet holes in its lower third where the most water will leak out. The tank has been repeatedly repaired using dark roofing tar and bolts or wooden plugs. Not all of these repairs have survived the desert and winter conditions. Thus there is this manmade fountain in the dry land. It is a short flight to the nearby ponderosa forest so a mix of species results: Yes, Crossbills in the dried grassland, two minutes flight from their beloved pines. Both times we stopped here there were also Mountain Bluebirds as well. One time: migrant White-crowned Sparrows, next time a resident Savannah Sparrow. Our bonus bird for the site: a fly-over Ferruginous Hawk. These photos were taken by birder Kirk Gooding: Turns out we did not see another Ferruginous Hawk during the whole trip. Some of Kirk’s crossbill images at the oasis: Streaky characters are first-year birds. Antelope Flat is on Silver Lake Highway just across the county line from Klamath County. It is between Malheur NWR and Silver Lake town. This tank is obvious on the south side of the road, near western border with forest. The tank is the only erect thing on the whole flat that is taller than a fence post.
Here are two images Kirk caught on our re-visit as we drove back toward Ashland:Savannah Sparrow
Antelope Flat, Lake, Oregon, US
Sep 16, 2016 1:30 PM – 1:50 PM. 5 species
Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) 1
Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) 4
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) X
Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) X
Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) 8
Antelope Flat, Lake, Oregon, US
Sep 20, 2016 12:30 PM – 12:45 PM. 3 species
Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) 3
Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) 1
Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) 2