[Tweeters] Off topic: Malheur

Constance Sidles constancesidles at gmail.com
Mon Apr 25 11:04:09 PDT 2022

Hey tweets, many, many thanks to all of you who replied to my question about drought conditions at Malheur. You are such a great community! In particular I was interested in the drought conditions that forced American White Pelicans to leave several years ago, resulting in a new population of these birds in our part of the world, namely, at Deer Lagoon and Crockett Lake. I wanted to predict (at least insofar as any human can predict bird decisions!) whether we are likely to retain our migratory population of American White Pelicans, even if conditions improve at Malheur well enough to support the bird flocks that fled.

On the suggestion of one tweeter, I called the refuge's gift shop, which is staffed by local volunteers, to ask about conditions there.

According to what she said, and also in accord with the answers that many of you sent, the picture is mixed:

Drought conditions continue to be severe. Malheur Lake is very low, and the natural spring near the refuge visitor center is just a fraction of itself. There is water in the reservoirs but at low levels. Similar drought conditions existed last year as well.

This seems to have affected the populations of both American White Pelicans and White-faced Ibises, another species I was interested in. I did not ask about other species that might have been affected by the drought. According to nearly everyone who responded to my request, both ibises and pelicans have experienced a drop in population. However, depending on where you go on the refuge, you can still see these birds. In fact, eBird reports that this past week, there were 8 American White Pelicans sighted on one day, and 35 White-faced Ibises on another day.

So some birds are still present and seem to be managing with the water that remains. I would predict, then, that we will continue to see American White Pelicans at Deer Lagoon, at least in the near future, and (I hope) permanently.

The volunteer at Malheur pointed out that fluctuations in water conditions (drought vs. flooding) swing wildly in a place like Malheur. She told me that in the 1980s, flooding was severe, so much so that the roads had to be raised up on dikes. The flooding resulted in a big increase in carp, an invasive fish. It also encouraged plant growth which, along with all the water, ended up displacing several species of birds. Now we have the opposite condition. Perhaps the birds in such a place are adapted to these swings, as sporadic as they are, much the way species are adapted to hurricanes in other parts of the country, which are also quite sporadic but present over the long term. - Connie, Seattle

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