Saturday, January 13, 2018

Winter Birding in the Wallowas

The Wallowa Mountains provide habitat for some of Oregon's most unique birds, according to naturalist Stephen Shunk, who owns Paradise Birding in Sisters, Oregon, which leads birding tours around the world, including the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon. 

Birders on their backs watching birds
Photo courtesy of Steven Shunk, Paradise Birding of Sisters OR

 The formidable barrier of the Wallowa Mountains

"The forbidding arctic winter drives countless northern breeding birds southward to spend the season in milder climes. Dozens of songbird and raptor species make their way south until they reach winter foraging grounds just across the Canadian border. Those that migrate west of the Rockies run into a formidable barrier in Northeastern Oregon. Here they gather in large concentrations to overwinter in the shadow of the Wallowa Mountains," according to Stephen.

Joseph, Oregon, at the foot of the towering Wallowa Mountains

Unique species

A few species that breed in the Wallowas, such as the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, make their way down the north-facing slopes each winter. The gray-crowned rosy-finches (L. t. tephrocotis) were confirmed as a "distinct race" in the 1930s, when a party from the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology obtained19 breeding pairs from two alpine localities on the Eagle Cap and Elkhorn Peaks at the headwaters of the Lostine River.

Audobon of Portland confirms that the Wallowa Mountains comprise the entire breeding range of the Wallowa Rosy Finch, a subspecies of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, and notes additionally that it is the only area in the state with regular confirmed breeding of Pine Grosbeak.

Winter bird varieties

Bohemian Waxwing in the Wallowa Mountains
Steven Shunk photo
Stephen gives an overview of other birds that can be seen in the Wallowa area during winter:

"The huge flocks of rosy-finches may join dozens or even hundreds of Snow Buntings to forage on the rolling, snow-covered prairie north of the mountains. Occasionally, Lapland Longspur joins large wintering flocks of Horned Larks, and Northern Shrike patrols the region for easy forage.

"Each winter, hundreds of Bohemian Waxwings gorge on mountain-ash and juniper fruits in the Wallowa Valley. Nearly every gully in the nearby prairieis filled with small flocks of American Tree Sparrows. In some years, Common Redpolls swarm the birch and alder trees by the dozens.

Steven Shunk photo
 "Searching for tree sparrows and redpolls along the prairie back-roads typically yields resident coveys of Gray Partridge, and possibly a glimpse of Oregon’s only wild population of Sharp-
tailed Grouse.

"Pileated Woodpecker inhabits the forest that meets the grasslands from the north. Rough-legged Hawk and Bald Eagle exhibit a commanding presence throughout the region, highlighting dozens of  wintering raptors.

"In some years, a Snowy Owl or Gyrfalcon spends the winter in Wallowa County. And all of this occurs surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery in North America."

Wallowa Winter Bird Guide

Mt. View Motel & RV Park guests with an interest in birding can inquire at the motel office for a copy of the list of birds identified during Stephen's Wallowa County winter bird tours during seven years between 2003 and 2014. Motel owner Scott is a birder who is happy to share his love of birds and his own birding trip experiences.

Next Wallowa Winter Birding Tour

Paradise Birding's next Wallowa Birding tour is scheduled for Feb 2019. Contact Stephen Shunk for more information at 541-408-1753 or

Stephen founded Paradise Birding in 1997. He has led tours to birding hot spots around the world, including the Wallowas, and at annual Oregon birding festivals: The Harney County Migratory Bird Festival, which celebrates the large annual migration of birds that pass through Harney Basin on the Pacific Flyway in April, and the Silver Falls Mother's Day Birding & Wildflower Festival.

Stephen co-founded the East Cascades Bird Conservancy, which is now the East Cascades Audubon Society chapter. He is also co-founder of the Oregon Birding Trails program and coordinated its flagship project, the Oregon Cascades Birding Trail.  

No comments:

Post a Comment