Hello Friends of Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge! My name is Danielle Fujii-Doe, and I assumed the position of the Refuge Manager at Hart Mountain starting February 17th. I am very excited to be at Hart Mountain and look forward to working with all of you.
I am originally from Hawai’i, where my love of conservation and wildlife started. I worked for various state and local agencies, protecting native Hawaiian birds and plants. I received my B.S. in Animal Science and B.S. in Fisheries and Wildlife Science from Oregon State University (Go Beavs!). Once I returned to Hawai’i, I worked at Haleakalā National Park, where I helped to protect native, threatened and endangered birds from invasive predators, like cats and rats. I was awarded a scholarship at the University of Hawai’i, where I received my M.S. in Natural Resource and Environmental Management. I completed my master’s project in Montana at Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, comparing native versus non-native vegetation on the refuge. After graduating, I started working for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I have worked at various refuges and wetland management districts throughout Mountain-Prairie Region, so I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work in a different region and be back in Oregon.
Before Hart Mountain, I was at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah as a Natural Resource Specialist. My duties there included urban partnership development, grazing coordinator, assistant manager, volunteer coordinator, and the occasional fire base camp manager. I have also worked in Ecological Services in Utah, delisting and downlisting plants and wildlife.
My dog Ailani and I will be living on the Refuge, along with my many, many plants, baking tools, and quilting supplies.
Please stop by the Refuge and introduce yourself, I would love to meet all of you.
2019 Greater Sage-Grouse Lek Count
In what is becoming a tradition, at the end of March members of the Friends of Hart Mountain gathered at Refuge Headquarters for three mornings of observing and counting Sage-grouse on the Refuge. The count of Greater Sage-Grouse is done annually to track population numbers and assist in the management of the species on the Refuge. The grouse gather in an area called a lek where the males display shortly after daylight to compete for the attention of the females. Volunteers hike out to lek locations each morning before dawn to be in position when the birds arrive. Despite impassable roads- rendering some leks inaccessible- and foul weather delaying the lek season, the Friends enjoyed fair skies, plenty of birds and at least one large herd (sixty plus) of Pronghorn. The Friends will report the latest information on the Greater Sage-Grouse population at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge when those data become available.
2019 Sage-Grouse lek count volunteers and board members. Thank you to our amazing member-volunteers!
top Right: Say's Phoebe, photo by Jim Onstott; top left: Summer explore Petroglyph Lake; bottom right: FOHM volunteers, Gary Fasnacht, Shelly Pasco, and Laura van Fleet survey a lek site; bottom right: Donna and Jim Onstott scan for Greater Sage-Grouse
Although several folks were regrettably obliged to drop out at the last moment (they vowed to make it next year), there were still thirteen Friends surveying the leks. What made this group special was the participants’ age range from six to seventy-five. Moreover, several participants were brand new members who had joined in order to take part in this year’s count. Some came from as far away as Olympia and Kent, Washington and even Livingston, Montana! One can gain a sense of their impressions from the comments of two of them: Six-year old Summer Kofranek, whose family stayed in their camper, and Shelley Pasco, who brought her own accommodations in the form of a pop-up trailer.
Summer was interviewed about her impressions by her mother, Jeanne Kofranek, and she painted wonderful picture of what she had seen. We hope that her comments will encourage others to consider bringing children. It's never too early to begin learning about the world that surrounds us!
Summer Kofranek Lek Count Interview
Q: What was your favorite part of the Sage Grouse Lek Count trip to Hart Mountain?
A: Everything! I liked the whole trip. I liked the bunkhouse too.
Q: What did you like about the Lek itself?
A: I could see the Sage Grouse with my bare eyes and I like seeing them strut.
Q: What helped you with the cold weather in the morning?
A: Hot chocolate!
Q: Will you do the Lek Count again?
A: Yes. It's exciting that I don't know what it will be like. Will I see pronghorn antelope and coyotes?
Q: What would you tell other kids who want to do a Lek Count?
A: It's great! There are lots of rocks, try not to trip. Bring mittens, hats, lots of treats, a ball and binoculars.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Hart Mountain?
A: Everything. It's really pretty, with rocks, petroglyphs, hot springs and lots of animals.
Summer surveying a lek
Shelley Pasco's First Lek Count
My fascination with Sage-Grouse began years ago, as an offshoot of my irrational obsession with the Prairie Chicken while traveling through Texas. I didn’t find any Prairie Chickens on that trip. Neither did I find the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge, but I do intend to some day. Several years ago, on a road trip with my kids to Yellowstone, I fell in love with the Sagebrush Steppe and the Oregon Trail. Through the course of several short road trips from the wet, western side of the Cascades all the way to eastern Idaho, I have managed to trace down most (if not all) of the surviving wagon ruts of the Trail, as well as spend a fair amount of time enamoring myself with the high desert landscape. As an amateur birder, it was only a matter of time before I became obsessed with the Sage-Grouse.
Last May, I set out to find Sage-Grouse and Pronghorn (and soak in a hot spring), and while poring over my road atlas, I spied Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge. I headed there to camp for two (very chilly) nights and soak it all up. It was a bit disappointing because the only grouse I saw was one I flushed out of the bushes while hiking to the Petroglyphs, and I only spotted a single Pronghorn as I was leaving my last morning. Undeterred, I vowed to return and try again. When I got back within cell service range, I started following the refuge on Facebook, so I’d get news and updates.
This was Shelley’s first time counting Greater Sage-Grouse, and she has given us a vivid account. Like the others, she has vowed to return next spring and perhaps even this Fall for the Mule Deer Survey.
When I saw the little blurb about volunteering for the Lek Count in March, I marked the application date on my calendar. I had no idea what the competition must be, because OF COURSE there must be dozens, if not hundreds of people who want to get up before dawn and hike through sagebrush and rocks to look for elusive birds. I set an alarm for myself, and at 8:02 AM I had my application turned in. It was first-come, first-served, after all, and I didn’t want to miss out. Weeks passed, and I was thrilled when I got Bob’s email announcing that I was in! I couldn’t wait! But the real thrill was yet to come!
There were thirteen of us who made the long trek to the refuge for this adventure. Most counters stayed in the bunkhouse, which is very comfortable and cozy, but I had planned a longer camping trip around the count and brought my little popup trailer. Campers have access to the restrooms, showers, and kitchen, however, as well as the common area and birding books. There was a short meet-and-greet orientation Thursday afternoon. We were assembled into groups of 3 or 4, and assigned Lek clusters. Some groups were given leks that were close to headquarters, but other leks are farther and require more hiking and/or driving time to reach them. Those of us who had never counted a lek or seen grouse before were given lek assignments that were more likely to be rewarding, which we appreciated. Depending on the lek assigned, departure time from headquarters was around 5:00 AM–5:30 AM.
We learned that the leks are somewhat fluid, and single leks can merge into larger ones, shifting over time. Some leks are abandoned, and new ones are created. All of these details need to be noted in records and updated, in addition to how many birds are counted. Each of us had binoculars or a spotting scope, and we were to count birds and the highest number of birds by any given person was the number recorded. If possible, the number of males and females would also be counted.
The first morning we buzzed with excitement. Waking up in the dark, we had coffee and a quick breakfast, and bundled up, ready to go. We loaded into a pickup truck and drove as close as we could to our assigned lek. Then, using GPS devices, we hiked carefully (the landscape is full of chunks of volcanic rock) through sagebrush with our headlamps until we reached a location roughly 100 yards from the lek proper. But that first morning, we heard the males popping before we saw them. “Do you hear that?! It sounds like popcorn?” It was magical. We all held our breath so we could hear. “Yes, Yes! I hear them!” The sun was just starting to rise. We all raised our binoculars to our faces, and scanned the landscape. “The lek should be just over that way.”
Greater Sage-Grouse male on lek
I remember scanning left to right, not seeing anything but greenish-brown in the pre-dawn light. But then, a flash of white! And then another! “I SEE THEM!” It was thrilling! Then, the number got bigger and bigger. Laura said, “I see 12!” Emily said, “I got 17!” Bill got 23! The number kept growing. Ultimately, I increased my scanning range to about 180º and got 30 males, plus 4 females! The final count was 31 males. As we counted and watched, we heard a coyote caroling behind us. Were we disturbing its breakfast plans? At that point, the experience became a spiritual moment. The parading grouse in front of us, the coyote behind us. We turned to find the coyote, and sure enough, there it was loping along. But then, what were those lumps just past the coyote… Pronghorn?! We counted those. 20, 30, 57! A lovely herd, moving along, eating their breakfast. Spiritual, indeed. As the sun rose, we made our way to another lek, where we counted over 20 females and 4 male Sage Grouse. Then the sun was up and we headed back for breakfast.
After second breakfast and a nap, we all gathered for a group hike to Petroglyph Lake. It was a sunny, cool, relaxing day. That evening we chose assignments for the next morning, Saturday. As we went to sleep, snow started falling, but it didn’t last long. The morning was icy but clear, so many stars in the sky. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any birds, but we saw a lot of grouse droppings, and other evidence that they had been there in the weeks prior. For whatever reason, they weren’t gathering at that location any longer. Another beautiful desert sunrise, full of Meadowlark song and the scent of Sagebrush. That afternoon, we went down into the town of Plush for gas and spent several hours looking for birds in the Warner Lake area. I caught several lifers, mostly waterfowl, but the big score for me were American Avocets and a Loggerhead Shrike, which I don’t have at home. We heard the rattling call of Sandhill Cranes but didn’t see them. That night as I prepared for sleep, I heard the strangest sound. The group ornithologist Jesse identified it for me as a Wilson’s Snipe, doing its winnowing performance.
The third morning, Sunday, was another gorgeous sunrise. The high desert is undoubtedly the king of sunrises. Again, these leks had not been used in some time, so we wrapped up and headed back to our first location from Friday to end on a high note. We were rewarded with lekking grouse again, and surrounded by a multitude of Horned Larks cheering us back to the truck. We headed back to headquarters to clean the bunkhouse and pack up. A pair of Sandhill Cranes flew overhead. The headquarters area was swarming with Western Meadowlarks and Say's Phoebes as we headed out. Such a beautiful place and an incredible experience. I can’t wait to do it again next March!
- Shelly Pasco, FOHM Member and Volunteer
A dramatic sky as a storm passes over the Refuge. Photo by FOHM member, Jim Onstott.
Friends of Hart Mountain Membership Survey Results
A great big thank you to all 39 members who responded to our survey. Your responses have enlightened our board members on what to focus to increase our membership and improve our support for the refuge. Here is a summary of what we have learned.
Members of the Friends range from 22-81 years of age with an average age of 57 years. Most live in Oregon, Washington, California, and Nevada though we have a couple from North Carolina and France. Thirty-seven percent have been members for 1-3 years, 34% for 10 years or more. Some joined because they love and want to support the refuge, have taught or volunteered at Hart Mountain, want to receive information on the refuge, or live nearby.
What do they love about Hart Mountain NAR? Our members value the wild open spaces and the beautiful countryside. Members also appreciate the isolation and solitude within the refuge boundaries. They value the diversity of the ecosystems and wildlife found on the refuge. Finally, those with families valued being able to make memories with their loved ones at the refuge.
When asked what they wanted to see improved, members indicated a need for a greater public presence at the refuge and building relationships with the surrounding community. Other suggestions were renovation about the refuge such as improving trails and adding signage, maps and visitor services. Others expressed a need for better management of the campgrounds and hot springs. Another suggestion was expanding the refuge to link with Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge.
Asked what they liked about the Friends, respondents valued the Friends support and advocacy for the refuge and staff. The Friends are able to do this by keeping people informed about what’s happening at the refuge and through the volunteer events we host.
This first survey is proving invaluable in showing how as an organization we can improve. An underlying theme is the need to redouble our efforts to involve local residents and encourage them to participate on the refuge in some capacity. We must continue informing the public about the refuge’s many services and the special niche that a wildlife refuge occupies among public lands. To do this will require improving communication through social media and public outreach and providing more opportunities for group activities. As a volunteer organization, the Friends will need to look to our members to accomplish these goals.
This is a small part of what was learned from our survey. If you would like to learn more, please come join us at our annual meeting. And, if you have further other suggestions, please share them through the website contact page.
Finally, we want to congratulate Jeanne Kofranek on winning the $50 gift card to the Pronghorn Store!
FOHM volunteers monitoring Sage-Grouse leks at dawn. Photo by Emily Onstott.
FOHM Board Meeting Summary 30 March 2019
On March 30 the Friends of Hart Mountain Board of Directors held its spring meeting at the refuge headquarters. Six Board members were present along with Refuge Manager Danielle Fujii-Doe and Friends member David Kofranek. Aside from the usual reports (treasurer’s report, Pronghorn Store report), there were reports on the Mule Deer Count (see article by Gary Fasnacht in the previous issue) and on the Membership Survey. The Board also discussed possible changes to the membership framework and dues structure; two Board members were appointed to prepare points for discussion at the next meeting. Refuge manager Fujii-Doe clarified new operational protocols that she is adopting to improve efficiency. Additionally, once the new visitor center is completed, she plans to make the current visitor center space available to the Friends. The Board then considered refuge projects that would be amenable to Friends participation. There followed a report and discussion about plans for an open house/annual meeting in conjunction with the opening of the new visitor center. The project’s completion date is now uncertain because work had to be suspended during the federal government shutdown. The open house is now scheduled for 2020. The Board then turned to recruitment of new Board members. The Board is currently shy one member. It was noted that a couple of respondents to the survey had expressed interest in serving, and Board members have had contact with others as well. The Board still hopes to recruit members from the local community. Plans for a new Friends brochure were also discussed; volunteers to work on this project have been identified. The date for the next meeting was tentatively set for August 24 or 25 and will be held in the Bend area. Details will follow.
Friends of Hart Mountain Board of Directors with FOHM members and new Refuge manager, Danielle Fujii-Doe. Photo by Emily Onstott.
An array of items from tee shirts, coffee mugs, and figurines of animals found on the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge are available through the Pronghorn Store. Be sure to check out the new Friends map of the refuge. Log on to the Friends’ website and navigate to the Pronghorn Store page to check out what is available and to order something for yourself, family, or friends. Proceeds go to the Friends work in supporting the Refuge. Thank you for all your support.
Header image: View of Warner Valley Lakes from Hart Mountain by Emily Onstott.