As coordinators of the Klamath Basin Audubon Society's annual Winter Wings Festival, Diana Samuels and Anne Wenner know their birds. We asked them to identify five birds they look forward to seeing each winter. Their favorites are listed here.
"Once I observed a Peregrine Falcon stoop spectacularly off a ridge and dive bomb a duck in flight, all while a younger falcon observed," Diana Samuels says. "What a dramatic sight!"
"One of my favorite winter sights in the Klamath Basin is the spectacle of willow trees literally festooned with roosting Black-crowned Night-Herons," Anne Wenner says. "There is usually a reliable number of these iconic birds in the willow trees next to the Favell Museum in downtown Klamath Falls."
"The Bald Eagle is the most well known raptor in the basin and it's seen in large number in the winter," Anne Wenner says. "To see sometimes hundreds of these birds perching on the ice and in trees on the Lower Klamath Refuge is a truly unforgettable experience."
"We live in a mixed conifer habitat west of Upper Klamath Lake and these woodpeckers are regular visitors to our suet feeders," Diana Samuels says. "What a joy it is to share these special birds with visitors to our home."
"These lovely, graceful birds arrive in our area by the thousands during the winter months, and often remain until the spring," Anne Wenner says. "I love listening to their haunting calls day and night in the flooded fields near my house on Upper Klamath Lake."
By Dan Shryock
With so many outdoor pursuits available throughout Klamath County, perhaps the most unexpected fun can be found looking through binoculars. You may not work up a sweat but you’ll be surprised at the adrenaline rush.
This is birding country, the place serious bird watchers travel if they expect to score a “big year” with hundreds of recorded sightings.
Birding is a lifestyle in Klamath County. Casual watchers and serious birders alike keep a watchful eye from the shores of Upper Klamath Lake and nearby Lake Ewauna. But that true birding experience doesn’t fully take flight until you pick up a Birding Trail Book at the Discover Klamath visitor center and migrate to a wildlife refuge.
Once in the wild, you begin to understand why so many people are so passionate about birding. There they are: the Snow Goose, the Great Egret, the Killdeer, the Canada Geese, the Eared Grebe and, of course, the Bald Eagle. You start to keep track, making a list of each bird you see. You look through binoculars to see a bird’s markings, the feather colors or pattern that help identify the species. The guide book confirms your finding.
The bird count quickly soars with so many species flying over or wading in the waters of the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. Be it from a car or by foot, you make your way along a dirt road and search for something new. And when you find one, you feel that rush of excitement.
It’s easy to understand why so many birding enthusiasts come to the Klamath Basin. With six easily accessible national wildlife refuges less than an hour’s drive from each other, there’s so much to see no matter the season. These refuges are on the Pacific Flyway, an aviary interstate where millions of birds follow their annual migratory patterns.
The six refuges are an attractive destination for anyone who wants to watch wildlife. The common equipment includes your bird identification book, paper to list what you see and binoculars. The refuges also are a popular place for wildlife photographers equipped with powerful camera lenses.
What you see when you’re here depends on the time of year. Each season brings different bird species on their migratory routes, according to Dave Mauser, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“What people are seeing is a snapshot of a flow of birds from as far as Siberia and the north slope of Alaska to Central and South America,” Mauser says. “It constantly changes throughout the year.
“And you get to see something special any time of year,” he says. “In the middle of September you might see some White-Fronted Geese, which you haven’t seen since the previous April or May. A tornado of birds coming down from the north appears and you realize, wow, those birds left Alaska two or three days ago and flew non-stop to get here now.”
They stop for food, and the fish and wildlife service is there to serve them. Crops are organically farmed within the refuges to accommodate the birds, rotating crops to meet varied tastes. “We manage the habitat, matching it with the groups of birds in each period of the year,” Mauser says.
With the six refuges and 200,000 acres there’s plenty of habitat to manage. The northern most point is the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge east of Crater Lake. The Upper Klamath refuge is north of the city of Klamath Falls and Upper Klamath Lake. The Bear Valley refuge is south of the city while the Lower Klamath, Tule Lake and Clear Lake refuges are all just across the border in California. Together, they create a birding paradise.
You’re not limited to the wildlife refuges. There are great viewing spots throughout Klamath County, including right in the city. Putnam’s Point and Moore Park in Klamath Falls, for example, are excellent locations to observe the dancing Grebes.
Back in the Lower Klamath refuge, this tour stops to focus on the White-Faced Ibis. “Do you see that curved bill?” asks experienced birder Diana Samuels. “There should be some iridescence right at the top of the bill and some greenish-blue plumes.” With those markings and its namesake white face, the ibis is easy to identify. The day’s birding list grows by one more.
Just as quickly, an American White Pelican flies overhead. And, to the right, there is a Double-Breasted Cormorant and the tweet of a Pied-Billed Grebe. Within two hours, the list tops out with 33 distinctly different types of birds. They all were seen only 30 miles south of Klamath Falls.
For more information about bird watching in the six Klamath Basin national wildlife refuses, visit klamathbasinrefuges.fws.gov.
Dan Shryock is an Oregon-based journalist and travel writer. When he's not visiting Southern Oregon or sampling local wines, he can be found cycling throughout the state.