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Reflections on Winter Magic: Klamath

By: Dawn Hewitt

What an amazing time we had in the Klamath Basin in mid-February! Yes, it was chilly, but that’s why we were able to witness countless snow geese and greater white-fronted geese lifting off the wetlands like a snowstorm on the horizon. That’s why there were Vs of tundra swans in the skies, and hawks or eagles on just about every utility pole. We were prepared for cold weather and the sun was often bright and warming, so really, the weather was mostly pretty delightful.

Our accommodations at the Running Y (not the Flying J, Dawn) were beyond comfortable and convenient, and our meals were delicious.

We spent our first day birding in the Tule Lake area of northern California, driving around the national wildlife refuge, counting as many as 14 bald eagles—including juveniles, second year, third year, and full adult birds—in a single field. It was a great way to study plumages. We saw dark- and light-morph red-tails out the ying-yang, and dark- and light morph rough legs, plus reddish ferruginous hawks, and even a few golden eagles on posts and pivot sprinklers. Kevin, our guide, taught us that hawks that are dark, light, dark are red-tails; those that are light, light, dark are roughlegs, and those that are light, light, light are ferruginous. We got Eurasian wigeons among the American wigeons and Barrow’s goldeneye among the common goldeneyes. We even had a couple of cinnamon teals. Western and Clark’s grebes were available for side-by-side comparison. A stop at the Klamath Basin Visitor Center gave us California quail, golden-crowned sparrows, and California towhees. We had a delicious chili lunch that day at the charmingly old-fashioned Winema Lodge overlooking Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and as we stepped out, watched a redtail badger a golden eagle right above our heads! We watched a great horned owl on its nest, and chased a prairie falcon across the rolling landscape. Among huge flocks of blackbirds, we found a few tri-coloreds, which are a California near-endemic. We saw a group from the Winter Wings Festival stopped by the roadside, so we slowed down. A bander with a redtail in his grip stopped by both of our vehicles for a show and tell. Now, that was a close-up view!

As darkness loomed, we headed into Klamath Falls, taking the scenic route to the campus of the Oregon Institute of Technology, where the Winter Wings Birding Festival was underway. We joined the festival goers for a delicious buffet, then filed into the auditorium for the funny and charming keynote talk by science and bird cartoonist Rosemary Mosco. (She’s the genius behind the “I’m a Vulture” cartoon that probably landed in your Facebook feed a year or so ago,

Our second day of birding started in the residential area of the Running Y Resort. At birdfeeders, we watched acorn woodpeckers, bushtits, an evening grosbeak, (red-shafted) northern flickers and mountain chickadees. A family of black tailed/mule deer also resided in the neighborhood, and didn’t seem to mind our stares. We also got a good look at a Townsend’s solitaire. After lunch at the Running Y’s Ruddy Duck restaurant, we headed for downtown Klamath and birded various parks and boat launches. We watched gulls, waterfowl, and had a killer look at red-naped sapsucker.

Dinner was at the Klamath Basin Brewing Company, where we got to tour the beer-making operation, and sample up to six brews.

Our final full day of birding took us to the area around Dorris, California, where we couldn’t resist stopping to admire Mount Shasta. Dorris is home to the tallest flagpole west of the Mississippi River, and we saw it! It glowed nearby for most of the beautiful morning. Driving along rangeland, we had another impressive raptor show, and added mountain bluebird to our list. A herd of antelope frolicked in the distance. We enjoyed our delicious boxed lunch at the Dorris Lions Club, and birded west of town in the afternoon. The Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge was full of waterfowl, and our day ended with a few trumpeter swans to compare with the tundras we had seen all weekend.

Our final dinner was back at the Running Y, where we ran through our final checklist and said goodbye to our wonderful guide, Dave Haupt. We even did a little night owling!

But we weren’t done yet: On Tuesday morning, it was back to the residential areas of the Running Y in a final attempt to get a white-faced woodpecker. Our fabulous local guide Kevin Spencer was determined. We failed, but accepted good looks at western bluebird and varied thrush as a consolation prize.

Kevin and Dave were fun, keen-eyed, knowledgeable, warm, friendly, helpful guides, who knew just the right places to go. It was a delight to spend the weekend birding with them, and I think most of us would be thrilled to do so again, someday. Emily Nichols and Dawn Hewitt were the BWD staffers in the field, and thrilled to be birding with our dear RR friends, both repeat attenders and first-timers, in this beautiful part of the country!

Check out photos from the event!