May

The main event in the Klamath Basin in May, I’m told, is the dancing of the grebes. As part of their mating ritual these birds stand up and walk, or rather run across the surface of the water. Or so it appears. So, in an effort to capture this dance I made a special Dancing Grebe.jpgtrip to Putnam Point on Klamath Lake, an offshoot of Moore Park on the western edge of Klamath Falls. Well, good news first, I did get to see several pairs of grebes get up and dance. But, it all happens very fast so getting it captured is not such a simple matter. I came close, this grebe was just getting underway with his or her partner when a third grebe surfaced, breaking up the party. Whether that was intentional on the part of the third grebe or not is anybodyGrebes_wlunch2.jpg’s guess.
I did observe and shoot some other interesting grebe behavior while I was there. There seemed to be some disagreement about whether this delicacy should be shared but in the end it was swallowed whole by the proud grebe in possession. A part of the mating ritual aside from the dancing on waGrebes.jpgter is a kind of shadowing act where one grebe moves its head and neck and the partner follows suit. This one seems to be into it but failing to get much response. I can so relate.

Another behavior wGrebe_foot.jpghich I observed a number of times and have not found reference to in my reading is the foot display. I’m not sure if that is part of the mating ritual or if they just like to dry out their feet now and then.

Cliff_Swallows.jpg

I didn’t feel I had done justice to the Basin without a trip to Tule Lake but between weather and family matters I was only able to manage a quick day trip. My first stop is always at the restroom going into Lower Klamath NWR. What did my wondering eyes behold but a colony of cliff swallows flitting in and out of their nests under the eaves Cinnamon_Teal.jpgof the restroom building and the nearby information kiosk.
The next thing I noticed as I started my drive around the auto tour route was a decided absence of ducks. Those that were there weBarn_Swallow.jpgre new to me. The very handsome Cinnamon Teal. I had no sooner finished my shot of the Teal and a Barn Swallow swept in and struck this very photogenic pose. I also observed a number of black crowned night herons both adult and juvenile but my photos were ho hum at best.
On to Tule Lake and again the waters seemed very quiet in comparison with earlier visits. The only geese were Canadians and these were now on the water where previously that had mostly been sticking to land. My guess is it had something to do with temperature.
White_Faced_Ibis.jpgAs I was driving around the lake my car kept flushing white faced Ibis and I was in despair as to how I would be able to approach them to photograph. Only on the return loop did I come upon a whole flock of Ibis. While they flew off at first they apparently felt safe in numbers and came back to show off their beautiful iridescent feathers. My last stop was at Discovery Marsh where I have had the best luck with song birds. My walk out to the shelter was unremarkable but back in the parking lot I spotted this BullBullocks_Oriole.jpgock’s Oriole in the tree next to my car. Another big check mark on my life list.

April

My April visit to the Klamath Basin took place on the 16th and 17th. AAttitude.jpggain I focused my time on Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuges. I arrive about noon and the 16th and spent most of the afternoon driving around photographing. I had thought to go into town for dinner and come back out for sunset but I had so much success I decided the late afternoon light was good enough and I stayed until about 6pm before heading in for the night.Clarks_grebe.jpg

There were the usual assortment of ducks, grebes, and pelicans on the lake. The grebes were not yet doing any mating dances but this Western Grebe was starting to show a little attitude and this Clark’s Grebe was just plain handsome in his Avocet.jpg(or her?) mating plumage.

A new bird for me was the American Avocet. Also looking fine in their peachy breeding feathers, these birds liked to hang out on the road but would fly or run away as my car approached, ending up in the lake. I would like to have gotten a shot of one standing or flying but it was not to be.Lunch.jpg

I had seen one or two egrets on my previous visits but this time they were abundant. All along the ditches at Lower Klamath and also quite common at Tule Lake. This one I caught fishing for lunch.
As I was driving past the marshy area at the south end of the lake I saw a big grey lump off in the rushes. I lifted the binoculars to check it Night_Herons.jpgout and saw what looked to be a black crowned night heron. When I got the telephoto lens in focus there proved to be not one but two and I was thrilled to get this shot.

The next morning I got my wires crossed between the time of that day’s sunrise and the previous days sunset so I arrived at 6:30 am, just after a sunrise that I thoughPelican_flight.jpgt would occur at 6:50. Oh, well, there weren’t many clouds so it was a boring sunrise anyway. And not many snow geese so not a lot of activity either. But the light was good and there were a lot more pelicans than I had seen previously. This one I caught flying away from me. They are so graceful Yellow_Head.jpgin flight for such a big bird. I just started taking a class from a local master birder and learned that the white pelican has the second longest wingspan of any bird in North America at nearly 9 feet, just a few inches less than the California Condor.

There were more yellow headed black birds this time around and I got a few good shots. I saw California quail at Tule Lake but they were too fast for me. I also saw pheasants at Tule Lake for the first time and got at leaPheasant.jpgst a head shot of one before he scurried off into the sagebrush.

I also got close enough to catch this double crested Cormorant taking off. I was fascinated to see that the Cormorants and greCormorant.jpgbes were hanging out with the pelicans as they did their fish roundup. I’m sure they were looking to take part in the feast.

Another great thrill came when I saw my first baby birds. Mama and Papa Canada Goose were being very protective and hurrying them along and the light was not in my favor. But I did get this shot of Mama hunkered down with the babes as Mama_goose.jpgshe tried to hide them in the tules away from the big bad photographer.

The one that got away was the racoon that I saw lumbering across the road at lower Klamath. I caught him peeking back at me from the ditch but couldn’t get him in the frame before he disappeared.

So, that was it for April. Looking forward to more migrants and more breeding plumage in May. And hoping against hope to catch those grebes doing their mating dance!

A Quick Trip

I couldn’t help myself. I was halfway there and the car just kept going. My fingers were itching to try out the new lens at the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge complex. I had been to the mountains half-heartedly checking to see if any morels were out yet, everything in the valley being at least a month early. I had gotten as far as Lake of the Woods and found no mushrooms and nothing to photograph so there seemed to be no other choice than to make a quick trip to the Klamath Basin. It was 3pm, I could be there by 4, a couple quick loops around the auto tour routes at Lower Klamath and Tule Lake. Done by 6 and back over the hill by 7 while it was still light. Yeah right, but more on that later.

I did make it to the Lower Klamath refuge by 4pm or just a little after. The first thing I noticed was the abundance of mosquitos. I could hear their little bodies dying against my windshield, tink, tink, tink, tink. Good thing I bought those new windshield wipers so I could clear away the carnage periodically.

Bufflehead.jpgDriving into the Lower Klamath auto tour the first thing I noticed was how empty it seemed. I did see a female pheasant skitter across the road into the sage brush but she was too fast for me. When I was last there the ditches along the road were filled with Bufflehead ducks. There were still a few and I did finally manage to get one to hold still long enough to photograph. There were coots, of course, there are always coots. I think when all the other birds have gone extinct there will still be coots. And there were a fewCanadians.jpg Canadians still lounging along the ditch banks. But the killdeer that had been everywhere last time had also seemed to disappear.

The cranes were gone, I didn’t see any snow geese and, not unexpectedly, there were no more eagles. The red winged blackbirds that had been everywhere earlier in the month were also now few and far between. I did see one hawk but it took off before I could wrestle the camera with its new 5lb lens into place.

Nshoveler_flight.jpgI finally found some Northern Shovelers as I headed north around the last leg of the loop. They were a bit skittish and kept flying off before I could get a shot. This one was a little slow as he took off just as I tripped the shutter.

So, I rolled out of Lower Klamath feeling a little disappointed as once again the pheasants that had been feeding along the entry road skittered off into the sagebrush before I could even think of stopping the car, let alone pick up the camera. And they were very good at hiding. I was wondering at this point if this had been a bad idea but I turned right on State Line Road determined to check out Tule Lake while I was in the neighborhood.

It was now approaching 5pm so I zoomed past the visitor’s center assuming it would probably be closed by now on a Sunday afternoon. I looked longingly at the cliffs but decided to save raptors for another day and go straight to the lakes. I couldn’t even see many birds near the first viewing spot so I drove on by though I had thought to set up the tripod in the semi-blind shelter.

As I got away from the main highway I started to see more and more ducks and a fewPelican.jpg grebes but still far fewer than in early March. Then I saw them. Big white birds that could only be American White Pelicans swimming quite close to the road and in full breeding plumage. I got some pretty good shots before they swam away to safety. And yeah, I’d say the Tamron lens is sharp enough. Later on I saw a whole flock of Pelicans fishing together. All diving in unison. I read later that this is typical pelican behavior. They work together to round up the fish, then, all together now, dive in for lunch.

White_fronts.jpgAs I got further into the refuge I saw great flocks of some brown goose looking birds I had never seen before. For the most part all I could get a picture of was their tails as they swam away from my car. I later learned from David Allen Sibley that these were white fronted geese, probably resting on their way to the Arctic coast of Canada for the summer. Gathered near but separately from the white fronts were some large flocks of Snow_Geese.jpgsnow and Ross’ geese. They preferred to fly away as my car approached.

As I was about to roll out of the refuge on the Lava Beds end I had to slam on the breaks and put it in reverse. For there in a clump of old cattails was a bird I had read about in the bird list for the Klamath Basin, but never seen before. A yellow-headed Yellow_head.jpgblackbird. It’s always exciting to add something new to one’s life list, especially after 25 years of hanging out in wildlife refuges. I hope this won’t be the last good picture I get at Tule Lake. Because as I was leaving the refuge a flock of coots elected to run in front of my car and when I slammed on the brakes to avoiding hitting them, the camera and lens that had been sitting on the passenger seat went flying to the floor. Damn coots.

Well, I forgot to figure in time to stop and shoot so it was well after 6p.m. by the time I hit the tarmac to head home and I still had a good 30 miles just to get back to Klamath Falls. So, I’m racing the clock and the light and praying that I won’t hit a deer going over the mountains. I saw one little black tail bounding off into the forest having crossed the road just before I got there. I hoped that was a sign that someone had been listening to my prayers.

By the time I got to the Greensprings summit it was full dark. Then I saw his brown form in my headlights and slammed on the brakes. A suicidal Jack Rabbit jumped out of nowhere in front of my car. But he made it safely across the road and I knew then that I would make it safely home too, now that the universe had had another good laugh at my expense.  Aside from the flatlander going 30 mph down the mountain in front of me the rest of the trip was uneventful and I made it home by 8:30pm. It was a quick trip but the new lens is now well tried and baptized by coots and I’m looking forward to spending a few more days in the Klamath Basin in a couple of weeks. And hoping the cold snap we are now enjoying will take out a few more mosquitos besides the ones now plastered all over the front of my car!

March

My first visit to the Klamath Basin, at least with wildlife photography on my mind, was March 4-6, 2015. It was meant to be a sort of scouting trip just to see what the basin had to offer and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I was so excited about the potential I found that I decided to come back every month for at least a year to see how things change and what new species show up.

Now, you have to understand that I recently moved back to my native Southern Oregon, having spent the past 8 years in New Mexico. There, I made frequent visits to the Bosque del Apache and had come to think of it as the standard by which all wildlife refuges should be measured.Bosque_Eagle.jpg

Well, just to give you some perspective, I shot the image of a Bald Eagle on the left  on my last visit to the Bosque. Yeah, I know, I’m embarrassed to show it but I’m trying to make a point here. And that’sBald_Eagle3.jpg about as close to an eagle as I ever got at the Bosque and in over 10 visits it was about the second time I had seen one. By comparison, I shot the image of a Bald Eagle on the right on my first visit to the Klamath Basin and it was only one of about 5 pretty decent shots and I lost track of how many sightings. Let’s just say I am no longer concerned about leaving the Bosque behind.

March is pretty quiet in the Klamath Basin . Most of the spring migrants have not yet arrivMorning_fog.jpged and many of the winter visitors have already left. It was a good time for a scouting trip too, as I pretty much had the place to myself. Aside from Bald Eagles I saw a fair number of Sandhill Cranes though they were mostly too far off the road to get a good shot. But, you know, I have Sandhill Crane pictures up the wazoo from my many trips to the Bosque del Apache.

MtShastawSG2.jpgLanding.jpgThere were also several flocks of snow geese. Since it was a scouting trip, and before the switch to daylight savings time, I didn’t make the effort to get up before sunrise. But I thought these geese flying in front of Mt. Shasta made for a pretty good shot. And here are a few more coming in for a landing with the sun backlighting their feathers.
Other birds I saw in abundance were pheasants. More than I have ever seen in one place before. But they were shy and my lens was too short to get a good shot at a distance they felt comfortable. I also missed out on the tundra swans I saw in the distance and I fear I will have to wait until next fall as they will likely be gone by the time I go back in April. I also saw a few white pelicans but it was early for them so I hope to get a better shot next time.

Killdeer.jpgKilldeer were everywhere and happy to pose. Hawks were very plentiful and I got at least one of the rough legged variety to hold still long enough to get his portrait made. I came close on a red-tail in flight but he just wasn’t quite sharp. I will try, try, and try again.

 

Rough_leg.jpgNorthern_Pintail.jpg

The lakes seemed mostly empty but without having a comparison I’m not sure if that was normal. I suspect there will be more birds competing for space next month. Ducks were plentiful and I captured a few, including these pintails.

There were also Northern Shovelers in abundance. Lots of Buffleheads but they were sure nervous. Canvasbacks were also seen swimming away and I even saw a Mallard or two. But my favorite water birds were the grebes. I’ll be gunning for them in the future.

Western_Grebes.jpgCanadian Geese were everywhere and I could get almost close enough to get a good shot before they flew away. Also abundant but shy were the red wing blackbirds. I was excited to see a Great Blue Heron at Tule Lake but the lighting was all wrong and I have much better shots of Great Blues in my files so you won’t be seeing one here. And it’s not just about the birds. These ladies and a few of their friends strolled in front of my Mule_Deer.jpgcar one morning. I sighted two coyotes hunting in the fields but that 100-400mm just couldn’t cut it.

These images were all captured at Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife refuges, mostly from my car hand holding said medium telephoto zoom lens. Gotta love image stabilization. I’m going to be looking into renting a longer lens one of these trips. I am also going to check out the photo blinds next time.