August and September

Here it is Thanksgiving and I have not yet written up my last four visits to the Klamath Basin. In the interest of simplicity I will combine August and September into one blog post and then do October and November in another.

As  it was the birds were not very interesting in August and September. The egrets stole the show hands down in August and while there was some obvious transitioning of the landscape toward fall in September, the fall migrants had not yet Egret_Impressionarrived and many of the summer residents had already departed for warmer climes.

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There were great flocks of egrets at Lower Klamath in August but try though I might I could not get a good sharp shot of one taking flight. So I had to settle for this impressionistic transformation which at least captures the spirit of one of these great white birds lifting off. In addition to the Great Egrets there was also a showing of Snowy Egrets at Tule Lake that I had not seen before.

As always the Grebes were cute and fascinating but I was particularly taken with this adult and child who were Grebes2fascinated with something else, so much so that the parent had to stand up and take a better look.

 

 

 

Black_Necked_Stilts

There were also more Black necked stilts around in August than I had seen before.

 

 

 

And, of  course, the pelicans were still present in abundance. I tried to change things up a bit with this intimate portrait of one of the big white birds.

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September

My September trip to the Basin was the maiden voyage for my new Canon 7D Mark II. I think it did just fine in spite of the fact that the birds were not very cooperative.

WingspanI never was able to get the coveted shot of a pelican in flight but at least I did manage to capture this fellow showing off his enormous wingspan. Though his friends don’t seem too impressed, the average wingspan of the American White Pelican is 9 feet compared with a measly 6 and a half feet for the Bald Eagle.

Hawk

 

That doesn’t mean I’m not still impressed with all the raptors in spite of the fact that putting a name on most of them gives me fits. I think this one is a juvenile Red Tailed Hawk. If you know better let me know.

 

 

 

 

Meadowlark2

The golden tones of autumn make a beautiful background for this meadowlark even though his showy yellow breeding feathers are starting to fade.

July

For some reason I have been dragging my feet about getting this trip report done. Maybe because in spite of spending three days in the basin I did not find many birds, certainly not many new birds. I did takeWestern_Grebe_wchicks.jpg the time to explore around Klamath Marsh which is very beautiful but not many birds near the roads and I think I saw more cattle trucks than birds and almost got flattened by one on a narrow stretch of unpaved road.

Ah well, I did have a couple of goals for the month. One Grebes.jpgwas to find a grebe with young ones riding on its back. This was accomplished though it looked like Mom might be kicking the kids off any day now. I also saw some eared grebes with riders but it prove challenging to photograph the dark birds against the bright water. Still plenty of grebes around without chicks.

 

There were also still plenty of Mama ducks with broods. Some were starting to look more like ducks and less like fluffy toys.Mama_Duck.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

Another goals was to work on birds in flight. I got a couple of shots of Great Egrets but still no prize winners. I followed one group of egrets all the way up the canaGreat_Egret_Flight.jpgl at Lower Klamath but for the most part they were too fast for me given the need to drive the car and juggle the camera at the same time.

 

 

 

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I also took the time to head into Lava Beds National Monument where I learned that if you aren’t into caving it is really not worth the price of admission. But there are some nice views into Tule Lake outside thMtShasta.jpge admission booth. I also did a few practice shots of Mt Shasta which is always hard to resist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cormorant.jpgI did get one nice shot of a Cormorant stretching its wings.

 

 

 

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And somewhat surprisingly at this time of year, a flock of geese practicing flying in formation. Perhaps the parents were getting the youngsters ready for a trip south in the fall.

 

 

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Finally in the eleventh hour I decided to check out the viewing kiosk where I found shore birds aplenty. Killdeer, American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts and some long billed dowitchers all offering previews of coming attractions as the shorebird migration starts to heat up next month.Black_necked_Stilt.jpg

June

I stopped off at Lower Klamath and Tule Lake on my way to a bird photography workshop in Burns but came away with little to show for my efforts. These eared grebes being about the only thing worth sharing.Earred_grebes.jpg Then I got busy editing the many great photos from Harney County (virtual gallery show coming soon!) and the next thing I knew June was about over. So when June 30th rolled around I knew I had two choices: abandon the project or get myself over to the Klamath Basin. I grabbed my gear and a Subway sandwich and headed out for a day trip and as always I was not sorry I went and, for a mid-day shoot, thWestern_Grebe.jpge pictures were not too bad.

Speaking of grebes, I had hoped to find a mama with her babies riding on her back but no such luck. I was either too early or too late (most likely) or just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I diPied_billed_grebe.jpgd get a nice shot of this Western Grebe along with my first sighting of a pied-billed grebe which was cuteness personified as it stretched its wings in the midst of its afternoon bath.

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Overall it was another quiet month in the Basin with no large flocks of Buck_border.jpgmigrants and only the resident Canada Geese showing up in numbers. But I did see quite a few White Faced Ibis, including this one who stopped to pose.

 

This large antlered mammal also seemed keen on having his portrait made so I had no choice but to oblige.
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I was surprised to see my first bald eagle since March, just in time for 4th of July. Though the eagle population swells in the winter there are always a few that choose to stay and breed in the Klamath Basin. Cormorants.jpg

 

 

These two double-crested Cormorants seemed intent on something but I never figured out what.

 

 

 

Mama_Duck.jpg

 

All-in-all, though, the stars of the show this month were the mama ducks shepherding their little ones around the lake. I’ve studied the heck out of my bird guides, which like to feature adult males, and I’ve come to the conclusion these must be Mallards based on the orange beak and eye stripes but I’m open to other suggestions.

July may be one of the least eventful months with all the families mostly grown and ready to fly on their own and the migrants not due to arrive for another month or so. But I am planning a three day trip to include some parts of the Basin I haven’t visited before so I’m sure to turn up something interesting. I’m also anxious to get in a little more practice on birds in flight. I’m getting better, really.

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.

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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.

 

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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.