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.
Driving 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 few 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.
I 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 few 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.
As 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 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 blackbird. 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!