Sunrise at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. Click on photos for full sized images.
Adjacent to Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is Lower Klamath NWR (see map), both are part of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Lower Klamath Refuge is our nation’s first waterfowl refuge, established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908.
This 46,900 acre refuge is a varied mix of shallow freshwater marshes, open water, grassy uplands, and croplands that are intensively managed to provide feeding, resting, nesting, and brood rearing habitat for waterfowl and other water birds1.
Bufflehead Drake (Bucephala albeola)
When visiting this refuge you will want to stop at the visitor center located between it and the Tule Lake NWR before you head out. As I mentioned in my previous post, the visitor center distributes maps of current bird sightings on the refuge complex and surrounding areas, and their staff are very helpful and well versed in where and when to see particular species.
Ruddy Duck Drake (Oxyura jamaaicensis)
The Lower Klamath NWR has a 10.2 mile auto loop route located 12 miles from the refuge visitor center. It is accessed from Stateline Highway 161. This route provides excellent and diverse wildlife viewing opportunities year round.
I visited the refuge in late February. The winter months are the best time to see Tundra Swans and Bald Eagles as well as other raptors and some waterfowl. As you may notice from some of these photographs, there are large areas of water that are still frozen over. Nevertheless, several duck species were seen including Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Common Merganser, and Common Goldeneye.
Common Goldeneye Drakes (Bucephala clangula)
Many of the ducks were taking advantage of the system of open waterways and canals that distribute water throughout the refuge. Most of the canals offer close up views of these ducks as you first enter the auto tour route.
Common Merganser Females (Mergus merganser)
Being February, Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) were ever present on any of the large bodies of water on the refuge.
This photo of a pair of Swans with Mount McGloughlin in the background shows just how large these birds are, with the Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) drake looking as if it is going to swim right between the swan’s legs!
As you make your way around to the western side of the refuge (between units two and three on the map), heading back toward Highway 161, you will approach a row of trees that are usually occupied by several Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). As a matter of fact, the best eagle viewing at the refuge complex occurs during January and February when numbers may peak at over 500 birds. From December through February, the Klamath Basin hosts the largest concentration of Bald Eagles in the contiguous United States1!
With this many Bald Eagles in the area, it was easy to find this second year bird among the numerous eagles draped from the trees like so many Christmas ornaments. Not so coincidentally, this is the area where two of the six photography blinds on the refuge are located. More information on the photography blinds can be found here.
As for the number of species that you can expect to see at this refuge, the Winter Wings Festival has been held here every winter for the past 34 years and this year the participants recorded 132 bird species! Among them were the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)…
and the Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus), both of which I spotted on the Oregon Straits Unit of the refuge, exactly where they were marked on the map supplied to me by the kind folks at the visitor center 😉
The Oregon Straits Unit also gave me my best looks at the Tundra Swans.
These beauties were just off the Klamath Straits Drain East Embankment Road on the Oregon side of the refuge.
This is a short video I filmed to give you a better feel of what the experience brought to me.
Needless to say, the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex is a national treasure to be enjoyed by all. I leave you with this USFWS video which will not only inform you but inspire you as well.
I urge you to spread the word about our National Wildlife Refuge System and support our effort to help fund this incredible national resource.
If you, or anyone you know, has written posts about your experiences on our National Wildlife Refuges, please let us know. We would love to hear more about the numerous National Wildlife Refuges around this great country first hand. We would love to feature your National Wildlife refuge post on our blog with a photo and link to your article. You can email us with a link to your article or post along with any personal information you would like us to include in the post, as well as a photo, preferably 800 pixels wide.
References: 1U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service