The Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), established in 1928, is part of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex which straddles the California Oregon border. Click on photos for full sized images.
The complex consists of Bear Valley, Klamath Marsh and Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in southern Oregon and Lower Klamath, Tule Lake, and Clear Lake NWR in northern California.
Historically, the Klamath Basin was dominated by approximately 185,000 acres of shallow lakes and freshwater marshes. These extensive wetlands attracted peak fall concentrations of over 6 million waterfowl and supported abundant populations of other water birds including American White Pelican, Double Crested Cormorant, and several Heron species.
In 1905, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation initiated the Klamath Reclamation Project to convert the lakes and marshes of the Lower Klamath Lake and Tule Lake areas to agricultural lands. As these wetlands receded, the reclaimed lands were opened to agricultural development and settlement. Today, less than 25% of the historic wetlands remain. To conserve much of the Basin’s remaining wetland habitat, these six National Wildlife Refuges were established1.
Tule Lake NWR encompasses 39,116 acres of mostly open water and croplands. Approximately 17,000 acres are leased by farmers under a program administered by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Refuge permit holders farm another 1,900 acres of cereal grain and alfalfa. These crops, together with the waste grain and potatoes from the lease program are a major food source for migrating and wintering waterfowl2.
Upon arrival at the complex a stop at the visitor center is a must, not only to see the incredible wildlife displays inside, but the birds at the feeding station behind the center and possibly a Great Horned Owl nesting on the nearby bluffs.
The visitor center also hands out 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.
Four miles South from the visitor center a ten mile auto tour route begins, which allows for wildlife observation throughout the year. The first stop on the self-guided auto tour is an enclosed observation platform overlooking the expansive wetlands.
This is the view of the wetlands and surrounding mountains from the platform…
which was surrounded by Gulls and sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), all singing of course.
This is also the location of the first of six photography blinds available by advanced reservation on the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake Refuges. Their photo blind brochure may be downloaded here.
In the winter months, with the wetlands partially frozen, waterfowl are concentrated into areas of open water. Here you can see Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata), American Wigeon (Anas americana), Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaiciensis) and Canvasbacks (Aythya valisineria) all resting together in the open water.
Perching poles are located along the auto tour and you can’t help but see several Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in different phases of maturity, flying to and from the ice covered waters. As a matter of fact, the Klamath National Wildlife Refuges host the largest number of wintering Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states!
Of course, there are also lots of Common Ravens (Corvus corax) hanging around to get the eagle’s leftovers. I caught this one as it was landing on one of the icy islands.
Once you reach what they affectionately call the “English Channel,” a connecting channel between the two large wetlands at Tule Lake NWR, you will journey along the south shore of the southern sump and upland area. This is where another wildlife viewing kiosk is located, as well as photography blind #2.
There were several hundred Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) in this area of the wetlands and as I peered out over this beautiful landscape, a small family group flew across, right in front of me.
At this point, it was time to head over to Lower Klamath NWR where there were more treats in store. But that’s for another upcoming post.
Do you have a favorite National Wildlife Refuge in your area that you would like to share? We would love to hear about it! You know today, there are more than 550 national wildlife refuges across the country, with at least one in every U.S. state and territory. We would like to hear, first hand, about every single one of these magnificent refuges on our way to creating a Federal Wildlife Conservation Stamp.