Winter Birds of the Klamath Basin

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Fuller sets his spotting scope on an interesting bird and points out its location in proximity to a willow along the riverbank. Photo by Amanda Noel.

On a frigid December morning, a group of dedicated birders set off on a journey to Klamath Falls carpooling behind their fearless leader and local bird wiz, Harry Fuller. Crawling along Dead Indian Memorial Road through the snow, the group made their first pit stop just past the turn-off for Grizzly Peak.

Fuller spotted a small bird in a tree that he was able to determine while driving by was more than a plain ole robin. Throwing his spotting scope over his shoulder and binoculars around his neck, Fuller emerged from his Subaru to get a closer look at the bird. The group of birders followed Fuller’s lead, pulling off to the side of the road and piling out of their cars to spot the bird. “Townsend’s Solitaire!” Harry shouted to the group. And so began the day’s routine.

The group wound their way through the frosted conifer forests covered with freshly fallen snow until they came to an open meadow full of hawks perched on fence posts. Far off in the distance on a tall snag, a pair of young eyes spotted another large raptor perched on the tree top. Fuller focused his scope on the bird and informed the group of what he had found, “There’s our first Bald Eagle of the day,” he said. “Come take a look!” It would not be the last.

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The birders gathered on a bridge crossing link river to search for birds. Photo by Amanda Noel.

When the group finally arrived in Klamath Falls, they were in for a treat. Lake Euwana was crowded with American Coots, Pied-Billed Grebes, Buffleheads and Common Golden Eyes. On a nearby bridge crossing Link River, the birders were pleased to find trees full of Black-capped Night Herons. Floating on the river were a myriad of other water birds including the rarer Eared Grebe and Barrow’s Goldeneye.

The next destination was Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. In route, Fuller led the group down a gravel road with agricultural fields on either side. Ferruginous, Rough-legged, and Red-tailed hawks were abound as well as coyotes off in the distance. Both Mt. McLoughlin and Mt. Shasta were in view from the road. A few of the highlights at this particular birding hot spot were sights of an American Kestrel and a Red-tailed Hawk resting on a power line pole together just after chasing one another and a Bald Eagle perched on a irrigation sprinkler tearing apart an ill-fated prey. Farther down the road, Tundra Swans were spotted walking across the ice on a frozen, flooded field. Fortunately, waterfowl and other birds have a special adaptation that keeps their feet from freezing in cold conditions like this. For a proper explanation of this adaptation, check out Ask a Naturalist.com.

The birders feasted their eyes on a Rough-tailed hawk perching on boundary post. Photo by Amanda Noel.
The birders feasted their eyes on a Rough-tailed hawk perching on boundary post. Photo by Amanda Noel.
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View of Mt. Shasta and lenticular clouds from Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Amanda Noel.

Following the swan sighting, the group pulled into a parking lot on the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge to stretch their legs and search for birds. To their surprise and delight, they had a beautiful view of Mt. Shasta and a swath of lenticular clouds in the distance. Once the caravan was reloaded, they continued on their route inside California south of Stateline Road. The most abundant birds in site during the rest of the trip included Northern Shoveler, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye and American Wigeon. There were also plenty of Ruddy Ducks, a few Lesser Scaup, and a handful of Greater Yellowlegs. The bird outing finale ended with spectacular views of Bald Eagles and a single Great Horned Owl.

Fuller organizes trips for individuals with a half day for birding, or small groups with a long list of target birds and days to spend afield. For more information, check out his Web site http://www.towhee.net. Fuller also maintains a blog about his bird sightings which he updates on a regular basis. You can find his posting about this particular trip by clicking here. Be sure to check out the rest of his blog too, http://atowhee.wordpress.com/. It includes fabulous photos and comprehensive lists of all the birds Fuller spots during his outings.

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