Saturday, November 17, 2018

Migrating to See the Birds at the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge


Golden Eagle, juvenile

Date: April 7, 2018
Place: Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, California
Coordinates: 41.996666, -121.777633
Car tour route

Our 2018 spring break was a very satisfying one. After exploring the Klamath region and taking a short visit to southern Oregon, we were returning to California with one more day left to our vacation. We had hiked the Green Springs Mountain earlier that day but there was still plenty of daylight left and I suggested driving through the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) to see what birds are there this time of year. Pappa Quail didn't need much convincing, nor did the chikas, once realizing that this would be an auto tour rather than a foot hike.
Yes, this blog post isn't a hiking one, but of a birding car tour.

Even before crossing the borderline back to California we had a big attraction - a small group of sandhill cranes were foraging in a field near our route. I stopped the car and Pappa Quail took a few shots. Seeing cranes always make me happy.
Greater Sandhill Cranes, adult (right) and juvenile (left)
We arrived at the California border and took the road east. For a good long stretch the road lies right by the state line. While the road itself is entirely within California the area to its immediate north (left) is Oregon.
South (right) of the road there's a pond - one of several flooded ponds that make the Lower Klamath NWR. We were heading toward the beginning of the auto tour route.
SR 161, view east
We arrived at the refuge entrance and turned right onto the dirt road. I slowed the car down to a crawl, turned the radio off and rolled down the windows.

The younger chika buried her eyes in her book and the rest of us readied our cameras and binoculars.
Gaggle Crossing
We were welcomed by familiar birds: Canada geese, a red-tailed hawk, coots. The elder chika said she'd like to see an eagle. I remembered seeing a bald eagle there on our previous visit but Pappa Quail suggested I remembered incorrectly and that we've seen that bald eagle outside of Lava Beds National Monument. He was right, but we were still hopeful about the possibility of seeing an eagle.
Red-tailed Hawk, juvenile
Although no rain came down where we were, we could see it pouring down in the east. The clouds and the afternoon sun made the place look beautiful and eerie.

Although we started the tour with our windows down we soon had to roll them back up because the wind blew strong and chilly. Bobbing on the rippled pond were waterfowl - ducks and coots.  

Some of the ducks took to the air as we approached, quacking as they flew.
Redhead, male (top) and female (bottom)
Pappa Quail settled back in his seat - so far he hasn't seen anything out of the ordinary.
American Coot

I enjoyed the general view and continued driving slowly onward.

The elder chika was alert and soon she was spotting birds of interest. Pappa Quail rolled his window down again and aimed his camera. There were ducks in the pond. Pretty ducks.
Bufflehead, male
Little shore bids roamed the mud flats. A yellowlegs raised its head to look at us as we passed by.
Lesser Yellowlegs
As we continued on more interesting fowl came into view. There were many ducks in and near the water. I'm always amazed by the difference in appearance between male and female ion the same duck species. Of course it makes sense as the male is the one that draws the attention (of the females, and also of predators) while the females blend in the background, not as conspicuous therefore more protected.
Cinnamon Teal, male (near) and female (far)
In other species there might still be a difference, though not as striking. Below is a gadwall female.
Gadwall, female
In front of her swam a male gadwall, likely her mate.
Gadwall, male
We were focusing on the ducks when a couple of large raptors swooped by. Eagles!
Two juvenile golden eagles were flying near us, stopping on the road, then taking to the air again. We were very excited - our hope to see an eagle was well satisfied.
Golden Eagle, juvenile
The eagles put on quite a show for us, flying here and there, staying near the road we were driving on.  Pappa Quail and the elder chika took many eagle photos that day, but our favorite by far is the one below - of one of the eagles sitting on a sign announcing, pheasant hunting only.
the funny thing about that photo is that there actually was a pheasant there, hiding in the vegetation just below the sign, but he sneaked away while Pappa Quail was focusing on the eagle.
Golden Eagle, juvenile
It was hard to beat that excitement, but we kept looking for and seeing other interesting birds. The car tour trail looped around the west large pond and there we saw horned grebe in breeding plumage.
Horned Grebe, breeding plumage
Another interesting duck floated near the tule - a decoy wooden duck. This time, however, we realized that before embarrassing ourselves by asking about t as we did after our Colusa NWR visit ...
Decoy Duck
While the decoy was amusing to see and an indication that not only pheasants were hunted there, real ducks were much more interesting and attractive. And prettier too.
Ruddy Duck, male
We completed the car tour loop and turned toward the exit. The wind had picked up considerably and we were more reluctant to lower our windows. It was a very rewarding birding tour, and all of us were very excited about our eagle sighting. Now, however, it was time to go on to Lake Shasta where we planned to spend the night.
White-fronted Goose (the big one) and four Northen Shoveler (three males near the goose and one female behind them)
It was late in the afternoon when we left the Lower Klamath NWR and took Rte 97 southwest. Mount Shasta looms over the area and often can be seen from many miles away. That day, however, clouds covered its top. When we neared the mountain I pulled into a vista point stop and got out of the car to snap a few shots. This was the first time in 2018 I've seen Mount Shasta and the day I've seen the most of it. I passed in that area several other times in later months and each time the mountain was covered by clouds.
Mount Shasta

That evening we arrived at the town of Lake Shasta. I had a special plan for the morrow - I wanted to go under ground again.




Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Closing the Circle: Hiking the Green Springs Mountain Loop






Date: April 7, 2018

Place: Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Ashland, Oregon
Coordinates: 42.140025, -122.497350
Length: 2.5 miles
Level: easy

On April 7, the last day of the Oregon bit of our 2018 spring break trip the rain was finally over. After spending the last couple of days walking between the droplets or hiding underground we were finally able to go hiking with our cameras out of cover. Our original plan was to head back to California that morning and hike in the Shasta area but we decided to take the opportunity and spend one more day in Oregon before going back south. So after checking out framer hotel in Ashland we headed back to the Siskiyou-Cascade National Monument, hoping to get a more serious impression of that area.
I followed the online instructions to the Green Springs Mountain Loop Trailhead.
Our hike as captured by Pappa Quail's gps

At the described spot was a small parking area but the trailhead itself was a short walk away down the dirt road. This had caused us some confusion, but we walked in the expected direction and eventually found the place where the trail splits off from the road.

That part of the trail overlaps with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). We had met it four days before at Seiad Valley and two days before at Hobart Bluff, so for the third time this trip we got to walk a bit of that long scenic multi-state trail.
And we almost didn't - the beginning of this trail was covered by a large snow patch. After traversing it we found that the rest f the loop trail was clear of snow.

There was no more snow after that first patch we've seen but the trail was wet and muddy. The scenery was that of a very early spring - the snow has melted but only the very beginning of plant growth could be seen.

Of the plants that did green up quickly I found the now familiar snow queen. A true ephemeral.
Snow Queen, Synthyris reniformis
For the first part of the loop we were walking through a gloomy conifer forest. perhaps it wasn't raining but the clouds were reluctant to leave so we walked through interchanging spells of sunshine and overcast grayness.

Then the trail split from the PCT, curved left and broke out of the woods. We were now walking along a mild slope of open grassy area.

And finally - we had view. A vast, gorgeous view of the valley and mountains across the deep valley below.

The clouds were still hanging low around the mountain tops. Perhaps there it was raining still.

It would have been the perfect place to have a break and sit down to enjoy the spectacular view but it was actually pretty cold and windy on that exposed mountainside. Moreover - the ground all around us was soaking wet. There was no place where we could sit comfortably without wetting our behinds.
From a distance the slope looked grayish yellow of last year's grass, but in between the dry grass new, green blades were growing thick. And there I made another discovery - a wild parsley blooming!

The soil was very wet but the trail itself was downright muddy. We walked slowly, taking care not to slip and fall.

Pappa Quail and the chikas marched ahead but I lingered behind, taking my time to enjoy the wild sights that unraveled before me as the clouds retreated.

A small group of red bushes grabbed my attention. They were too far for me to identify what they were, nor to tell if the red colors is from new or old foliage. I assume new because of the season. I didn't think it was bloom. I liked the nice spot of red color in the otherwise mellow grayish-green backdrop.

The trail curved around the mountain, going through small patches of trees and back out in the open again. The clouds retreated more and clung to the mountains.

Then the chikas made and exciting discovery - they found a larkspur! They called me to hurry up to where they were (as if the flower would run away any moment ...). The plant was very small and it was the only one of its kind there. It's flowers were large and impressive.
Larkspur, Derlphinium sp.
The trail kept curving left and now we were walking east, looking at different mountains and the spread of the Siskiyou-Cascade National Monument. I could feel the appeal of this place and the reason this area became a National Monument.

The trail entered the woods again and the view disappeared behind the trees - tall and thin, lichen-covered conifers with low-hanging boughs.

Smaller trees filled what seemed to have been a forest clearing. I didn't see any evidence of fire there. I wonder if that are used to be a meadow before, or was it cleared by people in an earlier time (there were no obvious stumps either).

When we completed the hike I was satisfied with the impression I got of the Siskiyou-Cascade. I'd love to be there again, probably later in spring to catch the flowering season.

It was easy in the afternoon when we finished our hike and the chikas wanted lunch so we drove down the mountain to a picnic area where we considered our next lag of the trip. Hiking by Mount Shasta would be saved for a different trip- we decided to drive through the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and look for birds. The next day would be our last of the spring break trip and we had plans to visit the Lake Shasta Caverns. 




Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Carnivorous Pitchers at the Eight Dollar Mountain Botanical Wayside

Common Camas, Camassia quamash

Date: April 6, 2018
Place: Darlingtonia Nature Trail, Eight Dollar Mountain Botanical Wayside, Oregon
Coordinates: 42.231853, -123.660287
Length: about 0.5 mile in and out, including the access road.
Level: Easy

April 6th begun with rain that sent us looking for an underground adventure at the Oregon Cave National Monument. The cave tour and the little hike we did after that were very rewarding but the day was still young and we wondered what to do next. Pappa Quail suggested that we stop at the Eight Dollar Mountain Botanical Wayside that we'd seen on our way to the cave and check it out. The rain had stopped and it seemed like a good idea so after lunch we headed back east on Rte 199, found the place and parked at the pullout parking area.

There is a road that leads to the nature trail but it was blocked by a gate, so we started by walking up that access road. I looked warily at the heavy clouds that hang above us, but nothing was coming down on us. Not yet, anyway.
Road to the Botanical Wayside
The area flanking the road didn't seem al to special but it was pretty. The vegetation community was of thin pine trees and manzanita bushes, to low to be called a forest and to sparse to be called chaparral. The manzanita were booming - their creamy pink bell-shaped flowers hanging in bunches like tiny lanterns.
White-leaved Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida
In between  the manzanita I detected white-flowering bushes. Serviceberry - like those we've seen Near Happy Camp earlier that week.
Service Berry, Amelanchier alnifolia 
The chikas were walking ahead of me and soon spotted little flowers blooming under the larger shrubs. A small, white violet with purple markings. I think there might be more markings there in ultra violet perhaps, visible to the bee eye. 
The elder chika had the best photo of this tiny violets. 
Wedge-leaved Violet, Viola cuneata
 And the sure sign that this was early in spring still - a phlox in bloom. 
Showy Phlox, Phlox speciosa
The botanical trail is a boardwalk, elevated over a sensitive wetland area. This area used to be a quarry and has been rehabilitated to a magnificent nature area under protection.

The chikas went ahead with Pappa Quail. I lingered behind to admire the scenery. The clouds were hanging low still, but so far - no rain.

The area between the pines and manzanita was green with grasses and other herbs, and dotted with wildflowers. The gray illumination and the elevation of the boardwalk over the field made it hard for me to get a good wide-angle shot of the bloom.

With his birding big zoom lens Pappa Quail had much better results. All that time I thought he was looking for birds he actually was photographing flowers for me. It was a great pleasure to see the bouquet he photographed for me that day :-)
Common Camas, Camassia quamash
The flowers were a bit more concentrated along a tiny creek that trickled downhill. Camas lilies and shootingstarts marked the line of water.

Here too Pappa Quail got the better shots.
Darkthroat Shootingstar, Primula pauciflora
At its end the boardwalk widens into a porch, providing a view over a large patch of brown plants. Pappa Quail and the chikas were waiting there for me, looking all excited. I was disappointed at first, not realizing what I was looking at. Then I took a closer look.
California Pitcher Plant, Darlingtonia californica
It was a field of pitcher plants! Now I was excited. Really excited. It was my first time seeing a carnivorous plant in nature. And here was a whole patch of them!
Carnivorous plants grow on nitrogen poor soil and supplement their need of fixed nitrogen by digesting animals. The pitcher plant does so by producing pitcher-shaped leaves into which it secretes a digestive liquid. This liquid is protected from dilution by rain with a 'hood' that's the extension of the leaf. Insect or other little critters attracted to the pitcher and slip into it drown and get digested by the plant.
California Pitcher Plant, Darlingtonia californica
This particular plant is named the California Pitcher Plant. And there we were, visitors from California seeing it in Oregon.
Most of the plants in the field were brown but a closer look revealed many new pitchers growing through the blades of grass. I suppose that later in spring this patch looked more appealing. Still, this was quite a sight!
California Pitcher Plant, Darlingtonia californica
The boardwalk is an in-and-out trail so after a long stop at its end to appreciate the pitcher plants we turned about and started walking back.

Although the path was the same, it was an opportunity to catch sights that we've missed on our way in.
Siskiyou Mat, Ceanothus pumilus 
It was on our way back out that I had noticed the fritillary way up the hill. Pappa Quail was already ahead near the end of the trail when I yelled for him to come back. It was somewhat challenging to point that flower to him - it blended so well in the background.
Checker Lily, Fritillaria affinis
The next individual he seen himself, now that he knew what I was looking for. I'm always happy to see fritillaries blooming.
Checker Lily, Fritillaria affinis
near the end of our little walk the clouds started having their say and large drops of rain started falling on us. Pappa Quail hastened toward the car. I tucked my smaller camera under my sweater while waiting for the chikas who took their time walking down.
Service Berry, Amelanchier alnifolia 
By the time we made it back to the car the rain was going down in earnest. Pappa Quail and I didn't have to talk about it - we both knew there would be no more hikes that day. We returned to Ashland in time to spend the last open hour of the local nature museum with the chikas before calling the day and going to look for a place to eat. 
Considering the weather and the unfamiliar terrain I thought that that day was very successful. The Oregon Cave and the Botanical area with the pitcher plants! The forecast for the morrow was of no rain. Although our original plan was to get back to California in the morning and hike in the Mount Shasta area, we decided to change it and try again for the Siskiyou-Cascade National Monument. This time I had my trail of choice ready - we would hike the Green Springs Mountain loop trail.