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.


  1. Many beautiful birda but the eagles are indeed the most impressive :-)

    1. Eagle sighting is always a special treat, and these eagles gave us quite a show! It was a very rewarding trip :-)

  2. great, I especially liked the picture of the 2 redheads flying.