Thursday, December 18, 2014

Klamath Basin: October - Part II

This post is a continuation of our trip to the Klamath Basin in early October.  
Brown Creeper
Friday, October 10, 2014: 
We park under the dense canopy of an ornamental apple tree at Refuge headquarters for lunch .  I'm immediately sidetracked by a tree-full of bushtits and one Bewick’s wren.  The tree is laden with tiny, orange-colored apples about the size of the tip of my little finger.  I think the apples are too large for wrens and bushtits to eat, but maybe the ripe fruit attracts little insects.  The next apple tree is full of birds who can eat the fruit -- robins and waxwings.  After lunch I photograph some more, especially the brown creeper and the waxwings.  Finally I settle in the car to paint the creeper.  The car is still under the apple tree.  Pleasant sitting here.  This could well be the last day of shirt-sleeve weather this fall.  Change is forecast. 

I feel as though I am under an umbrella full of birds.  Already I'm aware we're going to pay some dues for parking under this tree.  Splat!  Plop!  Robins and waxwings are pooping orange tidbits onto the car.  Our dark car is beginning to look as if we are decorating for Halloween, or maybe it has a case of orange-spotted measles.  I stay put in spite of the splats.  The temperature is just right here in the shade and the sun will glare on my white page if I move.

My little painting of the brown creeper is taking shape when "Whoosh" -- a minor hurricane rips through the tree. 


Every bird has scattered.  Thinking back I realize a moment ago I heard a collared dove call and then the alarm call of a robin.  A hawk must be in the area. 

My tree is silent for nearly fifteen minutes before a handful of wary robins return. No sign of the waxwings returning yet.
Double-crested Cormorant
Saturday morning: 
We're parked at the same bay on Gary Canal where we were yesterday morning.  Such a different morning.  Yesterday had a steady flow of ring-billed and Franklin gulls searching for food while soaring over the little bay, plus  ducks, geese, cormorants, egrets, and more gulls on land and in the water. 

Today is the first day of duck season and somewhere to our left a hunter is hidden
When we arrive about twenty egrets are perched high above the slough on the steep forested slope on the far side of the pond.  No geese nearby.  A few geese and about 200 cormorants have flown over high above. No gulls on the spit, but quite a few in the air.  It's as if a giant spoon is stirring up all the birds and slowly rearranging them. 

Mid morning the first cormorants dare to land in the slough just out of our sight ; and then, one by one, egrets drop out of the trees and float down to a spot out of our sight.  Their maneuvers are magnificent!  Twisting and turning they slip sideways, flare their  wings, and succeed in taking a very steep path downwards.  They sparkle white against the dark forest behind.  It's as if a giant apple tree is dropping its big white petals, they float down ziging this way and that.

Saturday midday:  Late morning the birds quiet down at Gary Canal. We head back to Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge where we lunched yesterday.  We eat our lunch at the same picnic table.  The brown creeper returns and even takes a nap, clinging onto the side of a large cottonwood tree.  How often does one get to see a little bird sound asleep?  Not often enough for me.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Klamath Basin: October - Part I

We made two trips to the Klamath Basin this fall, one in early October and the second in early November .  This post will be snippets from the first part of the October trip.  More to come!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014:  This morning we were loading up the car, preparing to drive to the Klamath Basin when my neighbor called out, "Did you see the eclipse last night?"  Last night!  I thought it was tonight.  Yes, the eclipse is on October 8, but in the wee hours of the morning, not the night of October 8 - 9th.  What a dumb mistake.  Ah well, we'll enjoy the moon rising tonight instead, and at sensible hour of the evening, not at 3 AM in the morning.  Watching the moon rise is always a treat, especially when I'm prepared and we can take our time.  The moon is closer to earth than usual, so the will be extra large.  

Early evening:  We're sitting on the western side of Klamath Lake, just finishing our cold supper of chicken and potato salad and waiting for the moon to rise.  It should be a big, beautiful, full moon.  When we arrived an hour ago this shoreline was in full shadow.  The far shore picked up plum and golds from the setting sun.  Then the far shore went into shadow, but the wisps of clouds above glowed with golden orange.  Finally that too left.  Evening has come.  The gulls have gone to roost; a great blue heron strokes by near to shore and to me; one bat flies his zigzag course. 

7 PM:  Technically we are five minutes past moonrise, but the moon still has to climb from behind the distant hills.

7:03 PM:  A far off ridge is bright in one spot.  Clouds are blurring the horizon, making it look like a far off forest fire. 

7:08 PM:  There it is!  Suddenly I can see half the moon breaking the ridge.

7:15 PM:  The moon is throwing sparkles of moonshine onto the water.  It has started its night-long trek across a virtually clear sky. Burnt gold moon; deep blue sky.  Dark hills and dark water except for the shining path of light reflected on the water.  The moon always looks oversized when it rises ... and this is a bigger one than usual.
Eared grebe with a leach
Thursday:  First day in the Basin we usually scout -- where do we want to concentrate our few days in the Basin? Lots of ducks are in the Basin, but not many geese.  There isn't as much water in the Basin as usual.  The drought is taking its toll.  Many of the geese are moving on to the rice fields in California.  The big sump across from Sheepy Ridge (Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge) still has acres and acres of water.  Off in the distance I see hundreds of ducks.  A few are nearby along with eared grebes eating leeches and a few western grebes.  Western grebe chicks are full sized but still beg incessantly for food from their harried parents. 
A quick sketch, drawn while Dale was driving along Sheepy Ridge:  "Evening is coming to the Klamath Basin.  Sheepy Ridge is dark.  The darkening sky glows with the last bits of color.  It's a clear night.  It'll be a chilly one.  Eight owls tonight!"

I like the shorter days of fall.  We can get out early and come back to town at dusk.  During the day we have to look hard to find a great horned owl, but in the deeping gloam,  they appear as if by magic.  Eight owls tonight!  I spot most of them on the telephone poles that parallel Sheepy Ridge.