Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Camping in the Klamath Basin

Klamath Basin, CA and OR: June 2010

An old juniper snag. Long ago the center was burned out of the main stem, yet for years one branch continues to thrive.

It feels so delicious to go camping. The first year we owned this van ( 1994 ), we spent 99 nights in it. Because of Dale’s immobility we slowed down to a total of seven nights in five years. With two new hips we feel as though we are on go again. The Klamath Basin is one of our favorite spots to savor nature. We camp at Lava Beds National Monument and spend our time both in the Monument and on the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges.

Close to freezing last night. Now, at 8:30 AM the sun is warming the day. We find a very energetic western fence lizard on the shoulder of the loop road above the Monument Visitor Center. The lizard seemed more interested in shoveling pebbles than our presence. Dust and little pebbles fly. He paws with one front leg, the other front leg and finally his hind legs, one after the other. I watch to see if he is unearthing edibles, working on a spot to rest, territorial posturing because of our presence …? …?...? I sit down to steady the 100-400 mm lens on my knee.

After several pawing sessions, the lizard comes over and rests on some long dried tar at the edge of the asphalt, about six inches from my foot.

Maybe he is just trying to get warm. The black tar would be warmer, and once on it, he squishes down as if to take advantage of what little warmth there is. The more I think about it, I think this may be an example of thermoregulation .

If anyone has seen this behavior or knows more about it, please let me know.

I just disturbed a pika! I’m not happy I disrupted his morning activities, but I’m delighted I got to see him. We were just finishing up our peanut butter on bread, hard-boiled egg and V8 juice breakfast at Merrill Cave, when I decided to finish my juice at the lip of the collapsed Lava tube and see if any rock wrens were about.

Suddenly I realized I was about six feet from a pika. He zipped into a crevice, but then came out to peer at me. His nose seems a little pointier than Yellowstone’s pikas. Maybe it is just because he has a summer coat on. – Later reading enlightened me. It is a different subspecies.
As I sit watching and waiting, I see he has already harvested some buckwheat blossoms and a current twig. The blossoms and their long stems are neatly laid out parallel to each other, but with some blossom heads facing one way and the others the other way. A clump of buckwheat grows just a couple of feet from where I first spotted him. I bet he was on his way to nip off another few stems.

Suddenly the little guy turns back into his crevice and out again, this time carrying more buckwheat. He scoots down the steep tumble of lava and out of sight. So he had more cut stems stored there! Pikas cut and dry vegetation and end up with hay piles big enough to fill a bushel basket. I can’t see his hay pile. The cured stuff should be stored safely under a rock overhang where it will keep through the winter.

We’ve bothered him enough. I wish I’d spotted him from farther away. He might have kept right on harvesting.

Grebes! Lots of grebes. Mostly Clark’s grebes and a few western grebes. We’re at a picnic site near the Pelican Marina in Klamath Falls. While we eat lunch I pick up my binoculars and keep checking grebe backs for babies. I had just about decided we are here too early in the season when I spot a sweet little head poking up from amongst the feathers on its parent back. The chick is tiny. So young I can see an egg tooth still sticking on the dark bill of the one that is looking at me. This Mama has two chicks. Soon her mate arrives, carrying a fairly large minnow in his bill. She accepts it for herself. He’ll have to find smaller ones for the babies.

After lunch I leave Dale with the big lens at the picnic site and I walk over to the nearby bridge with a smaller lens to where I’m hoping to get closer to the little grebes. At one point during our lunch the little guys left their parent’s back and bobbed on dark green water like little cotton balls. They are back on a parent now and a little far for my lens. But to my right two grebes are chattering up a storm. I swing around and focus on them.

Oh my gosh! The pair rear onto the surface of the water and off they go for a hundred yards or more. Grebe dancing is such a delight …. And to think we got to see both tiny chicks and dancing on the same day. Just a few more dances, but enough to give us a huge thrill.


  1. Elva, it's delightful to get back to reading blogs and find your treasures! I love the grebes and the pika!

  2. Your grebes are stunning (both the photos and artwork). What a privilege. I always think of grebes as drab little creatures.
    Keep up the camping!

  3. Enjoyed it as usual. You are very talented.

  4. Your sketch of the grebe with the babies on its back is precious. The grebe dance is an amazing sight to see. Your photo brings back fond memories for me.

  5. I love hearing about your journeys and seeing the photos and your artwork, all are beautiful.