Thursday, November 10, 2011

Klamath Basin: Part I

Klamath Basin, northern California, USA: Oct 12 - 15
Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011: Heading to Klamath! Fog loosening its grip when we leave home. Tonight will be the night of the full moon. Tomorrow we present a digital slide show, “Don’t Mess with the Ravens,” to the Klamath Audubon Society. This blog post and the next will be snippets from that trip.
Thursday: Morning sun glistens on 150 feeding white pelicans. The big, lumbersome birds ride on the surface of Tule Lake and dip their huge pouched bills into the shallow water. By staying clustered they spook fish to each other. The pelicans are quiet except for occasional splashing from flailing legs. Western and Clark’s grebes are attracted to the feeding and are scattered near and amongst the pelicans. They are not quiet. The begging of grebe chicks fills the morning air. The youngsters look as big as their parents, yet are still incessantly begging. The only peace for the adult is when it slips underwater. The grebe chick still yammers a little, as if to remind that underwater parent that there is work to do.
It doesn’t take long for us to realize it is an excellent year for California quail. Little flocks come out to feed near the shoulder of the road and we spook them as we drive by.

There is a long dike road on the southern edge of Tule Lake --water to the north and fields to the south. At one time this basin has far more habitat for waterfowl. Now there is a struggle to determine who gets the available water, the ranchers or the refuge. The Klamath Basin is still an awesome place, but I know it once was far more.

So peaceful out here on the refuge. Smoke rises from a far off burn in Lava Beds National Monument -- a controlled burn I’m sure. A tractor hums in a distant field and kicks up a cloud of dust, probably harvesting onions or potatoes. We hear the murmur of coot, grebes and occasionally a goose. Duck numbers are low and they don’t have much to say anyway.

Four mule deer feeding in the first of the many fields on the right. I know they are bucks before we are close enough to see horns – stocky compared to the does. One of the 4x4s is especially large beamed.

A mile or more farther down the dike road we spot a fifth buck, a pretty 3x3. He is feeding in the overgrown clutter between the dike road and ditch off to our right 50 yards away. He seems close enough for a photo, but heat waves blur his image.

Here comes the first vehicle we’ve seen on the dike road. It a photographer. He gets out of his car and approaches the 3x3 buck slowly from the other side, slowly pushing the buck towards us. The buck is very relaxed. He crosses the narrow road to reach the lush greenery growing along the shoulder that edges Tule Lake. The buck is close – big ears – big eyes – not a big rack, but well shaped.
Finally the buck has enough and crosses back into the tangle of dried mustard and green nettles. He feeds on the wispy dried ends of mustard, then almost disappears into nettles. He thrashes about. At first I think it’s a hormonal thing, it’s soon to be rutting season. The velvet is already off his antlers, but a little more polishing is always in order.
The buck plops down. He was just making a day bed. All I can see now are a few antler ends and the tips of his ears. If I hadn’t watched him go down I doubt I’d find him.


  1. Sounds like a perfect setting and great wildlife company. Love the sketches, too. We're just back from Newport, Or., where we enjoyed brown many poses and interesting preening,etc. Looking forward to your next installment!

  2. OMG, just studying the tree sketch closer. In addition to all the quail, I saw lots of unintended wildlife in the leaves and white spaces between branches. I see two puppy faces in the leaves between branches on the left and various bird shapes in the leaves and white spaces. Better than a sky full of clouds, ha!

  3. I have to come back here many times before commenting to see everything you post and write. I am in awe always. You have the best adventures. Thanks for sharing them with us.

  4. Gee, it sounds like a photographer and painters paradise.