Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Little Bit Jinxed

Great Egret

We had such a good trip down to the Klamath Basin in late September.  Home seemed rather dull in comparison and at this time of year we know all too well that the rains are coming.  We decided to take advantage of the Indian summer weather and head back to the Basin.  Both of us looked forward to spending more time at “The Spot To Be” (see last post).

Thursday I had a big pile of potato salad made, pork and chicken cooked, pasta salad, veggies, etc.  We photograph / sketch until the sun goes down and still have an hour of driving back to camp, so it is nice to have a cold supper all ready.  I was ready for a prompt start in the morning.

At 5 PM Dale came home from a short errand with his back in spasm.  Better to nurse a sore back at home rather than try to camp and do all that driving.  By the time we left the following Monday we’d eaten most of what I had prepared and I’d done it all over.  But we were finally on our way. We left early enough to arrive at ‘The Spot to Be’ before 4 PM so we’d have that wonderful end-of-day light to photograph.  

3:30 PM we pull off Highway 161 onto the western end of Lower Klamath Refuge’s tour route, only a quarter of a mile to go.  We park and sit dumbfounded for a moment.  The little island that gathered so many birds is gone.....  and so are most of the birds.  The water is too deep for the shorebirds; no island for the pelicans to rest on. 

More water is a good sign, if not for us.  Water levels in the refuge are controlled by an elaborate system of pumps first put in when the huge marshes of the Klamath Basin were drained years ago for farmlands.  Now the refuge has to virtually get on its knees to get a water allotment for their share of the Klamath Basin. It’s a complicated issue involving farmers, Indian rights, an endangered fish, and the refuge.   Overall the United States has only 15% of its original wetlands.  Wetlands in the Klamath Basin are part of what little is left of the critical habitat for many species.  Seeing this rather large sump filling was reassuring for the coming migration of thousands of ducks, geese, and swans down the Pacific flyway.  
Our van parked at the pumping station
We immediately head to the tour route on Tulelake Refuge, and drive along Sump 1A, another big lake.  Ducks and coot are scattered for acres and acres. We soon find another little hot spot.  One of the big pumps is pumping water from an irrigation canal into the sump.  The incoming water makes for good fishing. Three cormorants are drying off on a tiny island.  In the water we soon see almost every grebe species found in Oregon:  pied-billed, eared, horned, western, and Clark’s.  Gulls swoop overhead trying to steal from the grebes and cormorants.  Great spot.

But wait!  All the birds are leaving!  We parked without disturbing them.  Now what?   Four otter have come from the south and dive into the sump near our spot.  They must be attracted to the good fishing too.  They don’t like our presence so they head off.  Meanwhile a bald eagle has landed on a nearby telephone pole and is keeping the area clear.  We decide to move on.

Farther on down the bumpy gravel dike we start running into geese.  Thousands of geese have arrived in the Basin and more to come.  We see flocks of ‘white geese’ (from a distance I can’t tell if they are snow geese or Ross’s), white-fronted geese and a few Canada geese.  
But we also run into onion harvesters.  The dust they kick up is awful.  I’m soon stuffed up and coughing.  It is time to head to camp anyway. When we are miles away we can see the harvesters have turned their lights on and are still working.  I’m sure they want to get those onions in storage before the rains come .... and hopefully by this weekend there will be rain.
Over the four days we were in the Basin we spent several hours at our new ‘Spot to Be’ next to the pumping station.  We decided having a family of otter come along and spook our birds isn’t such a bad thing.  Less than a month ago I was telling an elderly man about one of my otter sightings.  He looked wistful and said he’d never seen an otter in the wild.  I shouldn’t complain when they come along and spook my birds.  Otter are always a treat.  


  1. What great shots you got. Good thing you two are adaptable and can go with the flow. You end up seeing things you might not get to see. Great drawings too as usual. Hope Dales back is better. I am still dealing with my back problems altho they do seem to inch forward to healing more then inching back these days.

  2. I have to admit I'd be thrilled to see otter, even if they did scare away the birds. But still it's too bad the trip wasn't what you'd hoped. Going birding is my version of gambling, hee-hee.

    1. Hi Gabrielle .... actually most any trip spent out side is a great trip for me, but there can be wrinkles along the way. My next post should be about something that went very well on the trip.