THE KLAMATH BASIN of Oregon and California
Imagine the sky turning dark not from a gathering storm but from the massing of millions of ducks, swans and geese. The Klamath Basin of California and Oregon was once the site of the world's largest known waterfowl migration. Even today, after a century of wetland conversion, more than a million birds can gather in area wildlife refuges.
In 1905, the Bureau of Reclamation began converting the rich wetlands of the Basin into agricultural fields. Recognizing the importance of the wetlands to waterfowl of the Pacific Flyway, President Theodore Roosevelt established the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge in 1908. Five additional refuges were eventually set aside, including Bear Valley NWR - a refuge designed to protect the winter habitat of Bald Eagles.
Although less than a quarter of the original wetlands remain, three-quarters of Pacific Flyway waterfowl still stop at the Klamath Basin refuges. Challenges facing the refuge complex include obtaining adequate water supply during years of drought and water degradation.
LOWER KLAMATH NWR
Roosevelt established the first waterfowl refuge in the United States when he preserved Lower Klamath NWR's 46,900 acres. A ten mile auto tour leads through marshes, diked water impoundments and croplands. In winter, bald eagles land on frozen marshes, feeding on unlucky waterfowI.
CLEAR LAKE NWR
In 1911, another refuge was added to the complex - Clear Lake. White pelicans and double-crested cormorants nest on islands in the lake, and pronghorn antelopes, mule deer and sage grouse benefit from the refuge's sagebrush and juniper uplands. Usually closed to public access, Clear Lake's reservoir provides water for farmers in the eastern portion of the Basin.
TULE LAKE NWR
In 1928, Tule Lake was added to the Basin's refuge lands. Seventeen thousand acres of Tule Lake's approximate 39,000 acres are leased to farmers by the Bureau of Reclamation. Birds commonly seen (depending on season) on the refuge's ten mile auto tour include Bald Eagles, White Pelicans, White-faced Ibis, Snow, Ross' and Canada Geese, Western and Eared Grebes, Yellow-headed and Tri-colored Blackbirds and a variety of ducks.
UPPER KLAMATH NWR
Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge's 15,000 acres of habitat were also set aside in 1928. Waterfowl, white pelicans and herons raise their young here and two endangered fish - the Lost River and Short nosed sucker- struggle to survive in refuge waters.
KLAMATH MARSH NWR
Using funds from the federal duck stamp program, the US government purchased 16,400 acres from the Klamath Indians in 1958. This land was to become Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. Sandhill cranes nest in the meadows, and waterfowl raise their downy young in the marshes.
BEAR VALLEY NWR
Set aside in 1978, Bear Valley NWR protects the roosting site of wintering bald eagles. Up to 300 eagles may use the roost at night. Though closed to public entry, the eagle's morning fly-outs can be watched from several vantage points.
WHEN TO GO
Migrating Waterfowl - October and November, southbound; late February through early April, northbound.
Shorebirds: Mid-April and mid-May, southbound; late July through August, northbound.
Bald Eagles: Winter months. (Can be up to a 1000 bald eagles in February.)
Photo blinds may be reserved but refuge roads also provide excellent wildlife viewing opportunites. The refuges have waterbird blinds, eagle blinds and upland bird blinds all built to take advantage of morning light. .
Marked kayak/canoe trails. The Upper Klamath NWR Canoe Trail is 9.5 miles in length but can be done in shorter loops. Canoeing in Tule Lake NWR and Klamath Marsh NWR is normally permitted between July 1 and the end of September.