This is another area of Oregon (and Northern California) that I love for birding.  Lots of great places to see and visit.  And the birds…..  In fact there are six national wildlife refuges and 200,000 acres of bird habitat in the area:  Klamath Marsh NWR, Upper Klamath NWR, Lower Klamath NWR, Tule Lake NWR, Clear Lake NWR, and Bear Valley NWR.

You can’t go wrong at the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake NWRs and we scored an impressive 55 bird species on an overcast, windy day.  Granted many of the species observed were waterfowl and raptors, but still a great productive day.  I just love this area (can’t say it enough).  Come visit and spend some time checking out the birds.  Any season is great.  You won’t be disappointed.

We arrived in the Klamath Falls area (Jack’s sister lives nearby) on Tuesday, November 15th.  The route we took (Highway141) skirts Klamath Lake.  This lake is host to large numbers of grebes and pelicans during the summer months, and plenty of diving ducks during the winter, plus a few grebes and gulls as well.


Upper Klamath Lake


Bonaparte Gull – migrating through. These birds are listed as rare for the area at this time of year.


Hatch year Western Grebe

Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

Several days after arriving in the region we decided to visit the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.  This refuge was the first national waterfowl refuge established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt.  And the refuge is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark.

During the spring and fall, the 50,092 acre refuge plays host to approximately 40 percent of the Pacific Fly-way’s migrating waterfowl.   Peak waterfowl populations have reached an estimated 1.8 million birds.  Imagine.  Wow!!!  And everywhere we went a lake or pond had thousands of waterfowl.

According to the refuge’s website, 500 Bald Eagles and 30,000 Tundra Swans make the refuge their home during the winter.   An estimated 20-30% of the Pacific Flyway population of Sandhill Cranes (including some of the Homer cranes) use the refuge during migration.  From 20,000 to 100,000 shorebirds use refuge wetlands during spring migration.  During the spring and summer, nesting birds include many colonial waterbirds such as white-faced ibis, Clark’s and Western Grebes, Herons and Egrets, American White Pelicans, and Gulls.

This is one very important bird area

The refuge has a 10.2 mile auto tour loop.  We drove only a portion of the loop.  We heard a number of shotgun blasts so people were out hunting on the refuge.  We wanted to avoid these people if possible.  Plus we also wanted to get to the nearby Tule Lake NWR before nasty weather set in.

Before reaching the refuge we stopped at a lake located on private property.  From the road we were able to scope the lake.  At first glance (with the naked eye) it didn’t look like many birds were on the lake, but once I got my spotting scope out we must have seen several thousands Canvasbacks hugging the far shoreline.  Mixed in with the Canvasbacks were  American Coots and Ruddy Ducks.

Once back on Highway 161, which leads to the refuge, we flushed a Bald Eagle, several Black-billed Magpies, and a Common Raven alongside the road.  We stopped to investigate and discovered they were feasting on a dead coyote.  Based on the intact body, the coyote had probably been dead less than 12 hours.  Highway 161 is a busy road – lots of large semi-trucks (hauling onions and such) – so the birds are continually interrupted in their food fest on the coyote.  Watching it all was a Golden Eagle on a nearby power pole.


Private lake. We always stop here because the lake is popular with waterfowl, and an occasional Killdeer along the shoreline.


Dead Coyote – 🙁


Up close view


This Golden Eagle was watching the action

Further along the road we found a dead Great Horned Owl.  Poor thing must have been hit by a car.


Dead Great Horned Owl


Close up view


Refuge sign

The refuge consists of a number of lakes, sloughs, and wetlands.  These water bodies were loaded with waterfowl – primarily ducks.   Lots of Northern Shovelers, American Wigeons, Ruddy Ducks, Gadwalls, Canvasbacks, Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teal.  What we didn’t see were a lot of were Mallards, and only one Cinnamon Teal.  Also lots of American Coots.



Thought I would throw a black and white photo in the mix to capture the raw beauty.


Red-tailed Hawk


Marsh Wren – boy this guy was hard to photograph.  They don’t want to stand still for very long.



I decided to count the number of Red-tailed Hawks we saw during our bird outing – 34, and in all different plumage colors too.   No Rough-legged Hawks here yet – or at least we didn’t see any.   Today we also counted 9 Northern Harriers (this number seems low based on previous observations at the refuge), 2 Golden Eagles, 1 Cooper’s Hawk, 1 Peregrine Falcon, 3 American Kestrels, and 6 Bald Eagles.



Two Red-tailed Hawks in a  tree


Ruddy Duck – ole stiff tail


Coots everywhere


One of the 500+ Bald Eagles making the Klamath Basin home during the winter months

When you have hundreds of thousands of waterfowl is it any wonder the area attracts 500 Bald Eagles, and many other raptor species.


This water pipe gets a lot of use


Up close view.


This juvenile Peregrine Falcon flew in while I was photographing the coated pipe


Northern Shovelers


Cinnamon Teal – the only one we saw


Lots of hunters out trying to bag some of the many waterfowl and pheasants on the refuge




Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge

After completing a portion of the auto tour route we headed to Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge  – about 20 miles away.  We stopped first at refuge headquarters to get a bird list and map.   Then the winds picked up.  Luckily we spent most of our time in the van.


In 1928, the Tule Lake NWR was established by President Calvin Coolidge “as a preserve and breeding ground for wild birds and animals”.  The 39,116 acre refuge is mostly open water and  crop land.  A ten-mile auto tour route takes you by both the open water and crop lands.


Dave Menke Educational Center


Speckled belly or Greater White-fronted Goose


Song Sparrow


American Kestrel


Stiff-tail (aka Ruddy Duck)  –  Jack’s favorite


Bald Eagle having a bad hair day – very windy out


Saw something on the ground or  merely lowering his head as he was getting ready to fly off


Snow and Ross’ Geese


Snow Geese, at least one Ross’ Goose, Canada Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese were in this plowed field


We watched the Snow Geese take off from the lake, swirl around in the sky for several minutes, before landing in this field. Synchronized fliers.


Kestrel box or a nest box for waterfowl?


Loved the cloud pattern


Western Grebe


Bonaparte’s Gull


Red-tailed Hawk



Northern Shoveler. Most of the ducks were very skittish when we stopped the van to check them out or photograph them. The shovelers were the least skittish of the waterfowl.


Red-winged Blackbird females holding on in the wind.


I think this guy has something wrong with his left foot (Brewer’s Blackbird)


Love the way these Brewer Blackbirds are leaning due to the wind – holding on for dear life


Almost looks like waves on the lake


Canvasback and American Coot


Male Canvasback



All in all we saw or heard 55 different species:

  • Eared Grebe
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Western Grebe
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Canada Goose
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Snow Goose
  • Ross’ Goose
  • Tundra Swan
  • Mallard
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Northern Pintail
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Gadwall
  • Canvasback
  • American Wigeon
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Bufflehead
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Common Merganser
  • Ruddy Duck
  • American Coot
  • Ring-necked Pheasant
  • Bald Eagle
  • Golden Eagle
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • American Kestrel
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Mourning Dove
  • Common Raven
  • Black-billed Magpie
  • Northern Flicker
  • American Robin
  • Horned Lark
  • European Starling
  • Song Sparrow
  • Marsh Wren
  • Bewick’s Wren
  • Brewer’s Blackbird
  • Brown Cowbird
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • House Finch

Oh but it was a “Great Day to Bird”