Archive for September, 2010

Brian fishing from kayak in early morning

We moved away from the noise and bustle of Klamath Falls to Rocky Point Resort on Pelican Bay at the north end of Upper Klamath Lake. We are on the edge of the Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and our site is close to the water so when we wake in the morning we can push the blind up and see pelicans paddling and splashing as they feed. With the lake and marsh on one side and the Winema National Forest to the other, we are surrounded by a stunning natural environment. There are a lot of houses set in along Rocky Point Rd., but they are well-spaced with lots of mature trees. It’s a quiet, off the beaten path kind of area and a welcome respite for us after urban living.

We have little sit-on-top kayaks that we easily tote the short distance to the water, making it possible for us to flyfish or just kayak whenever we like. There is a canoe/kayak trail winding through the refuge that we hope to explore more of soon.

Resort’s dock at dawn

View from lake toward resort’s dock near our RV site

Brian tying flies at our site, lake in background

We spotted this insect floating and watched as, in a few minutes, the adult Caddisfly emerged from its pupal skin and prepared to fly

A fishing dock at next door Forest Service’s boat launch

Low in late summer, this creek is a marshy trail through dry woods near the lake

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Random Sights

American White Pelicans

A 9-foot wing span makes these birds an impressive sight in flight. We’ve watched a half dozen of them flapping and gliding in unison high in the air, and we’ve seen them coming in for a landing, skimming just above the water for a long distance before lowering their landing gear — webbed feet stretched forward, heels down, touching water, slowing and then bodies settling onto the water. This one pictured was hopping from one rock to another.


We have often seen mink in the Klamath Falls area, hopping from rock to rock, on their way from one part of the lake to the next, or swimming and diving in the river. They travel along the rocks for as long as possible, although they don’t seem to mind swimming at all. None of the birds we have seen, like these American Black Ducks and American White Pelicans, have objected to the presence of this predator. It’s probably a different story during nesting season.

High winds blew this nest down from the Lodgepole Pine in our RV site.

Millie has learned to use our shadows when no shrubs or trees are available for shade

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Interested in seeing more of the Klamath Basin’s refuge system, we went to the Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge in California, just 25 miles from Klamath Falls. Here’s Brian in Oregon. A step over the double yellow line and he’s in California.

The issue of water rights is a touchy subject with such a strong conflict of interest between agricultural usage and nature. For thousands of years, Klamath tribes lived in harmony with the marshes, but European settlers came, saw agricultural opportunities and drained.  They “reclaimed” 80% of the marshlands over a period of a half dozen decades, causing a drastic reduction in waterfowl populations and water quality. Reclamation?!  What an excellent example of the term euphemism.

Objectively speaking, the Klamath Project is impressive engineering, construction and management. Irrigation is a major part of the landscape in the Basin. Roads, railways and irrigation canals crisscross each other over the patchwork of farm fields.

Klamath Project map -- from usbr.gov site

Tule Lake is much smaller than it used to be and farmland marches right up to its edges as can be seen in the following photo. There is a dam on the Lost River in Oregon built to divert water to the Klamath River in order to prevent flooding of farmland surrounding Tule Lake in California during rainy periods.

Tule Lake & farm fields

At one corner of the lake is Discovery Marsh.  We visited the Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuges Visitor Center across the street and learned about the program of rotation that has been implemented since people realized that marshes need change, not stability.  Some of the leased land beside the lake that was being farmed exclusively is now in rotation — sometimes farmland, sometimes marsh.  Restoring the “reclaimed” marsh takes a lot of effort and management, but the idea is to simulate the periodic creation and destruction that occurs in natural marshlands.  So much effort for so little marsh, but it is a start.

Discovery Marsh, in lower half of image. Tule Lake is the pale blue water.

White-faced Ibis

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The forecast was “hot and sunny” so we opted for a shaded walk and headed up into the mountains. Lake of the Woods is a natural lake in the Winema National Forest, some 30 miles from Klamath Falls and, at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, located only about 1,000 feet higher than the town. We arrived at our destination at noon so we stopped in at the Lake of the Woods Resort for their organic, grass-fed beef cheeseburgers which we ate out on the lodge’s big deck, shaded by towering conifers as we looked out over the lake. A line of Adirondack chairs, painted a cheerful, bright red, lined the rail overlooking the water.
The lake is clear and surrounded by alpine forest. The resort has a comfortable, old-timey feel to it, but gas motors are, unfortunately, allowed on the lake. Noisy speed boats and jet skis seem out of place in this pristine spot.

Lake of the Woods Resort

Well fortified by burgers and sweet potato fries, we headed out into the woods, away from the lake. Nearby is the Great Meadow, a large open expanse that is marshy until later in the summer, providing great habitat for all sorts of creatures year-round. Humans have reduced the flow of water from the lake to the meadow to aid in recreational pursuits, so it is drier than nature intends, but there are plans to strike a better balance between providing for humans’ recreational wants and nature’s needs in the near future.

Great Meadow, Mt. McLoughlin in distance

The meadow is dry and grassy, somewhat like unmown pasture, and is frequented by elk and deer this late in the summer, at dusk and dawn. We stood at the southern edge and scanned with our binoculars. The Great Meadow deserves its name. It is enormous, but it’s difficult to tell just how big without a reference point.
A thin ribbon of green meandered along near the far northern edge, the last remaining bit of marshiness. We strained to see clearly and even with binoculars we almost missed the brownish-gray birds with long necks walking in the marshy strip. Frustrated by heat waves and distance, we could only speculate as to identity. So, with that coloring, what were they, Great Blue Herons? Maybe, but they just didn’t seem like Great Blues. The only other possibility around here would be . . . could they be . . . Sandhill Cranes?!
The birds were working their way slowly to the east. The trail we were on, although tucked back into the woods a bit, followed the eastern edge of the meadow so we started walking. We caught glimpses of the meadow through trees and undergrowth, but we couldn’t see the section where we’d seen the birds and just went with the assumption that we were still on a course to intersect.

The trail was sometimes in open sun, but mostly shaded, making the walk pleasant despite the heat. Our dogs are having a harder time adjusting to the desert climate, perhaps because they’ve lived only in cooler climates. They both love snow and had a great time in Alaska. Millie has learned to look for shade and, when we stop and drop the leash, she will find the closest shady spot, no matter how small the coverage.

Shade seeker

As we neared the northern edge of the meadow, we started walking stealthily. Imagine an elephant tiptoeing on dry pine cones — that’s probably what the four of us actually sounded like to wild things as we crept onwards through the woods, but we did keep conversation to a quiet minimum.
We came to an overlook where only a single line of conifers and short shrubbery was between us and the northeast corner of the meadow. We peered through our binoculars in all directions, the world reduced to a circular view with peripheral vision in darkness. There was no sign of the birds. Had they flown? We scanned out as far as we could to no avail. Our hopes sinking, we said aloud, “Where are they?” Abruptly, this head popped up into our view:

Gasp! “Sandhill Crane!” we sputtered in whispers to each other as we struggled to adjust binocular focus close in, to this point just on the other side of the conifers, a mere 20 feet from where we stood.
All of the sneaking and whispering proved unnecessary. The tall, goofy, yet gorgeous bird and its mate strolled a few feet further away and one began unconcernedly scratching the back of its neck with a long foot attached to the end of a long leg, sending little, wispy feathers floating on the breeze. The cranes were a wonderful sight. Not rare around here, but still so much fun to see, especially up close.

Sandhill Crane

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