Monday, August 11, 2008

Tule Lake

On Sunday, August 3, we said goodbye to Oregon. Our destination for the day was Lava Beds National Monument in northern California. On the way, we stopped at Tule Lake, part of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge has several sections, some in Oregon and some in California.

When we arrived, we found the visitors center deserted except for a lone ranger manning the info desk. It wasn’t peak birding season so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. In the visitors center, we learned all about the complex task of managing the lake and wetlands. We’d naively assumed that Tule Lake was a natural lake. In fact, it was natural only until it was drained by the Department of Reclamation in the 1800s for use as farmland. Today, the “lake” is filled and drained to various levels and in various sections at different times during the year to mimic a natural ecosystem and provide a fertile habitat for the birds migrating along “Fly-5” through California. If only the Department of Reclamation hadn’t gotten involved in the first place, all this work could have been avoided.

The main attraction in this part of the refuge is driving or canoeing around the fake lake. Given that we don’t carry a canoe around with us, we took the dirt road option. Despite it being a slow time of year, there were plenty of birds.

We watched this snowy egret for a while.

Every time we’d drive forward, he’d fly just a little further down the road.

We also saw several common egrets along the road. They were a little shier though, and harder to photograph.

Sarah used her nifty new bird field guide to indentify some of the birds we saw. The field guide isn’t actually new – we found it for 33 cents at a used book sale. The cool thing about it is how well loved it was by the previous owner. It has all kinds of marks and notes in it about birds that the previous owner saw in the 1970s.

Along the road, there were hundreds of iridescent blue dragon flies. We had both of our windows open and they kept flying through the car.

Continuing along the road, we noticed some birds on the poles along the road.

Then, we noticed the coolest sight of all. A hawk (we think anyway…) was perched on a pole holding a large fish! The bird didn’t stay put for long, so we only got a blurry photo of it flying away, still clutching the fish in its claws. How cool!

The rest of our drive was less eventful, but we did stop to watch some white pelicans and a western grebe.

Having gotten our fill of bird watching for the day, we continued along to Lava Beds National Monument, which borders Tule Lake to the south.

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