We noted herons near Upper Klamath Lake as we drove toward town, but Ruth & I had no idea that we were entering bird paradise. If we had been in The Klamath Basin just a month earlier, we’d have witnessed an abundance of ducklings and goslings near the end of their initial training days. We were about to find out that, unfortunately, we were there in one of the slacker periods.
Klamath Falls, Oregon, is a hard-working town that will never be mistaken for a luxe resort community. It’s 3rd largest employer, door and window maker Jeld-Wen, is, in fact, Oregon’s largest private company according to The Oregonian. What makes Klamath Falls an especially compelling place is its birds. Year round, they flock to 6 Klamath Basin Refuges surrounding this city. There’s a Wingwatchers National Trail and bald eagle perch just south of downtown on Lake Ewauna (eu wana).
The Basin is a fall and spring stopover for swans, geese, etc. In the winter bald eagles arrive in such numbers that the largest recorded population of them in the lower 48 states has been documented there. One Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges brochure states, “Over 490 wildlife species have been observed in the Basin including 353 species of birds.” Later, that same brochure notes that 493 species have been seen.
February is peak eagle month so the community holds a Winter Wings Festival on President’s Day weekend every year that attracts birders and wildlife photographers from all over the world. The local Audubon Society sponsors workshops, field trips, etc.
The Klamath Basin, which spills southward into Northern California, is a bird magnet for several reasons. It’s on the Pacific Flyway, the busiest in North America. Habitats in the form of freshwater marshes and grassland meadows abound. It’s surrounded by mountains that ensure forests, rocky cliffs, etc.
In the 19th century, the Klamath Basin held 185,000 acres of lakes and freshwater marshes that multi-millions of birds called home at least part of every year. But an influx of pioneers meant agricultural development and shrinking wetlands. By 1905 a reclamation project was underway. In 1908, Teddy Roosevelt established the Lower Klamath Refuge, the United States’ first waterfowl refuge. It’s still perceived as one of the best year-round wildlife viewing areas with a marked 10-mile auto tour. Although 5 additional sections were set aside between 1928 and 1958, only 20% of the original wetlands remain. The excellent Klamath County Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center at 205 Riverside Drive provides maps and information. My favorite handout lists 47 bird watching sites with a detailed map on the reverse side.
To visit Klamath Falls is to get interested into birding. One expert calls what happens here the largest congregation of waterfowl on the Continent. Definitely tweet worthy.