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This is my annual vacation to the mountains of Northern California. We have a family place that has been in my husband's family since the 1940s. At a 4500' elevation it is perfect for autumn and mountain weather. Usually October is balmy - okay mid 60s with nights in the high 30s.

Well...not so much this time! We arrived about midnight on Saturday night a week ago. Cold and overcast. Sunday was as expected and we did odd household things to get settled. Sunday night - it started to snow. Big, fat fluffy flakes of snow! It snowed off and on through Wednesday. By the time the storm finished, which is very unusual for this time of year, we had 3+ inches of snow on the ground. So much for hiking and birding and photos!

But all is not lost!! A year ago we were here and were total novices at this bird thing. And we took a drive - theoretically to a local wildlife refuge. About 45 minutes away. Not us...we got to talking and missed a turn! Suddenly we are half way to Tule Lake!  Well, what the heck...onward we go - 2 1/2 hours later! And there my diary begins!

Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge is an absolutely phenomenal place. Many, many acres of wetlands and wildlife. Despite coming up this way for 30+ years this was my first trip that far north. It was sooo worth the wrong turn!

Refuge History
Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges

Why are the Refuges Here?

Historically, the Klamath Basin was dominated by approximately 185,000 acres of shallow lakes and freshwater marshes. these extensive wetlands attracted peak fall concentrations of over 6 million waterfowl and supported abundant populations of other water birds including American white pelican, double crested cormorant, and several heron species.

Wetlands Drastically Reduced

In 1905, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation initiated the Klamath Reclamation Project to convert the lakes and marshes of the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake areas to agricultural lands. As these wetlands receded, the reclaimed lands were opened to agricultural development and settlement. Today, less than 25% of the historic wetlands remain.

Klamath Basin Birding Trails was something that was very well put together on their website - but even more so in paper maps that can be tucked in a car or backpack for the next trip. Most of us in the Northern CA / Southern OR area are well acquainted with fights over water in this region. Water becomes more and more critical to maintaining migration and habitats as time goes on.

As someone that has always been interested in nature and conservation it was a very interesting trip. I am not sure how many specific birds I saw - just was really aware for the first time of the sheer numbers.

One of many sections of the driving tour that was just overflowing with waterfowl. Interesting that about half a mile back up the road is where the hunting area ended. Birds are smart!

Some of the more interesting photos I found in my collection from last year -
Western Grebe

American Wigeon

Lots of options - open to help on this one!

In summary I would say - take the camera and be prepared for anything! If you make a wrong turn and go for a road trip - well you just might find the most amazing sights just around the bend!

Originally posted to Birds and Birdwatching on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 06:00 AM PDT.

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