Monday, July 5, 2010

Oregon Day IV: Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

With my Crater Lake exploration cut short I was a bit ahead of schedule on June 23rd. I had initially planned an evening visit to Klamath Marsh to listen for my lifer Yellow Rail, but at this pace I would get there early afternoon. According to my birding guide this expansive marshland hosts over 100 territorial Yellow Rails, in addition to an impressive list of other wetland birds. I therefore took my time and made multiple stops along the way. The landscape is very different on the eastern slope of the Cascades, and is dominated by deep river gorges, Ponderosa pine forest with Sage brush understory and open ranch land. Choosing a 20 mile detour on gravel roads instead of following Route 97 all the way to Klamath Marsh was a decision I will never regret. I got great views of Mountain Bluebirds, Townsend's Solitaires, Black-backed Woodpeckers, Green-tailed Towhees, one of the western sub-species of White-breasted Nuthatches, American Magpies, and a very photogenic Western Wood-pewee.
Green-tailed Towhee (above) and Western Wood-pewee (below):
"Slender-billed" White-breasted nuthatch:
 Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge:
 The dusty gravel road intersected Silver Lake Rd. just east of Klamath Marsh. Silver Lake Rd. cuts straight across the vast marshland, with water channels on both sides. Thankfully, I had the road pretty much to myself so I could zig-zag back and forth between lanes and use the car as camouflage (again - a white car is not optimal for birding trips although covered in red dust at this point!....).
Flocks of Black Terns were foraging over the marsh and often made passes along the roadside canals. I hunkered down beside the road shoulder to get them in silhouette and nailed a few birds at close range. From the reeds sounded a chorus of Soras, Virginia Rails, Pied-billed Grebes, Marsh Wrens, Red-winged Blackbirds and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. The open water in the canals held Wood Ducks, Cinnemon Teals, Gadwalls, American Coots, and Great Blue Herons.
 Black Tern (above) and Yellow-headed Blackbird (below):
Female Gadwall:
A male Ring-necked Duck (look closely and you can actually see the purple ring on it's neck!):
Even after spending a couple of hours crossing the marsh the clock was still only 5 PM with many hours until darkness. After conferring with maps and birding guides I decided I was better off heading N towards Bend and put my faith in another Yellow Rail location at Big Marsh along hwy 58 west of Crescent. Leaving Klamath Marsh I passed some Bison and cattle pastures that had a pair of Sandhill Cranes with young, an unexpected Long-billed Curlew guarding its territory, Horned Larks and Western Meadowlarks.

I arrived at Big Marsh around 7 PM and had to wait another couple of hours until darkness, so I put on my wellies and walked the edge of the marsh. As I was leaving the car, a cow Elk walked right past me heading out into the marsh to graze.
 I ended up standing out in the marsh almost until it got dark, and what an incredible experience it was under the full moon lit sky: three American Bitterns booming back and forth, serenating Soras, Virginia Rails, Savannah Sparrows and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. And then suddenly out of nowhere; a YELLOW RAIL flushed right next to me and dropped down twenty feet away!! I never saw or heard it again. On my way out several Common Nighthawks started displaying over the woods, but despite several stops I didn't hear any owls.
 I barely made it to Bend by 11 PM and checked into a Super8 hotel for the next two nights.
What a looooong day!!

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