The last two days I’ve been exploring Lower Klamath Lake and Tule Lake Wildlife refuges. Oh my god! Not only is it a beautiful area in the gentle embrace of Mt Shasta to the southwest, but the birding is amazing, and there are tons of other interesting ways to explore. I’ll be back, baby, with a group of happy birders in tow, probably next spring.
Discoveries: Both Lakes are covered with birds right now, and are throughout the spring and summers. Although I only had one real bird tour (didn’t want to hang out in the hunting areas, from which I heard many shots), I saw a lot of variety. This area caters to waterfowl- geese, ducks, shorebirds, etc. Many other birds go through the area on the Pacific Flyway. Sighted by moi: of course the usual great blue herons, ravens, crows, jays, etc. But also (If I identified them correctly, as the males look REALLY different this time of year, lacking their spring color costumes to attract the girls) gadwall, widgeons, mergansers, tons of coots, northern shovelers, canvasbacks, and ruddy ducks. Flocks of white snow geese and white pelicans –stunnng. Saw a small group of sandhill cranes. Was surprised not to see pintails, which apparently are the first to appear, nor teals. Oh, and lots of hawks and meat eating birds- I don’t know their names as well. Many hunters everywhere.
Well, what else is there to do? My goodness! Lava Beds National Park is nearby with lots of lava tubes and caves and eruptions; there’s a petroglyph area to explore; and the Park Service now offers tours of the old Tule Lake concentration camp where Japanese families were imprisoned during World War II nearby. And then of course there is the TuleLake town fairgrounds where there is a cute and interesting looking museum about the area with all sorts of interesting STUFF- I didn’t have time to explore but want to go back and check it out.
Sadly, one can also visit another story of oppression in this region: The Modoc tribe fiercely fought the US cavalry’s incursions into their lava-bed lands, fighting a long guerrilla war, but finally their leader “Captain Jack” was caught and hung and the whole community was shipped off to the South somewhere where most of them died. I didn’t get a chance to visit the area where this tribe so bravely fought to survive.
Very interesting to be in the region which is well known for it’s water rights wars. There is lots of agriculture and ranching in the area and the farms need water. Environmentalists and the refuge staff want to maintain good water levels for the birds. And the tribes in the area have their rights as well. Not sure what the latest political resolution has been, but I think it continues to simmer. Visiting these refuges is different from Malheur, the Southeastern Oregon refuge with which I am much more familiar. It’s remote and there is a lot less competition from agriculture or tribes. One drives here around the refuges amidst huge farms, tractors tilling, and irrigation systems of canals and giant spray wheels.
Where to stay? I was delighted to discover Winema Lodge, a former private hunting lodge now open to the public right in the refuge area. Birders can dine and chat with the hunters, at least during the fall hunting season which is on now. The place is rustic, has reasonable rates and optional sit-down meals, a nice big lounge that has a lot of male bonding energy, and a very nice proprieter named Verna who would like to welcome more birding groups to her place. No cooking facilities however, unless one wants to set up a camp stove outside, which is permissible. There is room for RV camping- yeah! A “very good” restaurant, Verna says, is nearby. Unfortunately, it’s called Captain Jack’s Hideout- do we want to celebrate the Modoc’s slaughter? I looked in the rooms at Winema and they look simple but fine and accommodate small groups or couples. Also in TuleLake is the Fey Bed and Breakfast, which I did not check out.
Winema has both large lodge rooms with multiple beds and shared bathrooms, and a small strip motel building with private rooms and bathrooms, slightly more expensive but not much. I actually thought the lodge rooms looked more inviting. The motel room I saw seemed dark and smelled too much like carpet cleaner. Winema rates as of now (oh and add tax too):
- RV sites with full hookup: $35
- Motel rooms with beds for 3-4: $70
- Lodge rooms with 5 beds: $85
- Lodge room with 3 beds: $65
- Homecooked breakfast or dinner: $12 or $18 respectively
How far from the Portland area? Only about 6 hours: 3 to Bend, 3 to the refuges! A nice tour would be overnight in Bend, and then on to Klamath Falls and South.
I headed north and drove on the east side of Upper Klamath Lake, which is a bit of mystery. It’s huge and beautiful and there are no obvious places to go birding. Perhaps it’s a deeper lake with less marshy areas- Tule and Lower Klamath look shallow and very marshy. They definitely are inviting to lots of birds! Also not sure what we would see in the spring besides waterfowl- but many species do come through. There aren’t a lot of trees for roosting birds- more to be learned!
Ok, I’ll be back in the spring to investigate some more! I want hours and hours of birding, slowly driving around the refuge “auto tours”, to see more of our feathered friends. And to explore the many other historical and geological features of this amazing Northern California area.