Birder’s Quiz: You are birding in the Klamath area when you spot a small duck that is bright reddish-brown in color. It has a red eye, black bill and dark wings. What is it? - Richard Cronberg

Klamath refuges a hotbed for birders

When most birders think of birding in the Klamath area, they imagine bald eagles and winter weather. Though this area is famous for both, spring and summer offer some of the best birding around.

The Klamath refuges are truly exciting now because of the sheer numbers of species that come here to nest and raise their young. And, if you go now, you'll see many species that are not common to our valley.

To get to Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges, travel east on Highway 140 and then south on Highway 97. At about 15 miles turn east onto Highway 161 (Stateline Road) and watch the flooded fields on both sides of the road for a variety of ducks, geese, Wilson's phalaropes, willets, white-faced ibis and possibly long-billed curlew.

As you approach the exit for Lower Klamath Refuge, stop and check the willow trees for owls, and the water for western, Clark's, eared, and pied-bill grebes, as well as American white pelicans. There should be lots of barn and cliff swallows making nests on the concrete waterway and egrets lurking below looking for a quick meal of fish.

Continue on Stateline Road to the entrance of the refuge and drive slowly along this road watching for American bittern, white-faced ibis, yellow-headed, red-winged, and tri-colored blackbirds.

At the first junction of the tour route, turn right (west) and drive slowly watching for a variety of ducks, egrets and northern harriers cruising above the tules. At any of the marshy areas you could get a glimpse of the secretive sora or Virginia rail.

You'll eventually exit onto Stateline Road again. Turn right (east) to the junction of Merrill Road. Anywhere along this stretch you'll see hundreds of shorebirds, including black-necked stilts and American avocets. Be sure to pull completely off the road as the trucks here don't slow down and the Highway Patrol takes a dim view of cars stopped on the highway.

Continue to the junction of Hill Road and turn right to the headquarters. Take time to visit the displays inside (inside the restrooms, too), pick up a checklist of birds, and maybe eat lunch under the trees. Check the trees and bushes here for songbirds, swallows and quail.

Drive south on Hill Road checking trees and bushes for owls, orioles, flycatchers, kingbirds and meadowlarks. At about 9.2 miles turn onto the "self-guided" tour route (fee) and enjoy the spectacle of thousands water birds, gulls, raptors and swallows.

At the end of the tour route turn right (west) onto the paved road. You might consider a visit to Captain Jack's Stronghold. Although not a "birding stop," this is an interesting side trip. Watch for the turn-off for Hill Road while scanning the skies for common nighthawks, more swallows, swifts and raptors.

As you travel toward the headquarters on Hill Road, watch the cliffs for nesting barn owls, red-tailed hawks and eagles.

This trip should produce 70-90 species of birds, a very enjoyable and peaceful ride, and an experience that most folks in the U.S. will never experience. All I can say is, "Enjoy!"

Birder's Quiz Answer: You have spotted a Cinnamon Teal thought by some to be the most beautiful duck. . It is one of the few ducks that migrate to our area to nest in the summer.

Richard Cronberg is a birding enthusiast and photographer who lives in Central Point. Write him at P.O. Box 4283, Medford, OR 97501.

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