2016-04-24 Lower Klamath Basin

Larus philadelphia

Origins of the Klamath Basin

The region bordering Oregon and California is a marshy expanse of shallow lakes. Geologically, the valley is called a ‘graben’. Parallel north-to-south faults act to lift one section (horst) and allow another to depress (graben). Rather than following the depression south, the Klamath River and its tributaries pushed westward, carving its way to the sea. The uplifted ‘horsts’ act as dams to slow the water drainage and the lower grabens’ act as a sponge to hold the water resources for the ecosystems to evolve.

By water volume, the Klamath River is California’s second largest, with the Sacramento River as the largest. The Klamath River drains 16,000 square miles. The lower section carves its way through the volcanic Cascade Range. The upper valley is part of the ‘basin and range’ terrain that characterizes the lands between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade and Sierra Nevada ranges. Beginning about 17 million years ago (early Miocene) the region was a series of shallow seas and low island ranges. The region I am visiting evolved as part of this ‘basin and range’ dynamic. About 5 million years ago the north-to-south parallel faults sculpted the landscape into what we see today (graben and horst). Before the waters were all drained to accommodate agriculture in the early 1900’s, the region supported vast migratory wildfowl. Efforts are underway to revive some of the previous viability, but if water runs short, as it has of late, the wetlands suffer.

My day began by wandering the local communities in search of fuel. Being Sunday, many providers were closed, but this gave me the opportunity to explore and get acquainted with the area. I found fuel in the town of Merrill Oregon, which was off track for the region I wanted to explore. In navigating back to the route I wanted to follow, I encountered a feeding group of American White Pelicans in the local stream. I captured a few images before continuing south to meet California Highway 161, called “Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway”. This road dances its way across the tippy-top of California and cuts its way through the marshy landscape.

I encountered a side road for a “self-guided tour” of the Lower Klamath NWR, where I found a high concentration of waterfowl. Unfortunately, all the ducks took flight on the approach of me and my tall van , but I found Canada Geese with small goslings, and they stayed down for me to take photographs. The wind was strong enough to generate wind chop on the larger expanses of water, but the little sheltered channels were more conducive to image gathering. Eagles were fun to encounter along these dirt roads along the tour route. After leaving the self-guided tour road, I found a huge flock of Greater White-Fronted Geese alongside Highway 161.

Veteran’s Park in the city of Klamath Falls is a place I’ve visited in the past and knew it had potential for bird photography. Gulls, egrets, ducks and cormorants are often present. I was hoping for black-headed gulls. I’ve captured Franklin’s Gulls there in the past. Ring-Billed Gulls are the dominant species of gulls at the park. The locals find pleasure in feeding them and the ducks here bread. When I arrived it began to rain. I could see Barrow’s Goldeneye and Common Mergansers along with various other ducks and the ever-present Ring-Billed Gulls. I parked and did some catching up sorting images. Being Sunday, there were lots of people feeding the gulls, and I thought it better to spend time at my computer. Taking time to find a local Mexican eatery for nourishment could provide further delay. Returning later to Veteran’s Park there were fewer people. To my surprise, I saw black-headed gulls. These were Bonaparte’s Gulls. Most sported full black hoods of mature breeding birds, but there were also ‘first winter’ birds in the flock with mostly white heads. Bonaparte’s Gulls are known as “two year” gulls, meaning it takes two years for the birds to develop into breeding adults. Many other gulls are “three year” or “four year” cycle birds. It was a treat for me to watch these birds forage and hear their little ‘grunting’ vocalizations. They would frequently fly short distances to move between foraging locations. This provided me with ample opportunity to capture flight shots (always a challenge). Floating on the water, they would spin first one direction and then the other, reminiscent of phalaropes.  Very entertained, I took way too many images (about 1000 for the full day). This always generates a heavy workload to cull and attach descriptive data to the images.

I had such a good time Sunday at Veteran’s Park, I decided to visit again Monday morning before leaving for the last 90 minute drive into Medford to stay with family.

Images from these days can be seen below:

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