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Memories of the Link River in Klamath Falls

Bonaparte's Gull - Larus philadelphia
Breeding adult bird in migration at Veteran’s Park in urban Klamath Falls Oregon. Here, the Klamath River joins Upper Klamath Lake and Lake Ewauna and is called the “Link River”.

I’ve travelled extensively through Western USA, yet I don’t feel I’ve “seen it all”. Far from it, I’m certain there are still plenty of surprises waiting for me to ferret out. When I’m not travelling, chasing bird images and other natural wonders, I’m thinking about exploring new places, or places I’ve enjoyed visiting in the past. One such place I’ve found that draws me repeatedly back is the Link River and Veteran’s Park in Klamath Falls Oregon.

I first visited this place in December 2002. I was just starting to get serious about nature photography, and narrowing my attention to birds as my primary subjects. The Klamath Basin enjoys a well deserved reputation as a winter wonderland for birds and I was wandering the Lower Klamath Valley, not having any specific targets in mind. I was enjoying exploring the region. At the end of my first day I drove north on US-97 into the town of Klamath Falls to find a motel for the night. The off-ramp into downtown crosses the Klamath River (or “Link River” as it is called here) where it feeds from Upper Klamath Lake into Lake Ewauna. I noticed an abundance of waterfowl on the waters below the bridge into town and I turned right on the first street past the bridge and found myself at Veteran’s Memorial Park, where the river feeds into Lake Ewauna. I met my first Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks this day. I’ve returned many times over the years, and had some wonderful encounters. I wish I could attend the show there more often. 

Bonaparte's Gull - Larus philadelphiaJust upstream from Veterans Park, on the west side of the Link River is a trail where in spring riparian loving birds can be found. There are side trails leading through the woods down to the river’s edge, where interested birders can peer through the dense foliage and find loafing gulls, waterfowl, cormorants, pelicans and passerines. The trail begins north of West Main Street near the Favell Museum and extends north 1.5 miles to Upper Klamath Lake.

Perhaps my favorite memory of this area was from the spring of 2016 when I had a close encounter with a large flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls feasting on small invertebrate prey on the water’s surface. This was only the second time that I’ve met adult birds in alternate (breeding) plumage, and by far the best meeting I’ve had to date. They put on quite a show for me that day.

Not every visit has been as productive as my 2016 visit, but even those slower times have been pleasurable. There’s something about a riverside stakeout that feels healing. When visiting this region, Veteran’s Park draws me like a magnet. It wouldn’t feel right to miss a chance to spend time here if I’m anywhere in southern Oregon.

Scientists believe this region’s geological origin is a form of Basin and Range geography, but with symmetry of slope to the uplifted (horst) regions on either side of the valley (graben) sections. When the earth’s crust here was stretched by tectonic forces, pulling the east further east and the west further west, alternate north-south strips of the crust were lifted by vulcanism. Those strips between these lifted sections subsided. Geologists call this “Basin and Range”. As I understand it, the Klamath Basin is considered as one of the areas where symmetrical faulting occurs which they call graben and horst. Instead of following the subsided valley (graben) south, the Klamath River cut westward through the uplifted (horst) terrain to complete its journey to the Pacific Ocean. The dam caused by the western horst slowed the river and captured enough water to create the rich wetland valley we now call the Klamath Basin. It was once a vast wetland dominated by large shallow lakes, which attracted many species of migrating birds and was believed to host the largest concentration of bird-life in Western North America.

Most of the wetlands have been drained for agricultural development. In recent years there has been a move to restore some of the lands to benefit wildlife. Beginning in the 1870s European settlers started diverting the natural water delivery mechanisms that sustained the ecosystem here. Then a series of congress approved acts in the early 1900s continued the conversion and an alarming rate. Theodore Roosevelt tried to intervene by establishing the Lower Klamath Lake National Wildlife Reserve, but these protections were short lived. The “Trump-like” regime of Woodrow Wilson un-did the protections which led to all the water being diverted. The former lake turned into a dry dust bowl in the 1930s. The fight for restoration continues, and in the early 21st century water allocation politics have helped, but low snow-pack attributed to climate change is hampering the recovery process.

Some of the stories about my visits to this location can be found at:

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