Klamath Basin eagles are worth a trip
I think if you asked people to pick the most majestic bird, the bald eagle would win, hands down. Who doesn't think eagles are awe inspiring, powerful and beautiful? Wouldn't you agree?
Many folks living in the Rogue Valley aren't aware that the Klamath Basin is the winter home to 500-1,000 bald eagles, the most in the lower 48 states. Visitors from all over the world travel here to see these magnificent birds as they congregate to feed on the huge flocks of wintering waterfowl and abundant rodents. And since bald eagles are very large birds that spend a lot of time flying and sitting in the open, we all have a chance to view these wonderful birds.
A great place to start your eagle watch is to arrive early near Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge to watch the early morning "fly-out." Bear Valley Refuge, situated along the eastern slope of the Cascades, is a roosting area for eagles and other raptors. Though this refuge is closed to public entry, you can park at the base of the mountains and watch the eagles cruise past as they travel from their overnight perches to the other wildlife refuges in the valley below. It's quite a sight to see 200-300 eagles, hawks and falcons float by, some at near eye level.
To get to the viewing area near Bear Valley Refuge turn onto the Keno-Worden Road .03 miles south of Worden on Highway 97 south of Klamath Falls. Drive across the railroad tracks and turn left onto the first dirt road. Drive 1.3 miles and park anywhere. It's best to arrive early, 6:30 a.m. or so, and to dress for the cold. Most of the eagles will fly out within the first hour and then return in a more leisurely manner in the late afternoon.
After the fly-out, drive back to Highway 97 and turn left (north) and then right (east) onto Township Road. Watch for eagles along this road in the fields and on the telephone poles. At 4 miles turn right onto the Straights Drain Roads (no sign), two dirt roads on either side of the drainage canal. These good gravel roads are within the boundaries of the refuge and are usually very productive for viewing eagles as they follow the flocks of waterfowl. The Straights Drain Roads ends at Highway 161 near the exit for the Lower Klamath Refuge tour route. Check the trees here and along the canal to the south. There are nearly always eagles perched in the trees near here.
Next turn left (east) onto the highway and drive to the entrance of the Lower Klamath Refuge tour route. Be vigilant as you watch the marshes, fields and ice. Eagles will often perch in the open and sometimes there will be several sitting together around a fresh kill.
Return to the highway and drive east to Hill Road (the Westside Grocery Store is at this junction) and follow it to the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters. You can pick up brochures here, use the restrooms, and view the displays.
Continue south on Hill Road for 4.8 miles from the headquarters (being watchful for eagles along the way) and turn left onto the "self-guided" tour route (small fee). This one-way road straddles the open water (which is ice at this time of year) and agricultural fields. Watch for ice-free areas where there will be thousands of ducks and geese and the accompanying eagles. The tour route will end at a paved road where you will turn right back toward Hill Road (watch for the road sign on the right).
If you follow these directions and you are watchful, you should see lots of eagles, as well as a wealth of other wildlife. Remember, this is only a suggested route. You can explore other roads and areas that look interesting. The possibilities are endless. I know every time I make this journey it is always different and exciting. You just never know what you might see.
I'd also like to hear from you if you make the trip I wrote about today. Contact me at www.cronbergphotography.net and click on the "Contact Richard" link.
Birder's Quiz Answer: You have found an immature Bald Eagle. Bald Eagles require four years to achieve mature plumage, the totally white head and tail.
Richard Cronberg is a birding enthusiast and photographer who lives in Central Point. Write him at P.O. Box 4283, Medford, OR 97501.