Where a Million Birds Stop over ... Klamath Basin

Article excerpt

Darkening the skies with their numbers, so many migrating waterfowl flock to the Klamath Basin on the California-Oregon border that world-famous bird-watcher Roger Tory Peterson has named the area one of America's 10 best birding spots. Just north of Lava Beds National Monument, it's about a 5-hour drive ftom Sacramento, but well worth it.

Late August through November, a million birds stop over to feed and rest in the six wildlife refuges in the Klamath Basin, one of their most important stops along the Pacific Flyway. The massive clouds of birds at a single refuge in just a daywave upon wave of cackling, squawking, gossiping waterfowl-will strike you with wonder and awe. You needn't be an experienced bird-watcher to enjoy the sight.

The best places to watch are at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. They lie between state highways 139 and 161; together they contain 85,600 acres of wetlands-an increasingly important habitat since only 25 percent of California's once vast wetlands remain.

You can take a brochure-guided auto tour to see impressive concentrations of tundra swans, white-fronted geese, snow geese, and Canada geese. One special sight warrants staying at either refuge until dusk: just before sunset, the great flocks rise off the water, gather in the air, circle, and come to rest for the night in nearby fields. You'll also see a wide variety of ducks. Some colorful ones to look out for are the dramatically marked hooded merganser, the wide-billed shoveler, and tbe small bluish-billed bufflehead. …