Magazine article Sunset

Scenes from the Flyway

Magazine article Sunset

Scenes from the Flyway

Article excerpt

The sound is what first astonishes you. It has been likened to the ignition of a rocket, the crowd's roar at a football game. As innumerable geese honk and flap and lift off a lake into the chill morning, you may well feel as if you've been plunged into a waterfall of noise.

To see and hear the autumn flight of waterfowl south along the Pacific Flyway--an arbitrary but convenient delineation of bird routes from above the Arctic Circle to Mexico--is to witness one of the West's great spectacles. The photographs on these pages were taken at two flyway stops where ducks and geese converge in largest numbers this time of year: the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges on the Oregon-California border, and Sacramento N.W.R., about 75 miles north of Sacramento, California.

As with other animal migrations, that of waterfowl is both impressive and mysterious. Impressive because of the sheer numbers of birds and the miles they travel: as many as 1.5 million birds congregate in Klamath Basin this month, including snow geese that began their journey late last August from Wrangel Island, off the north coast of Siberia. Mysterious because, despite advances in bird-tracking technology (Wrangel's snow geese, for example, are now tracked by satellites), we still have not completely mapped the waterfowl routes, nor do we completely understand how the birds navigate them.

What is understood is that this annual spectacle is under pressure, because the wetland habitat that the waterfowl depend on throughout their travels continues to dwindle. …

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