It has been a dreadfully wet spring in Oregon and Washington this year. Gardening plans are on indefinite hold while the lawn grows knee high for lack of a dry day to mow. Like many others here, I live in the Pacific Northwest because I love trees and green vistas, birds and gardens. We gladly trade a love of Nature for half a year of clouds and drizzle, and we feel we have the best of the bargain. Not so much this year, however.
It was in this context that I watched the weather forecasts in hopes of finding 3 consecutive dry days in April. The wetlands of the Klamath Basin in southern Oregon and far northern California are a resting place for birds migrating farther north, as well as a nesting place for many thousands of other birds. Ever since I stumbled on that information last winter, I have been looking forward to seeing all those birds with my own eyes.
I found a window of opportunity on April 14, 15, and 16. Each day would have unsettled weather with some chance of showers, but overall, it didn’t look too bad. I told my mother and favorite traveling companion to pack a bag and then we were off.
Day 1 was a long day, going from southwest Washington to south central Oregon. Although the odometer said I drove 392 miles, it was not a frantic dash. As always, I pulled off the road for every point of interest along the way.
Built in 1945, the Office Bridge is a covered bridge in Westfir, Oregon, crossing the North Fork of the Middle Fork Willamette River at the south end of the Aufderheide National Scenic Byway. It is Oregon’s longest covered bridge at 180 feet. It is the only covered bridge west of the Mississippi River which has a separate pedestrian walkway.
We weren’t hungry for lunch when we reached Oakridge, so we bought some sandwiches to take along. The road was clear through Willamette Pass (elevation 5,128 ft) and the landscape changed from fir trees to pine to high desert juniper before we stopped for lunch. Although there were picnic tables at the roadside rest area, it was cold out and we opted to eat in the sun-warmed car.
By mid-afternoon, we arrived at Wood River Wetland, on the northern edge of the Klamath Basin, where we took a short walk along a graveled path and glimpsed a few mallards, Canada geese, and pied-billed grebes.
As we returned to the main road, pairs of sandhill cranes were spotted in nearby fields.
After dinner, we went in search of western grebes and found them right where I had read they were likely to be near Putnam’s Point at the south end of Upper Klamath Lake. We sat in the car in a gravel parking lot overlooking Link Riverand saw dozens of grebes swimming round and round. We watched until sunset, hoping to see a courting pair walk on water. I did catch a fleeting glimpse of that spectacle, but only for about 2 seconds, so no chance for a photo. This was the pair shortly after their run.
This BBC video shows what we had hoped to see:
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Day 2 dawned bright and sunny with only a little frost to clear from the car windows before heading out to visit two National Wildlife Refuges in far northern California. First up was Lower Klamath NWR, where there were birds everywhere we looked. We covered every inch of the 10 mile long auto tour route with fascination.
Here, a swallow photo-bombed this view of Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and Mt. McLoughlin in the background.
Killdeer and Sandpipers, photographed through the windshield.
From there, we detoured to the small town of Tulelake, California, where we had burgers and milkshakes for an early lunch. Luckily, the food was tasty, as it was the only eatery for miles around.
Tule Lake NWR was our next destination. Of the 39,000 acres in this refuge, 17,000 acres are leased to farmers. Agricultural permit holders farm another 1,900 acres of cereal grains and alfalfa, which together with waste grain and potatoes from the lease program, are a major food source for waterfowl. A series of inter-connected dikes provide a network of 20 miles of gravel roads for birdwatchers to enjoy.
It truly was a birdwatcher’s paradise and we saw many varieties of birds, including my first sightings of ruddy duck, white-faced ibis, and black-crowned night heron. There were many thousands of American coots, plus greater white-fronted geese, Canada geese, cinnamon teals, lesser scaups, tundra swans, and more. Without a doubt, I have never seen so many waterfowl in one place at one time.
According to a brochure we picked up at the visitors center, “An estimated 45,000 ducks, 2,600 Canada geese, and thousands of other water birds are raised on the Refuges each year. Large numbers of young can be viewed from June through August.” I simply must return here in summer, if not this year, then next.
Leaving the Refuge, we continued further south to Lava Beds National Monument. In the 46,000 acre park, there are numerous lava tube caves, 25 of which have marked entrances and developed trails. We didn’t venture into any of the caves, but we saw several groups that did.
There was a sign designating this as the Devil’s Homestead. Lava Beds National Monument has the largest total area covered by a volcano in the Cascade Range.
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Instead of heading home on Day 3, we decided to take a chance with an “iffy” weather forecast and detour to the Oregon coast on our way home, adding a day to our trip. There were some showers along the way, but not enough to make us change our minds about visiting the coast.
We made it to Newport in mid-afternoon and went directly to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, where we saw a southern sea otter enjoy a mid-afternoon snack. It started to rain just as we were leaving.
The rain continued and we settled into a beachfront hotel room to relax for an hour before dinner. After dinner, when we left the restaurant, it was great to see that the rain had stopped and the sun was putting in a late appearance. From Yaquina Bay State Park, we had a great view of the photogenic Yaquina Bay Bridge and a fishing boat heading into its home port for the night.
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Day 4 and the forecast was for heavy rain by afternoon, so we made the most of our morning slowly heading northward. The sun peaked out between increasing clouds to cast a glow on Yaquina Head Light.
We briefly explored Depoe Bay, the world’s smallest natural navigable harbor, at just 6.5 acres.
Netarts Spit and Cape Mears was our final viewpoint before the rain arrived.
Then it was time for lunch and 150 miles of driving home through the pouring rain and no regrets for having taken that detour to the coast.
Total miles driven from my home near Toledo, Washington = 1168.