From the pickup, we peered through binoculars at birds in the distance, deciding some were geese but not Canada geese. A flock of small birds rose, circling with a flash of white, then settling into a swale, beyond our sight.
Chuck and I had just driven from Crater Lake where new snow had fallen during the night, to the Klamath Basin. Leaving the mountains, we came abruptly to an area of large flat pastures, fenced and very wet, where water pooled in even slight dips and flooded over the edges of narrow ditches.
Off Modoc Point Road, we stopped at Petric County Park where there was parking and a boat ramp at the edge of a slow-flowing channel. A small flock of geese grazed in a pasture beside the park so, even without binoculars, we could see they were White-fronted geese.
Birders love “firsts.” The first and only other time I’d seen White-fronted geese was in the Yukon Flats Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, in 2010.
In the channel at Petric Park, Chuck spotted a bird swimming with a flotilla of coots, its long thick neck suggesting a loon or grebe. The bird dove and we waited a couple minutes, finally seeing it near the boat ramp and identifying it as a Double-crested cormorant. In early March, we had watched cormorants perched and drying their feathers in Port Aransas, Texas.* This cormorant dove a couple more times then flew, the photo showing it launched with a skip and a jump.
We drove a short distance to the Wood River Wetlands, a BLM-managed park. At the edge of the parking lot, a gate blocked motorized access to a trail which followed a dike with woods on both sides. Before I reached the trail, I saw a quick motion near my feet. When I looked the movement stopped but thin yellow lines curved through a dense layer of sticks and rotting leaves. A common garter snake. While focusing the camera, I also kept looking at the ground behind me and around my feet. The garter snake is harmless but having grown up in rattlesnake country, I reflexively look before stepping, or grabbing hold of a rock. The weather, with snow in the mountains and a chilly breeze off the lake, seemed too cold for snakes but maybe the decomposing vegetation was warm.
With the trees not yet leafed out, the effect was of walking inside a very large basket with enough openings that we could see the surrounding water. The woods were lively with birds flitting between branches and back-and-forth to the ground, and on a high limb a red-winged blackbird chirred. Through the binoculars, I watched a song sparrow open his beak and project three notes followed by a tune. These are the moments I like best—watching a song sparrow singing. Seeing a tree swallow perch briefly on a twig, its dark green feathers barely iridescent. Noticing an intricately woven nest hanging from a high branch like an elongated pouch.
Eventually we crossed a bridge and the landscape became more open with a view of the mountains. By this time, we were discussing lunch as much as birds, and whether to turn back, but the flashy white of buffleheads distracted us. There were two pairs of buffleheads and a female ring-necked duck, and some coots. One of the male buffleheads flapped his wings until he was “standing” on his tail. He flew at the ring-necked duck and at the other male bufflehead. After several frenzied minutes, one pair of buffleheads took off.
I have been considering how we choose to experience nature. At the two parks Chuck and I visited Monday, we encountered only two people, also birders. During the weekend, at Crater Lake National Park, there was a steady procession of visitors, maybe several hundred a day and at 7100 feet elevation, at the south rim of Crater Lake, the last weekend in March, it was still winter, the ground beneath seven feet of snow and the only way to travel beyond the visitor center was by skiing or snowshoeing. Most people only walked from the parking lot up a ramp of packed snow for a quick view of the lake.
Where we walked in the Wood River Wetlands, fifty years ago drainage ditches were dug to dry the land out for cattle grazing. In the mid-1990s the Bureau of Land Management acquired the land and started reclaiming the wetlands. From the trail, we saw ponds and lakes, certainly wetlands, but didn’t appreciate the extent to which the land had been ditched, drained, and dried out during the mid-twentieth century.
A (Google) satellite view reveals the straight lines of the 1950s-era drainage project as well as pools and meanders of the more recent reclamation (as in reclaiming the wetlands). Click the “+” on the satellite map to zoom for a more detailed view.
. . .
Bird List – April 1, 2013
Petric County Park and Wood River Wetlands, Klamath Basin
Double crested cormorant
Say’s phoebe (a “first”)
Pied-billed grebes (another “first”)
*Notes and more photos
Walking in the Wood River Wetlands was not like the urban trail along the Deschutes River.
It was the snake that was close to the trail, not the birds.
The cormorant’s feathers don’t shed water like a duck’s feathers, so cormorants spend time perched with wings extended, drying their feathers.
See my post: Birding in Port Aransas, Texas