Archive for Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

Death Stalks on Silent Wings

Posted in Natural History, Photo Stories with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2015 by chamimage

Owl Silhouette

I was staying in Klamath Falls, photographing owls and bald eagles, at the Klamath Wildlife Refuges when I read in the newspaper that we had an owl problem back home in Salem, Oregon.

Around mid-January a jogger (local surgeon) running at 5:15 am in a city park was hit in the back of his head with what he assumed was a two by four. Looking around he saw nothing. Later, it was determined that he was attacked by a barred owl (Strix varia). Three other joggers have had the honor of repeating his experience since then. All have been running before dawn or after sunset, basically pretty dark out there. One jogger lost his favorite Nike cap and never got it back.

It was assumed the owl is nesting nearby and is protecting its territory, but no nest has ever been found to my knowledge.

I went to the park when I got back to find the owl in question and was not successful. Nobody has seen it in the day time so maybe it is roosting or nesting away from the park and only hunting squirrels there in the dark. I did notice a paucity of squirrels. Maybe he tired of having to chase joggers off and gave up and moved out.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

I don’t have any images of a barred owl. They are relatively new to Oregon, being a bird of eastern forests. Their presence here in Oregon has been problematic in other ways. Remember in the 1990’s when the northern spotted owl was listed as endangered and old growth forest logging was essentially shut down to protect the spotted owls? Those same spotted owls are now being decimated and will likely go extinct due to the invasion of barred owls into their territory. They are similar owls in many respects. Both feature black eyes. The barred owls are more aggressive and are out-competing and driving out the spotted owls. The Forest Service now has a trial program of killing barred owls in northern California to see if it has any effect on the spotted owls and is feasible. 3,600 barred owls will be shot. The biologist involved described this as a classic Sophie’s Choice, deciding who will live and who will die when there is no clear fairness in the result.

The image directly above is of an owl I found early in the day when the sun was behind him. I came back in the evening when I knew he would be front-lit. I got near to his position, but there was a car behind me so I stopped at a porta pottie so as not to leads other to him and burden his life with too many people knowing of his location. To my dismay, when I came out of the latrine the driver behind me had not only seen the owl and stopped (I suspect he already knew he was there as well) but his stopping had created an owl jam with three other cars stopped. At that point I gave up on the stealth approach and drove up and got my images. Instead of a quick shot out the window of my car turned into stopping and putting the camera on the tripod. He obviously wasn’t going anywhere. By that time there were six cars stopped.

The title of this post refers to the silent flight of owls, which is unique. It hardly seems fair that they hunt at night and are completely silent in flight. They pay for the silent flight with feathers that are not able to repel water. Apparently you can be water-resistant or silent, but not both. Another fact I learned from Nature last week is that an owl’s feathers weigh more than its skeleton. Hollow bones.

At the Klamath wildlife refuge a biologist said that one morning when they came to work they found the head of a barn owl on the sidewalk. At first they thought they were victim to a boyhood prank, but later decided that it was a gift from a resident great horned owl. Owls like to behead their prey before eating them (perhaps they can’t digest the relatively dense skull?) and in the case of great horned owls they tend to spread body parts about their territory, probably for the same reason gangsters put horse heads in people’s beds.



The owl silhouette at the top was taken in one of these trees a few minutes later.

A good reference book on owls I “Owls of the United States and Canada” written by my friend Wayne Lynch.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Saw-whet Owl

Saw-whet Owl


Klamath Day 4 – Little Wing

Posted in Photo Stories with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2013 by chamimage
Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl

This little fellow above took up the better part of my afternoon today. I found him on my way to eat my lunch and take a much-anticipated nap. It did not take great powers of observation to find him, he hopped across the road in front of my car.

I pulled over and walked back to see what the hell just hopped across the road in front of my car, and to take a photo of it, and to see why a bird was hopping instead of flying. I was greeted by the sweet face you see above. He was sitting in the ditch with no visible injury, but he was beside the road and couldn’t fly so a broken wing from colliding with a car was the most obvious probability.

I hopped back in my car and drove the short distance back to the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. The uniformed man behind the desk  said since it was Sunday he was the only staff in the whole refuge and he obviously couldn’t help me in any way. He suggested I capture the owl and drive it to some wildlife rehab place. I guess I had thought that the welfare of the wildlife on the refuge was their job.

I wasn’t sure about the legalities of scooping up a raptor from a refuge and transporting him across state lines. Technically, though, the owl was about 200 feet outside the refuge. The problem was I didn’t know where to take him and I didn’t have a crate to transport him in and didn’t think driving 40 miles back to Klamath Falls with him wrapped in a coat was a good idea.

I approached some birders and they were also surprisingly apathetic about an injured owl. One of them did say over his shoulder as he walked away that I should call Badger Run Wildlife Rehab in Klamath Falls. At least that gave me a place to start.

I found the number for Badger Run and called and told them about the owl. “No problem, someone will be right out.” No problem? Driving forty miles on a Sunday afternoon to help a little tiny owl based on my sketchy, non-resident directions? I kinda liked their attitude.

While waiting I checked on the owl and the little scamp had hopped his way up the bank of the ditch and into a low branch on a nearby tree. Spunky. Now it was obvious that the left wing was pointing the wrong way, from the shoulder outward. Even I knew that wasn’t good.

I met Pat and led her to where I had last seen the owl. We split up and searched for him. After about five minutes I heard some grumbling that included the words ‘wild goose chase’. Oh Pat, you don’t know me. There is an injured bird here that needs help and I will find him if it involves flashlights.

I found him a short time after that. He had tried to go further up the hill and gotten stopped by thick brush. Pat deftly threw a towel over him and swooped him up wearing welder’s gloves. We looked him over. He had a compound fracture (bone sticking out) very close to the shoulder. Not an easy repair. Even if they can save the wing, the bone callus that forms limits the flexibility the shoulder needs and the bird can’t fly very well, if at all. Not well enough to hunt again.

I heard back from Badger Run that the owl was going to be taken to the vet when he opens. The outcome might well be amputation of the wing and a spoiled life as a wildlife ambassador, taken to schools, etc. The vet could decide he can’t be saved. A release back into the wild seems unlikely, but you never know. He beat some pretty big odds by hopping in front of the one person who wasn’t going to give up helping him out on a Sunday. And who found for him the angels who selflessly came to his rescue and can do the best for him that is possible. I mean, look at that face. Who wouldn’t want to help that little owl?

Snow Goose Blast-off

Snow Goose Blast-off

It seemed to be a day for injured birds. Above is a typical snow goose blast-off. Typically they do this whenever an eagle flies over, but sometimes they just seem to do it for no good reason at all. You wonder how they keep from running into each other and getting hurt, huh?

After this particular blast-off above, I noticed a lone snow goose on the ground where they took off from. Through the binoculars I could see he was lying with his belly on the ground flapping his wings meekly. At first he scooted himself forward a little bit with each wing flap, but he was fading quickly. Then he stopped flapping. Then his beak slowly lowered to the ground and he never moved again.

Apparently, sometimes they do get hurt. I wonder if he broke a wing and fell to the ground. He may have just been sick and was left behind, but it’s strange that he coincidentally died so soon after the blast-off. You would think there was a connection.  I’ll never know.

As he lay there flapping I looked around and counted at least eight bald eagles as close as I was to him. None of them seemed to notice him. The ravens didn’t even come over. Never a coyote when you need one. I figure at the very least a coyote will come around tonight. They don’t miss much. “Dead goose? I’m on it.”

Klamath Day 3 – Walking on Water

Posted in Photo Stories with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2013 by chamimage


This morning I saw a coyote walk on water. Okay, technically the water was frozen, but it was impressive to watch him go across a large frozen pond with a bird in his mouth. I am suspicious that the bird was not exactly gotten legitimately. He was looking around nervously like he was expecting maybe an angry eagle to show up any second, if you know what I mean.

Goose Crossing

Goose Crossing

I spent a pleasant evening with white-fronted geese. When I first stopped there were just a few close to the road. Then a few more flew in, and a few more. Before long I had an impressive flock before me. The kept kind of landing further north, so at one point I decided to leave the shadow of my car and move my tripod northward. Big mistake. The car was breaking up my outline and as soon as my humanoid shape was exposed there was a massive blast off. Some forgave me and came back, but not all.

Jumping Jacks

Jumping Jacks

I decided I liked the geese against the earth better than against the sky. Anyone familiar with autofocus knows that is easier said than done, especially with an aperture of f/6.7 and low light, but I got a few. Looking at the flight shots sure makes me jealous of those that can fly. It looks kind of fun.

At one point a bald eagle strafed the goose flock and they blasted off, thinning them out even more. It was worthwhile for the flight shots I got of the eagle.



Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle


The Balds

Posted in Photo Stories, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2012 by chamimage

Bald Eagle Nest

I have been busy optimizing images from the Klamath Basin trip. I have posted a few of the bald eagle images here.

There were approximately 300 bald eagles in the Klamath Basin, which includes south central Oregon and northern California. I spent all of my time on the California side.

I photographed mostly the Tule Lake Refuge, but the eagle images in this post were all from the Lower Klamath refuge. The eagles are everywhere, but there are a couple of areas that were definitely hot spots.

This nest is a pair of local eagles that were doing some remodeling. Most of the other eagles were just here for the winter. The number of eagles depends on how nasty the weather is elsewhere. In severe winters more eagles come to Klamath, where it is relatively warmer and less deep snow.

Bald Eagle in Flight

I found a spot in Tule Lake where the eagles were hunting the snow geese pretty hard. I was told of a similar area in Lower Klamath that I didn’t have time to check out.

The eagles fly over the flock of geese, resulting in a massive blast-off of geese. The slowest goose, or the one who flies up into the eagle’s trajectory path, gets to be dinner. The injured and aged geese get culled out pretty quickly. The eagles seemed to be targeting the snow geese exclusively, even though there were more white-fronted geese in the refuges. Snow geese are smaller. I don’t know if flight speed has anything to do with it. Tundra swans ignored the eagles, though I did see a swan carcass or two during the trip.

When I photographed bald eagles on Lake Couer d”Alene in northern Idaho in winter they were feeding on spawning kokanee and there was no end of fighting and thievery going on. In Klamath there didn’t seem to be any of that. Even juvenile birds were left alone to feed on their goose carcass while other eagles sat patiently nearby. The only aerial interactions seemed to be acrobatics and play and not the fighting they were engaged in in Idaho. Perhaps the hunting is just easier in Klamath and there is no competition for food.

Bald Eagle in Flight

The eagles roosted in fir trees in a refuge that is accessible only by permission since the road crosses private property. I was in Klamath Falls during the Winter Wings festival and they did have daily trips to the roost early in the morning to witness the fly-out. They traveled to the site in buses and there was a fee. I wasn’t aware of the access problems so hadn’t signed up for the fly-out and it fills up quickly before the festival. From what I heard I don’t think I would have wanted to sacrifice one of my morning shoots for it, anyway, though it would be fun to see all of those eagles fly off. Perhaps if I was there for more days next time I would be willing to devote a morning to the fly-out.

I would encourage anybody who loves seeing bald eagles or likes birdwatching and doesn’t mind 14 degree temperatures and wind to attend the Wild Wings Festival in Klamath Falls, Oregon in mid February. There are all manner of field trips offered, both birdwatching and photography. The birds can be found on your own, but it may involve a bit of exploration on the first day. The hot areas are not obvious or on the outer parts of the refuge so involve driving on a lot of dirt roads. There was a few inches of snow on my last morning and I didn’t even try to drive on the refuge roads that day. The best bet would be to drive out into the refuge and sit with the windows open and listen for a goose blast-off and go to where the geese are. The eagles won’t be far away from the geese. You can stop by the Tule Lake refuge headquarters and ask about the eagle nest location and look through their spotting scope at the nesting great horned owl mama while you’re there. They close the road near the eagle nest after the festival so festival weekend is a good time to be there.

Klamath – Day Two (and 1/2)

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2012 by chamimage

Tulelake NWR

Day two dawned cold and clear. It was 19 degrees F, but felt much more comfortable than the day before when it was 32 degrees F and windy. On the way into the refuge the sky was full of endless skeins of ducks flying the the pre-dawn gloom. I think they were mallards. but it was really too dark to tell.

I looked for the snow geese I had put to bed the night before and they were gone. Instead I found 22 bald eagles and two golden eagles dining on at least five snow geese carcasses. Those eagles hit the snow geese early and hard. It may have been easier for them that the ponds were frozen. Even though there are more white-fronted geese the eagles seem to target the snowies. they are smaller and, apparently, easier to kill.

I drove by great blue herons standing on the ice, looking unamused that they were unable to get at their food source.

I was told there are 300-500 bald eagles in the Klamath refuges every winter. It is the lower estimate this year since there was not any weather nasty enough up north to drive more of them south.

For some reason my 600 mm lens does not like eagles. I don’t think I got a sharp image all day of an eagle, no matter what shutter speed I used. Yet I could turn around and photograph a passing gull in flight and it would be tack sharp. Just something about those dark feathers I guess. I couldn’t even manually focus my way into a sharp image. Frustrating. I didn’t bring my 200-400 mm lens thinking I wouldn’t need it (thereby making it certain that I would need it).

The bald eagle nest was pounded pretty hard by birders camping out beneath it and the eagles were not there when I went by. I’m kind of glad they are planning to close the road past it tomorrow. It was good that people got to see it and appreciate it this weekend. Now they need their space.

I am a bit worried that most of the birders here are all gray bearded. The young people don’t seem to appreciate nature or have much use for it. I worry about who will care about nature enough to protect it in the near future.

American Coots

Oops. I wanted to take a photograph of these coots all balled up in the tight huddle in a small bit of open water, but I spooked them and they went running, comically, across the ice. Sorry guys. My bad.



Klamath NWR Trip Update

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2012 by chamimage

Bald Eagle Nest

I am in Klamath Falls, Oregon this weekend for the Winter Wings Festival. The 33rd year for it, apparently. I dec ided to come down this year after seeing Arthur Morris’ great photos from here last year when he was a keynote speaker. I believe he got an honorable mention in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the year contest with one or two of the photos.

This year’s keynote speaker last night was Darrel Gulin. I met Darrel in Svalbard a few years back when we spent nine days together on a Russian ice-breaker ship photographing polar bears, among other things. Great guy and it was a great presentation. He is doing some interesting things with bird feather photos these days.

The main attraction down here this time of year is bald eagles. I believe I heard there are about 100 of them here. They are gobbling snow geese like chicken tenders. You pretty much can’t swing a cat without hitting an eagle around here. I saw a couple of golden eagles today, as well.

I knew there would be snow geese and there are 55,000 of them at last count. What I didn’t realize is that there would also be about 88,000 white-fronted geese, and 39,000 tundra swans.

When the eagles fly over the geese they all blast off and the mix of the white and dark geese is a salt and pepper blast off, compared to the pure white blast off you get at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico. The eagles eat the geese that don’t blast so good.

There are swans everywhere. The eagles fly over the swans and they glare at the eagle and dare him to even try it. They don’t even flinch.

This morning was overcast and freezing (literally) and windy. I couldn’t do anything right, but it didn’t matter because there was no good light and I didn’t miss anything. You know you’re having a bad morning when you have to drive back to town for Super Glue to fix your flash. It was getting so comically bad it was a good thing I had to stop for a while. Ithink I invented fourteen new ways to miss a shot. Getting wrapped up in the seat belt being just one example.

This evening was unbelievable. Good light and endless birds flying low right over me. Reviewing my images showed more softness than I would have preferred so I’m going to have to crank up the ISO and shutter speed tomorrow.

The star of the show here is a leukocystic bald eagle. He is tan colored. I saw him last night when he flew from a telephone pole before I noticed him. It was too dark for a photograph by then, anyway. I saw him again today in flight right over me. I thought it was an immature bald eagle until I saw him in the binoculars. He is gorgeous in flight from below. He flew off before I got the camera up. Maybe I’ll luck into a photo of him. There is a picture of him on the Wild Wings Facebook page.

It is supposed to be a cold one again tomorrow, only with fewer snow squalls. After the morning shoot I think I’ll set up downwind of the eagle’s nest a ways and photograph the eagles bringing nesting materials in. I like to give the nest lots of room and not spend much time close to it. They will close the road near it once the festival is over on Monday.

White-fronted Goose Blur

The blur on the above photo was intentional. The sun went behind a cloud on the horizon for a while so to occupy myself until the light was good again I slowed the shutter speed to 1/30th second and shot blurs. Obviously the sun came back a bit for this photo.