Klamath Falls, Oregon (PRWEB) March 4, 2007
Each year, an increasing number of American Bald Eagles migrate southward from the upper latitudes of their North American homelands to gather by the hundreds to hunt, roost and act as "southern snowbirds" in Southern Oregon's mild winter climate.
This dramatic eagle migration offers some incredible birding opportunities at a rare time of year. It also is a telling saga of success for the species. The bald eagle, our nation's powerful symbol, is being considered this June to be removed from the endangered species list.
In recent years in southern Oregon's Klamath Basin this dramatic eagle migration has been known to reach nearly 1000 eagles at one time in one winter season. This natural wonder offers intriguing opportunities for any hardy outdoor naturalist and it is easy access by car to the region being just 60 miles from I-5 east of Medford, Oregon.
Ornithologists, wildlife biologists and all levels of birders alike come from throughout the Northwest to gather weekly at dawn in cars, vans and on foot to quietly spy on scores of eagles in unified flight from a night's roost in the Bear Valley Refuge, a stand of alpine trees 12 miles south of Klamath Falls.
The eagles start their day by hunting prey on icy landscapes from their perches on the branches of leafless cottonwood trees, fence posts and power poles.
After a full day of hunting, the same groups of birders often return at sunset to look to the ridges to see the same, then well-fed eagles returning to their protected alpine roosts for a good night's rest.
Why The Eagles Come
For most travelers, the expression coming to a mild winter climate may conjure images of the sunny beaches of Mexico rather than this snowy Cascade Mountain plateau at an elevation of 4,000 to 5,000 feet, where Lower Klamath and Tulelake Wildlife Refuges of Southern Oregon and Northern California host these amazing eagles.
But compare this time of year to the eagle's native Northern Canadian and Alaskan climates, where winter temperatures can range in the sub zero's nightly, warming up to the teens in the day, and it is easy to understand why this southern territory is such a popular winter refuge.
These eagles find plenty of choice food, which like every good traveler knows is a priority on a successful getaway.
What Birders Will See
Our private group was guided by Main Source Tours of Ashland, Ore. and we found that even in February and mid-March, the weather in the Klamath Basin region can be perfect (or at least survivable!) weather for viewers with scopes, binoculars, photo cameras and tripods. It is normally in the lower 30's at night, and a balmy 45-60 in the daytime.
Joining us, wildlife biologist and member of the National Bald Eagle Working Team, Robert Mesta of Tucson, Ariz., was our professional guide for the day. He illustrated that when the migratory signal in the eagle says "go" from their northern lands, a tremendous effort ensues to travel to these prime Southern Oregon winter feeding grounds. Eagles are one-mate-for-life creatures, and many come as pairs.
As he stated, "The American Bald Eagle takes flight for some 50 to 100, even 200 to 300 miles per day, roosting and resting at night to continue its dedicated trip south. The migratory eagles arrive to these abundant feeding grounds for injured or dead waterfowl from the past season, and to hunt live mice, rodents and fish seen near the surface of both frozen and open waters. They stay between December and mid-March yearly in this unique feeding behavior pattern."
But eagles are not the only delight on the birdwatchers' visual and auditory menu this time of year. For centuries, the Klamath Basin and Tulelake Basin has continued to be an unspoiled secret- a unique bottleneck providing a primary migratory stopover on the flyway north and south- for an abundance of diverse and rare waterfowl and raptors (see photo of Tundra Swans).We saw literally thousands upon thousands of Tundra swans engulfing the marshy basin filing the water ways and in visual v-patterns of white against the blue skies sounding their signature kwooo, kwooo.
One attending avid birder and photographer, Gene Morita, of San Rafael, Calif., exclaimed of his tour, "This is my first birding adventure here at this time of year. This refuge is a national treasure! ...The pictures I got at Klamath were as good as any I took in Antarctica."
A New Eco-System Perspective
While traveling by van across this fascinating region, one notices squared off tracts of land everywhere surrounded by irrigational canals, offering an almost safari-like quiet along diked vehicle trails, some marked for bird sightings. The sky is big here and little to obstruct.
One notices the immense agri-business of the Klamath and Tulelake Basin, where agriculture still thrives as the number one industry. One assumes the pristine and exceptional beauty of this nationally protected eco-region is somewhat at odds with the need for successful agricultural pursuits.
To my surprise I learn that many multigenerational hard-working farmers and ranchers of the region have recently gained a new perspective that there can be a unique balance of conservation and economic benefit in this prime farm and eco-region. And this is actually proving true.
Many farmers have been rotating their private land in tracts that go unfarmed and are submerged in marsh-like water tracts for years, providing increased wildlife birding habitat.
Amazingly, the aviary and agricultural result is that in just a few years, not only are important feed lands established for aviary, but later they are dried out to become better and more fertile land for their crops. Farmers are able to plant their crops and market them as organic, garnering higher prices at market.
At the end of a rewarding day of birding in this region, the sky lights up with a crystal clear sunset. The eagles are at rest, and birders go rest to prepare for another day's adventure, awaiting them at another "eagle fly-out sunrise."
The American Bald Eagle stands as a strong symbol to remind us of our nation's strength. And despite the threats of recent years past, it now represents a new resolve of restored strength for new generations to witness, in the wilds of our home frontiers. I am glad I came to see and learn of their winter ways.
Submitted by M. Kim Lewis, an independent nationally published writer/photographer. Kim has covered such art organizations as Cirque Du Soleil and Southern Oregon Tourism Destinations for The San Francisco Chronicle and others, offering birding photography for the Oregon Department of Wildlife and more. He has also written for Velo Magazine- The Journal of Competitive Cycling. He owns Main Source Tours of Ashland, Or., and can be reached at Ashland-Tours.com. Internet PR by Chet Nickerson of Galaxy Web Works.