Addicted to Birds

By Kyla Merwin - Posted on 02 June 2012

Bald Eagle, Photo by Eric FrommerBald Eagle, Photo by Eric FrommerExploring the Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge

Gerry Hill has ruined me for life. He and his birding compatriots, Kevin Spencer and B.J. Matzen took me on a birding tour of the Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge, binoculars and cameras at the ready.

Here’s what I knew about birds before this morning:
1. Hummingbirds take off backwards.
2. The Blue Bird of Happiness visits my house.
3. The red, red robin goes bob, bob, bobbin’ along.
That’s it, the total sum of my bird expertise.

Two hours and 65 species later, I can identify the luminescent white-faced ibis, spot a cinnamon teal from twenty yards, and tell the difference between a western grebe (black crown extends below the eyes; greenish-yellow beak) and a Clark’s grebe (black crown remains above the eyes; orange-yellow beak).

Also know that I will never be able to drive down a dirt road again as long as I live, without scanning the countryside for birds. And on the birds: the minutia of colors, the iridescence of feathers, epaulets on wings, and a distinctive silhouette against a pale blue sky. Yes, I’m ruined.

Loggerhead Shrike, Photo by Terry RossLoggerhead Shrike, Photo by Terry RossA birder’s enthusiasm is infectious. Case in point: four grown men gushing and chattering at the sight of loggerheaded shrike, all talking at once, binoculars glued to their faces, virtually bursting out of their seats. The last time I saw this kind of excitement involved three pre-pubescent girls and a Justin Bieber sighting. Naturally, I was right in the thick of it. What, what, what? There! There it is! On the upward slope, next to the brown spot in the berm, sight it from the red roof on the far hillside. There it is!

We’re all twitterpated.

Hill began his love-long love of birds at age four, when his mother gave him a book called “Johnny and the Birds.” He claims it’s a genetic condition that drives this hobby, however, something he is powerless to control. So much so, he traded in all his other sporting gear for a single Canon camera lens.

Like many guides and hobbyists of this ilk, it seems he worked his whole life in another occupation to support his birding habit. B.J. is an attorney by trade; Kevin is a fifth grade teacher. They choose to live and work the Klamath Falls region to be near the source and supply of their addiction.

Yesterday, I wouldn’t have understood that. Today, I am part of the flock, binoculars poised, field guide at the ready, eyes trained on the sky.

Hallie spots a bald eagleHallie spots a bald eagleGetting There: The Klamath Wildlife Refuge Complex consists of six separate refuges, renowned for their proliferation of migratory birds. The Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge straddles the border of Oregon and Northern California. Link to map.

Lodging: Running Y Ranch Fresh mountain air, clear star-studded night skies and beautiful landscapes make Running Y Ranch the perfect place to relax and recharge. Here you'll find the finest lodging available in Southern, Oregon. (Look for the acorn woodpecker, the only place in the Klamath basin you’ll see them is in the oak trees at the Running Y Ranch.)

Dining: Ruddy Duck – I can personally recommend the grilled panini: pan roasted turkey, for example, served with brie and apricot preserves, or the vegetable panini with roasted red pepper, spinach, tomato, mushrooms, and mozzarella.

Other Birding Hot Spots:

The Skillet Handle
Running Y Ranch’s own Skillet Handle is a great place to start your bird-seeking adventure. This unique peninsula is 2.5 miles long, covered in lovely woods of Western white oak, ponderosa pine and juniper, with a meandering forest trail that leads to an incredible view of the vast beauty of Klamath Lake.

Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge
15,000 acres of mostly freshwater marsh and open water serve as excellent nesting and brood rearing areas for waterfowl and colonial nesting birds including American white pelican and several heron species.

Canoeing for Birds: The Upper Klamath Canoe Trail provides a 9.5-mile journey through a large fresh water march. The canoe trail has four segments: Recreation Creek, Crystal Creek, Wocus Cut and Malone Springs. Each segment offers spectacular views of ht march, mountains and forest.

Travel Information: Discover Klamath

Upcoming Events: The Running Y Ranch occasionally offers birding presentations on Friday nights followed by interpretive birding walks on Saturday mornings.

Caledonia Oaks at Running Y
June 9

Enjoy a leisurely walk around the undeveloped area of Running Y, in a predominately oak-conifer habitat. Bring water, lunch, snacks, binoculars, sunscreen, hat, and field guide.

Winter Wings Festival
February/President’s Weekend

The Klamath Basin Audubon Society produces this festival, one of the longest running bird festivals in the nation, to celebrate the diversity and abundance of birds that winter in the Klamath Basin.

-- Kyla Merwin