Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Douglas, Klamath and Lake County Jaunt 9/3-8/18


I decided leaving on Labor Day would be a good idea since most vacationers would be returning that same day, and campgrounds should have vacancy.  I was right - everywhere I went I had my pick of a campsite.  I wanted to work on my Douglas, Klamath and Lake County bird lists.  As I had never been to Diamond Lake and eastern Douglas County, I had a few high elevation species to check off there, and I really wanted to find Rosy Finches.  My plan was to hike up onto Mt Thielson for such, keying in on info from a birding buddy who had made the jaunt in the past. 

My Douglas list stood at 159 and I was hoping to reach the 175 level.  I stopped for lunch at the Tokatee Campground and saw a Sooty Grouse along side the road, a nice addition to the list.  To add another easy tick, there was a Western Wood Pewee in the campground. Next stop was the Diamond Lake Sewage Ponds, a place I had never been before.  I could tell this small treatment plant was the kind that was contracted out to workers who came sporadically for maintenance and the surrounding fence was downtrodden from the winter snow, so went ahead inside.

One interesting bird I heard was a Virginia Rail, something I did not expect at that elevation, which is about 5200 feet.  I listed some 20 species.  A pair of Gray Jays elicited  some vague excitement until I realized a little later on that I already had them on my Douglas list.  There was a report of some Baird’s Sandpipers and a Brewer’s Sparrow within the last week from here, but I did not find such, and except for a couple of Lewis Woodpeckers added no county birds from there.  Since fall migration is in full swing, I thought I’d return in a couple days and try again.  

I camped at the Diamond Lake campground which was quite empty.  After enjoying a lake side breakfast, I drove to the trailhead to Mt Thielson and began my hike about 0800.  At 64, out of shape, and getting over some recent health issues, I knew this was going to be a grind.  I did not intend to get to the summit, but only wanted to get above tree line to increase the potential of seeing Rosy Finches.  The woods were very quiet, but eventually birds began to be vocal and appear.  I suspect being on the west slope which does not get sun until later in the morning had something to do with it.  Plus, I never got a glimpse of the mountain until some 3 miles up the trail.
Additions to my Douglas list finally started to materialize: Black-backed Woodpecker, Dusky Flycatcher, Clark’s Nutcracker, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend’s Solitare, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Western Tanager.  In the course of the hike I saw about 10 accipiters, all immature birds.  At first I suspected these to be migrants, but none were in any kind of a hurry to head south. Most were Cooper’s Hawks, but one was certainly a Sharp-shinned Hawk.  At one time there were 3 accipiters dive bombing and harassing each other, and one was so large it morphed the others, and I concluded it had to be a Goshawk. 

Most of you might be aware there are wild fires out west in late summer, and this year is no exception.  The result often is a hazy, smoky sky up to many miles away, which ever way the wind sends the smoke.  I was hoping to share some photos of great scenery from the Cascade Mountains, but I am afraid my photos reflect this, except for my morning visit to Crater Lake, and even those are embellished some to show the sky and lake a little bluer than they were in reality. 

I hiked up as far as I felt I should.  Eventually every step was labored and I was in Rosy Finch territory and also had a reasonable view of rocky top where I think I could identify one should the opportunity present itself.  I ate lunch and waited over an hour and did not see my target bird.  Now the hike back down.  I was already sore and my feet felt tender.  It was a long trip back down.  But the views and my adventurous spirit kept me going.   Some time afterward I checked the health app on my iPhone and learned I had hiked 10.2 miles.  Too bad I forgot to bring ibuprofen…… I slept fairly well that night.  In the early hours a Barred Owl hooted, giving me one more tick to the list.  I was not aware they would be at this elevation either. 

The next day it was off to the sewage lagoons again.  This time the results were better.  Among the hoards of Savannah Sparrows was one each of Brewer’s and Vesper Sparrow.  It was now time to head south.  I came into the county with 159 and left with 178, so felt a sense of accomplishment.

Mt Thielson.  

The remains of a conifer cone from the work of a ground squirrel

A view of Diamond Lake from high up on Mt Thielson
Next on the agenda was Crater Lake.  It has been almost 30 years since I was last here or even in that county, and so my Klamath County list has been stuck at 117 since 1990.  My additions to Klamath were slow in coming since I had been to the lake before and had seen most of the common high elevation ones.  Coming in from the north is a large desert like area where there was a Ferruginous Hawk which was a welcome addition to the list. One nice thing about this visit was that my newly purchased “Senior Pass”  got me in for free!  I came in the north entrance and took the east rim drive, stopping here and there at the pullouts for pictures.  My plan was to hike up Mt Scott, the highest mountain connected with the Park at 8934 feet, of course to look once again for Rosy Finches.  I have not seen this bird many times in the past, and I suppose one of my fascinations with it is that it shares the same first name with my wife.  Both are quite lovely.

At least it was “only” 2.5 miles to the summit.  I was not really in shape after yesterday, but pressed on anyway.  The views were splendid except for the smokey sky.  Matter of fact, when I was on Thielson the day before, you could hardly see the features of the Crater Lake area, so I did not even take any shots to the south.  It is a popular hike and many were on the trek, passing me by all the time.  I once again brought food and ate lunch at the top, and hung around for an hour, but alas, no Rosy Finches.  I did add Townsend’s Solitare, Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk to the Klamath list at least.  

I headed for Lost Creek Campground within the park, and not too far away.  Turns out it is an unimproved campground, and there were only tents placed.  There seemed to be a porto-potty for each campsite.  Not sure why they needed so many, but am sure they have their reasons.

Crater Lake

Crater Lake

Crater Lake

Crater Lake

Clark's Nutcracker en route to the summit of Mt Scott

The north side of Mt Scott

Fire tower on top of Mt Scott

Crater Lake from the summit of Mt Scott
I left fairly early the next morning, heading for the Klamath Falls area, stopping here and there to see what I could find.  At one stop along Upper Klamath Lake I added Horned, Clark’s and Western Grebes.  Just north of K Falls, there is a wide spot on the side of the road with a great view of a large mud flat area where I picked up Black-necked Stilt, Long-billed Dowitcher, White-faced Ibis and Greater Yellowlegs. 

One place I have long wanted to visit is the Link River Trail, which links Upper Klamath Lake and Lake Ewauana.  It is over a mile long with a great riparian area along the river on the lower side, and chaparral on the upper side.  Birds were added fairly fast here: Green-winged Teal, California Quail, Eurasian Collared Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Lewis Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Bewick’s Wren, Cedar Waxwing, California Towhee, White-crowned Sparrow, Purple and House Finches.  

After getting gas and ice cream, I headed around to the west side of the lake.  This was when I discovered that I did not do sufficient homework in preparing for the trip as my iPhone was inconvenient to do the research needed, so I winged it somewhat blindly.  I decided to take a turn into the Eagle Ridge County Park to eat lunch.  This turned out to be a good decision as I found Green-tailed Towhee, Gray Flycatcher, American Avocets, American Water Pipit, Orange-crowned Warbler, Williamson’s Sapsucker, an unidentified hummingbird, and on the way out a Northern Goshawk flew in front of my truck.  A little further along and a Sooty Grouse was seen on the side of the road, a nice tick for the list.

After adding up my Klamath list, I found I was over the 150 mark, so headed toward Summer Lake.  I took the route which goes through the Klamath Marsh NWR, I place I had driven through years before.  It was quite dry at this time of year, but I added Prairie Falcon, Vesper Sparrow and Swainson’s Hawk.

Cormorants at the beginning of Link River

Bewick's Wren

Scrub Jay

Townsend's Solitare

Turtle along the Link River
My Lake County list had many holes, and shorebirds accounted for a number of them.  I entered the county at 166.  I arrived at the Summer Lake Wildlife Area HQ at dusk, and drove down in to wear you can camp.  After dark another car arrived and set up camp also.  It was windy and my camper was rocking back and forth at times.  Then I remembered a couple months ago, when I was birding to the north in Crook County with Chuck Gates, that I learned we were in the midst of a very dry year. and so began to doubt how effective this part of the jaunt was going to be.  Would there even be any mud flats? I had heard that Summer Lake completely dried up some years.

As dawn was approaching I heard Sandhill Cranes.  I also noted that the wind had ceased.  I got up and looked at the list of birds I needed, and Crane was on it, so I was wondering if that was a good omen.  I went outside and added Savannah Sparrow.  Then it was over to the nearby marsh and within 5 minutes added Virginia Rail, Sora, Coot, Greater White-fronted Goose and Great Egret.  Most birders might figure out that I have never been here much from seeing these easy ticks.  I had been here twice in the past with Roy Gerig, once in April of ’88, and the other during a winter in the late 90s, I think.  Oh yes, I did make a quick drive through in August a few years back en route to find my state Juniper Titmouse.  And my other jaunt to the county was in the early 90s on a family campout to Thompson Reservior.

After a few minutes I returned to the camping area, and saw the two campers packing up their stuff, so thought I’d go over and see if I could glean some information about wear to go to find mudflats.  In short order I learn they were birders from Klamath County - Kevin Spencer and Dave Haupt.  Bingo!  Kevin had just gotten a recent update from the manager Marty St Louis about wear to go for such.  We exchanged phone numbers and I was off to look for shorebirds while they went to visit some vagrant traps on the refuge.

Not too far down the road and there were large alkali flats with numerous shorebirds.  Along with the mudflats,  lakes and reeds, and fall migration being at its height, the place was an amazing spectacle that would appeal to non birders - so many birds of a variety of species, many close to the road and easy to see.

I next added Franklin’s Gull, Long-billed Dowitcher, Least and Western Sandpiper and Marbled Godwit.  As I was walking south along a berm off the SE corner which Kevin recommended from Marty’s directions, I  got a text from him that they found a Blackpoll Warbler just back at a campground I had passed through, so returned there and found it quite cooperative.  That species has eluded me for all my birding years in Oregon, so it was a nice addition to my state list.  

I resumed scouring the mudflats and added Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Red-necked Phalaropes and one American Water Pipit.  At the north end of one alkali lake I met Marty doing some repair work on a fence.  I had wanted to meet him ever since I had heard he was a birder and was happy to provide birding information to those visiting the refuge.  And he was certainly most helpful.  He explained where to hike as he had done a shorebird census off the SE end of the alkali flats, so I meandered back that way with plans to resume walking where I left off when Kevin texted me.  When I finally got there, Marty also arrived there as well, and offered to drive me part way, to which I accepted.

On that walk I added Canvasback, and when I was almost back, I could see Kevin and Dave walking down on the other side of the mudflat.  I then saw a bird which I identified as an immature Short-billed Dowitcher.  Before I could get a picture of it, it flew across the mudflat to where they would be in a few minutes. These are not easy to separate from Long-billeds, and I later met up with Kevin and Dave at the Summer Lake store, and after comparing notes, found that they had located the same bird, even hearing it, and so confirming such. 

Marsh at Summer Lake Wildlife Area

Great Horned Owl

Blackpoll Warbler

Sandhill Cranes
I ate lunch at the rest stop across the road from the store where I added Eurasian Collared Dove.  This basically proves that I have not birded much in the county for about 20 years, which is when this species invaded the state, and has become abundant anywhere there is some form of urbanization.  It was about 2:30 pm, and I headed north while Kevin and Dave headed east to Malhuer.  I wanted to visit the “water guzzler” at Cabin Lake, another place I have long heard of but never visited.  One can even do a search on google maps and get the coordinates if he types in “Cabin Lake Bird Blind.” 
I arrived at the location about 5 pm having taking my time to enjoying the scenery.  As I traveled north from Silver Lake on Cabin Lake Road, I must have seen over 100 bluebirds, one of which was certainly a Western Bluebird, which I needed for the county, but the rest appeared to be Mountain Bluebirds.  I decided to not visit Fort Rock as I had been there with Roy in the past, and it was too hot as it was.  Finding the blind and guzzler was easy enough.  It appears to be a improved spring which spills out onto a concrete basin, with the blind some 10 feet away.  

The area is where the lodgepole pines meet the sage brush, and I have to admit I was not impressed.  So I got back in the truck and mulled over whether or not I should press on.  But in a few minutes Clark’s Nutcrackers showed up, soon followed by Pinion Jays, the latter of which kept coming and coming.  I estimated about 75 birds in total, which were quite noisy.   By the time the sun was setting 10 species had come: Nutcrackers, Pinion Jays, Red Crossbills, Red-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches, Hairy Woodpeckers, Flickers, Lewis Woodpecker, White-crowned Sparrow and Mt Chickadee.  Also in the vicinity were Mt Bluebirds and White-headed Woodpeckers which undoubtedly visit the guzzler at times.  So I took lots of pictures and changed my mind about the place.  I even decided to leave my truck and camper parked right there for the night.  

At dawn a Poorwill began calling nearby.  I felt this was a bonus bird as I did not anticipate adding such to my Lake County list.  I assumed they, with the Nighthawks, were long gone and certainly would not expect one to be vocal after a week into September.  But as I don’t live on the east side of the Cascades, I have much to learn about the bird habits there.  But by now my Lake list was almost at 190, not too far from the 200 level. 

After eating and watching birds at the guzzler, I headed north with plans to get to LaPine and gas up.  The road was very washboardy so it took my close to an hour to go some 20 miles or so.  I wanted a change of scenery and decided to not go over Santiam Pass, and instead head toward Willamette Pass.  Once into Lane County I pulled over to look for some high elevation birds which I need there.  None were found, but I did add a Macgillivray’s Warbler which I needed there.
It took about another 3 hours to get back home.  At the rest area north of Coberg was a homeless man panhandling, a site which appears to becoming more common around the state.  He said he was a vet and had been haggling with the government about collecting benefits which were still to materialize some time in the future, and I gave him a few bucks.

Next up……my wife and I might hit the south coast before the end of the month.  We need to work out a few details yet. 

For Rock

Young Pinion Jays

Clark's Nutcracker

Adult Pinion Jay - Isn't he a beauty!

Female Northern Flicker

Immature Male Red Crossbill

Lewis' Woodpecker

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