“It’s a great event to get outside and enjoy nature. I find it very exciting no matter how many times I see bald eagles.” Karen Armstrong
I have wanted to see a Bald Eagle in the wild for a long time now.
The Klamath Wildlife Basin was the destination I had in mind when I started planning this Winter Trip. Literature said that eagles often winter there! There are four wildlife refuges right together that comprise the wildlife complex: Upper Klamath, Bear Valley, Tulelake, and Lower Klamath. Upper Klamath is only accessible via boat. The small Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge is reportedly where the eagles roost overnight, but the place is only accessible by foot during hunting seasons. But the other two—Tulelake and Lower Klamath—are accessible year-round and even offer an auto-route for viewing. My friend and I plotted our trip, heading to these wildlife refuges as the third stop of our trip.
The morning drive started early. At 5:30 am to be exact. Eagles are apparently most active from sunrise until about 11 am. The two-hour drive to the area seemed longer than expected, since it was in the dark on a road through the mountains. The day was cloudy, but we did not really see rain or snow. The clouds also meant we did not see Mt. Shasta, which looms in the background on clear days.
Following printed directions from MapQuest as well as GPS details, we made it to the area. But for another couple hours we were still not finding the right spot for viewing. In fact, we ended up driving the outskirts of the Lava Beds National Monument that was right there in the general area as well. A nice little surprise—but not what we were looking for.
We were about ready to give up, when we saw a lone eagle fly overhead. At least one eagle was in the area! We decided to take a break and check maps again as well as online directions from various websites. The phone (vs. car) GPS offered some new directions to follow. The area was wild and open and a bit desolate, but beautiful. Even before we started seeing birds.
Finally, we found the auto-route that promised some viewing opportunities. Soon there after, an eagle sat in the road ahead of us. It flew off before we could get close enough to even think about taking pictures, but our hopes soared. Over the next several hours, we were lucky enough to see some eagles and a couple hawks. Most of them—of course—flew off before we could get too close. I was still thrilled. Seeing the Bald Eagle in the wild was another bird for my life list.
RED-TAILED HAWK: adult birds have red tails while juveniles have stripped tails; body plumage can range from light to dark, often a strip on the chest. 18 to 26 inch length, 3.6 to 4.7 foot wingspan
We saw about 15 eagles that day, and some even let us get close enough for some photos. One even did not fly off as we expected when we drove closer. It was a magnificent experience to be almost close enough to touch this great bird.
BALD EAGLE: females are larger than males; considered mature at 4 or 5 years. 28 to 40 inches length, 6 to 7.6 foot wingspan
“A lot of people have heard about the bald eagle, but you don’t really appreciate the majestic nature of a bald eagle until you actually get to view one.” Scott Root
SOME DETAILS ABOUT THE AREA: The Klamath Wildlife Basin is located in northern California and southern Oregon. The various areas within the basin are important stops along the Pacific Flyway. The Wildlife Basin is comprised of several separate wildlife refuges that are accessible to visitors year-round. Hiking options are available in the two main refuges, but there is also a 10-mile auto route.
The Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge was established by President Roosevelt in 1908 as the first national waterfowl refuge. It is comprised of almost 51,000 acres with a mix of shallow marshes, open water, grassy uplands, and cropland. Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge was created by President Coolidge in 1928. It is a 39,000 acre refuge of open water and croplands. Over the years—and more and more recently—water has been withdrawn from the area to address agriculture business demands. This action has a resulting negative impact on the wildlife that can take refuge in these areas. Although the bald eagles have come back from the earlier threat from DDT, they are still in danger from pesticides and habitat encroachment.
“It is never too late to go quietly to our lakes, rivers, oceans, even our small streams, and say to the sea gulls, the great blue herons, the bald eagles, the salmon, that we are sorry.” Brenda Peterson
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This movie clip from Continental Divide (1981) shows a quick look at the eagles mating dance and then offers a verbal description of how this mating dance works. Good movie, by the way.
This video shows the eagles actually joining together as they fly the mating dance.
EAGLES ARE JUST GLORIOUS!