The complex hosts the largest concentration of wintering Bald Eagles in the contiguous United States. During spring and summer, the wetlands harbor waterfowl and marsh birds, and songbirds occupy the surrounding forests. It’s estimated that as much as 80 percent of the Pacific Flyway’s migratory waterfowl rest and refuel in the region. At peak times, the waterfowl population can reach 1.8 million birds.
Perhaps best of all, 300 miles of birding trails traverse the basin. Last February, I attended the Winter Wings Festival, in nearby Klamath Falls, Oregon. En route to the Lower Klamath refuge, my group saw Black Phoebe (rare, especially in winter), and along the Auto Tour Route, we spotted Song Sparrows and Ferruginous Hawks. When we arrived at the marshland, Mount Shasta towered in the distance while thousands of geese and cranes filled the sky. Later, along a road lined with willow trees, we enjoyed seeing Great Horned Owls and Bald Eagles in their huge nests. — Donna Barnett
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Varied wetlands, willow trees, high desert with juniper, sagebrush, grasslands, oak-chaparral, grassy meadows, and rocky cliffs.
Flat. Auto Tour Route is gravel. Sides of roads and dikes walkable.
More than 350 species. Year-round: Bald and Golden Eagles, California and Mountain Quail, Redhead, Northern Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, Canvasback, Red-tailed and Ferruginous Hawks, Prairie and Peregrine Falcons, Merlin, Black-billed Magpie, Common Raven, Juniper and Oak Titmice, Western and Mountain Bluebirds, Sandhill Crane, White-headed and Acorn Woodpeckers, American Dipper, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Cassin’s Finch. Winter: Tundra Swan, Snow, Ross’s, Greater White-fronted, and Cackling Geese, Northern Pintail, Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup, Rough-legged Hawk, Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye, Clark’s Nutcracker, Townsend’s Solitaire, Varied Thrush, Red Crossbill.
When to go
Year-round. November through February best for Bald Eagles.
Restrooms and interpretive kiosks just within entrance of Auto Tour Route off Rt. 161. Winter Wings Festival held annually in February.
National wildlife refuge. Open year-round except when winter snow and spring mud temporarily limit access. No fees. In Oregon, check current road conditions by calling (800) 977-6368; in California, call (800) 427-7623.
Dress in layers for changing weather conditions. The valley floor is 4,000 feet above sea level, so bring sunscreen year-round.
For more info
Lower Klamath NWR
Winter Wings Festival
Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast of Lower Klamath NWR on Hill Rd. Headquarters for all six refuges in the Klamath Basin. Clark’s and Western Grebes.
Klamath Wildlife Area, Miller Island Unit
12 miles north, off Hwy. 97. Nesting Sandhill Cranes, Snow and Ross’s Geese, winter raptors.