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A small Christmas miracle: the great snow goose migration.

White flecks against steely hills, a blizzard of snow geese storms down upon the leaden surface of Tule Lake one icy December morning. As it descends, the flock-10,000 to 20,000 strong-fills the air with the flash and flutter of beating wings. The snow goose migration is, by all accounts, one of the most dramatic along the Pacific Flyway But nowhere is it more spectacular than in Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges, along the California-Oregon border.

Considering how far these birds have come, the arrival of 200,000 migrating snow geese at Tule Lake every year is, in a way, a small Christmas miracle. Heading south from summer nesting grounds near the Arctic Ocean, they gradually funnel into heroic flocks that congregate on Tule Lake. Here, flocks are joined by other geese, including white-fronted, Ross', and Canada. While most snow geese move on to California's Central Valley by late December, some 20,000 remain at the lake through the winter.

Snow geese aren't the only birds to visit this chain of six refuges, which together encompass nearly 150,000 acres. Roger Tory Peterson ranks Klamath Basin as one of the dozen best birding spots in the nation.

According to refuge biologist Jim Hainline, the migration, which begins in October, brings the biggest avian concentrations, with more than a million birds in the refuge on any day during the November peak. "Visitors driving the Tule Lake loop will easily see 20 species of waterfowl; birders could spot a hundred species over a weekend." Although the peak of the migration has passed, many birders prefer this area in December. Duck hunting season ends December 5, and most species are still well represented (for the last five years, the annual Audubon Christmas bird count has averaged a hundred species at Tule Lake alone). Also with December come the first of about a thousand bald eagles-the largest wintering congregation in North America.

Refuge headquarters and a visitor center are 4 miles west of the small town of Tulelake. For a map and birding information, write to Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges, Route 1, Box 74, Tulelake, Calif. 96134. Bring warm clothing, binoculars, and a bird book. And don't sleep late; birds rise with the sun. By midday the geese may have disappeared on the wind.
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Date:Dec 1, 1988
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