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Where a million birds stop over ... Klamath Basin.

Darkening the skies with their numbers, so many migrating waterfowl flock to the Klamath Basin on the California-Oregon border that world-famous bird-watcher Roger Tory Peterson has named the area one of America's 10 best birding spots. Just north of Lava Beds National Monument, it's about a 5-hour drive ftom Sacramento, but well worth it.

Late August through November, a million birds stop over to feed and rest in the six wildlife refuges in the Klamath Basin, one of their most important stops along the Pacific Flyway. The massive clouds of birds at a single refuge in just a daywave upon wave of cackling, squawking, gossiping waterfowl-will strike you with wonder and awe. You needn't be an experienced bird-watcher to enjoy the sight.

The best places to watch are at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. They lie between state highways 139 and 161; together they contain 85,600 acres of wetlands-an increasingly important habitat since only 25 percent of California's once vast wetlands remain.

You can take a brochure-guided auto tour to see impressive concentrations of tundra swans, white-fronted geese, snow geese, and Canada geese. One special sight warrants staying at either refuge until dusk: just before sunset, the great flocks rise off the water, gather in the air, circle, and come to rest for the night in nearby fields. You'll also see a wide variety of ducks. Some colorful ones to look out for are the dramatically marked hooded merganser, the wide-billed shoveler, and tbe small bluish-billed bufflehead. You'll also see golden eagles and rough-legged hawks.

As fall deepens into winter, look for bald eagles, which feed on the huge array of waterfowl. The Klamath Basin area hosts the largest concentrations of wintering bald eagles in the contiguous states-as many as 500, including migrant eagles from Canada. Their numbers are greatest in January and February; the easiest time to find eagles is at midday, while they're hunting-soaring over waterfowl flocks or sitting on the ice nearby.

A good starting point for your visit to the refuges is the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center (free; open 8 to 4:30 weekdays, 8 to 4 weekends). Here you can see displays on wildlife, pick up a brochure for the car tour, and ask rangers for directions to the nearest eagle-viewing spots. There's also a bookstore, with bird books and natural history guides. For more information, telephone (916) 667-2231.

Getting there

To make a side trip to the refuges if you're driving north or south on Interstate 5, head northeast from Weed on U.S. 97 for 52 miles, then go east on State 161 for about 17 miles. The visitor center is about 4 miles south of State 161 on Hill Road. Or spend more time. You can camp (40 first-come sites; $5 per night) at Lava Beds National Monument; or find motels in nearby Tulelake, or in Klamath Falls, 20 miles north. Bring binoculars, camera, a good field guide to birds, and warm clothes, including a hat and gloves.
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Title Annotation:California-Oregon border
Date:Oct 1, 1988
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