Monday, October 3, 2016

Birding at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Tule Lake, California
Ok, so there are no birds in that first photo, but I couldn't resist leading with the most breath-taking photo I took the entire time I was at Tule Lake.  It's the kind of photo an amateur photographer such as myself dreams of accidentally taking every once in a while!

In the limited time I had at Tule Lake, mostly in the evening and from a less-than-ideal vantage point in a moving vehicle, I did manage to snag a few decent bird photos to share.
Great Egret (Egretta alba) at left, with Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), wading amongst American Coots
 (Fulica Americana) and an assortment of grebes.

Western Grebes (Aechmophorus occidentalis)
Tule Lake is a critically valuable wetland habitat along the Pacific Flyway that supports nearly 200 species of birds, many of which migrate great distances from breeding grounds in the Arctic to warmer overwintering grounds.  Migratory birds depend on the resources available at Tule Lake, as there are no other stop-over locations within 50 to 80 miles south.  And, tragically, the lake was nearly lost.  As settlers moved into the region in the late 1800's, farmers learned they could divert the flow of streams, build dikes and levees, and drain sections of the expansive Tule Lake to expose rich arable land. 

Today, Tule Lake is protected in a National Wildlife Refuge, but in a diminished state: the lake and surrounding wetlands are a mere tenth of their former size. 
Ducks!!  Mostly Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos)

White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi)
Birding at this time of year (late September) can be tricky, as most birds are no longer showing their typical showy and recognizable breeding plumage and/or coloration, and some of their feathers are looking a bit worn at the end of the season.  To further complicate matters, some first-year birds are still in juvenile plumage at the end of summer, and won't acquire their adult coloration until after their first winter. 

The White-faced Ibis in the photo above would have prominent white lores (skin between bill and eyes) during the breeding season.  And in the photo below, the male American Wigeon would have had a bright green "thumbprint" shaped stripe around his eye, with a contrasting white crown during the summer breeding season; the male Ruddy Duck, recognizable by the white markings on his cheeks, would have had a bright blue bill during the summer breeding season.
American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos).  In the foreground, along with American Coots, is an
American Wigeon (Anas Americana)

Assorted waterfowl on Tule Lake (Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge)

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