Notes from the past now and to come

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Jul 16, 2023, 9:05:13 PM7/16/23
While scanning notes of Ray Ekstrom, a naturalist who still lives near Montague, California, I came across an interesting entry. His notes usually have bird species and their numbers, and weather, along with date and location. This entry  however was quite interesting not only for the noted company he was with, but for the details of what occurred.

These notes were written on July 2, 1983, when Ray was with numerous other birders such as Steve Summers, Mike Robbins, Dick Erickson, C. Yoder, and John Sterling. Those talented observers were all together at the Historical Site near Fort Klamath. That location was adjacent to a wet area where Yellow Rail were first heard in the early 1980s, rather inadvertently, when a car on a previous night had pulled  over for a listen. And to their amazement heard Yellow Rail. That news pinned a previously unknown location for that species in the West. Now Yellow Rail is heard each year in the Fort Klamath, Klamath Marsh, and Summer Lake areas, and has been a focus of numerous studies and ongoing monitoring. Ray's notes were written that night documenting a rather exciting evening.

Before heading to the Wood River source at Jackson Kimball State Park, at 9:15 pm on July 2, 1983, where the group heard Common Poorwill, the group had stopped at the Fort Klamath Historic Site from 7:00-7:45 pm. For that time of year the sun would still have been out, and maybe not have even dipped below the crest of the Cascades to the west. The purpose of the stop was to check for Yellow Rail, a small bird of the marsh, typically in wet grassy areas, where it is rather quiet during the day, and then is heard at night, with its "morse code" pattern of clicking taps, usually when it becomes very dark.

     "We looked for Yellow Rails from 7:00 till 7:45 pm. We were almost to despair after the four of us, (M. Robbins, S. Summers, D. Erickson, and myself) had been trying to surround the clicking sound only to have it slip silently out of our small perimeter and repeat its clicking  a few yards to the side. After what appeared to be our last circling effort, we were standing about 10-12 feet apart when for no recollectable reason I bent over and parted the deep grass in front of me. There to my astonishment squatted a Yellow Rail. Its head and upper back plainly visible. (I took note of the short yellow bill and streaked yellow-brown plumage). "There it is" I said quietly, pointing at the bird. I'm sure I could  have had it in my grasp if I had been inclined to snatch it up with a quick grab. The others were watching my face, expecting a tell-tale grin, for surely (they thought that) I was kidding. I think I repeated my remark. The group started to close in. The bird ran towards Mike Robbins only to have its path blocked, for he was now as close as I to it. It scampered up on the laid over grass and burst into the air for all to see. It flew about 50 yards, revealing well, the white patches at the tips of the secondaries. Even our accomplices on the "shore" got to see it fly. Standing off about 50 yeards were B. Robbins, C. Yoder, and John Sterling, all with binoculars on the bird for they had been watching with amusement our antics up to the startling and euphoric climax. Cheers and shouts of joy followed and suddenly it didn't matter if we got to see a Great Gray Owl or not. 
A second stop at this same location was made at about 10:20 pm and a Yellow Rail could be heard clicking. Steve Summers said that just recently there has been an increase in both participants (rails) and tempo as darkness set in. Two things may have either individually or collectively affected this. One, it may be reaching a point in the breeding cycle where they just normally slack off and/or two, it was an exceptionally cold evening for July 2. Probabaly that time in the low 40s." Those were the notes by Ray Ekstrom, written at the end of that evening.

Since those early days of the first attempts to track down Yellow Rail in Klamath County in the Klamath Basin, Yellow Rail has numerous other locations where they can be heard on dark evenings. One location is at "Mare's Egg Spring" at a pull-over on the north end of Westside Road. Another location is along the Military Road where it crosses the Williamson River. That location has become more popular due to it being well away from traffic and it has a rather healthy populion there. Listen for the diagnostic "tap-tap, tap-tap-tap", or the Morse Code pattern that observers label it as sounding like. The Yellow Rail is winding down its vocal time of the year, but can probably still be heard through July.

Currently, up on Stukel Mountain, is a lingering rarity, an INDIGO BUNTING. Although the initial climb on the road to the top is rather steep and difficult, the road becomes better. I usually walk it, but get going very early andI'm down and done before noon, while bringing lots of water. Back in June, two women, Deborah Shannon and Judy Story, were up on Stukel Mountain taking photos and saw a "blue" bird which they later correctly identified as an Indigo Bunting. That species is rare out west, and this particular bird stuck around and is still being seen and heard about a month after it was first reported. It is singing in the same patch of habitat where it was first observed, and even using the same perches to sing from. It has been posing for several photographers over the course of weeks and its song recorded to become one of the most documented rarity in Klamath County in some time. The bird was last reported a few days ago, and in this heat I find it amazing that it gets all of its water from the insects that it eats because there is not any surface water in the vicinity. There is a waterhole more than a half-mile away, so it could  be getting water there, but with its loyalty to the site, I don't think so. To  reach the location one could drive up the steep initial section of road, then the road levels out for about a quarter of a mile. The road then begins to climb, crosses a catteguard and another steep setion. After that steep section the power lines cross the road and there is an open sage area on the right. It is in this area that it is being seen and heard. 

And this news is something that needs upcoming attention. The only significant patch of water in the southern part of the Klamath Basin is at Sump 1B on the Tule Lake NWR. The water level is shallow, not approaching the level it used to hold, but there is water. I was there two days ago and there was a significant number of EARED GREBE nests, more than 600, probably all in Siskiyou County on that sump. Some nests were probably built before the surface of the water crusted over with moss. Other nests have been built in areas where the surface is clear, without surface moss. I believe that the moss on the surface could have an effect on the number of waterfowl that use that "lake". While the entire lake is not covered with moss, it could be by the time the waterfowl, namely ducks, begin to congregate in large numbers.  Two years ago, with similar water levels at that location, hundreds of birds, mostly ducks, were impacted by botulism and had to be rescued. Currently, a "duck hospital" is being geared up in anticipation of a possible outbreak of that illness among the birds. The moss crust on the surface of the water at Sump 1B may keep waterfowl from choosing the location to stop during its migration. If that happens, having waterfowl in close proximity to each other may be averted. The illness is passed more readily with stressful conditions, and when birds are close to each other.  It remains to be seen what will happen this year with the current situation at Tule Lake NWR. Hopefully the current status of water at Tule Lake NWR doesn't have a disastrous outcome. But the response team is ready, and in the past has had very good results in having impacted birds recover. 
Continued visits can monitor the avian health situation, and to keep an eye on the Eared Grebe nesting success. At this time, I did not see any hatchlings. I did see a few what seemed like abandoned nests with 3-4 eggs. I believe that during the day the presence of an adult on the nest is to prevent "over-heating" from the sun. So, exposure to the direct sunlight can heat the egg too much. I also saw some birds still building nests, carrying wet vegetation to the nest mound. 
It's now a wait and see time. 

Mary Williams Hyde

Jul 17, 2023, 7:51:04 AM7/17/23
to Klamath Basin Bird News
I photographed the eared grebes  starting to build their nests at Sump 1B almost a month ago.  How long does it take to hatch eggs?
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