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KLAMATH BASIN REFUGES: Birders and Conservation Advocates Gather to Celebrate Winter Wings Fest 2016
California-Nevada Offices , February 18, 2016
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A pair of bald eagles at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.
A pair of bald eagles at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. - Photo Credit: Stephen Rooker/USFWS
Jerry Massini, a private landowner, talks about the wetland restoration project on his property and collaboration with the Service and private lands biologist Jason Cox, during one of 33 tours offered during the festival.
Jerry Massini, a private landowner, talks about the wetland restoration project on his property and collaboration with the Service and private lands biologist Jason Cox, during one of 33 tours offered during the festival. - Photo Credit: Jon Myatt/USFWS
A line of tundra swans flying over Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge at sunset.
A line of tundra swans flying over Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge at sunset. - Photo Credit: Jon Myatt/USFWS
Stephen Johnson coaches a group of photographers during a photo tour on Lower Klamath NWR during the Winter Wings Festival.
Stephen Johnson coaches a group of photographers during a photo tour on Lower Klamath NWR during the Winter Wings Festival. - Photo Credit: Jon Myatt/USFWS
A female ruddy duck photographed on Tule Lake NWR recently.
A female ruddy duck photographed on Tule Lake NWR recently. - Photo Credit: Stephen Rooker/USFWS
Sunset on the Lower Klamath NWR.
Sunset on the Lower Klamath NWR. - Photo Credit: Jon Myatt/USFWS

By Jon Myatt

Two hours before daylight, a group of 12 photographers with their camera bags and tripods huddled in the crisp darkness outside the Oregon Institute of Technology’s student center, in Klamath Falls, Oregon. The resolute photographers were soon greeted by their tour leader, Stephen Johnson and a warm bus that would take them to capture images of birds and landscapes at the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, one of the premier birding areas in the West.

The photographers’ tour was one of 33 tours offered during the annual Winter Wings Bird Festival, held in and around the refuge February 11-14. Johnson, a professional wildlife photographer and educator from Pacifica, California, led a number of photo tours and taught photo editing techniques, as well as being a keynote speaker during the four-day event.

The annual festival is hosted at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls, Oregon over President’s Day weekend each February. It is sponsored and coordinated by the Klamath Basin Audubon Society and a team of organizers from various governmental and non-governmental agencies in Oregon and northern California and is consistently rated one of the top bird festivals in the nation.

It is also a major outreach event for the staff of the five refuges that make up the Klamath Basin Refuge Complex. This year, more than 130 volunteers and 500 registered festival program attendees -- some from as far away as southern California, Colorado and Minnesota -- descended on Klamath Falls for seminars, workshops and birding trips to the four nearby national wildlife refuges and other wetlands.

As a major sponsor and supporter of the event, refuge staff views the festival as an opportunity to highlight the importance of wildlife refuges to a community and a region.

“The festival fits perfectly with our refuge mission,” said Stephen Rooker, visitor services specialist for the refuge complex. “Winter Wings is the largest birding event we support and helps us reach one of our major audiences, people and organizations who are advocates for migratory birds.”

According to event co-organizers Diana Samuels and Anne Wenner, Winter Wings regularly draws 500 to 700 attendees, which puts the Klamath Basin festival in the top 10 of birding festivals in the United States. This year’s festival included 33 field trips, seven mini sessions, six workshops and a variety of presentations. Both Samuels and Wenner were satisfied with this year’s turnout, and were encouraged by the spin-off activities that were not officially part of the event.

“This year was once again a complete success,” said Samuels, of the Klamath Basin Audubon Society. “The intrepid birders, nature photographers and local residents that joined us had a wonderful experience in the field. We truly appreciate all the support from our volunteers, sponsors and sister organizations in another great program.”

Rick Hardy, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist from the Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office and leading member of the Klamath Basin Audubon Society, led trips to the refuges that featured “behind the scenes” look at refuge operations. He also spent time at “Bird Central,” the main bird sighting information board in the main lobby at “festival headquarters.”

For birding enthusiasts, “Bird Central” was the place to see what birds were being spotted in the field and their locations, he explained. “It’s always a booth that attracts visitors,” Hardy said.

“The festival began back in the 1980s when it was focused on the bald eagle and agency and non-governmental biologists met to share information,” he said. “About 10 years ago it expanded into a festival for all birds, and interested people from all over the world come here to experience the basin, birds, habitat and wildlife during the wintertime.”

“We used these programmed visits to talk about refuge management, wildlife management and habitat management,” Hardy said. “Of course, now we show them the birds and the wildlife we produce on the refuge, but most importantly, we focus on the ultimate value of the conservation done by everyone involved in wildlife conservation.”

The refuge tours, led by Service biologists, Klamath Audubon members and volunteers, allowed registered attendees access to places on the refuge not normally open to the public, Hardy said. “Bald eagles are the main attraction, but the large waterfowl concentrations – the tundra swans and snow geese that are here at this time of year -- are all things participants want to see.”

Many of those attendees were treated to rare sightings of birds and other wildlife during trips to the Lower Klamath NWR and Tule Lake NWR, explained Rooker, who coordinated much of the refuge tour portion of the festival.

“While we always reach out to the serious birding community, we hope that people will take the information presented here back to their families and friends in their communities, so that they develop a sense of ownership and create an interest in what we are trying to accomplish here,” he added.

Back on the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, the 12 intrepid photographers could be spotted along the auto-tour road as the sun rose over the mountains, their cameras arrayed toward a stand of willow trees.

The clouds broke throwing down a shaft of light, adding a warm glow to the hills in the distance. Johnson saw the moment. “Look at how the sunlight is hitting those trees,” he said as he turned them toward the light. And, perched in the tallest tree, an adult bald eagle peered down at them.

-- FWS --

 

Staff that supported the event included:
Greg Austin, refuge complex manager, Ken Griggs, assistant refuge complex manager, wildlife biologists John Vradenbeurg and John Beckstrand, private land biologist Jason Cox, Stacy Freitas, refuge operations specialist, and Stephen Rooker, interpretive park ranger.

 

Jon Myatt is the digital communications manager for the Pacific Southwest Region located in Sacramento, Calif.


Contact Info: Jon Myatt, 916-414-6474, jon_myatt@fws.gov



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