Words From The Wetlands
News from the Klamath Basin National Wildlife
New Faces | Improvement Projects | Species Spotlight | Hunt Meeting 2000 | Photoblinds
Wetlands Restoration Project on Tule Lake Begins this Spring
A major wetlands restoration effort known as the "Sump 1(B) Wetland Enhancement Project" will be initiated this spring on the 3,500 acre lower sump on Tule Lake Refuge. For the first five years the refuge envisions managing the area as a seasonally flooded marsh with the area dry from June through September and flooded the balance of the year. This will allow marsh plants to become established in the area through natural germination during the summer months followed by seasonal flooding which will promote the vigorous growth of seasonal marsh and, eventually, permanent marsh vegetation. This wetland management strategy has proven successful in a series of experimental small-scale marsh restoration projects on Tule Lake Refuge.
According to refuge biologist, Dave Mauser, This project will greatly improve habitat diversity and alleviate poor water quality conditions which currently exists in Sump 1 (B). The area being restored is now a large, shallow body of open water, nearly devoid of emergent vegetation which supports a low diversity of wildlife. Water levels in the lower sump currently range from 1-3.5 feet in depth. Wildlife use on the two main water bodies (sumps) on Tule Lake Refuge have declined over the past three decades because stable water levels and sedimentation have eliminated the ecological processes needed to sustain wetland productivity. In addition, water quality during the summer months is harmful to aquatic life due to high pH, low dissolved oxygen levels and high levels of un-ionized ammonia. Currently, Tule Lake Refuge supports only a fraction of its past waterfowl use. Its value in supporting species diversity and endangered species has declined as well.
The refuge maintenance crew is currently finishing construction of a pumping station, canals and related water control structures which will enable managers to raise and lower water levels in sump 1 (B). Water levels in the sump will be drawn down starting the first week in May. It is expected that the draw down of the 3,500 acre sump will be 90 percent completed by June 15. After the initial draw down, the seasonal wet and dry cycle will continue for four additional years. Once emergent vegetation such as hardstem bullrush and cattail becomes well established the area will be flooded year round to maintain productive marsh habitat.
Potential benefits of this wetlands restoration project include 1) wetlands habitat enhancement supporting an increased number and diversity of waterfowl and other marsh-dependent species, 2) increased "carrying capacity" which should lessen crowding of waterfowl and other marsh birds in the Klamath Basin reducing the potential for disease outbreaks, 3) improved water quality which will also improve habitat conditions for amphibians and fish, including two species of endangered suckers found in the Klamath Basin and 4) creation of nesting habitat for diving ducks, herons, egrets, terns, grebes and a host of other colonial nesting species. This restoration project may well serve as a "model" for other sites in the western United States where similar restoration efforts may need to be taken to enhance wildlife habitat.
Project cooperators providing financial support for this project include the U. S, Bureau of Reclamation, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game, Ducks Unlimited, the Hatfield Committee and the Tule Lake Irrigation District.
by David Champine / Park Ranger
Several new employees have joined the refuge staff since the last issue of Words from the Wetlands arrived at your doorstep. The "new faces" you might encounter on your next visit to refuge headquarters are Project Leader, Phil Norton; Refuge Operations Specialist, Mike Johnson; Assistant Fire Management Officer, Dave Sinclear; Park Ranger/Interpretive Specialist, David Champine and Irrigator, Mark Carlson. These folks bring a wealth of skill, experience and expertise to the increasingly complex job of managing the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges.
Phil Norton has been the Project Leader at Klamath Basin National Refuge Complex in California/Oregon for 3 months, but has been with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 32 years. His positions have included those of Assistant Refuge Manager on several refuges (Buffalo Lake, Wichita Mountains, Monte Vista, Sequoia and Laguna Atascosa/Santa Ana); Assistant Area Manager for Refuges (Phoenix Area Office); Refuge Manager-staff (Washington Office); and Zone Supervisor for Utah, Colorado, Kansas Refuges (Denver Regional Office). He was the Project Leader at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge for 13 years. His philosophy of management is to blend, with biological focus, all the many facets of habitat and wildlife management, public use, outreach programs, facility maintenance, and many other activities into a complete refuge program.
Phil was selected as Outstanding Refuge Manager by the National Refuge Association and the National Audubon Society in 1996. Also in 1996, he was selected to receive the New Mexico Distinguished Public Service Award. In 1999, he was selected by the New Mexico Chapter of the Wildlife Society to receive its Professional Award.
Mike Johnson joined the refuge in August 1999 as the Refuge Operations Specialist. Mike served most recently as Refuge Manager of Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho and has a total of 16 years of experience on refuges. Mikes primary responsibilities will be coordinating and scheduling day to day maintenance activities. On top of all this, he also likes donuts with sprinkles.
Dave Sinclear joined the refuge August 28,1999 as the Assistant Fire Management Officer. He previously had 28 years of experience with the U. S. Forest Service. At both agencies he is involved with wild and prescribed fires. He is ORCA (Oregon/California) Deputy Incident Commander on the Incident Management Team. He has a Bachelor of Science in Zoology. He has also had a life- long interest in wetlands conservation and management. He is a member of such conservation groups as Ducks Unlimited, California Waterfowl Association, Nature Conservancy and Wildlife Society. Also, he is an avid runner trying his first 26 mile marathon on May 7, 2000 at Humbolt Redwoods State Park. Im sure he would appreciate our words of encouragement and support.
Mark Carlson became the permanent refuge Irrigator on September 26, 1999. He had previous experience on the refuge as a seasonal Fire Crew member. Some of his duties as Irrigator include water management and control and GPS (Global Positioning Systems) mapping. Mark is a life-long resident of the Klamath Basin.
David Champine joined the refuge staff in mid-February as the refuges Park Ranger/ Interpretive Specialist in charge of visitor center operations and educational programs. David is also in charge of putting out Words from the Wetlands and maintaining the refuge web site. He has seven years of experience with the National Park Service on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.. He enjoys the outdoors and had never been this far west before; so will look forward to seeing everything this area has to offer.
Improvement Project Begins
by Mike Johnson / Refuge Operations Specialist
Headquarter facilities are undergoing some major remodeling and additional office space construction. Last December, we took delivery of a 1100 sq. foot modular office. It was purchased locally and will provide much needed office space for our refuge biology program. Currently, our three biologists are jammed in a 12' x 16' room in the main administration part of our visitor center. The new modular addition was set-up just south of the visitor center. It will house a small lab, conference area and additional space for seasonal biological technicians.
Another on-going project is the remodeling of our seasonal employees quarters. At present, this consists of a small one room apartment. The new facility will remodel 4 adjacent garage bays into separate male and female dormitory style sleeping areas. The present apartment will become the common area with a shared kitchen and laundry facilities. There will be sleeping room for up to eight people. This additional space will be used by summer volunteers and employees and will be used during the fall and winter by our seasonal Law Enforcement Officers.
With the addition to our staff of a full-time irrigator, we are constructing some additional office space in the NE corner of our carpentry shop. The challenge on this project is to make it dust-proof since the area will have numerous computers, plotters and other sensitive electronics. Irrigation still involves long hours of field work, pulling boards, cleaning head gates and sore backs but nowadays computer databases and forecasts are necessary so that every acre-foot of water is used to the utmost efficiency.
By mid-June these projects should be completed and we will begin some remodeling of our Lower Klamath NWR shop. This construction will provide storage areas for batteries/acids and for oxygen/acetylene tanks. These additions will bring us up to current OSHA required standards. We will also be constructing a small office addition onto the south side of the shop. This will provide needed desk area for our two mechanics and an area for our new full-time Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Technician. We also purchased a new self-contained Haz-Mat Building to store herbicides and other chemicals.
All of the above construction is being done force-account which is utilizing our employees in the maintenance division to do the construction. This allows us to stretch our limited budget. The end result will be greater efficiency which will benefit the habitat and wildlife on the six Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges.
by Dave Menke / Outdoor Recreation Planner
American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)
This delicate long-legged shorebird of North America is easily seen at the Klamath Basin Refuges from late March through September. It is most often observed by visitors along highway 161 in the White Lake Unit of Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. The best time to view them is during the morning hours at White Lake or by car on the auto tour routes on Tule Lake or Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges.
|Avocets feed on a variety of aquatic insects, seeds and crustaceans which they often stir off shallow mud bottoms by a rapid side-to-side motion of their upturned bill. They usually feed while wading rather than swimming and generally spend most of their time in very shallow water only a few inches in depth. The Avocets breeding habitat is fresh water lakes and marshes with large areas of shallow water, surrounded by sparse vegetation. They can be found building nests right next to the water on mud flats.|
Avocets normally build their nest of a loose aggregation of sticks and grass-like vegetation. Nests are usually not well built but if the water rises and threatens to flood the eggs; Avocets may build up the nests with additional vegetation to keep the eggs above water level. Usually 3 to 4 eggs are laid. The eggs are olive colored with splotches of dark brown. Incubation is reportedly 23-25 days.
I recently had the opportunity to observe the mating ritual of avocets which is quite elaborate. The female (slightly smaller and with somewhat lighter colored head and neck plumage) lowered her head and neck to a horizontal position just above the water surface. This behavior went on for several minutes while the male strutted casually around the female in a circular pattern. At first the male seemed only slightly interested, but later brushed up against the female and just prior to mounting used his bill and head to very deliberately splash water onto the front portion of the female with rapid and continuous movement of his head through the water.
Immediately after this splashing the male mounted the female and proceeded to copulate for several seconds with one or both wings outstretched during copulation. After dismounting the male and female "danced" in a circular motion with their heads and necks stretched upward and quite close together. The male and female appeared to be in "lock step" while performing this beautiful pirouette for 20 or 30 seconds. The birds then separated and preened as they "cooled down" from all the action. The preceding two paragraphs are presented in the interest of scientific accuracy only.
Take a tour of the Refuges to see if you can find Avocets in shallow wetlands or on mud flats from late March through September often in flocks of a dozen or more. Often avocets are seen in the same areas as another common breeding shorebird, the black-necked stilt. Be sure to have binoculars and a camera because if you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this species youll definitely want to be ready!
Hunt Meeting 2000
by Dave Menke / Outdoor Recreation Planner
The refuge will host its annual post season hunt meeting on April 22 from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The meeting will take place at the Tulelake Fairgrounds Home Economics Building. This meeting provides waterfowl hunters the opportunity to interact with refuge staff toward the improvement of hunting programs on Tule Lake, Lower Klamath, Clear Lake, Upper Klamath and Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuges.
In a letter to hunters who have visited the refuges in the recent past, Project Leader Phil Norton lists four topics which refuge managers are seeking input on.
1) Hunting programs: including access provisions for hunters on newly acquired lands which have been added to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.2) User suggestions concerning possible program improvements, using funds collected as hunter fees collected during past and coming hunting seasons.
3) Hunting areas which may be located in Sump 1b on Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, once seasonal and permanent marsh vegetation has become established in this area (SEE the newsletter article which discusses the Sump 1b project).
4) Improving facilities for disabled users including the possibility of providing disabled blinds in the Tule Lake spaced-blinds and in additional locations on Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge .
Refuge managers, biologists and hunting program specialists will be available to participate in discussions and answer questions on a wide range of topics of interest to those attending. Everyone is welcome to attend this informative meeting. Please contact Dave Menke at (530) 667-2231 for details.
Early Morning in a Photo Blind
by Dave Menke / Outdoor Recreation Planner
As I opened my car door near photo blind #1 on Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, At 4:40 am. on April 2, I notice a faint glimmer of dawn in the eastern sky and wondered, as usual: 1) what the morning would offer in terms of photographic opportunities and 2) if the somewhat painful process of dragging myself out of bed at 3:30 a.m. was really worth it!
Actually, I had quite a treat in store! Long before the light improved enough for photography a killdeer, a pair of mallards, several coots and a pair of American avocets arrived in the vicinity of the blind. By 6:15 a.m. early morning sunlight was sufficient to allow me some shots of the mallard pair loafing on a nearby sand spit and some early morning photos of the avocets. An unexpected treat was the opportunity to photograph a canvasback duck which swam to the spit near the mallards and soon fell sound asleep. This is the first time I can remember photographing a canvasback from a refuge photo blind. A little after 6:45 the avocet pair got serious about their spring time responsibilities and proceeded to go through their entire courtship ritual complete with mating. All of this interesting behavior was captured on film not only once; but again when they repeated the act 45 minutes later.
Around 7:00 a.m. A bufflehead male followed by a bufflehead female swam by the blind and I was able to get a photo or two of each. Then a pair of green-winged teal settled into a small pocket of shallow water about 35 feet from the blind and I was able to take eight or ten photos before they departed. Just before 7:30 an airplane flew over causing several birds to move away from the blind. The canvasback actually woke up and then swam by the blind as I took several photos focusing on its brilliant red eye. Killdeer and coots were around the blind nearly the entire morning and I was able to get some very close pictures of both species. On two occasions a male red-winged blackbird perched on a snag about 20 feet from the blind providing ample opportunities for photographs of the bird displaying its brilliantly colored shoulder patch.
By 8:00 a.m. the action was tapering off and I departed having taken about 75 photos of 9 or 10 different species. Most of the photographs were of birds at close range with a 400 mm lens with ideal lighting! All this, and I still made it home for breakfast!
If you are interested in finding out about the refuge photo blind program or want to reserve one of the blinds feel free to contact Dave Menke or Jerry King at (530)-667-2231.
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