Words From the Wetlands
Tracking Suckers | Pelican Rodeo | Wildlife Quiz | Camp
Tulelake | Species Spotlight
Refuge Spotlight | Recent Sightings | Volunteers
on Tule Lake Refuge
by Kim Miller, summer biology intern
This past spring, staff from the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges implemented the first phase of the Sump 1B project on Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. After years of stabilized water levels and sedimentation, the formerly deep-water marsh on Tule Lake sump 1A has become unproductive and shallow. The goal of the sump 1B project is to run the sump as a seasonal marsh, dry, June through September for three to five years in order to establish an emergent hardstem (tule) marsh, since bulrush requires a mudflat to germinate. The refuge plans to drain sump 1B water into sump 1A beginning in May 2000, while hopefully not impacting two endangered fish. The two species, Lost River Sucker (Deltistes luxatus), and Shortnose Sucker (Chasmistes brevirostris) are non-producing, large, long-lived (30 years plus) fish. The suckers are non-producing due to the lack of spawning habitat. Past research has found that both species number less than 400 total fish.
|In April of this year, 14 suckers (10 Lost River, 4 Shortnose), were netted or electroshocked, and had radio tags surgically implanted by the Bureau of Reclamation. Nine of them were caught in Tule Lake and five at Anderson Rose Dam (five miles up the Lost River from Tule Lake). Suckers were tracked weekly from April to June. By mid-June, the fish showed a pattern of preferred locations, and tracking went to a biweekly schedule. Radio tracking of the fish is done from an airboat. The radio telemetry operator directs the airboat operator to a fish and determines when the boat is adjacent to the fish (signals get loud). The boat is then anchored, and data is recorded. Radio tracking will continue during the fall to spring period on a monthly basis.|
Between 1993 and 1995, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), which operates the Klamath Project conducted a similar study to determine what part of the sumps suckers use, and gather some baseline water quality data. They found that suckers use parts of Tule Lake at certain times of the year; the northwest corner of sump 1A during October through March, the English Channel in April, and the "Donut Hole" May through September (See Map). Since radio tracking began in April, this same pattern seems to hold true. In May 1991, both species of suckers had been observed downstream of Anderson-Rose Dam in attempts to spawn, but not until this year has this event been documented. Refuge biologists also hope to determine if suckers are using sump 1B and how draining sump 1B into sump 1A will affect water quality of the latter. To date, trap nets placed in sump 1B have yielded no suckers. The BOR study determined that suckers used sump 1B only one percent of the time.
To better understand the suckers, wildlife biologist are trying to determine what areas of sump 1A the fish are using, and why it is they prefer those areas. To do this, six hydrolabs were placed in areas of known sucker locations based on BORs previous work. Hydrolabs are a four inch by 24 inch cylindrical shaped water quality monitoring device that measure dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, and conductivity. One hydrolab was placed in the northwest corner for the fall and winter times, two in the southern end, one in the English Channel, and two in sump 1B (for monitoring purposes). Each week hydrolabs are deployed at select locations, and picked up the following week, after having collected hourly data on the water.
We still do not understand why suckers are not using sump 1B. Is it lack of water depth? Currently, the deep-water areas in sump 1B are disconnected. When the unit is drained we plan to dig a large canal connecting the deep areas which, hopefully will enable suckers to use all of sump 1B. In addition, preliminary analysis of the BORs 1993-1995 data show that DO (dissolved oxygen) is lower in sump 1B than in 1A. After looking at the current data, sump 1B was found not desirable for the suckers, most likely due to the lack of dissolved oxygen and clear water in the summer. Turbidity was measured at each hydrolab location, and the majority of the suckers were found in sump 1A with turbid water, which provided cover and protection. During the summer time, suckers have a difficult time due to the growing algae. As algae decomposes, it continues to pull dissolved oxygen from the water, depriving the suckers of the oxygen when they need it the most.
The Fish and Wildlife Service continued the monitoring. Failure to catch any suckers in three nets strategically placed in the deeper locations, has led to a determination that suckers are not using sump 1B.
Monitoring of the suckers and their habitat will continue into the future to determine any impacts that the sump 1B project will have.
If you would like to learn more about the suckers
and/or the Sump 1-B project, contact Dave Mauser at Refuge Headquarters.
Refuge Staff Band Baby Pelicans
by Tom VandenBerg, Park Ranger
White pelicans seem to have always been a symbol of the Klamath Basin. Visitors thrill to the sight of a flock of pelicans soaring effortlessly through summer skies or gulping down fish in Basin wetlands. Although the Klamath Basin is one of the major remaining nesting areas for these birds, not much is known about where "our" pelicans migrate to during the winter months. In order to add to our knowledge about pelican migratory movements, refuge staff recently made a trip to the nesting islands of Clear Lake Refuge to round up and band a large number of young pelicans. This refuge is a major nesting site for white pelicans and is closed to all public entry.
A stiff breeze made for an extremely bumpy boat trip across Clear Lake. By the time we reached the nesting islands, all 5 of us were soaking wet and bruised but ready for action. As we neared the shoreline, thousands of nesting gulls swarmed over from all directions. HATS ON! The islands were absolutely covered with pelicans, both flightless young and enormous adult birds. The pervading smell of fermented fish filled the air. The sounds of gulls, terns, and pelicans (yes they do make a noise...sounds like a cow) became a cacophony of white background noise. In order to reduce disturbance to a minimum we promptly started the operation.
|First, a wire mesh fence was erected in a "U" shape at one end of the island. Next, the roundup began...Yeehaw! By approaching the pelicans we were able to quickly cut out a large group of 145 young flightless pelicans. The birds were quite docile and were easily directed into our holding pen as they waddled along in a tight group. We were ready to band!|
Our group formed two banding stations. How many employees does it take to band a white pelican? TWO...one to enter the pen and carefully pick up and hold the young pelican and another to apply the lightweight metal band to the birds large ankle. Before banding, the bands looked too large for any bird but when applied to the massive ankle of a white pelican the shiny metal bracelet seemed inconsequential. Although only 3 weeks old, these young pelicans were already massive birds. Young pelicans are surprisingly soft. Their large developing bodies were easily cradled in our arms, yet their flailing wings were seemingly everywhere.
Each band has a unique number inscribed on it along with the text identifying it as a federal migratory bird band. We hope that in the future some of these bands will be recovered on a pelican wintering ground. This information may lead to valuable insights into their movements. Possible wintering grounds are the Salton Sea in southern CA, the Gulf Coast, or Mexican coastal lagoons.
After carefully applying the band and recording the number, each young pelican was gently released. Most promptly waddled across the small island and returned to the large group of adult birds which watched intently. Several banded young preferred to linger around us and observe the rest of the process. One we nicknamed "Lionheart" proceeded to nip at us when our backs were turned...ouch! The business-end of even a young pelican bill is very sharp!
It wasnt long before all 145 young had shiny new
bracelets. Still, this was only a small percentage of the young on the tiny island! To be
in the midst of a pelican colony was a fantastic experience. Chances are slim that any of
these pelican bands will be recorded in the future, but I will never look at a flock of
pelicans in quite the same way again. Not only will I admire their grace while
airborne,...but Ill be looking at their ankles too.
by Tom VandenBerg, Park Ranger
During the summer months many visitors to the Klamath Basin Refuges searching for waterfowl come upon several species of easily approachable and active waterbirds. They are not ducks and not a wading bird, but their constant swimming and diving are great fun to watch. Meet the grebes! Test your knowledge of this amazing group of waterbirds by answering the following questions. Answers on last page.
1. Which species of grebe is known for its elaborate courtship rituals which include the weed dance, the rushing display, and arch-clucking ?
A) eared grebe.
B) Western grebe.
C) Clarks grebe.
D) red-necked grebe.
2. What is so special about grebe nests?
A) They are constructed out of feathers.
B) They float
C) Grebes dont build nests
D) Several grebe pairs will use the same nest.
3. Grebes belong to the family Podicipedidae which means "rump-footed". Why is this an apt name for grebes?
A) Grebes frequently sit on their rump.
B) The tail feathers of grebes curl up like toes.
C) Grebe legs are situated very far back on the body.
4. Which member of the grebe family is shown here?
5. Grebes are incredible swimmers, able to reach great depths and stay under for up to 60 seconds. Do grebes have webbed feet?
6. Grebes swallow their own feathers by the hundreds.
Fifty percent of the stomach contents of horned and pied billed grebes may be feathers!
What is the purpose of this strange behavior?
Weathered Wood Amid the Sage
by Tom VandenBerg, Park Ranger
During the summer months, refuge staff receive many questions regarding a certain small cluster of weathered wooden buildings located 1 mile north of the visitor center. The locked gate and "Government Property...NO TRESPASS" sign only add to the curiosity. Just what are/were those buildings anyway? Japanese Internment camp?, POW camp, CCC camp? Refuge housing?
Actually those buildings were all of those things and more.
The story begins in the midst of the great depression. In 1933 President Franklin Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to provide employment and vocational training for young men through useful public projects, primarily in National Forests, Parks and Refuges. With a monthly salary of $30, young, unemployed men flocked to sign up. By 1935 enrollment reached 502,000 organized into 2,514 camps throughout the country. The wooden frame construction and layout of these camps became extremely standardized.
With the arrival of the enrollees of Company 2514, the construction of CAMP TULELAKE began in June, 1935. Most of the enrollees were from the rural southern states of Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. As was the case with most CCC camps, Camp Tulelake had exactly 23 buildings arranged around a central parade ground. Along with four barrack buildings was a mess hall, hospital, administrative offices, and several machine and equipment sheds.
With the arrival of the CCC enrollees, a major period of conservation work began in the Tule Lake Basin. Some of the many projects the CCC is responsible for include: reconstructing the Clear Lake Dam; building the Refuge Headquarters, roads, rock walls, and overlook; planting trees, wildlife feeding, building a duck hospital, and planting trees.
By mid 1941, with war raging, the work slowed as many men began leaving to serve in the military. After 8 years, in the summer of 1942 the CCC was terminated and Camp Tulelake was closed.
The camp wasnt vacant for long...between January and May of 1943, the US Army appropriated the compound to house and separate "disloyal" Japanese Americans from the large Newell Internment Center.
Seven months later, 150 Italian prisoners of war arrived to convert the camp into a full-blown POW camp. Fencing, barb wire, guard towers, searchlights, water lines, and latrines were readied for the 800 German prisoners who arrived soon after. For almost three years, German prisoners lived and worked in the Tule Lake Basin. The shortage of field labor during the war reached a crisis and the Tulelake Growers Assn. paid the US Government .80¢/day for each prisoner who helped in the harvest.
In 1946, the Army transferred the camp back to the Fish & Wildlife Service. Activity at the camp never again reached the level it had during the decade of 1935-1946. Three of the barracks buildings were promptly moved to the Sacramento Refuge for staff quarters. During the 1950s the buildings were used for storage, temporary housing, and a paint shop. The Pacific Region developed its US Fish and Wildlife Service sign shop at the camp. It was used in this fashion until 1975. Many modifications were undertaken at this time, and most of the unused buildings were dismantled.
Today, only parts of three of the original CCC buildings remain. It is one of the few examples left of the thousands of CCC camps which once existed across our country. Tucked in the shelter of Sheepy Ridge, the weathered wood still speaks volumes of the fascinating history of the Tule Lake Basin.
Plans are being made for a roadside interpretive
display highlighting the story behind Camp Tulelake.
Yellow Headed Blackbird
by Virginia Massey, Refuge Volunteer
|With its golden yellow head and breast and black body, the Yellow-headed Blackbird is one of the most striking residents of the marsh. A close up look with binoculars will reveal a white wing patch. Its long been known to many local residents as the "Swamp Bird." To catch sight of this marsh dweller, you will want to follow either the Lower Klamath Refuge or Tule Lake Refuge auto tour route. They can be seen on the Lower Klamath tour route sometime between March and November. These colorful birds are also seen in the early spring months in flooded fields around the basin. Although this species has been sighted on the refuge in the winter months, its uncommon.|
Before you see this blackbird, you will probably hear him. His raucous song is described in the Field Guide to the Birds of North America as "begins with a harsh, rasping note and ends with a long descending buzz. Call note is a hoarse croak." Obviously this fellow is not the Frank Sinatra of the bird world. It makes up for its lousy voice with a very showy display. While clinging to a cattail or bulrush stalk the male leans forward until his head points downward, opens his wings about half way, spreads his tail feathers and then sings with great gusto. Apparently the ladies are very impressed by all this. The females are a dusky-brown color, with lower cheek and throat yellow or buffy-yellow, nowhere near as flashy as the males, but thats the way it is most of the time in the bird world.
Once the courtship is over, a pair will build their nest in a freshwater marsh or reedy lake. The nest will be built in the reeds, over water two to four feet deep. Its made in a bulky cup shape, firmly woven of wet vegetation and lined with dried grass. The nest is a snug place for them to raise anywhere from three to five little blackbirds. Their eggs are grayish-white about an inch long and speckled and blotched with browns. The incubation, by the female is about 13 days and the young will leave the nest in about nine to twelve days. The baby birds are fed by regurgitation for the first two days and partially by regurgitation for the next two days. These birds usually nest in colonies and will sometimes raise two broods. Fortunately cowbird predation is not a big problem for this species, but Marsh Wrens occasionally destroy their nest, so the Yellow-headed Blackbirds will try to exclude the wrens from their nesting territories.
Their usual diet includes grass and forb seeds, but the occasional spider may be consumed as well. They will sometimes visit a feeder, but its not very common. If you see one at your feeder, enjoy the show, because this beautiful bird is a delight to the eye.
In the fall the male Yellow-headed Blackbirds often form into flocks, which include Red-winged Blackbirds and cowbirds, separate from the females and juveniles. In early winter Yellow-headed Blackbirds migrate south. There are some year-round populations from central to southern California, but the majority migrate far south into the southern Mexican states. This species is also a regular visitor to the east coast during the fall and winter. Dont worry, it will not be long before they are back with us. Local folks always welcome this early sign of spring, the return of the Swamp Birds.
Recent Happenings around the Refuges
Road Improvement Project Continues
The massive road improvement project is currently underway on Tule Lake Refuge. As mentioned in the last issue, public access routes on Lower Klamath and Tule Lake Refuges will eventually be widened and re-surfaced. At the time of this writing, over 4 miles on Tule Lake have already been surfaced prepped with rough gravel and rocks. A contractor, Rogue Aggregate will be adding the surface layers of gravel throughout the rest of the summer. Work Leader Larry Bigoni advises visitors travelling through the Refuges to please watch for heavy equipment and be prepared for possible delays.
Ready, Set, PADDLE!
As of July 1st, all three of the Refuge Canoe Trails are open and ready to be explored! Great adventure awaits those who take the time to enter the waters slowly and quietly. At Upper Klamath Refuge, canoes may be rented from the Rocky Point Resort. Visitors to the Tule Lake and Klamath Marsh Refuge Canoe Trails will have to provide their own canoes. At Klamath Marsh scan the shoreline pines for bald eagles. The 2 mile Tule Lake Canoe Trail offers visitors an up-close and personal view of a hardstem bulrush (tule) marsh. Look for white faced ibis, marsh wren nests, and molting mallard ducks. Contact Tom VandenBerg at 530-667-2231 for more info.
Lick a Duck!
The 1999/00 Federal Duck Stamps are now available at Refuge Headquarters. This years design chosen from hundreds of artist submissions, depicts 2 greater scaup coming in for a landing on a storm tossed sea. Duck stamps are popular collectors items and are required for all waterfowl hunters. Duck stamps are also good for free admission to all National Wildlife Refuges. Proceeds from the $15 stamps go to purchasing wetlands for future Refuges.
Bald Eagles raise 3 young at Bear Valley Refuge...Habitat Project Continues.
Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge hosted 2 pairs of nesting bald eagles this year. A total of 3 eaglets fledged in July. Eaglets usually remain around the nest for 3 weeks after fledging. After this period, the bald eagle habitat improvement project will continue. The first phase of this project which began last summer should be concluded by early fall 1999. By reducing the tangle of thick undergrowth and small trees, Refuge managers hope to minimize the risk of catastrophic wildfire to the important old-growth roosting/nesting trees preferred by the eagles. Each winter literally hundreds of bald eagles and other raptors use the refuge as a night roost. For more information contact Dave Goheen at Refuge HQ 530-667-2231
by Tom VandenBerg, Park Ranger
Summer is a great time to explore the Klamath Basin Refuges. Long, warm days allow for abundant observations of our breeding species. Summer visitors to the refuge visitor center area have noted magnificent sightings of our nesting Bullocks orioles, brown towhees, and CA quail broods. The great horned owls have successfully raised 3 young this year and are a common sight on the cliff face behind the center. A red-tailed hawk pair raised 2 young on the same cliff face! The cliff and barn swallows have already started on their second broods in their cliff face nests. One pair has transformed our restroom into a nesting chamber.
For a great time, travel through the auto tour routes of Lower Klamath and Tule Lake. A cold spring has seriously delayed many nesting birds. In early July, ducklings were just starting to appear. Some Western grebes have been observed swimming with babies on their backs, but many grebes are just starting to nest now! Look for them in Lower Klamath units 4b/c and 7a and Tule Lake sump 1B. Starting in mid July look for large numbers of hummingbirds in the Basin as their post-breeding dispersal begins.
1999 seems to be a great year for white faced ibis. In early July, a survey indicated over 900 pairs at Lower Klamath. Large numbers have also been foraging in the Tule Lake Marsh. The winter burn has opened up many large areas for them.
Antelope and mule deer fawns have been frequently observed near the visitor center during the last 2 weeks. Be sure drive alert and carefully along Hill Road.
Auto Tour routes are open every day from sunrise to sunset. Stop by headquarters for a map or call 530-667-2231
by Tom VandenBerg, Park Ranger
Refuge volunteers have been busy as usual. Their dedication allows us to keep the visitor center open 7 days per week. Thanks to Jessica King, Mike Miller, Susan Christy, Virginia Massey, Joan VanMatre, Leo Smothers, Edna Guiducci, and John & Marlene Bowden for making my job immeasurably easier and a lot more fun. In addition, Susan has been developing some beautiful artwork for future roadside interpretive panels to be installed this summer. Mike Miller generously donated his expertise on the Klamath Basin to help me locate some 80 year old photo plots. Photos we took from these locations will be compared to photos taken around 1910 and be included in an upcoming visitor center display.
Being a refuge volunteer isnt all work! In addition, we take a monthly field trip to locations of interest in the Klamath Basin. So far this summer we have visited Clear Lake Refuge, Lava Beds, Tule Lake, and anticipate an upcoming Upper Klamath Canoe/potluck in late July. And look for us at the Tule Lake Fair in September.
Another volunteer who has traveled a long way to share her immense talents with the refuges is Kim Miller. A wildlife management senior at Virginia Tech., Kim arrived from Centreville, VA in early May. As a biology intern, Kim has been invaluable in our duck/pelican banding, breeding bird survey, disease monitoring, & water quality programs. She also gets to drive the airboats.
Answers to Wildlife
1. B and C. Just recently split into two distinct species, both the Clarks and Western grebe have the exact same courtship displays, including the rushing ceremony where both partners "run" across the surface of the water. What keeps the two species from interbreeding is a slight difference in the call note and their different facial patterns.
2. B. All grebes build nest platforms out of reeds and algae. The nest floats but may be anchored to the bottom by vegetation. Look for the large eared grebe colony on Tule Lake Refuge sump 1-B during the summer months.
3. C. Grebe legs are situated very far back on the body. This makes it extremely difficult for them to maneuver on land, yet incredibly efficient at swimming propulsion...think of twin outboard motors.
4. Pied-billed grebe. The pied-billed is identified by its large head and thick pale bill which in breeding birds has a black vertical band, hence the name "pied-billed". The young are black-and-white zebra striped!
5. No. Grebes do not have webbed feet, instead their toes are broadly "lobed". This is an adaptation that allows rapid underwater propulsion and at the same time convenient maneuverability among weeds and soft bottoms where full webs might produce an unwelcome sticking suction.
6. Strangely enough, most experts believe that grebe gizzards are unable to completely crush the bones that are swallowed. The feather balls are thought to protect the stomach by padding the sharp fish bones and slowing down the process of digestion so that the bones dissolve rather than pass into the intestine. Grebe hatchlings begin swallowing their parents feathers at 3 days of age!
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