Winter Wings Festival 2018

Thousands of geese and ducks lift off a pond on Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge as Mount Shasta stands in the background. Nearly 130 volunteers and more than 500 registered attendees -- some from as far away as Southern California, Colorado and Minnesota -- descended on the Klamath Basin for seminars, workshops and birding trips as part of the annual Winter Wings bird festival. Courtesy photo: Jordan Jones/Klamath Community College

"Participants are blown away by the sight and symphony of thousands of ducks and geese in one place.”

— John Fitzroy, visitor services chief, Klamath Basin Refuges

By Jon Myatt
March 6, 2018

Early on a cloudy Saturday morning in mid-February, a city school bus pulled off the road and into the parking lot of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex headquarters near the northern California border. Roughly 20 birders and photographers filed off the bus, eager to meet their guide.

The determined passengers were soon greeted by their tour leader, local professional wildlife photographer Larry Turner, who would lead them to capture images of birds and landscapes at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, as part of the annual Winter Wings Festival. The field trip allowed the birders and photo enthusiasts to experience the Pacific Flyway’s unique avian activity up close under the supervision of one of the region’s notable professional photographers.

The aptly titled “Shoot with a Pro” photographers’ tour was one of more than 30 trips, workshops and presentations offered during the annual bird festival February 14-18.

PHOTO GALLERY: Two pintail drakes fly over the walking trail on Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge on Winter Wings weekend, February 17, 2018. The five-day event is consistently rated one of the top bird festivals in the nation. Credit: Jon Myatt/USFWS
[Click on the image above to begin slide show.]

Hosted at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls, Oregon, the festival 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, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The five-day event is consistently rated one of the top bird festivals in the nation.

Winter Wings is also a major outreach event for the staff of the six refuges that make up the Service’s Klamath Basin Refuge Complex. Many of the field trips and tours are hosted on national wildlife refuges in the Klamath Basin.

This year, more than 500 registered attendees and nearly 130 volunteers -- some from as far away as Southern California, Colorado and Minnesota -- descended on Klamath Falls for seminars, workshops and birding trips to two nearby national wildlife refuges and other wetlands.

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

A Winter Wings attendee reads the interpretive signs at the Klamath Basin National Refuge Complex visitors center during a tour stop over. Courtesy photo: Bruce Davis

“The festival fits perfectly with our refuge mission,” said John Fitzroy, visitor services manager for the refuge complex. “It allows us to introduce folks to Wildlife Refuges and hopefully kindle a connection to those wild places.”

According to event co-organizers Diana Samuels and Anne Wenner, Winter Wings regularly draws more than 500 registered 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. Participants recorded 140 different species of birds over the weekend, which is a record for the festival.

“And on one trip, participants were able to view more than 150 bald eagles.”

“We’ve received very positive feedback from several new participants that could not believe the waterfowl displays at Lower Klamath and Tule Lake Refuges,” Wenner said. “We had 128 volunteers help out with the planning and coordination of the festival this year, and we truly appreciate all the support from our volunteers, sponsors and sister organizations in another great program.”

Biologist John Vradenburg (right) gives a "behind-the-scenes" presentation to a Winter Wings tour group on Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Jon Myatt/USFWS

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.

Many of those attendees were treated to rare sightings of birds and other wildlife during trips to Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges.

“In a good water year such as this one, participants are blown away by the sight and symphony of thousands of ducks and geese in one place,” said Fitzroy. “The evening “fly-off” of snow geese is an impressive sight.

“I enjoy watching people connect on these tours, by the end, they’re answering each other’s questions and learning from one another.”

Back on the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the intrepid photographers could be spotted along the auto-tour road as the sun hid behind the cloudy sky, their cameras arrayed toward a stand of willow trees.

Local professional photographer Larry Turner (center) leads a group onto Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge during his "Shoot with a Pro" photo tour. Courtesy photo: Bruce Davis


Staff that supported Winter Wings events included: Greg Austin, refuge complex manager; wildlife biologists John Vradenburg and John Beckstrand; private lands biologist Dustin Taylor; Stacy Freitas, refuge operations specialist; visitor services manager, John Fitzroy; and Stephen Rooker, interpretive park ranger.

Story Photo

Jon Myatt

About the writer...

Jon Myatt is the digital communications manager for the Pacific Southwest Region. Born in Oregon and raised in northern California's gold country, Jon brings his love of the outdoors and interest in photojournalism to his work every day promoting the Service's conservation work across the region through his images, writing and web design.

More stories by Jon:

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KLAMATH BASIN REFUGES: Landowner's 'labor of love' expands habitat for local wildlife

The 'redwood condors': Ten years later

Battling an invasion of watersnakes

Learning Secrets of the Bay: Endangered Ridgway's Rails Released Into South San Diego Bay Marshland