One of the cooler places I visited this year was the Winter Wings Bird Festival in Klamath Falls, Oregon on the California border and not that far from Crater Lake. For some, this might be a bit of a challenge to get to, the nearest airport is Medford, Oregon about an hour and a half drive through a mountain. If you aren't used to snow...consider renting a vehicle with four wheel drive.
This festival is strong on photography, I was there for some digiscoping workshops and though while I was there the sun wasn't as cooperative as I would have liked, the views were still well worth it.
Going through all of my digiscoped images, I didn't really do justice to all of the bald eagles one can see in Klamath. If bald eagles are your spirit animal--this festival is for you, this place is lousy with eagles and the landscapes offer a great background to get shots. There was one particular eagle I was hoping to see. I noticed on the Winter Wings Facebook page that there had been sightings of an adult bald eagle with "diluted plumage." We went out scouting with a local guide for our digiscoping field trips and sure enough he helped us locate it.
I do enjoy going for a chase to see a rarity but I found it particularly fun to sort through the hundreds of bald eagles to locate this particular bird.
For birders in the eastern US who are looking for ways to rack up some western lifers, this festival is ideal. Above is a golden-crowned sparrow but you get all sorts. Even I got a couple of lifers on this trip.
The town locals really seem to get into the festival. Because it was so rainy, going out to digiscope wasn't always an option and many people opened up their homes and bird feeders so my classes could keep their cameras dry while getting pictures of birds.
But I think where this festival really stands out is the opportunity to bone up on raptor identification. There aren't many places where you can have a dark-morph red-tailed hawk soaring with an immature bald eagle and adult golden eagle. This place really gives a variety of raptors in a variety of plumages and you really get a great chance to study the difference.
On top of raptors, there's quite a waterfowl concentration here with loads of opportunities to see tundra swans, snow geese and greater white-fronted geese. The Klamath Basin has struggled with a water shortage the past several years so I'm not sure how that's going to impact the numbers at future festivals...or of western migrating waterfowl.
Due to the extreme drought the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge doesn't get the water it needs and the waterfowl that rely on it during migration are forced to move elsewhere. I'm not sure how much that will affect the festival. There are plenty of other birds but it's rough when we can't be reasonable about our water usage and spare some for waterfowl that rely on it during migration.
We did cross over into California to Lava Beds National Monument. I was bummed that the trails to the petroglyphs were closed because some people had gone in and vandalized it but I had my scope so I was still able to see and digiscope quite a few of the petroglyphs which was pretty cool. Petrolgyphs are all up and down this rock formation as water levels have shifted over the years, so enjoying with a spotting scope or binoculars is not a bad way to go.
So if you're looking for a fun February getaway for some western birds, put this festival on your list, especially if you're a photographer (and that includes digiscoping). I say that because I had one guy try to argue with me that digiscoping was not photography. Yes, it is, dude with the big lens, it's just a different technique.
I will warn you that this isn't the warmest festival one can go to in the winter (though compared to Minnesota in February, it was downright balmy) but the views more than make up for the chilliness.