"Heat, drought and water policy have created a slow-motion catastrophe at a refuge on the California-Oregon border."
"Highway 161 carries me along the Oregon and California border as I head toward Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. I wish I were visiting it under better conditions. In better time this is a place where birds gather in abundance, feasting and fattening up as they continue their migration along the Pacific Flyway. Sadly, I’m here to witness a massive outbreak of disease — one that’s wiping out tens of thousands of birds.
The Lower Klamath refuge is a “must see,” especially at the start of fall migration. Designated as an “Important Bird Area” by the National Audubon Society, it’s one of a mosaic of refuges in the Klamath Basin that form an essential pinch point along the Pacific Flyway, causing waterbirds to congregate in huge numbers during migration. Birds coming south from Alaska stop to rest and refuel before continuing their journey south to estuaries along the coast, the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys of California, and beyond that as far as the tip of South America. The birds can’t complete their journey without places like the Lower Klamath along their route.
This year, though, instead of broad sheets of water, green wetland stands, clouds of mosquitos and throngs of noisy waterbirds, what greets me is a dry, barren landscape baking in the hot summer sun. Throngs of birds cram together in the few pools of hot, stagnant water that remain. Different species and guilds gather in a motley collection of unlikely neighbors; American white pelicans waddle near elegant black-necked stilts and American avocets, rather than spreading out across the open water and mudflats. These are exactly the kinds of conditions where disease can spread rapidly."