Bald Eagles, Crater Lake and More

Posted by on Feb 18, 2013

Bald Eagle at the Tule Lake Reserve

Bald Eagle at the Tule Lake Reserve



Recently Randy and I headed to the far northern part of California to photograph Bald Eagles. The eagles winter at the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge primarily at the Tule Lake Refuge and the Lower Klamath Refuge. We had joined a Meetup, Bay Area Photography Events, for this adventure. A link to a gallery of my images from the adventure is at the bottom of this post.


It is a long drive to the Klamath Basin. We drove my car and another photographer, Fabian, carpooled with us. From San Jose we worked our way north and east to Interstate 5 and then continued north on I5 to the charming town of Weed. I could list all our jokes about a town named Weed in Northern California, but I’m not going to. Suffice it to say that there were jokes. We ate lunch at a restaurant in Weed, the Hi-Low Café. It had great food and you could even buy Weed souvenirs (t-shirts and mugs, ha ha).  Leaving Weed we turned off I5 and headed north on Hwy 97 towards the Klamath Basin.

In a town named Dorris we met up with the other workshop photographers and we all headed to the reserve. We thought that a ranger was going to give us directions to the eagles and maybe even a tour but unfortunately that did not happen. We headed east on Hwy 161 anyway and we all accidently passed the first auto tour we were going to take. The auto tours were not well marked. Randy, Fabian and I could not pass up two hawks on a kill on the side of the road and stopped to photograph them. We lost our leaders but two of the other cars also stopped and after photographing the hawks we got on our way, never seeing our leaders again that night. We did find the Visitor’s Center where we found out where the Tule Lake auto tour was and heard that there were hundreds of Bald Eagles out there, so close to the road you could get close-ups with a 300 mm lens. Yah, right.


Coyotes cross the frozen lake in the late afternoon.

Coyotes cross the frozen lake in the late afternoon.

We did find Bald Eagles, but they were way out on the frozen lake near the open water where the ducks and geese were. Even if we had a 600 mm lens there was no way we were going to photograph them. Tule Lake Reserve is a beautiful place especially with the lake mostly frozen and covered with snow sparkling in the late afternoon sun. The eagles are majestic, beautiful and very fierce looking with their hooked beaks and staring eyes. We also saw lots of hawks and other birds of prey, like Northern Harriers. Plus, we saw lots of coyotes out on the frozen lake hunting! At one spot there were three of them together although still way out on the lake too far for our lenses. Eventually we did find one that Randy was able to photograph with his 200-400 mm with a doubler on it.

All the cars ended up separating and eventually as it got dark we headed back to our motel where we met up with everyone for dinner. The next day we headed back to the reserves, again losing our leaders and ending up spending the morning by ourselves shooting eagles, hawks, and other birds. The best shot I got of a Bald Eagle was on a telephone pole, and then another taking off from a “No Parking” sign. Eventually the three of us decided to go to Crater Lake in the afternoon since we were getting “skunked” trying to find eagles that we could shoot.


Crater Lake through the Trees

Crater Lake through the Trees

Crater Lake was about 1 ½ hours from Klamath Falls, up a long winding road with lots of snow on it. When we got there the snow was 14 feet deep! The road around the lake was closed and the furthest we could go on wheels was the lodge. We had forgotten our snow boots but got out anyway and walked out to the other side of the lodge where we got a good view of the beautiful lake and the island in it. Crater Lake was formed by eruption and collapse of Mount Mazama, a volcano that has been dormant maybe 5,000 to 6,000 years. It is and looks deep and is surrounded by sharp peaks at this time of the year covered with snow and trees. We had hoped to stay for sunset but the sky was clouding up and fog was approaching from the west so we decided to head back to Klamath Falls. We (me) were also a bit concerned about the road conditions, our car not being 4-wheel drive. On our way down the road we stopped a couple of times to photograph some old barns and the sunset reflecting amazing red, purple and orange on upper Klamath Lake and on Mount Shasta. The lake looked like it was on fire!


The next day we all got up early and headed back out to the Klamath Basin Refuge where a row of tall trees had a Bald Eagle nest in one of them, and many eagles roosting on branches. This time we were not skunked and did find eagles close enough to photograph. And the early morning light on the eagles showed off the eagles, so majestic in their fierceness. There also were several hawks flying in and out and a cute juvenile that stayed perched in the tree above the road watching curiously as the photographers took its picture. It was a good morning photographically!


Mount Shasta from Weed, California

Mount Shasta from Weed, California

On the way home we stopped in Weed at the Hi-Low Café again with some of the other photographers to eat lunch and then we headed home. We did stop at a vista point on Hwy 97 to photograph Mount Shasta with the snow blowing off its peak and blue skies behind it. We also stopped to photograph the very dramatic Castle Crags which you can see from I5. We pulled off on Crag View Drive which we thought would have a nice view but didn’t and asked a local who directed us to the elementary school a couple miles down I5. There was a nice view from the school but trees got in the way and I think that next time I go up I5 I will allow time to stop at Castle Crag State Park.


We had a good time on this Meetup photo workshop. Fabian was great fun and we really enjoyed having him ride with us. The other photographers also were nice and we enjoyed spending time with them and hearing about their adventures from each day as they shared what they had seen.  I am glad we went on this workshop to see and photograph Bald Eagles. I wouldn’t have known that the eagles were even there if it wasn’t for this workshop. The leader of the workshop is really nice and gave out some photo tips when we saw him in the lobby of the motel and at dinner.  However, the organization of the workshop was not great. Being in several cars we got separated and as there was no cell phone service in most parts of the park we weren’t able to communicate. Only the lead car had two-way radios which would have helped. And most of us thought that we were going to get a personal tour from a ranger which did not happen. This was an organized workshop that we paid for and I felt that there should have been more direction. Having said that I would go on another workshop with this photo leader. I’ve heard good things about his other workshops and I know that leading workshops photographing wildlife can be really difficult because the wildlife isn’t always where you think or want them to be.

We stayed in Klamath Falls, Oregon at the Days Inn. Our room was large and clean, but smelled very faintly of cigarette smoke. The heater worked exceptionally well (we had to keep it turned down) and it was quiet. The Days Inn had a nice lobby with comfy chairs and tables where you could sit and have a cup of coffee and eat a waffle at breakfast and there was a crackling fire in the fireplace pretty much all of the time. It was perfect for a group to meet at.

I’ve put my gallery on another page so I could insert the panoramas in a size that best displays them. I hope you enjoy and comments  and questions are always welcome!

Gallery of Images