Bald Eagles Guaranteed!
The other thing I brought, which in some ways was more important, was information. The day before, a ranger pointed out the roost tree from the road that passes below Sheepy Ridge. A permit is required to use the photo blinds at Tule Lake, and during December, January, and February you have to be in the blinds before 7:00 a.m. so as not to disturb the eagles.
The blinds on Sheepy Ridge where I went are by far the best vantage points, so you'll be hiking in the dark, rising at least 1,000 feet, on a trail you blaze yourself, in conditions that . . . well, the snow was up to my knees in places and the rocks beneath could only be guessed at. It was a truly tough hike, and I'd advise you to be in good physical condition before attempting it.
The south blind is just right for one person, but as the refuge instruction sheet points out,"Two people can work from this blind but you have to be friends." It's quite dark so you may need a flashlight to read your meter. And since the blind is nearly level with the top of the roost tree, the eagles can be sensitive to your presence. Because of this, the refuge staff advises against using a motor drive and recommends at least a 300 mm lens. However, I found that even a 500 mm lens was not enough, and next time I'll try a 600 mm to fill more of the 35 mm film frame.
Even with the ranger's directions, it took almost 30 minutes to find the blind once I reached the roost tree. The blinds are just south of Hotel Rock, a monolith of crags and peaks the eagles use to perch as they survey the feeding grounds below. But check and recheck landmarks and directions in the daylight the day before your hike.
So whether you just drive around the refuge's auto route (where you'll also see several species of hawks, herons, egrets, ring-necked pheasants, Canada geese, and, among mammals, coyote and mule deer) or you make the grand trek up to Sheepy Ridge, you will see, and possibly photograph, bald eagles. And once you watch this magnificent bird in the wild, you may make this trip a yearly migration of your own.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication