Monday, September 26, 2016

Donner? Party Of Three? - Calibirdication Day 8

Friday August 26

Early mornings in the shadow of the mountains and with a little bit of elevation makes for a chilly start to the day. Very chilly, like mid 40's. But we managed and as soon as the sun’s rays hit us we were bathed in warmth. It was still cold in the shade though. We started the day on Old Mammoth Road where the chill made for a slow start for the birdies, but we were there waiting for them.

Juncos were flitting about the hillside but mostly in the shadows which made it hard to tell what they were. They were joined by Goldfinches, House Wrens, and Steller’s Jay. Hermit and then Townsend’s warbler showed up, and showed well as well. Well, well, well! I would have been disappointed if we did not get a TOSO, so I was glad we spotted one. Lifer for the goils. Clark’s Nutcracker put in an appearance, as did Pine Grosbeak and Cassin’s Finch. But a surprise came in the way of Red-breasted Sapsucker that responded to the calls of Williamson’s we were hoping to find. Nice any way you slice it.

It was a beautiful location, but those familiar with “warbler neck” will understand why birding very tall trees was less than optimal, so after a good stretch we moved on to Mono Lake.

Our first stop was South Tufa which we found was already quite populated. Stopping along the dirt road leading there was often an exercise in eating the dust of those who were in a rush to get in or out. Nevertheless we got nice looks at Sagebrush Sparrow and a flock of fly-by Pinyon Jays. Mind you I have not seen them often, so having them fly by with an unobstructed view was not too shabby. And that’s the way it goes. Sometimes you are besides yourself with killer views; other times not so much. But hey, if it was always easy it would not be nearly as fun nor would one exclaim when it was better than expected. 

We moved over to the adjacent and less populated Navy Beach and got killer looks { see, it ~can~ happen } at Sage Thrashers. In the water were California Gulls, Eared Grebes, and on the islands Osprey.

We returned to give Rich’s Rosy-finch place another try and found some interesting obsidian outcroppings but alas, no finch. We then headed to Bodie Road.

The road was through dry desert habitat once again, and with the heat building I was doubtful of what we might find. At a ‘hotspot’ pullout we discovered it was a hotspot due to an unexpected water feature. Many birds were coming down to avail themselves of this rare resource, and we got more nice birds. Brewer’s Sparrow was abundant and a good get and lifer for the goils, as was a Rock Wren that started out playing hide and seek with us before it began to vogue.

Green-tailed Towhee and Western Bluebird made an appearance, the latter threw us at first because it was a young bird so we tried to turn it into a Mountain Bluebird. For Mountain Bluebird we continued on to Bodie.

Bodie is an honest to goodness ‘ghost town’ that is managed as a state park. One can look through the windows of shops and homes to see the items left there by the people that abandoned the town after the gold rush that brought them there, had petered out.

We walked the town a bit; it was interesting to think this place was quite developed while being so very remote. But beyond this we were here to bird and walked about hoping for our two targets: Mountain Bluebird and Greater Sage Grouse.

After some time spent without luck, I spied a park ranger and inquired of her. She was a twenty something typical Californian. She told us that we could find the Mountain Bluebirds off to one side of the town, and that the Grouse were usually up the hill, near where she lived.

I inquired: “You live here?” To which this young lady replied “Yes.” So I further asked: “Are you a ghost?” She looked at me with a dead-pan expressionless face and said in a monotone: “That’s Silly.” That in and of itself was worth the price of admission.

Of course we thanked her and headed off to find these birds. The Bluebirds were just where she said they would be and they cooperated nicely. The Grouse were a bit more secretive, though we found them by walking some of the minor trails and found them feeding in the grass.  

Greater Sage Grouse

Greater Sage Grouse

Many grouse species are found by happenstance, like when they are crossing the road, or by timing a visit to a known lek. Thankfully, these birds remain faithful to this location. The town of Bodie itself is remote, but once here I have always succeeded in getting this bird. The goils enjoyed them.

After this we walked the town a bit more, and while passing a flock of blackbirds that one would otherwise dismiss as more of the omnipresent Brewer’s Blackbirds, I picked out an immature Yellow-headed Blackbird. This was a good save as it was the only one we had the whole trip. It was listed in many locations we visited, but at this time of the year they had finished breeding and had dispersed. Yes!

Ahead of us was a long trip. We had to get over the eastern sierra mountains and get to the coast. When we got back to the main highway, we gained cell service and a check of the map gave us information we wanted. With the 100th NPS anniversary, we anticipated that traffic through Yosmite would be atrocious, and cause of much delay. What the map told us was that we could make it through via the Sonora pass and avoid lollygagging visitors. No one wants to rush through Yosemite, but if you have to be somewhere, that’s different, and we would be going nowhere fast.

Heading north from Bodie, we stopped in Bridgeport for snacks, beverages and a pit stop. We saw gas stations but did not stop. As we continued out of town we passed a large pasture and it was full of hawks, Bald Eagles, and much to our surprise and pleasure, Black-billed Magpies!

It was a beautiful location that we happened upon, but after a goodly time we had to press on to prevent getting to Monterey too late. Of course, heading up a very steep and very windy road labeled 26% grade was not the time to ponder our fuel situation. Concerned, Arlene who was driving asked me about it, and I thought that the just over a quarter tank should be enough to get us to the next town, right?...

Well the road kept climbing and the turns were as sharp as a thumbnail scratch, and that #$^^& gas gauge kept creeping lower faster than it had a right to. Arlene then notified me that the low gas light had come on. I tried to assure her that it was because the road was very steep so that was why, and that when we hit a level stretch it would go out. We did and it didn’t...

I looked at the GPS and saw that the next town was over 20 miles ahead. Would we make it? I told her yes with the best feigned sincerity I cold muster. What she then did was do some of the most skillful hypermiling I have ever witnessed. Slow steady climbing up inclines, minimal use of brakes, and lots of coasting. We passed a sign that said 8000 feet, and I was hopeful that the road would begin to descend. It was at this point that I was beginning to get a big pit in my stomach and felt both very stupid and a bit worried. The latter I did my best to hide as did we all, I think. We didn’t speak a whole lot for quite some time.

The scenery for what its worth was spectacular, and would have been far more enjoyable had our vision not been distorted by adrenaline. With the light having been on for so long, Arlene asked how far it was to the town. 5 miles I said. I kept giving updates on our progress from that point on and noted that the road was consistently descending, a much better state of affairs.

By the time we got down to the within a mile range, we came across what appeared to be a town, but it was just a campground, and our hopes were dashed as there was no fuel station. Continuing on, the GPS said our salvation was nearby, and then not a moment too soon, we saw the “town” of Dardenelle, such as it was.

It was actually a general store, restaurant, and campground. On the far side was a fuel pump! YAY!! Wait, erase those exclamation marks. When we got within reading distance the sheet of paper on the pump said: “No Fuel.” Doh!

WTF?!?  I went into the store to inquire. Nope, we have no fuel. Huh? What? Where is the nearest station? 50 miles back the way we came or 25 ahead. Groan.

Arlene, cool cucumber that she is, remained calm as ever. Lisa was her typical perpetually overexcited self. I told the goils I would handle it and walked off to do my best.

The campground was full of RVers and my thought was that someone ~must~ have a generator and therefore the gas to run it. One after the next I politely inquired if the occupants had any gas they would be willing to sell us. “Nope” was the repeated refrain.

One group of guys that was having a barbecue offered me as much fuel as I wanted as long as I could use diesel. Thanks guys, but our car would not run on that. I continued around from site to site hoping my luck would improve; after all, one gallon would be enough to get us to the next town, if only someone had some to spare...

At this point Lisa joined up with me and inquired if I had had any luck. Yes I replied, but it was all ~bad~ luck. In her typically loud and overexcited voice she made more inquiries of me, such that a very kind gentleman at the nearby campsite overheard her and came over to offer to drive me to town and back to get fuel for our car if we did not have any luck. I thanked him profusely, and told him I would keep trying, and be back if needed.

The goils were thinking of calling AAA but I cautioned that it would be many hours if not a day before they could get to us. I exhausted the campsites, and not wanting to inconvenience this fellow to drive 50 miles out of his way, I went back into the store to plead further. “Excuse me” I said, “but I noticed a gerry can of fuel back by your machinery and was wondering if I could purchase some of that fuel from you, I only need a gallon.” No she said, and then finally suggested that since she just works there, ask the woman in the restaurant.

In the restaurant were two firemen, resting from the overly numerous fires plaguing  the state. They had fuel, but it was premixed with oil for their equipment. Doh! So close. I then spoke with the girl behind the counter, who was more sympathetic than the one in the store. She referred me to the owner who was in the bar.

“Hi. You must be Cindy” I said to the bartender. “What can I do for you” she replied. Well, I have been very stupid and foolish and did not fill up before we headed this way, and with the fuel light on for some time there is no way we will get further or back. I explained how I had inquired of every occupant and had no luck. She looked me over carefully.

She summoned her husband over, they had a hushed conversation, and then he beckoned me to follow him. It seems they did have fuel, but because of the extreme high cost of getting it delivered it was not worth the effort to have it available so they simply put a sign on the pump that said 'no fuel'. Fortunately, they took pity on us. He gave us a few gallons for which we gladly paid handsomely. At first he declined, but I insisted he allow me to thank him for making an exception and going out of his way.

Crisis averted! Not regarding the fuel, but the cannibalism that was sure to ensue if we had actually been stranded. Phew! I wanted to get us all a beer to wash the adrenaline out of my bloodstream, but Arlene pointed out that we still had quite a ways to go. Dang. But as stated before, crisis averted and the experience allowed me to join the hypermiling high club with two goils!

That the rest of the ride was far more relaxed and pleasant was an understatement. When we descended the hills in Oakland, we caught another spectacular sunset. It was dark when we got into Monterey, so we settled in quickly in anticipation of the next day’s adventure, and were thankful that things had not turned out worse. 

Great Horny Toads, I’m up North! - Calibirdication day 7

Thursday August 25

We got up early start to beat the crowds that we anticipated would be clogging Yosemite. Thankfully most tourists sleep later than we did. What a place! Such scenery, and so much to explore. Of course we were on a mission to see birds, and that guided our focus.

Guided. But not limited. We stopped often to drink in the views. Stopping at ‘the valley’ we walked some trails and basked in the first rays of the sun as it peaked around obstacles. And then the birds started appearing in earnest. I am most accustomed to birds liking a very early start, but I guess where it tends to be chilly in the morning the birds take more time enjoying their coffee.

Many of the birds were the expected species, but it was nice to see them in an unhurried state where we could watch them interact. Creepers and Juncos of two flavors were all over, as were the Steller’s Jays.

Along one of the paths we heard a call that sounded vaguely familiar. We chased it down and spotted the bird proclaiming its dominion over the patch of woods. I spished and called it to get better looks at the Cassin’s Vireo, a lifer for the goils.
Cassin's Vireo
We walked across a meadow in between the roadways, and looked around at the imposing geology in the bright morning smiling sunshine. We walked along the Merced river, and picked out birds bathing under cover of willows in the sandbars. Song Sparrows are of course ubiquitous, as were Juncos but we were grey-ced with two Black-throated Grey Warblers who posed nicely. All so important when it is a much desired life bird for Arlene. She was greytful.
Black-throated Grey Warbler

We moved on to the ‘village’ and did a bit of the touristy thing and got some snackage including a most tasty beer. It was worth a stop but I am not a fan of crowds and the public was amassing. So we retreated to White Wolf campground for more peaceful surroundings once again.

A small group of Audubon’s Warblers { might as well get used to calling them that again } seemed as curious about us as we them, and a Hermit Warbler afforded much better looks for all, and satisfied my perilous promise of finding another.

When we got to the expansive Tuolumne Meadows, I found a bird that I was most pleased to see: a Prairie Falcon. Though it was a distance away, its distinctive field-marks were readily seen and I for one rejoiced mightily. It flew about several times, and landed for a while.  It would have been nicer had it come closer, but then again, that’s why we carry optics. Perspective wise, compared to the warblers that we all delight in, this is a bird that I have not seen anywhere near as often so I especially appreciated finding it.

Our next stop was the Aspen Grove Campground where we hoped to find Dipper. It was a beautiful walk, but we found that the water level was not quite right, and per the camp host, the bird frequented a rock outcrop where it had a nest, but had not been present for a while. We inquired of other locations, and did some exploring down the road without luck. When we got to the end of the road we stopped at ‘the Mobil station’ which is quite the popular stop for food. We skipped partaking, but with evidence that we had cell service, I was commanded by Lisa to Contact Rich Veery, who had been in the area in the recent past.

I’m a doc, ya flea-bitten varmint … I’m Riff-Raff Sam … the riffiest riff that ever riffed a raff!

He gave us directions to a pullout that was unmarked so that looking for it by name was useless. But he sent us coordinates, and that sent us right to the spot where we took a hike along a stream that was quite well hidden.

Lisa had been going on and on about wanting to see a dipper, and we were doing our best to find one. Approaching a vantage for looking downstream, Arlene called out that she had spotted it in pretty much the exact spot Rich said it would be. Lisa got on it, but of course complained that she had not gotten a good photo. Arlene and I spontaneously groaned in harmony, which inadvertently resulted in calling in a head of mule deer, coyotes, and other small furry woodland creatures such that we were startled and feared for our lives. Then Lisa complained about not getting a photo yet again, and they scattered. Phew.

At this location were some junipers, and it looked right for Green-tailed Towhee habitat. I walked around and found one for us, and then spished it up for a good look.
Green-tailed Towhee
Satisfied with our results here, or at least two of us were, we continued on to the Mono Basin. I was hoping beyond hope that Rich’s luck in getting a Grey-crowned Rosy-finch would be repeated by us, as this was another of my nemesis birds. It was not. Dang.

With light fading we headed to Mammoth Lakes for the night, where we were warned by the innkeeper about the 20 or so bears roaming the area, so leave no food in the car lest they smash their way in to your car to get some. Guess what I was thinking as we walked through town in the dark to get dinner...

Friday, September 23, 2016

Le Conte-ing To Two! - Calibirdication Day 6

After two tries of this desert fun
My face began to turn red
You see I've been through the desert
for a bird with weird name
It felt good to be out of the rain
...But this was just ridiculous

Wednesday August 24

The original plan was to do Mt Pinos again today, but seeing as we had gotten our target species, Lisa ~insisted~ we go to Petroleum Club Road in Maricopa; a place we had earmarked in case we had dipped on the two previous Thrasher locations. She wanted a photo.

So getting a photo of an elusive species wasn’t the worst of goals, yet I thought how happy am I with our previous success? We headed out to this remarkably unaesthetic location riddled with what else, oil pipelines and such.

When we neared our destination, I pulled over to quickly review the instructions. Sitting there, what do we hear? A Le Conte’s Thrasher singing! We found the Thrasher sitting prominently on a fence, singing his heart (as well as several other internal organs) out.

Le Conte's Thrasher
Wow. It just goes to prove that universal birding law is true: Once you finally see a bird, they thereafter show up everywhere and become Robin like in numbers.

After sating ourselves with overly obliging views of this bird we ventured along the path we would have taken had the bird not been so accommodating as rapidly.

This again was desolate desert. There were more than enough Ravens, and a nice number of Loggerhead Shrikes. Walking the paths we kicked up a lot of Bell’s Sparrows and a Jack Rabbit.

Bell's Sparrow

Bell's Sparrow

Black-tailed Jack Rabbit

By far the nicest surprise was kicking up 4 Lesser Nighthawks who were resting under the sagebrush. They weakly flew a short distance away but I declined to chase after them in an attempt to get a photo.

The less nice but certainly much more surprising event was coming across a Western Rattlesnake in the center of the path. It made it clear that it did not appreciate his sunbathing being interrupted.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
We did not have much luck finding much else, and the temperatures started rising rapidly. Arlene, Lisa and I decided that an earlier start on our long ride out to Yosemite would give us more time there, while Jeff took leave of us for the coast on his quest for Yellow-billed Magpie.  

After three days we let Jeff run free
'Cause the desert had ceded its birdies.
In the desert you can remember your name
'Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain
La, la, well maybe Lisa

The three of us set off settled in to our long ride; the open country is a sight to behold and we enjoyed it. Eventually enough though, we neared the Yosemite region, and we stopped into a market in one of the last real towns before we got into the wilderness.

Shortly therafter we arrived at our lodging, curiously called the "Yosemite Bug". It was quirky, and I have an appreciation for quirky. However, when I inquired as to the name one would think that's a question fielded very often. The desk person did not know, and the person who did, seemed a bit blase explaining it. I guess by the billionth time gets a bit old; on the other hand it was our first time there. Were it me I would have on hand a prepared and exceptionally quirky response. Oh well...

The place was a sort of hotel / hostel / not sure. It was so oddly laid out that even with a map we drove around and had difficulty locating our room. They said our room was not ready when we arrived for some strange reason, but I suspect they just didn’t want to let us in even a bit early for some less good reason. Bizarre. We killed time walking the grounds and engaged a pleasant fellow guest from San Francisco in conversation about birds.  

The room thankfully was very nice and comfortable. After finally being able to drop off our stuff we headed to Yosemite. The original plan was to have arrived the following day and benefiting from the coincidental 100th National Parks Birthday with concomitant free admission. No matter, we were psyched to visit and more than happy to pay the admission which has now risen to $30.

The grande entry way was gorgeous and the scenery is worth the price of admission; the place is so full of eye candy.

This is what greets you upon entry

Spectacular scenery that should not be taken for granite

On the way we had Bald Eagle and California Scrub Jay. Adding them to the eburd checklist for Crane Flat Meadow caused a reviewer stir; sorry, but until they add live GPS to the app this will continue to occur; umpteen lists is just not practical and far too obsessive-compulsive to maintain the fun of birding. If you don’t think birding is or should be fun you are doing it wrong.

Also on the way we had White-throated Swifts as we drove by an updraft location. Some of the swifts swooped right by us and it looked like they would collide with passing cars. Thankfully they did not.

At the meadow we had a nice hike and looked for birds. Red-breasted Nuthatch, Downy, Hairy, and MODO were our first encounters, and then we also had Hermit Warbler. Arlene did not get the best of views, but I assured her we would see them again. We found another White-headed Woodpecker in the scorched woods; evidence of a recent fire was abundant.

We headed over to the meadow proper to try for another mix of birds and came upon a flock of warblers in the small willows. There were Orange-crowned and Wilson's Warblers, and a Western Wood Pewee.

Over by the roadway we spied commotion, and went to investigate. Lots of folks were stopping to photograph the Mule Deer that had come to exercise their crepuscularity. I took a photo too.

Mule Deer
We ended the day at the top of a hill where the rescue heliport is located, and caught yet another spectacular sunset in California.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Getting My Just Deserts. - Calibirdication Day 5

After three days in the desert fun
I was looking at a river bed
And the story it told of a river that flowed
Made me glad to see all the birds getting wet

Tuesday August 23

One thing I have learned about finding hard to locate nemesis birds, is that you must plan multiple modes of attack. From the site's description, we should have had Le Conte’s Thrasher in Borrego, and yet we did not.

Dunlin Schulman had suggested Piute Ponds. I also heard that she had tried for the Thrasher at Borrego and also did not get it. Upon return home I heard from Peter Shorebirder and he too did not get the Thrasher at Borrego. So note to readers, try elsewhere if you want that bird!

We awoke early to get a head start on the desert heat. We were not too far away, and having gotten permission and access to the ponds we entered the facility. This facility is on military property, it is imperative that you get permission first. It is not difficult to do, other wise you might get shot. Not by the military, but by birders who would be upset if you ruined access for them.

During my preparation I discovered that LA Audubon was having a walk at the ponds a few days before when I had it scheduled. Reaching out to the leader of the trip was great because he gave me a map of the place with descriptions on the areas where he typically found the thrasher.

There are a lot of ponds and trails in this wetland that is within Edwards Air force Base. Driving the road to the parking area we stopped frequently to check out the activity which included Loggerhead Shrikes, and in sharp contrast to Borrego, this place was teeming with life - birds were everywhere. Marsh Wren sang from the sedges, and Red-winged Blackbirds flew all about. We set out on the Duck Bill Pond loop and quickly added a lot more species. Lisa stayed behind because she wanted to get some photos of the birds near the parking lot, while I pressed on in search of my quarry.  

Song Sparrow

Black-necked Stilt
A Horned Lark was a surprise, but BC Night Heron and Green Heron were very much at home. There were a lot of Egrets and even more Stilts. White Pelicans and ducks of the Ruddy and Shoveler variety were present, as well as Song Sparrow, Common Throat, and Great-tailed Grackles, again the latter without great tails. 

Green Heron (L)           Black Crowned Night Heron (R)

We walked the trail to the north west corner of the pond. We got great looks at Bell’s Sparrows, but no thrasher, and this was supposed to be the spot they were usually found.  We continued east. Along the way we had good looks at Western Meadowlark, a lifer for Arlene. There were Western Kingbirds fighting in the tree tops, and some Ash-throated Flycatchers as well. An Empid was feeding, we wanted to know who it was, but it wouldn't talk with his mouth full.  

Empid sp. Hammond's? Willow?
About midway east was the other recommended location, and still a no show. In the water were White-faced Ibis and White Pelicans, and a bonus bird was a Franklin’s Gull. We also scared a rather largish bird out of the tamarisks, and though it was distant I was able to get a view in my scope.

It was a Great Horned Owl! The ID was made difficult by the heat shimmer, and some sort of malfunction with my telescope. I discovered that my eye-piece cover had gotten lodged inside. I had removed the eye-piece for travel, covering both ends with its caps. When I had placed it back on the scope I neglected to remove the inner cap and it came off and got lodged inside. Oh yay. 

Squirrel species on sentry duty
So for the rest of the trip I could not focus to the extreme as the cap was interfering with the mechanism. Fortunately Arlene got her new fancy shmancy Vortex scope and I have to say that it is quite impressive. It too has a 20-60 zoom, but the field of view appears larger. One detraction is that I am not a fan of angled scopes; I prefer straight through. So scope wise all was not lost.

But I was still thrasher-less. When we got to the north east corner we stopped when we saw Lisa approaching from the south. I yelled "Run!" but Arlene smacked me for some reason. We then noticed that Lisa was approaching with another person, so we waited for them to see if they had anything interesting to relay. Lisa told us of the good birds she had in the pool south of us, but the other birder was new and green and nice enough but not terribly informative.

Told of our Meadowlarks, Lisa wanted to head the way from whence we had come. Jeff wanted to see the birds she mentioned and continued on. I wanted to give the thrasher another chance, and so did Arlene, so the three of us back tracked to find Lisa the birds she wanted and attempt to relieve my lifer desperation.

We found Lisa the Meadowlarks, but not the Thrasher. We continued west to the other spot and we looked around, enjoying the Bell’s Sparrows that were chasing each other around. I was becoming a bit worried that I would be skunked yet again, and then I heard a unique call. I asked Arlene who has far superior hearing to that of mine, if she was hearing the call and she said yes, and its definitely the bird! WHERE IS IT COMING FROM? I somewhat excitedly asked, and she pointed to the tamarisks ~behind~ us. We had been looking out into the sage and creosote, but this bird was grooving in the shade of the dense tamarisk.  

The Tamarisks.

The sign. 
We then also heard it sing! The best part was with Arlene’s acute hearing she was able to pinpoint a location for us and when the bird popped out briefly, we were able to get a satisfying look!! Nemesis no more :)  YAY!!  { note two exclamation marks } The elusive Le Conte's Thrasher was a nemesis no more; worth saying twice. The photos above show the sign where we had the bird, it occurs to me that there should have been a cut out of a Thrasher here, just like they had done at Tijuana Slough for the Ridgway's Rail.

Elated, we made tracks to join up with Jeff. Together we all got nice looks at both Western and Clark’s Grebes, and an Eared Grebe as well. Lisa found a tree with some activity and we got Wilson’s and Yellow Warblers.  

Clark's Grebe

Western Grebe
Satisfied by the success of our morning’s birding, we moved on as the midday sun was a bit much. We made a brief stop at Quail Lake, but only scored Brewer's Blackbird and Ravens.

When we arrived in Lebec we checked into our lodging. It was also a -gasp- Motel 6 and I had an uneasy feeling about it. Once I spoke with the manager and she checked us in, my fears were allayed. She was very professional, the rooms were quite nice, and she offered good advice on places to procure victuals. Quite, and I mean quite, the contrast from the experience in Palmdale. That’s the thing with this chain in particular: some can be quite nice, clean, and modern and others are shit-holes. The benefit of online reviews is only so helpful because many of the reviews are plain useless.

We got Brewers Blackbird and of all things a lone Starling in the hotel parking lot. We then grabbed a quick lunch at Jack in the Box, a place we would frequent all to often on this trip, and headed up Mt Pinos. On the way we had California Thrasher and a covey of California or Mountain Quail, but they didn’t give me the best look or ID ability opportunity. 

Western Bluebird
At McGill campground we found the place deserted of both people and birds. But we walked about and slowly but surely, just like in Munchkinville, the residents made themselves visible.  There were Mountain Chickadees, Steller’s Jays, and a House Wren that loved playing hide and seek with us in the underbrush. The Western Bluebirds were nice, and the Pygmy Nuthatches were very noisy and thus begging us to look at them.  

Mountain Chickadee


One of the birds I had promised the others was the White-headed Woodpecker. This was supposed to be a good place for them; the places I had good luck with them in the past were not on our route. We met the ‘camp host’, the person who stays at the campsites and helps with things that campers may need and is mostly a 'presence'.

He knew about the woodpeckers we were looking for, but offered that he only sees them in the spring, and they are noisy and flying all around the campsite. Doh! Well undaunted we thanked him for the info and continued birding about the place. And then Arlene spotted one! We played hide and seek with this bird too as it alternately looked at us and then moved just out of view behind the trunk before flying off to other trees. 

White-headed Woodpecker
Arlene then spotted some other birds and asked me if they were just MODOs. A concerted look into awful lighting was made, but it appeared that they were not and by moving to a more opportune location I confirmed that they were two Band-tailed Pigeons!  Elsewhere we would find a whole bunch more; interesting because at times it can be a tough bird to find.  

Band-tailed Pigeon
We moved on to a few other locations while there was still daylight where we added the soon to be once again Audubon’s Warbler, Brown creeper, Orange-crowned Warbler, Western Tanager, and Clark’s Nutcracker. 

rodents are so dam cute

Clark's Nutcracker
On the way down the hill I spied something out of the corner of my eye, and we decided to backtrack a bit to see if we could locate it. We did. It was the first of many Acorn Woodpeckers we would have on this trip, but this one was a lifer for Arlene. One must be careful as a birder to not utter the deadly kiss of death phrase: “Oh don’t worry, we’ll see plenty of them”. I was taking no chances. 

Acorn Woodpecker
After freshening up at the hotel, we went out for a superbly tasty meal at the nearby Los Pinos Mexican restaurant. A hearty meal, a celebratory beer. What could be better?