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. 

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