This June, Dennis Vollmar and I made a short trip up to the Eastern Sierra Nevada and were successful locating a few hard to find targets (GREAT GRAY OWL, BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER, FLAMMULATED OWL, SOOTY GROUSE, NORTHERN GOSHAWK and AMERICAN DIPPER). The scenery was absolutely gorgeous and with the exception of Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point, there were few cars on the road.
Having stayed at a Super 8 in Mojave due to high winds, we got an early morning start at Butterbredt Spring in Kern County (KER). There was a noticeable decrease in migrants here compared to previous visits in May and Dennis aptly stated that the faucet had been turned off. We did have spectacular looks at a male LAWRENCE’S GOLDFINCH below the spring. In this same area were many family groups of juvenile SAGE SPARROWS and an ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER. At the trees in the south end of the spring, a GREAT HORNED OWL was roosting and small numbers of migrants (WARBLING VIREO, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, SWAINSON’S THRUSH). Before leaving, we checked the shrubs above the spring and quickly found a mixed flock that included a female MAGNOLIA WARBLER!, many WILSON’S WARBLERS, and a TOWNSEND’S WARBLER. COSTA’S HUMMINGBIRDS were easily seen in this area.
Our next stop was a private residence in Inyokern where LeConte’s Thrashers breed. From 395, turn east on Leliter Rd and follow the signs with the four-letter code for LeConte’s Thrasher on them (LCTH). On the drive in, we saw a suspect thrasher fly across the road into desert scrub. We tracked down the bird and eventually had really nice looks as the LeCONTE’S THRASHER foraged and ran between bushes. A MACGILLIVRAY’S WARBLER was present at the residence.
Turning west from 395 in Big Pine, we made our way east up Glacier Lodge Rd. Parking at the last trailhead on the right, we walked up to a steep canyon north of the creek and soon heard a SOOTY GROUSE booming. It took a bit of scrambling but we were eventually able to obtain excellent views of the male in a tree with his air sacs fully inflated. On the chaparral covered hillside, GREEN-TAILED TOWHEES and BREWER’S SPARROWS were conspicuous and singing. We made our first of several unsuccessful attempts to locate American Dipper at the creek.
Accessing Crowley Lake from the south west side. The man at the kiosk was nice enough to let us enter without paying because we were only birding. There was a nice variety of waterbirds and larids here including: CLARK’S GREBE, WESTERN GREBE (performing their amazing synchronized swimming routine), EARED GREBE (in breeding plumage), CALIFORNIA and BONAPARTE’S GULLS, FORSTER’S and CASPIAN TERNS. AMERICAN AVOCET and WILSON’S PHALAROPE foraged near a creek mouth.
We camped at June Lake in OH campsite and had a flyby RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER on the way in. We birded along the east side of the lake attempting to relocate a reported Northern Pygmy-Owl. We were unsuccessful but did find a nice selection of our first montaine birds: TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE, CASSIN’S FINCH, MOUNTAIN QUAIL (heard), and MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD. As we set up camp, a GREAT HORNED OWL flew over.
This morning, we poked around east of June Lake and again were unsuccessful in locating the owl. We did appreciate the gorgeous lake and enjoyed watching a pair of OSPREY (one with a fish) and a flyby of 3 COMMON MERGANSERS.
We then drove up to Bodie Ghost Town. We arrived at the gate 45 minutes before the gate opens at 8am and talked with the attendant. He informed us that no Greater Sage-Grouse had been sighted yet this year. We drove up a dirt track from the entrance and walked around a bit in the sage where we had nice looks at a SAGE THRASHER perched up and singing and a rufous RED-TAILED HAWK. On the drive back down towards Mono Lake we pulled over to view two BLACK-BILLED MAGPIES in their iridescent splendor.
Along Tioga Pass Rd, we made several stops at turnouts with visibly dead or burned trees in an effort to locate a Black-backed Woodpecker. We found a singing DUSKY FLYCATCHER and a CLARK’S NUTCRACKER making a peculiar call that sounded like a juv hawk. We found a nice burn south of the road and east of a small sign that read “T20” lots of recent bark scaling was evident on the trees and the area looked perfect for these local woodpeckers. We walked silently and listened for the subtle sound of scaling or a different call. On the way back to the car, I picked out a dull woodpecker “pick” and located a male BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER. We obtained decent looks at the bird but it never allowed close approach. MOUNTAIN QUAIL were heard (but not seen) here.
Using the same technique at another burn in the park, we were able to follow a female BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER to her nest without disturbing the family. At one point (the ultimate highlight of the trip for me) she flew two feet over our heads. After locating the cavity were the adults were bringing food to the young woodpecker we sat quietly and observed both the male and female obtain food, bring it to the young bird with a yellow forehead, and drum afterwards. Sharing this experience with these birds was priceless.
At White Wolf, finches were present: CASSIN’S FINCH and PINE SISKIN. However, no Pine Grosbeak was located.
Next, we drove to Hodgdon Meadow and chatted with the attendants at the kiosk. Although they initially reported that the campsite and all others in Yosemite were full they changed this story after we chatted with them about birds and offered us a site next to a group of bird banders. The campsite was at about 75% capacity and I believe that they reported being full to honor reservations. After setting up camp, we walked down the road to the ranger residences and located a house with hummingbird feeders. After obtaining permission, we sat and watched many female/immature and one male CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRDS come in to the sugar water.
We then scouted Chevron Meadow were the only birds of interest were 2 unidentifiable accipiters soaring very high.
At Yosemite Valley we enjoyed dinner at Curry Village and followed the crowds to a mother Black Bear with a cub.
On the way to out campsite, we checked Chevron Meadow at dusk and sat quietly listening. At 8:30 we heard a very distant GREAT GRAY OWL and walked towards it. We ended up flushing the bird, which called several more times but did not allow looks. We then left as it was clear that we had disturbed the bird. We also did not play tape or spotlight the bird in an effort to minimize our impact on this struggling population. While listening, I also heard probable WESTERN SCREECH-OWL at the edge of detection.
At the recommendation of the bird banders camping near us, we started the day at Hodgdon Meadow. The meadow is lined with nice oaks that were very attractive to warblers: ORANGE-CROWNED, HERMIT and singing MACGILLIVRAY’S WARBLERS were all found. Again we heard MOUNTAIN QUAIL and had flyby looks at RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER. At 8am I heard a FLAMMULATED OWL (which I have never heard during the day) but we never located the bird. Back near the campsite, plenty of woodpeckers present including WHITE-HEADED, HAIRY, AND PILEATED WOODPECKERS. A NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL briefly tooted.
We then continued our search for American Dipper at Grouse Creek on the way up to Glacier Point. The habitat looked perfect but the going was very difficult and I would not recommend locating the bird at this location. Dennis fell through several rotten logs and I managed to slip off of a rock into thigh deep water. I eventually heard an AMERICAN DIPPER singing. However, as I walked over, the bird flushed upstream towards Dennis. We dutifully walked upstream noting lots of whitewash on the bird’s favored perches. However before we could relocate the bird, it came tearing down the stream banking wildly. This was repeated again on the way down and we settled for flight views of this bird.
Glacier Point provided great views of the magnificent Half Dome and other glacier scoured granite monuments. The only bird of note was a very close WHITE-THOATED SWIFT. A particularly memorable moment was when a 4’6” woman attempted to use Dennis’s scope which was set up for a 6’ person.
At the northwest side of the campsite, we fell asleep to the sound of male and female FLAMMULATED OWLS calling back and forth.
This morning we unsuccessfully looked for Black Swift at Bridalveil Falls but did enjoy rock hopping and walking logs. Back at Chevron Meadow we attempted to locate the Great Gray Owl during the day without luck either. However we did see an adult NORTHERN GOSHAWK soar quickly overhead. A calling CASSIN’S VIREO was present and vocal here. A male HERMIT WARBLER flew down to forage in the ground at about 15 feet.
Along Tioga Pass Rd, Dennis pulled out some ridiculous birds from the passenger seat. While discussing the finer points of accipiter identification, Dennis yelled “There one is!” I stopped the car and we had excellent views of another male NORTHERN GOSHAWK. This time we were able to note the upperside of the bird as it soared along a ridge. Near Tenaya Lake, Dennis again told me to pull over and exited the car before it stopped rolling. This time, a gorgeous female SOOTY GROUSE was on the other side of the road. We enjoyed clear and leisurely scope views as the hump of the road acted like a blind and the bird foraged without concern.
We were not able to locate any rosy-finches near tioga pass.
At Mono State Park, a YELLOW WARBLER sang near the parking lot and a female AMERICAN AVOCET sat on a nest right in front of the observation deck. At the Rush Creek mouth, hundreds of CALIFORNIA GULLS loafed around and we flushed 3 LONG-BILLED CURLEWS from the scrub. On the drive out, I received lessons on driving a sandy crowned road after getting stuck twice.
Because the sage grouse were not present at Bodie we attempted to locate a straggler at the Lake Crowley lek. No grouse were present but we did see SAGE THRASHER and were serenaded by SAGE SPARROWS, SAVANNAH SPARROWS, WESTERN MEADOWLARK, and HORNED LARK. At dusk, two COMMON NIGHTHAWK flew over giving the “peent” call. The sunset and views from this location were certainly some of the most scenic I have ever experienced.
On the way home we stopped at Tinemeha Reservoir where nothing of note was present.
Along 395 an adult GOLDEN EAGLE perched on telephone pole was a memorable last bird for this spectacular trip into the eastern sierra.
1. Eared Grebe: In breeding plumage at all large lakes in INY and MNO.
2. Western Grebe: At above lakes.
3. Clark’s Grebe: One at Lake Crowley.
4. American White Pelican: ~25 on Lake Crowley.
5. Double-crested Cormorant: Small numbers on large lakes in INY and MNO.
6. Canada Goose: Several family groups on Mono Lake.
7. Mallard: Pair on shore of Mono Lake.
8. Gadwall: Common on Lakes in INY and MNO.
9. American Wigeon: Pair on Lake Crowley.
10. Northern Shoveler: Pair on Lake Crowley.
11. Northern Pintail: Pair on Mono Lake seen near Rush Creek.
12. Cinnamon Teal: Common at Lakes in INY and MNO.
13. Green-winged Teal: One male on Mono Lake.
14. Common Merganser: 3 drakes flying over June Lake.
15. Ruddy Duck: Displaying males at Mono Lake and Tinemeha Reservoir.
16. Turkey Vulture: Present through KER, MNO, INY, and along Tioga Pass Rd.
17. Osprey: 2 at June Lake. One with a fish.
18. Golden Eagle: One spectacular adult perched on a telephone pole along 395 in INY.
19. Northern Goshawk (CA): One flyover adult at Chevron Meadow and another along a ridge from Tioga Pass Rd.
20. Red-tailed Hawk: Scattered throughout. One Rufous adult near Bodie.
21. Red-shouldered Hawk: One adult perched along a wash on the way up to Glacier Lodge.
22. American Kestrel: Pair at Glacier Lodge and another at Tinemeha Reservoir.
23. Prairie Falcon: One flying fast near Inyokern.
24. Mountain Quail: Commonly heard in montaine chaparral in INY, Mariposa, and Tuolumne.
25. California Quail: Several at Butterbredt Springs.
26. Sooty Grouse (Life): One male booming above horse stables at Glacier Lodge. Another female found along Tioga Pass rd. near Tenaya Lake.
27. American Coot: Several on Mono Lake.
28. Killdeer: Several along Mono Lake shoreline.
29. American Avocet: Common along shoreline at Lake Crowley and Mono. Female on nest near Mono State Park.
30. Spotted Sandpiper: Several in breeding plumage along Mono Lake.
31. Long-billed Curlew: 3 flushed from sage near Rush Creek.
32. Wilson’s Phalarope: Many breeding plumage birds on Lake Crowley and Mono Lake.
33. Bonaparte’s Gull: 3 on Lake Crowley and 2 on Mono Lake.
34. California Gull: Abundant on Lakes throughout MNO and INY.
35. Caspian Tern: One at Lake Crowley, 4 at Rush Creek and Mono Lake.
36. Forster’s Tern: Several at Lake Crowley.
37. Mourning Dove: Present at Butterbredt and Tinemaha Reservoir.
38. Eurasian Collared-Dove: X
39. Rock Pigeon: X
40. Band-tailed Pigeon: Single flyover at Hodgdon Meadow.
41. Great Horned Owl: One roosting at Butterbredt, another flew overhead at dusk at June Lake.
42. Great Gray Owl (Life): Heard and seen near Chevron Meadow at dusk.
43. Flammulated Owl (CA): Heard at Hodgdon Meadow at 8am and at Hodgdon Campground at night.
44. Western Screech-Owl: Heard at dusk at Chevron Meadow.
45. Northern Pygmy-Owl: Heard near Hodgdon Campground.
46. Common Nighthawk (CA): 2 flying and calling near Lake Crowley at dusk.
47. White-throated Swift: Common along ridges near Yosemite Valley.
48. Anna’s Hummingbird: At feeders at Hodgdon Meadow Ranger Residence.
49. Costa’s Hummingbird: Common at low elevations in KER and INY.
50. Calliope Hummingbird: about 10 fem/imm and one male at feeders at Hodgdon Meadow Ranger Residence.
51. Black-chinned Hummingbird: At feeders at Hodgdon Meadow Ranger Residence.
52. Acorn Woodpecker: Several at Yosemite Valley.
53. Red-breasted Sapsucker: C in mixed conifer forest throughout.
54. Williamson’s Sapsucker: Mated pair east of T20 sign on Tioga Pass Rd.
55. Downy Woodpecker: One at burn east of T20 on Tioga Pass Rd.
56. Hairy Woodpecker: Common in mixed conifer throughout.
57. White-headed Woodpecker: several near Hodgdon Campground and one near Chevron Meadow.
58. Black-backed Woodpecker (Life): One male at a burn south of Tioga Pass Rd and east of T20 sign. Also a male and female feeding young in a cavity at another burn.
59. Northern Flicker: UC to C throughout.
60. Pileated Woodpecker (Life): 1 male near Hodgdon Campground, tracked down by call.
61. Olive-sided Flycatcher: One at Hodgdon Meadow, another at White Wolf.
62. Western Wood-Pewee: Common throughout.
63. Hammond’s Flycatcher: 2 calling at turnout near Tioga Pass.
64. Dusky Flycatcher: Common and singing in mixed conifer.
65. Black Phoebe: One near Tinemeha Reservoir.
66. Ash-throated Flycatcher: One or two at Butterbredt.
67. Western Kingbird: Several seen along 395.
68. Warbling Vireo: Butterbredt, Hodgdon Meadow, and Chevron meadow.
69. Cassin’s Vireo: Singing birds at Grouse Creek and Chevron Meadow.
70. Steller’s Jay: Abundant in mixed conifer.
71. Clark’s Nutcracker: Two along Tioga Pass Rd.
72. Black-billed Magpie (CA): Several seen along 395 on the way to Bodie.
73. Common Raven: A to C throughout.
74. Horned Lark: One at Butterbredt, several singing near Lake Crowley at dusk.
75. Northern Rough-winged Swallow: Several near Rush Creek and Mono Lake.
76. Bank Swallow: about 5 seen along Tinemeha Reservoir.
77. Violet-green Swallow: C in mixed conifer throughout.
78. Cliff Swallow: Many near Lake Crowley.
79. Barn Swallow: Several seen along 395.
80. Mountain Chickadee: Common in mixed conifer throughout.
81. Red-breasted Nuthatch: Common in mixed conifer throughout.
82. Pygmy Nuthatch: Heard at gas station in Mammoth.
83. Brown Creeper: UC in mixed conifer.
84. House Wren: UC in riparian habitat.
85. Winter Wren: One along Grouse Creek.
86. Bewick’s Wren: Conspicuous at Butterbredt and Tinemeha Reservoir.
87. Rock Wren. Several seen on road to Butterbredt.
88. American Dipper (CA): One on territory and singing along Grouse Creek.
89. Townsend’s Solitaire (CA): 2 at June Lake.
90. Western Bluebird: One male at Hodgdon Meadow.
91. Mountain Bluebird: One female at June Lake.
92. American Robin: Present throughout.
93. Hermit Thrush: Heard at Chevron Meadow and Grouse Creek.
94. Swainson’s Thrush: One at Butterbredt.
95. Northern Mockingbird: UC in lowlands.
96. Sage Thrasher (CA): Perched up and singing near Bodie and Lake Crowley.
97. LeConte’s Thrasher (CA): One seen in Inyokern.
98. Orange-crowned Warbler: Several in Hodgdon Meadow.
99. Yellow Warbler: singing male at Mono State Park. Small numbers at migrant traps.
100. Magnolia Warbler (CA): A female foraging in a small mixed flock in shrubs at Butterbredt Springs.
101. Yellow-rumped Warbler: C and vocal in forest.
102. Townsend’s Warbler: One at Butterbredt Springs.
103. MacGillivray’s Warbler: Migrant in Inyokern and singing birds at Hodgdon Meadow.
104. Common Yellowthroat: One heard at Lake Crowley.
105. Wilson’s Warbler: Many at Butterbredt springs.
106. Summer Tanager: A female at Butterbredt Springs.
107. Western Tanager: Vocal and C in mixed conifer throughout.
108. Black-headed Grosbeak: one singing at butterbredt and another at 5 feet in Yosemite Valley.
109. Lazuli Bunting: Small numbers at desert migrant traps.
110. Spotted Towhee: Heard and seen at Glacier Lodge and June Lake.
111. Green-tailed Towhee: Many singing from hillsides near Glacier Lodge and Bodie.
112. California Towhee: Several singing at Butterbredt Springs.
113. Sage Sparrow: Common at Butterbredt springs and near Lake Crowley.
114. Chipping Sparrow: Small numbers in mountain meadows.
115. Brewer’s Sparrow: Many singing birds near Glacier lodge, Lake Crowley, and Bodie.
116. Lark Sparrow: One at Butterbredt Springs.
117. White-crowned Sparrow: Heard near June lake.
118. Savannah Sparrow: Seen and heard near Lake Crowley.
119. Fox Sparrow: One slate colored bird at Butterbredt Springs.
120. Song Sparrow: C in mountain meadows and riparian zones.
121. Lincoln’s Sparrow: One in Chevron Meadow.
122. Dark-eyed Junco: Singing birds common in mixed conifer.
123. Western Meadowlark: Singing near Bodie and Lake Crowley.
124. Brown-headed Cowbird: UC throughout lowlands.
125. Yellow-headed Blackbird: Small numbers at Lake Crowley and Mono Lake.
126. Brewer’s Blackbird: Common along 395 and in mountain meadows.
127. House Finch: Common in lowlands.
128. Cassin’s Finch: Common in mixed confer throughout.
129. Purple Finch: 3 birds at Hodgdon Meadow.
130. Lesser Goldfinch: Present in low elevations in KER.
131. Lawrence’s Goldfinch: One spectacular male at Butterbredt Springs.
132. Pine Siskin: Small group at White Wolf.
133. House Sparrow: X