Friday, September 24, 2021

Death Valley NP and Ash Meadows NWR

 On September 23 and 24th we stayed in Death Valley National Park at The Ranch at Death Valley. Our room was on a golf course and we observed several species of birds which was a great bonus to our accommodations! 

We saw White-faced Ibis, White-crowned Sparrows, and Yellow-rumped Warblers

A Say's Phoebe perched on a little sign giving good views:


There were quite a few Eurasian-Collard Doves perched in the trees on the hotel grounds:

We also observed a large coyote stalking Kildeer on one of the greens but the birds made a hasty escape.

On September 24th we drive to Ash Meadows NWR just across the border in Nevada. This oasis was once slated for development but wiser heads prevailed and it was kept as a wild habitat. There are springs on the land that attract birds and are also the home to several species of tiny pupfish. The Devil's Hole pupfish, the rarest fish in North America, is there but the area is well guarded with fencing. We did see the Ash Meadows pupfish in one of the small spring fed streams.


It was late morning and the sun was so bright and the air temp in the 90's. The birds were quite scare. At the Crystal Springs reservoir we did see hundreds if American Coot, Mallards, and other waterfowl too far away to correctly ID.

The best find was our first sighting of a Greater Roadrunner near the reservoir's edge.

The bird raced to cover when we drove up and gave us the quickest glimpse. It was delightful to see this bird of the desert!

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Yosemite and Mono Lake

 On September 21st we arrived in Yosemite National Park. The first thing we did there was a four mile round trip hike up to see the Mariposa Grove of giant Sequoia trees. The hike covered some decent elevation and was a bit strenuous going up. Coming down was far easier.

On that hike, Dan gamely carried his long lens in case birds we had never seen before mad an appearance. I just took my binoculars.

That trail and the over two hours we were on it did not disappoint. 

A Hermit Thrush was the first bird we saw on the dusty trail:


We saw several woodpecker species...

Downy Woodpecker:


Hairy Woodpecker:

Pileated Woodpecker:

Acorn Woodpecker:


And White-headed Woodpecker:


The last two species were life birds for us and that is always a huge thrill despite our aching feet when we were through with the uphill/downhill climb.

On September 22nd we drove east out of Yosemite, admiring the gorgeous granite formations, mountains, and lakes. Speaking of lakes, north of Lee Vining, California we headed to Mono Lake, and alkaline lake that is gradually shrinking and a haven for birds and the saline water is full of brine shrimp. 80% of the California Gull population breeds there.


We birded the County Park, that borders the northern part of Mono Lake. It's an oasis of green with a boardwalk that goes out toward the lake in the marsh. Since the lake has receded so dramatically the boardwalk end is quite a ways from the lake shore. On that path we saw another life bird: The Lesser Goldfinch (male).

Nothing lesser about this songbird who let us know his presence with a lovely song.

The lakes edge produced migratory waterfowl that we have seen back east but it is always a thrill to see these birds like American Avocet, Willet, Ruddy Duck, and American Coot.

Back in the park we saw migratory White-crowned Sparrows and another life bird, the Red-beliied Sapsucker:

Mono Lake, particularly County Park, is popular with birders and we can certainly see why!

Monday, September 20, 2021

California's San Joaquin Valley


We had planned to spend Monday, September 20th at Sequoia National Park but the wildfires had other ideas. Instead we birded the Merced NWR and San Luis NWR in California’s beautiful San Joaquin Valley. After driving past miles of almond groves, tomato, potato, and cotton fields, we arrived at Merced at 9:30. The five-mile auto loop did not disappoint. Migratory waterfowl crowded certain areas of the wetlands and fields. Sandhill Cranes croaked overhead landing in pastures among the cattle. American Coot, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, ans Black-necked Stilt crowded the wetlands. We didn’t recognize some of the birds we saw, still trying to get out western “ID” legs with these unfamiliar species so far from our home. We added several life birds to our list including the Loggerhead Shrike:



The Black Phoebe:



The Red-necked Phalarope:


 Eurasian-collared Dove:

 White-faced Ibis:

California Towhee:

We also enjoyed some more familiar birds some we've seen back east and some we've seen several times since we've been in the west.

Black-necked Stilt:


Western Bluebird (female):




Least Sandpiper:

Greater Yellowlegs:

Black-crowned Night Heron:

We headed over to San Luis NWR, about 35 minutes west of Merced. There were wetlands at San Luis but not much today. We did see a few species including raptors Red-tail Hawk, Northern Harrier, and American Kestral.

A wonderful place to bird. Peaceful, sunny, breezy and warm.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Mt. Ranier

 We entered Mt. Ranier National Park through the west gate and climbed steadily up to Paradise, the highest point here you can drive in the park. Douglas fir, western red cedar and other gorgeous trees lined the edge of the road. A canyon of tall trees. The weather grew progressively cloudy as we neared Paradise. Once there we saw a parking lot nearly full and lots of people. A small meadow beside the parking lot was a nice place to look.


We learned quickly that the Stellar's Jay liked to forarge near people, most specifically where people are eating all fresco.

Nearby, perched on top of a small balsam, a Canada Jay (formerly grey jay) kept a weary eye before flying to the taller trees across the parking lot.

We saw a few other birds in the area: American Robin and Yellow-rumped Warbler.

We drive to the east entrance and walked the Grove of Patriarchs trail where we heard more Stellar's Jays fussing in the very tall tree tops.

Not too birdy but we have a great opportunity to observe two local Jay species.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Sisters, Oregon

 We headed into a popular birding place in the Deschutes National Forest a few miles north of Sisters, Oregon. The place is called Calliope Crossing due to the yearly visit of the Calliope Hummingbirds. They were gone south this time of year, but the birding in this little wetland with Ponderosa pine, willow, and aspen was great. We were in search of woodpeckers, hoping to see a species we've never seen before. Unfortunately that was not to be no matter how much we scanned the pines.


What we did see was a flock of Red Crossbills chattering on the pines wearing non-breeding plumage and with juveniles. Older birds have larger crossed beaks. Perfect tools for extracting pine nuts from cones.

Yellow-rumped Warblers buzzed around with White-Crowned Sparrows. A male Spotted Towhee made an appearance giving us excellent views.


A California (formerly Western) Scrub Jay landed a good distance away on a willow.


Western Wood-pewees perched on the power line running along the forest road.

A favorite find and a lifer for us was a Mountain Chickadee.

 A tiny Orange-crowned Warbler flitted over the path, dashing from tree to tree catching insects in the wing.

We saw Pygmy Nuthatches but they were far too active and high up to get a decent photo. They're chatty little birds. This was the first time we had seen them too!

We met a nice lady from Portland who birds this place on a regular basis from her nearby vacation cabin. A great little spot where the birds, but not woodpeckers, gave a great show!

Malhuer National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

 We arrived at Malhuer National Wildlife Refuge by 10 am Pacific time on Sunday, September 12. The refuge headquarters area, about an acre of trees, yellow grass, dried pond mudflats, and lawn is truly an oasis in the vast sage open range. 

We walked through a Ponderosa and mixed pine grove to the observation deck at the refuge headquarters building. The deck over looks a wide expanse if green lawn sloping gently down to a split-rail fence and the grasslands and dried pond beyond. A nice couple from Michigan who are camping there until October, volunteer three days a week in exchange for being able to park their trailer in this lovely place. While chatting with them we saw a Northern-flicker with red under wing shafts flashing as it flew in the pines. Eastern Northern Flickers are mostly the yellow-shafted variety.

A Yellow Warbler in drab non-breeding plumage dashed in an out of the small tree near the deck proving that this is indeed an oasis for migratory birds. We explored further, not needing to venture much beyond the headquarters area.

A grey bird slipped in the tree cover giving me enough of a glimpse to get a photo. I later learned this grey bird is a Townsend's Solitaire. A lifer!


Dan spotted a yellow bird with a large beak fly into a horse chestnut tree. A female Western Tanager! Another bird we had never seen before.

Flocks of migratory White-crowned Sparrows enjoyed the lawn and planting areas.

A Song Sparrow also made an apprearance.


We walked to an observations blind where way off beyond the dried pond on the edge of the tall grass we spied a pair of Ring-necked Pheasants. These are very skittish birds so a photo from a huge distance was only possible. We enjoyed watching them forage.

Back near the headquarters buildings a migratory Willow Flycatcher dashed back and forth from the same bush catching insects on the wing.

In the small mixed pine and deciduous forest Dan spotted one of two Great Horned Owls in the vicinity perched high in a cottonwood tree.

Another raptors we saw were Red-tailed Hawk and Norther Harrier.


As we drove from the refuge headquarters along Sod House Road we saw Canada Geese and Sandhill Cranes in the muddy field stubble as a Coyote a bit farther down the road loped along in the bright warm sun. 


Even though we were not there during a peak season time, Malhuer NWR did not disappoint.