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Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Jay Hunt Continues - Mono Lake

Shores of alkaline Mono Lake

When my birding buddy Don heard from a friend, that Pinyon Jays were found at a little spot near Mono Lake, he called me. No questions asked, I packed up my duffel bag and grabbed the spotting scope. If someone managed to find Pinyon Jays, we for damned sure were going to find the feathered f*ckers too! So, on Friday morning at the first sparrow's fart, Don left the Bay area for my place, and soon enough we were headed for my first trip to Mono Lake.

We drove past Markleeville where already, twice this past year, we unsuccessfully sought Pinyon Jays. By midafternoon we were setting up a Spartan camp amid the Aspen and Ponderosa Pines at Lundy Lake, a quiet little Forest Service campground near Mono Lake.

Don set up the tents, I, always ready to pitch in, pretended to help

This was the second time this summer I camped. I learned that I am willing to camp out IF my two needs are met – NO, not that kind of need you sick puppy – I refer to having a cot, so getting up at 3AM is an elegant, rather than ugly event. My second concession is an outhouse no more than 50 yards of my tent. That's reasonable. No on enjoys fumbling in the manzanita scrub trying for a pee while mosquitoes dine on the shiny orb that is one’s ‘bum’.

i mean having a cot, so I don’t have to sleep on the ground. Getting up off the ground is do-able, but is rather a pain-in-the-arse . If you think it’s easy? Well then strap a 50lb sack of flour to your chest and a second one to your arse, then try rising from a prone position at 3 AM when hunting down a private spot for a pee, in while in close proximity to my female bits, one can hear the wee sniggerings of wild raccoons and field mice.

County Park's boardwalk to the Waterfront

Where was I? Right. So, soon we were birding at county park at Mono lake. I was a bit whiney – as per usual, still, I took the infinitesimally short hike down a wooden boardwalk to the lake front. I shot photos most steps of the way there. There were loads of little & big things to ponder on....

A HUMONGOUS mushroom - a little thing really...

A color coded fuzzy wuzzy caterpillar - even smaller

The caterpillar crawled on a willow tree. Later I looked it up: the fuzzy bugger will eventually morph into a Spotted Tussock Moth.

I found a currant bush, chock full of berries. I decided to not eat any – it’s been too long since I took horticulture 101 and didn't want to spend the afternoon in some Mono County ICU.

A shrub all full with beautiful red currents

There! Not much, but still worth a slovenly hike down to the lake front where I saw… Tufa (Too-Fa) and water birds I didn’t bother to photograph: California gulls, American Avocets, Least Sandpipers, Eared Grebes and such.

A HUMONGOUS bit for thought - a mushroom shaped Tufa Tower

Calcium Carbonate structures, strewn about the lake front

Needless to say, while I lolly gaged about, Don was hiking up hill over dale in search of birds. But I can say my laziness paid off and a species I've only seen once before flew in to see me: a Red-breasted Sapsucker.

A Red-breasted Sapsucker - a rather lack-luster shot

Later on we visited a beautiful spot where ancient volcanoes erupted eons ago, leaving the strange site of pine trees growing up like a Piney Phoenix out of ashes.

Strange sight - pine trees set in ash

Ancient Volcano surrounded by ashy pine woodland

The volcanic ash area is where Don's friend spotted a pine tree full of screaming Pinyon Jays. No doubt the birds had screamed "CATCH US IF YOU CAN!"

On Saturday morning we again visited Mono Lake, at a different access point and I was tickled to find several Green-tailed Towhees. One towhee posed for me quite prettily and I took loads of pictures of the rusty topped, white-throated cutie.

Green-tailed Towhee

We took the time to visit a little coffee shop in the tiny town of Lee Vining. There I called my sister, then 20 minutes later as we drove south, I realized I didn't have my one year old iPhone with me. I wanted to shoot myself, and alas, the missing iPhone is a sad story, for another time.

Scenery south toward Big Pine

Now here's the thing; as we drove along the freeway approaching Big Pine, we spotted a flock of perhaps 50 birds, winging it past Pinyon Pines and grassland. Yes. We too think the feathered ones were Pinyon Jays. Sadly, as the species were potential lifers for both Don and myself, we could only see them and weep - for a better viewing. We weren't counting fly bys. Later on as we drove upward through hills covered with Pinyon Pine and on upward to the alpine and Bristlecone forest, I spotted a second flock of Pinyon Jays, flapping away from us as quickly as their little wings could paddle through mountain air. Bugger.

Still, happily, Don got a lifer bird - the Juniper Titmouse - so the long drive wasn't a waste.

Visitor Center at Bristle Cone Forest Summit

Bristle Cone Tree

View at Bristlecone Pine Summit

Late on both Friday and Saturday, we searched along the Mono lake shores for another bird - not a lifer, but a favorite - the Poorwill. We found one - the only one I've seen this year. Poorwills are adorable, cryptically feathered birds, fond of sitting on roads, where their eyes shine bright in car headlights. If you spook the little buggers, they fly straight up, like feathery ghosts. That's what the one we saw did. Must visit the area again next year - maybe I can find my first Rosey Finch - another 'ever elusive' little bugger.

Poorwill - photo by Steve Messick

We drove the same road the previous night and found no Poorwill, but we managed to scare the crap out of a Sage Thrasher on the road, that apparently wasn't quite ready for bed yet.

A dayroaming Sage Thrasher

Ah well! Two days, loads of fly-by Pinyon Jays, but none for close scrutany. Perhaps Pinyon Jays are like fairies and can only be approached by the pure of heart or those with dumb luck to spare. Hum... well, my heart is not exactly pure, but it is uncomplicated...

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