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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Blue-Feathered Gold

We were in the middle of our only full day at Mono lake, our second trip to Mono Lake in search of Pinyon Jays, and our b'jillionth annual search for Pinyon Jays in general. 
We had already dropped by Mono Mills, a small park, where other birders have repeatedly seen Pinyon Jays. We suspected the other birders of being no-good-horrible, double-dog liars, because we saw no Pinyon Jays there and we're v-good-wonderful, double-kitten truth tellers. Still, we kept  checking Mono Mill, hopefully & with the same desperation one keeps checking the kitchen drawers when your car keys go missing. 

At one point, after a short & jay-less search, we returned to the car, to find, I kid you not, a White-breasted Nuthatch IN THE CAR!  No, it wasn't trying to hot wire the car & didn't seem to be planning to wait for us to enter the car, then jump out and hijack the vehicle. Don unlocked the car and after a couple of horrifying bird/glass collisions, the poor thing flew away - that would be the bird, not Don. We were stunned. How the heck and when the heck did that bird get into the car? As Don drove us away, I pondered on the strange occurrence of birdie car invasion, as I gazed at the blue skies above, through the open moon roof.

Mono Mill, where lying birders 'claim' to have spotted Pinyon Jays. Yeah, right.
We headed over to another spot by the side of Mono Lake. We weren't there long when before strange calls rang out and shortly thereafter Don rang out, "HARK! THERE FLY'ITH PINYONS!" Well, in retrospect, I think what he yelled was more like "THERE THEY GO, THE LITTLE $#%@ERS" or there abouts.

A massive flock of Pinyon Jays winged their noisy way over the sage brush.HURRAH and about time!  I had to perform my 'I got a lifer dance', which is only performed in my head, for the safety of those nearby. 
A lower flying flock of Pinyons
While I pursued the Pinyon Jays in search of the perfect photo, which didn't happen, Don triumphantly marched down to the Mono shoreline to see what interesting waterfowl were hanging out.

Don Marching down to the Tufa formations for a look-see at Mono waterfowl
Our next stop was back to the Mono Mill, where, a short distance away, one of the two giant flocks of jays we saw along side the lake, were frolicking in the piney pines. I gave chase, but wearing sandals and the ground being about 99/44 100% sand, it was rather slow going - had to keep stopping to empty the sand from my toes.

One little Pinyon Jay
So, Don and I finally got our lifer Pinyon Jays and I must say we are both feeling rather chuffed to add those little boogers.  We realized that when we were at Mono Lake two years ago, we did indeed see no less than 3 flocks of Pinyon Jays winging by, but we didn't count them as it's difficult to justify dashes of blue-feathered gold that pass the car window at 70 MPH. I mean, we're experienced birders, but for a lifer, you want a little more certainty than, "Look up in the sky, it's a plane, it's superman, no, it's A PINYON JAY - or not..."

Now, I could end the day here and you wouldn't know the difference, but truth is, it was our last day so after a brief visit to the Mono Lake Visitor Center, we headed west, up over the Tioga Pass and into Yosemite. It's a terrific drive with loads of giant craigy bits of granite to oogle at as you drive past.

Pretty eh? Decided to stop for lunch so at Tenaya Lake, which was milling with happy picnikers, I hopped out the car and headed over to a picnic table. I was just wondering where the heck Don was, when he came over, all happy and preening proud. He explained he found a female Pine Grosbeak by the parking area - a lifer he had hoped to find, but of course being more or less sane, hadn't expected to find. Not a lifer for me, but then I've only ever seen one Pine Grosbeak and at that time got only one photo, taken through the cloudy window of a van with a pathetic 2 pixel digital camera. 

My one other sighting of a Pine Grosbeak, Churchill Manitoba, a b'jillion years ago
So, near needless to say, I was disappointed to have missed a sighting of a female Grosbeak... and then I heard strange birdsong. It sounded like a happily demented parakeet. Then, guess what alighted in a pine tree, just overhead? Yes! A unicorn. Or mayhaps it was a female Pine Grosbeak.

In all her loveliness, a sweet little Pine Grosbeak
In the words of the long late Steve Irwin, "Isn't she beautiful?"  Yes, she sure was - chipper, curious, and totally tame for a wild bird. She flew down low and began to feed on a shrub, and I swear, I had to back up to get photos - that's how close she was.

Not sure what she fed on, but must have been tasty

Oh yeah, it's tasty all right!
If you compared the male Grosbeak's photo with the female, you'll have noted, while the male is pretty in pink, the female is kind of lovely in grey & gold. That's the way it is in the birdie world.

So, again I arrive at the end of the great Pinyon Jay Hunt, but once again... not quite just yet... we drove from Yosemite, taking the back roadways of Highway 49 through the weensie towns of Sonora, Angel's Camp of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" fame, and Jackson. Then, we made one more stop before heading to my house. We birded Meiss Road just before sunset and spotted one more good bird for the day, this little Vesper Sparrow. Whew!  What a day!

Vesper Sparrow on Meiss Road

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