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Thursday, September 20, 2012

"Goodbye God, I'm Birdin' in Bodie"

Seemingly barren, yet pretty;
scenery on Bodie Road at Dawn
  'Goodbye God, I'm going to Bodie' is what a small girl child of the 19th Century wrote in her diary when she found her family was to settle in Bodie. Bodie was a California gold rush town where murder was a daily event. I'd bet those Bodie residents would't understand that long after the gold petered out, that birds alone would make people come by for a visit. With that in mind, it was barely twilight when Don and I drove down the asphalt road to Bodie State Park... then ran out of asphalt and rolled along in a cloud of dust on the dirt road.  We it all the way to the park entrance - but we hadn't seen what we came for.  Rats. Decided to drive the 10 miles back to the main road. On the way some interesting birds finally showed themselves - birdies of the sage. Found a pretty little Sage Thrasher, high up on the hillside.

Sage Thrasher
 There were also several Sage Sparrows, skittering in and out from under shrubs.

One little Sage Sparrow jumped around so much I was a little surprised I finally managed to snap a picture of it, though it did manage to keep some barbed wire between it and myself. Sage Sparrows have interesting face masks. Probably stemming  from the days when they lay in wait on the Brodie Road to rob stage coaches. No? Well.. I be they would have liked to.

Typical Stage Coach robbing, masked Bandit. Ok, maybe it's a Sage Sparrow.
There was a Rock Wren by the roadside. The little guy caught itself a meal. I think you may have to know what you're looking for to make out the dragonfly.

Rock Wren with a mouthful of uncooperative, winged breakfast
 Soon enough we were back where the dirt road meets the asphalt, and after loads of  discussion, we U-turned, headed back for the state park. I don't recall why we stopped on the road, but soon, we were knocked speechless by a flight of big birds crossing the road. I couldn't spit the words out, neither could Don, but we sure knew what we were looking at. Sage Grouse on the wing! That's what we came to Bodie for - Greater Sage Grouse.  The flock we found marched around on the slope for a bit, then, probably startled by the big fat lady with the camera thingmajig, they all took off. By some kind of freakn' modern day miracle, I managed to keep my camera in focus and got several good shots.

Wow. I mean, just WOW.

We even found a second group of birds a bit farther down the road. There was a Grouse cock that was just plum full of himself, and he did sort of an out-of-season breeding dance, in place. Ugh! Should have used the camcorder function! The bird puffed up his chest, spread his spindly tail feathers and 'pumped' himsefl up and down, his wings drooped at his side. His flock girlies ignored him. Maybe they were his siblings, who knows.

Someone was just full of himself
There were some congratulations all around I can tell you!  That bird wasn't the only critter that was full of itself. We decided we might as well visit Bodie State Park, which was just opening as we drove up.

View from the kiosk at the park entrance.
In the 1880s, Bodie was a bustling mining town
The local church - at one time, far outnumbered by the local bars

Even in their hay day, Bodie's buildings were ramshackle
I love the look of the weather worn wood in the old ghost town
ghostly gray Mountain Bluebird guards over Bodie
Another modern day Bodie resident - an Orange-crowned Warbler
 I've wanted to tour Bodie State Park since my last visit to Mono Lake in 2010. On site though, though interested in the ghost town's history, I was tetchy over the heat of the sun. So, cranky from the heat, I didn't explore much, or see as much of the town as Don did. He returned to the car with a much longer list of buildings viewed and birds seen.

Surviving our visit to Bodie, we decided to head to Lee Vining for a much needed cup of coffee. We stopped at a great little coffee shop that was at one time a private residence, a Victorian house. There, with steaming cups of coffee, we sat looking through the window into a flowery garden, set up for birds - and therefore, birders like us. Don spotted a Black-chinned Hummingbird, and was tickled as it was a bird-of-the-year for him. There were the usual Lesser Goldfinches, a mix of finches and I even spotted a Clark's Nutcracker winging by in the distance.

Back garden at the little Lee Vining coffee shop

Lesser Goldfinches working the Sunflowers for seed
It was closing in on mid day when we decided - with dubious sighs - to the shores of Mono Lake, hoping we might find the Pinyon Jays. The birders we met the previous day told us they found a large flock of the evasive buggers, but I must say, Don & I were dubious we would have such luck. Oh well - there was only one way to find Pinyon Jays, we would just have to go hunt for them.

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