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Monday, September 14, 2015

That Touch of Mink

Bodie State Park at the end of the road
Sage Grouse I photographed in 2012

Saturday morning started near Bodie State Park. A few years back I got some incredible shots of Sage Grouse - considering who was behind the camera - along the 13 mile road in to the park.No such luck this time, for one thing because it is hunting season and all the orange vested hunters packing shotguns seem to make the grouse a tad shy.

We loitered along the rough pebbled road into the park, paying scant attention to the scenery as we stared in hope of spotting interesting birds. Don saw one Sage Grouse high up on a ridge, unseen by too-slow-to-look-up, moi.
Green-tailed Towhee on the road to Bodie
Can't evade me forever you rosy little treasure...

Afterwards we gave another look-see and the Virginia Lakes Resort and enjoyed a nice breakfast at its restaurant. After exploring the area and again, not seeing any Gray-crowned Rosy Finches *bite the fist in exasperation*

Following breakfast we visited the County Park. Don has scope & will travel, so he hiked it down to the lake. I stayed uphill, visiting - possibly pestering - some folks visiting from the Netherlands.

Black-billed Magpie, strutting around. At home there are only Yellow-billed Magpies, just as vane actually.

Still, Black-bills are a treat as I don't necessarily see the species every year.

After a trot around Lucy Lake for Don, we headed south of Mono Lake ending up near the town of Bishop in the afternoon. Don wanted to try for Nighthawks, Owls and other denizens of the strange back country. We took a drive through Volcano Tableland a BLM property with weird pock-marked volcanic and igneous rocks.                            

Quite a few profiles were everywhere you look
Don taking some close-ups of the hole strewn rocks
At twilight a couple of Great Horned Owls were out and about, seeking their prey for the evening. And over by the quarry, against all expectations, a Nighthawk floated by overhead, winging its way toward Mexico. Having 'scored' the owls and the Nighthawk, we congratulated ourselves and     thought that was it for the evening.But when I looked up from the steering wheel I saw a dark little weasel scamper, rather like a hunchback, across the road.  I shrieked and we stared at it. There was a brief pause as the creature haulted for a bit then dove off the road and into a riverlet that ran under the asphalt road. Of course it happened so quickly I had no time to dig out my camera and anyway it was dark.

Not my Photo as I got none, but this is in the
ballpark of what we saw scamper past

"Baby otter? Naw... too small"

"Long-tailed Weasel," I concluded, incorrectly.

No, too dark', said Don. Then inspiration hit, "It's a MINK!"

And of course, he was right. A Mink, in as dry as lizard farts, Inyo County! Who'd a thunk it?

That  was as amazing a sight as I've seen in a while. MINK!  I've seen them before but they're always exciting                                                                                     

Sunday was the last day at Mono. To get home, the fun way, you drive over Tioga Pass through Yosemite. Along the way there was much birding, though we didn't really see much birdie-wise but the scenery was grandiose.

Most of my Yosemite shots were 'drive by' views

We had lunch at a picnic table, alongside a small creek at the 'old entrance' of Yosemite.

After lunch there was a short hike up the trail, on the old Yosemite entrance way. It is considered a
wilderness area.

Don headed up the old road, which once hosted Model-Ts and the like

Fruit of the Western Dogwood
Some poly-pore fungi reclaiming a fallen tree
After the short hike, I took the wheel and we headed back to Fair Oaks. Along the way we passed through Angel's Camp where I found out later in the day, my friend Jeannie was hard at work for the California Department of Forestry. While we were touring the countryside, much of it was being consumed by flames. I hope the winter rains come this year, we really need them.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Chuffed for Chuckars

Scenic creek on the drive to Mono Lake
Every once in a bit I visit Mono Lake, most often with my birder buddy Don. We headed there today, swinging along Hwy 50 towards Lake Tahoe then through Markeleeville were we stopped at a favorite area good for Bald Eagles and occasionally American Dippers. Usually Don hurries off while I hem and haw back at the car, then when he races back with news of a Dipper, I race off in time to see the little wet footprints where the bird is no more...

Today was different, Don found a bird and when I finally arrived, darned if the bird was still flittering about.  The cove it bounced in was dark and far more than 500 yards away so my shots are not exactly National Geographic quality, but they're better than a poke in the eye.

Cheeping along the water's edge
Don't get to see Dippers too often
Am totally stoked, as these are the first ever photos I've taken of an American Dipper. They're famous for their ability to run and even 'fly' under fast running mountain streams in their search for insects.
Showing a little enthusiasm for water
The little dipper left me feeling ecstatic we drove off down the highway, my thoughts at least on Mono Lake. We briefly stopped at a camp ground along the way. Then we headed south through Monitor Pass.  Suddenly Don spotted something on the rocky cliff to the right, and to my astonishment, asked me to back up the car. He almost NEVER asks for such things (unlike me, who would back up on the damned LA freeway if a good bird were possible). I rather blindly backed up onto the shoulder, both of us sort of expecting to see Grouse or the like. But nope... big surprise... Chuckar!
Find Six Chukars...
Obviously an animatronic bird... I think...
Chukars! At the start of the trip, Don said he wanted to find Chukars and I thought he must be nuts. We've been to Mono Lake numerous times and have never seen a trace of the birds. So why this time, when he mentioned them for the first time ever, did he manage to spot a half dozen birds? He CHEATS! Obviously these lovely birds were stuffed specimens, secretly stashed there by Don. Yeah, OK, they walked and jumped and called out "CHU-KAR!" once in a bit, but surely they were Disney quality animatronics. Clever boy...
Masked Bandits with Red Bills
The birds were a lifer for Don, and only a second sighting for me. I haven't seen a Chukar since I saw my lifer birds in 1981 in a canyon outside Winnemucca Nevada. Never expected to be lucky enough to see any again.

The little resort Restaurant
We hadn't stopped slapping ourselves on the back before we arrived at our next stop, just past Bodie State Park: Virginia Lake Resort. I was hoping to get - uh... my umpteenth try since 2000, of Gray-crowned Rosy Finch. *sigh* No such luck, as it is too warm and the birds are still at higher elevations. Will have to return, perhaps in March. I'll get my Rosy Finches some day, damn it!

The glory of the Virginia Resort is you can eat your meal, while watching your lifer Gray-crowned Rosy Finch eating its meal. Alas! Nothing at the feeders today but cute little Pine Siskins.

Another critter enjoying a meal, under the bird feeders was a little Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel.

This healthy guy wandered around, looking like he was wanting a meal. 

This fellow seemed to be wanting a nice meal too.

Rather Chuffed for Chili at Virgina Lakes

Pinyons remain no easier to photograph - little pills!
The rest of the day was spent at various points around Mono Lake. Oh, and may I point out, at least 100 Pinyon Jays were spotted. The little buggers were every place we went, from Markleeville to Mono Lake, everywhere. You know, we spent several years hunting for Pinyons, with them nowhere noisy Pinyon Jays! I'm hoping Gray-crowned Rosy Finches will be unavoidable for me some day. I wish! We finally found some in 2012, and ever since, the things practically plague us. Really. No getting away from them now.

White-breasted Magoo.. I mean, White-breasted Nuthatch near Mono Mills

Nuthatch enjoying my car's... er... shine(?)

At the Mono Mill site,White-breasted Nuthatches bounced back and forth on my car.
Skitter! Skitter! Skitter!
As dirty as my car was, they loved its shine
Creek by Virginia Lake
Evening came and we drove up and down the road in the County Park by the lake looking for Common Poorwills. Managed to get a glimpse at two different birds, but I was bummed as didn't even come close to getting any photos of them; maybe next year.