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Trip Report: June 27-30, Yosemite National Park & Mono Basin

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  • John Mariani
    Howdy Calbirders,Just got back from a weekend trip to Yosemite National Park and the Mono Basin with a group from Santa Clara Valley Adubon Society.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 3, 2002
      Howdy Calbirders,

      Just got back from a weekend trip to Yosemite National Park and the Mono Basin with a group from Santa Clara Valley Adubon Society. Thanks to everyone who offered advice on where to look for Flammulated Owls. Some suggested trying Henness Ridge near Yosemite West, and the road into the Merced Grove was also suggested. As it turned out our days were very full, and after getting up at dawn and spending much of the day tromping around, by nightfall the group was just too exhausted to go out again at night, but the information will be useful for next time.
      Thursday afternoon (6/27/02) we did some birding in Yosemite Valley. Best sighting that afternoon was of a PILEATED WOODPECKER banging on a snag along a paved bike path that connects with the road to Mirror Lake. A BLACK BEAR and a singing WINTER WREN were seen along the road to Mirror Lake.
      On Friday we started birding at Crane Flat, where we saw the first of many RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKERS (they were EVERYWHERE this weekend). A LINCOLN’S SPARROW was nice enough to pop up for us. As usual, HAMMOND’S FLYCATCHER was calling behind the Chevron Station, but whenever we got close it took evasive action, and we were unable to ever get a look at it.
      Along the road to the Crane Flat Fire Lookout, just a short distance uphill from Big Oak Flat Road, we had excellent views of a DUSKY FLYCATCHER - It was carrying food and must have had a nest nearby.
      After eating lunch at White Wolf we checked the corral for finches (finding PINE SISKINS and CASSIN'S FINCHES, but no Pine Grosbeaks), and walked up the entrance road where we had a good look at a male WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER. Farther up Tioga Road, at Olmsted Point, we saw a single CLARK'S NUTCRACKER, a MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD, and cute baby YELLOW-BELLIED MARMOTS.
      Saturday was a LONG day! We birded Tioga Road and the Mono Basin. Our first stop was at Siesta Lake, where we heard a distant MOUNTAIN QUAIL and saw another RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER and a TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE. From there we drove east to Tioga Pass.
      Just as I parked near the dam at Ellery Lake I saw a GRAY-CROWNED ROSY FINCH fly in. We quickly went over to where it landed and had long close looks at it as it fed on the flies that were swarming over the rocks near the dam. Later we saw a few more feeding on the same rocks, and I was able to get close enough for some good photos. We also enjoyed seeing PIKA among the rocks. WHITE-CROWNED and FOX SPARROWS were easy to find in the dwarf willows by the dam, but a singing WILSON’S WARBLER eluded us.
      We stopped along the road to Aspen Campground in Lee Vining Canyon, and were rewarded with good looks at a singing BREWER’S SPARROW and GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE. There we also saw RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER, MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD, and LEAST CHIPMUNK. There was a lot of bird activity at Aspen Campground, where birds included more RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKERS, WESTERN TANAGER, and a juvenile AMERICAN DIPPER along the creek. Campsites with feeders were attracting lots of CASSIN’S FINCHES, PINE SISKINS, BROWN-HEADED COWBIRDS, DOUGLAS SQUIRRELS, BELDING’S GROUND SQUIRRELS, and chipmunks.
      We had lunch at Mono Lake County Park, where the BELDING’S GROUND SQUIRRELS competed with the chipmunks and pika we had seen earlier for cutest animals of the trip. At the end of the boardwalk there were thousands of WILSON’S PHALAROPES feeding along the shore on brine flies. Most were in alternate plumage. We also had a brief but satisfying look at a VIRGINIA RAIL there.
      It was getting hot, so we made an ice cream stop in Lee Vining before going down to the South Tufa Area on Mono Lake. Walking among the tufa formations along the lakeshore we had excellent looks at SAGE THRASHERS (at least 4), SAY’S PHOEBE, more BREWER’S SPARROWS and GREEN-TAILED TOWHEES, SAVANNAH and SONG SPARROWS, and nesting OSPREYS (at least 6 Osprey were in the area, with an adult and 2 young on a nest , and 3 more adults perched on tufa towers farther out in the lake).
      From the South Tufa Area we drove east on Highway 120 to check a recently burned area 8.1 miles from Highway 395 that was supposed to be good for woodpeckers. Just past the turnoff to the South Tufa Area, at the edge of the Jeffrey Pine forest, we stopped for a LEWIS’S WOODPECKER that Amy Monbourquette spotted as it flew over the road. We got out and found 2 of them perched in pines on the south side of the highway.
      We did a late afternoon walk through the burned area on Highway 120. We were unable to find the Black-backed Woodpeckers reported earlier this spring, but there was plenty of other woodpecker activity. Birds found here included another LEWIS’S WOODPECKER, a pair of WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKERS, HAIRY WOODPECKER, GRAY FLYCATCHERS, WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH, more MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRDS, WESTERN TANAGER, and CASSIN’S FINCHES. The area looks pretty bleak, but the birds were still there. Aside from being more comfortable, an early morning visit to this area would probably have been much more productive. Highlight of our visit was the GRAY FLYCATCHER nest that Laurie Bechtler found in one of the fire ravaged trees north of the highway. We all had good looks at the bird sitting on the nest.
      Sunday morning, our last day in the park, we hiked the trail to Sentinel Dome on the south rim of Yosemite Valley. At the base of the dome there was A LOT of woodpecker activity, with several HAIRY WOODPECKERS, WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKERS, and WILLIAMSON’S and RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKERS. We finally got good looks at RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH and GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET there. Although we were searching the whole time we didn’t find any Blue Grouse.
      A WILLIAMSON’S SAPSUCKER nest can be viewed from the Sentinel Dome trailhead parking area. The nest hole is about half way up in the big snag just downslope from the parking area. The birds were frequently flying back and forth while we were there.
      A short hike near Bridalveil Creek Campground didn’t produce anything new (another RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER, etc.). We made a final stop at Summit Meadow on the Glacier Point Road, which was covered with wildflowers and worth the stop just for that. A beautiful ending to a great weekend of birding--

      John Mariani
      Email: possum@...
      Web: www.birdswest.com

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