Trip Report - Yosemite and Mono Lake
Here are the highlights of a quick weekend trip
that a friend and I made to Yosemite National Park
and the Mono Lake area on July 9 and 10, 2005.
Our first stop was Siesta Lake at 10 AM Saturday for an hour,
hoping for Mountain Quail, and were rewarded with some good birds.
As soon as we parked, we had a female Black-backed Woodpecker
at close range, and the trip was off to a flying start ;-)
We then explored the hill across the road.
There we had a female Williamson's Sapsucker and a
Hairy Woodpecker. It was also nice to see a
Hammond's Flycatcher fly into its nest, high in a conifer.
We then proceeded to the Ellery Lake to search for Rosyfinches.
Near the dam we had one bird fly over us, but the fleeting
glimpse was not enough to count as a life-bird for me.
We were surprised to see a few Caspian Tern fishing the lake.
At the green bridge, it was nice to see a pair of
Violet-green Swallow nesting in a hole in the concrete
foundation of the bridge.
Next we drove all the way to Saddlebag Lake.
There is a lot more snow on the ground this year
than in the recent past, and there were too many snow piles
to search. Moreover, there were too many people fishing the
shores of the lake for any hope of Rosyfinches.
So after a futile hour there, we headed to the Mono Lake region.
Our next stop was at the bird-feeder in Virginia Lakes Resort,
which have a reputation for attracting Rosyfinches.
We reached their front porch at 5:30 PM and were immediately
thrilled to find one dull-looking Rosyfinch feeding.
During the next hour their numbers increased, and at one point
there were no less than five Rosyfinches, mostly in
bright adult plumage sharing the feeder with other montane
species such as Clark's Nutcracker and Cassin's Finch.
It was an incredible sight indeed.
By 7 AM Sunday morning we were on the south side of
Mono Lake looking for Gray Flycatcher. Birding along
the access roads to the Suth Tufa area we had great looks
at Sage Thrasher, Sage Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee and
Common Nighthawk but no flycatchers.
After an hour, we slowly headed east on Hwy-120, stopping
frequently to listen and look.
Although the fauna changed dramatically as soon as we
left the sage brush and entered the pine woods, the only
flycatcher we kept hearing was Western Wood Pewee. There were
other interesting birds such as Clark's Nutcracker and Woodpeckers on
view, but not the one we wanted.
We kept reviewing the call of the Gray on the CD player,
but the woods were just too quiet, and the sun seemed to be
already getting too bright and too warm.
By 9 AM we were about 5 miles east of Hwy-395, near the
second marker for "Point of Historical Interest", when we
heard a Robin-like call. Hoping that it might just be
our bird singing off-pitch, we decided to search for it.
This turned out to be a fortuitous move.
Although the singer was indeed a Robin, while
searching for it we found a pair of Gray Flycatchers
building a nest about 15 feet up on a pine tree.
It was a treat to watch them gather sage from the ground
and build the nest. Their identity was confirmed primarily
by their gentle downward flicking of the tail, as though the
tail was just dropping involuntarily by gravity alone.
The birds were mostly quiet, except on one ocassion when
one of them gave their characteristic call.
Interestingly, one of the pair had a stubby tail as though
it had lost the tail-tip feathers to a predator.
After a while, the other one decided to rest in the nest,
while "stubby" disappeared across the road.
I enjoyed photographing the bird in the nest
with my digi-scoping set up.
After lunch, we searched the pinyon forests north of Mono lake
and along the road to Bodie for Pinyon Jay, but had no luck
finding this nomadic species.
A mid-afternoon stop at Mono Lake County Park was very
pleasant as always. The highlight there was a pair of juvenile
Virgina Rail. Small numbers of Phalaropes were also present.
The small contingent of Yellow-Headed Blackbirds shone
brilliantly in the afternoon sun.
Heading back home through Yosemite, we took a detour towards
Henness Ridge to try for Mountain Quail. Unfortunately,
the dirt road leading to the ridge from Yosemite West was closed,
and a bulldozer was parked near by, suggesting that the road
might be impassable and work was under way.
Overall, we were extremely pleased with the quality of
birding we had on this trip, as well as our success in
finding two out of our four target species:
Gray-crowned Rosyfinch and Gray Flycatcher.
The species we missed were Pinyon Jay and Mountain Quail.
Mountain View, CA