Rosy-Finch Rendezvous: Stops 4 and 7 – Inyo Craters

By Jim Gain
Rosy-Finch Rendezvous Birding Adventure Series

6/13/2022 & 6/14/2022

Rich and I made two stops here, Stop #4 on Monday afternoon and Stop #7 on Tuesday afternoon.

The Inyo Craters are three north-south-aligned phreatic (steam) explosion craters on the summit and south flank of Deer Mountain. Six hundred years ago, a massive explosion heated rock and ground water, causing a large blast zone. Today, snow melt and rainwater create emerald green pools in the craters. Accessibility: 1.4 miles (2.25 km) round-trip uphill hiking trail.

Creative Commons Image by Matthew Dillon

Inyo Craters is a must-stop birding destination for birders and bird photographers wanting to find many of the high montane birds of the Sierra Nevada. Species reported here at this time of year include: Pine Grosbeak, Evening Grosbeak, Black-backed Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker, White-headed Woodpecker and Red Crossbill.

Inyo Craters eBird Hotspot Link

Over the course of the two visits here, we only recorded 15 species, missing 4 of the target birds, but hitting on two of them. However, even with so many misses, the walk was amazing and so full of beautiful vistas and mountain bird songs.

As we started up the trail towards the craters, we saw an adult Mountain Chickadee feeding a juvenal on a fallen tree.

Mountain Chickadee

Next was a very vocal White-breasted Nuthatch that seemed to be trying to out-sing its cousin, the Red-breasted Nuthatch.

White-breasted Nuthatch

It was still a bit windy and the birds were playing hard to get as we hiked the trail up to the craters and back down again. As we approached the parking lot we spied a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers attending to nestlings in a cavity in a tree right next to the road.

Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker

We returned the next day, 6/14/2022, in hopes of finding a Black-backed Woodpecker nest at the end of the parking lot. We had barely walked 20 feet up the road at the end of the parking lot when an adult Black-backed Woodpecker flew over our heads and landed on a tree trunk right next to a nest cavity. It paused briefly before entering the hole. I was NOT prepared to take photos as my camera was in the OFF mode. NOTE TO SELF: Get your camera ready before you walk away from vehicle!!!

Black-backed Woodpecker

We quietly watched the bird as it sat inside of the hole with its head sticking out. It would sink back into the hole and then poke its head out and just sit there looking around.

Black-backed Woodpecker

It eventually, flew to a nearby tree and proceeded to preen and scratch, straightening and accommodating its feathers.

Black-backed Woodpecker
Black-backed Woodpecker

We took a few minutes to wander up the road from where the nest was and noticed that we had transitioned into an area where a fire had burned through several years ago. the blackened trunks stood out from the non-burned trees. Black-backed Woodpeckers like to feed on beetle larvae that are associated with dead and burned stands of trees.

Next Stop: Earthquake Fault Trail

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