Rosy-Finch Rendezvous: Stop 10 – Bodie State Park

LAST CALL FOR THE ROSY-FINCH RENDEZVOUS ADVENTURE

By Jim Gain
Rosy-Finch Rendezvous Birding Adventure Series

6/15/2022

This would be the last stop of our three-day adventure to the Eastern Sierra Nevada and would prove to have the fewest bird species. However, our main purpose to Bodie was to take photographs of the old ghost town and if really lucky, maybe a more cooperative Greater Sage-Grouse.

A short distance from the entrance kiosk, we had 5 Sage Thrashers right along the road.

Sage Thrasher

At the kiosk, the attendant informed us that the Sage-Grouse would be more likely to come down into town a little later in the summer. So, while we dipped on the Sage-Grouse, we did see lots of swallows and some Mountain Bluebirds.

Violet-Green Swallow
Violet-Green Swallow
Cliff Swallow

I took many photos of the historic buildings and vehicles and I made a photo gallery of just those images. The link to those photos is at the very bottom of the post.

P.S. TWO ADDITIONAL SPECIES ADDED ON OUR RETURN

As we drove through the outskirts of Bridgeport heading home, we noticed several Yellow-headed Blackbirds on the fence and a little late, 2 Black-billed Magpies. This brought our total Rosy-Finch Rendezvous total species count to 75.

Rosy-Finch Rendezvous eBird Trip Report

P.P.S. Link to my Bodie Ghost Town Photo Album

Rosy-Finch Rendezvous: Stop 9 – Cottonwood Canyon

A LITTLE MAC AND GEEZ…

By Jim Gain
Rosy-Finch Rendezvous Birding Adventure Series

6/15/2022

This morning’s route was going to take us away from the Sierra Nevada landscape and into the Great Basin and Range geography that dominates much of Nevada and Utah.

Creative Commons Image by KMusser

Today’s target birds were species such as Juniper Titmouse, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, Pinyon Jay and other desert-type birds. We had barely pulled off the Pole Line Rd onto Cottonwood Canyon Rd when I heard the mechanical tinkling calls of Black-throated Sparrows. We observed several over the first couple of miles.

Black-throated Sparrow

A Red-tailed Hawk was not the least bit concerned by us as we slowly drove past it.

Red-tailed Hawk

As we got out to photograph the hawk, I could hear distant Pinyon Jays in the not too distant hills and a couple of singing Brewer’s Sparrows hiding in the sage. Soon one of several Lazuli Buntings made an appearance, posing close enough and long enough to snap a decent photo.

Lazuli Bunting

As we paused on the road at a spot next to the creek with a good stand of willows, I heard a different warbler singing nearby. I stopped and scanned the willows, not finding the warbler. But it was loud and incessant and very nearby us. I finally spotted it, not in the willows, but 40 feet above us on the telephone line.

Low and behold, it was a MacGillivray’s Warbler and he was putting on quite a show.

GEEZ! How Close Can it Get?

I admit that I made a playback call from my Sibley’s Bird App and it came down to check us out, landing right next to us. Using the car as our blind, we took dozens of images while the bird made sure that we knew that this was his territory. Typically, this species is a skulker, staying hidden among low shrubs and trees. This guy was not shy at all and gave us the best Kodak moments I ever had with this species.

MacGillivray’s Warbler

Keeping our visit as short as possible we moved on and the bird immediately flew back up to the wire to continue its buzzy song as if nothing had happened. Next up were several Green-tailed Towhees, each one singing from a different snag, in slightly different spots. One popped up off to our side and promptly began singing its heart out.

Green-tailed Towhee
Green-tailed Towhee
Green-tailed Towhee

Soon we came upon a nice-looking bird box that had a baby Mountain Bluebird peeking out.

Baby

Immediately first one adult, and then another took turns bringing in snacks for junior.

Mountain Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird

We arrived at a particularly rich vegetative spot along the creek and spotted what I first thought was a Dusky Flycatcher, but further analysis of the enlarged photos showed that it was a Willow Flycatcher.

Willow Flycatcher

Next Stop: Bodie State Park

Rosy-Finch Rendezvous: Stop 8 – Earthquake Fault Trail

The Strange Case of a Solitary Solitaire and a Missing Phone

By Jim Gain
Rosy-Finch Rendezvous Birding Adventure Series

6/14/2022

As one strolls through old-growth red fir and Jeffrey pine forest to explore this unique and relatively recent geological feature: a deep fissure in a flow of volcanic rock, in places as narrow as 10 feet wide and as deep as 60 feet, that lines up with the Inyo-Mono Craters.

We had barely reached the edge of the amazing physical manifestation of what an earthquake fault looks like when Rich spied a distant perched bird.

As we crossed the somewhat risky-looking bridge to get to the other side of the fault, we paused to admire this force of nature. Briefly, because there was a perched bird waiting to be photographed.

We got back to the spot that we had seen the perched bird and noted that it was a Townsend’s Solitaire, a somewhat drab thrush related to the American Robin.

Townsend’s Solitaire

It flew from tree to tree, pausing and posing like some a model in a fashion show. The paparazzi side of us obliged with a steady stream clicking of mirror-less camera images.

Townsend’s Solitaire

Bird photographers know that you never can be sure how cooperative a bird will be and for how long. We try to balance getting a good shot without causing undue stress on the birds. Fortunately, our Canon R5 comes with an extreme 45 megapixel sensor and 500 mm lens, allowing us to get close, but not too close.

Townsend’s Solitaire

After several scores of images, we walked along the trail admiring the trees and their colorful bark. The ground was scattered with the cones of the magnificent Red Firs. I switched over to my iPhone to try and capture the essence of the scenery in a wide-angle format.

Red Fir

I noticed that Rich seemed preoccupied searching through his pockets and backpack. It seemed that he had misplaced his iPhone somewhere. We backtracked to where we had photographed the Solitaire with no luck. He decided to return to the car to see if he had left it there. In the meantime I would randomly call his number and kept searching the area we had walked by.

As I scoured the ground along the path looking for his iPhone, a White-breasted Nuthatch landed on the fallen trunk in front of me.

White-breasted Nuthatch

I felt obligated to take a couple of images while waiting for Rich to return.

White-breasted Nuthatch

With my iPhone in my hand making call after call to his phone, I also took a couple of images of the trees.

Red Fir

AND NOW, THE REST OF THE STORY…

Soon Rich caught up with me again with a very unhappy face. His iPhone was definitely AWOL. We made a slow return hike back to the car, all the while calling his phone incessantly. As we approached the car, we could hear the tones of his iPhone chiming away, completely hidden between his seat and the center console. Disaster averted, and a little out of breath from the 8,500 altitude, we opted to head back to the hotel to grab dinner and check in on our Pygmy Nuthatch neighbors.

We spotted this interesting sign as we were leaving.

RESPONSIBLE RECREATION

Next Stop: Cottonwood Canyon.

Rosy-Finch Rendezvous: Stop 6 – Wildrose Canyon

By Jim Gain
Rosy-Finch Rendezvous Birding Adventure Series

6/14/2022

We made a brief stop at Convict Lake to show Rich what a beautiful gem of a lake this was.

Convict Lake

We headed east towards Lake Crowley and the Glass Mountains along Benton Crossing Rd. with beautiful expanses of sage.

Knowing that Greater Sage-Grouse was on the top of Rich’s target list, I was in constant vigil of the edges of the road as we drove along. I was looking for that large, chicken-shaped bird, probably with chicks, that might take advantage of the feeding opportunities on the edges of their habitat. And in an instant, they were there! An adult Greater Sage-Grouse with at least 3 chicks. I immediately yelled it our and hit the brakes, making a U-Turn in the middle of the highway and we crept slowly back towards where they had been. Unfortunately Rich only got a glimpse of one of the chicks as it ran between shrubs.

Here is an image of one I photographed on a previous visit to Mono County.

Greater Sage-Grouse

Slightly discouraged and excited at the same time by the fleeting sighting, we headed on to Wildrose Canyon. Our target birds here included a recently reported Long-eared Owl, plus the usual suspects frequently found at this particular hotspot; Plumbeous Vireo, Calliope Hummingbird, Lazuli Bunting, Green-tailed Towhee and Blue Gray Gnatcatchers.

As we walked up the dirt road, we had birds singing and calling on all sides. Our first photographic volunteer was a Green-tailed Towhee that perched willingly on a dead snag next to us.

Green-tailed Towhee

Next up was a Blue Gray Gnatcatcher that gave the photographers numerous poses to show off its fine array of feathers.

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher
Blue Gray Gnatcatcher
Blue Gray Gnatcatcher

We had visits from Mountain Chickadees…

Mountain Chickadee

And many Lazuli Buntings…

Lazuli Bunting

And suddenly something buzzed right over our heads, like some kind of dive-bombing hummingbird. In fact, it was some kind of hummingbird, a Calliope Hummingbird was claiming its territory and doing dive displays to impress his potential mate. After doing several display dives, it proceeded to just hover in place not very far from us.

Calliope Hummingbird

As we watched the Calliope Hummingbird, Joshua Stacey, a birder from the Bay Area, caught up to us and we chatted about what we had seen. All the while the hummingbird continued with its dives and hovers.

Calliope Hummingbird

While Rich continued to look for the Long-eared Owl (unsuccessfully)…

Rich Brown

I continued uphill hoping to find one of the MacGillivray’s Warblers that Joshua Stacy had told us about. I eventually found two of them and managed a low-quality, but identifiable image of one.

MacGillivray’s Warbler

Next Stop: Earthquake Trail

Rosy-Finch Rendezvous: Stop 5 – Sierra Lodge at Mammoth Lakes

By Jim Gain
Rosy-Finch Rendezvous Birding Adventure Series

6/14/2022

While I was waiting for Rich to fill up the ice chest, I wandered outside of our parking garage to take a photo of our hotel, the Sierra Lodge, with the magnificent backdrop of the Sierra Nevada. I crossed the street to get the best angle and immediately got distracted by the chatter of a Pygmy Nuthatch that was flitting around the trees right next to our hotel. I yelled to Rich to grab his camera and we proceeded to follow not one, but two Pygmy Nuthatches as they bounced around in constant movement between the trees on each side of the road.

Pygmy Nuthatch

And then it happened, one of them flew full-speed into the side of the hotel. Well, not actually into the solid siding, rather, into a neat little perfectly drilled cavity in its side.

They had a nest in the side of the hotel literally 20 feet from our balcony. One of them emerged from the hole with a solid piece of egg shell.

Pygmy Nuthatch

As we watched the nuthatch, an inquisitive Yellow-rumped Warbler flew down from the trees and landed on the ground right next to us.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

We packed up and headed to our next stops, returning at lunch to check on the nuthatches and took a couple more photos of them hard at work feeding their babies.

Pygmy Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch

Next Stop: Wildrose Canyon at Glass Mountains.

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

Rosy-Finch Rendezvous: Stop 3 – Mono Lake County Park

By Jim Gain
Rosy-Finch Rendezvous Birding Adventure Series

6/13/2022

The chorus of wrens and vireos hit us as soon as we stepped out of the car. From every clump of cottonwoods along the creek that winds through the park, came the sounds of House Wrens and Warbling Vireos that competed for the bounty of caterpillars found there. The House Wrens’ song was a rolling series of rattles and trills that it intoned from the lower shrubs and branches.

Warbling Vireo

While the Warbling Vireos had more of a run-on warble that it crooned from the upper canopy.

Warbling Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Warbling Vireo

Suddenly the flash of a bright red head appeared from the clumps of leaves on the trunk of a cottonwood. A sharply dressed member of the woodpecker family, the Red-breasted Sapsucker brightened our visit. We followed it to a nest cavity where he and his mate alternated feeding duties with this year’s hatchlings.

Red-breasted Sapsucker
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Red-breasted Sapsucker

After a nice stroll down the boardwalk to the tufas at the lake’s edge, we enjoyed watching the swallows zooming and zipping around in search of their next meal. On a distant tufa was an Osprey nest. I had seen this nest on a previous visit about a year ago with two nestlings.

Osprey Nest

As we headed back up towards the parking lot we were treated to an American Robin that was carefully clutching a caterpillar in its bill while it searched for more.

American Robin

Next stop: Inyo Craters

Rosy-Finch Rendezvous: Stop 2 – Virginia Lakes Resort

By Jim Gain
Rosy-Finch Rendezvous Birding Adventure Series

6/13/2022

At a 10,000′ elevation, with a cool temperature of 38 degrees, 32 % humidity and brisk winds at 18-20 mph, the relative temperature of around 20 degrees made this stop a challenge. The folks that manage Virginia Lakes Resort are pretty good at keeping a seed feeder and black thistle seed sock well-stocked for all of the birds (and visiting birders). As we walked towards the store, we spotted Cassin’s Finches and Pine Siskins at the seed feeder.

Cassin’s Finch
Pine Siskin

As we got closer, we could see two Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches flitting between the ground, the tree and the feeder.

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

A short walk to the restroom and back showed how the altitude at almost 10,000′ was hitting me big time. I was huffing and puffing by the time I got back to the feeders. We chatted with the lady that fills the feeders and she commented that the Rosy-Finches tend to come down from the high elevations once the snow has melted. The Cassin’s Finches showed no fear and landed as close as 6 feet from us as they devoured the freshly placed seed.

Cassin’s Finch

As soon as the thistle seed sock was filled the Pine Siskins rejoined the feeding frenzy.

Pine Siskin

Soon the commotion drew in a pair of Clark’s Nutcrackers and a lone Dark-eyed Junco.

Clark’s Nutcracker
Dark-eyed Junco

There were also some cute Chipmunks and Belding Ground Squirrels, but there were no squirrel moments for us as WE WERE FOCUSED!

Feeling a little overwhelmed by the very cool breeze and with our primary goal in hand, we took a quick selfie to memorialize the success. Unlike our Operation PhotoTrogon adventure where we got our target bird on the last day of birding, we scored great, although somewhat brief views of two Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches on our first day!

Jim and Rich

2022 BIRD SPECIES #500

*SIDE NOTE: The Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch also happened to be bird species #500 for 2022 for me. Here’s another shot of this pretty bird.

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

Next Stop: Mono Lake County Park

Rosy-Finch Rendezvous: Stop 1 – Donnell Overlook

6/13/2022

By Jim Gain
Rosy-Finch Rendezvous Birding Adventure Series

After a gourmet breakfast stop for breakfast sandwiches and Starbucks coffee, we arrived at the Donnell Vista overlook eagerly looking for a couple of our Montane target birds. We had lofty goals of finding Sooty Grouse, Mountain Quail, Hermit Warbler and Evening Grosbeaks.

After a very unusual conversation with another gentleman in the parking lot about some upcoming movie that featured his ancestors, we began our slow walk to the overlook and back around.

Donnell Vista

The first bird that got our attention was a Thick-billed subspecies of Fox Sparrow that was singing incessantly from the shrubs nearby.

Fox Sparrow

It eventually popped up on a branch and posed quite nicely for us to snap some photos.

Fox Sparrow

As we were photographing it, a Dusky Flycatcher popped up and in the distance I could hear Mountain quail giving their distinctive chuck call.

Dusky Flycatcher

In the flowers below the Fox Sparrow was feeding Anna’s Hummingbird.

Anna’s Hummingbird

And then, appearing out of nowhere, a small warbler with a brilliant yellow head and a jet-black throat flitted to the top of a nearby for tree.

Hermit Warbler

It began singing from the highest perch, offering the most melodious intonations stating “This is my house!”

Hermit Warbler

My number one target warbler, the Hermit Warbler, proceeded to sing from almost every tall snag in our vicinity.

Hermit Warbler

While not an uncommon warbler, I just didn’t have any kind of decent photograph of this handsome bird.

Hermit Warbler

It was occasionally joined by a Black-throated Gray Warbler and a Red-breasted Nuthatch and a flyby White-headed Woodpecker. What a great start to our Rosy Finch Rendezvous!

Next stop, over Sonora Pass to Mono County and Virginia Lakes!

Sonora Pass

Operation PhotoTrogon Stop #9 – Santa Rita Mountains

By Jim Gain

OPERATION PHOTOTROGON

This blog series chronicles the adventures that Rich Brown and I experienced on our quest to find and photograph the amazing birds of Southeast Arizona in May of 2022.

PATAGONIA LAKE SP

After the Paton Center for Hummingbirds, we stopped briefly at the nearby Patagonia Lake Birding Trail.

We had a very enjoyable walk along the birding trail with views of the local Mexican Ducks and many migrating Yellow Warblers.

Mexican Ducks
Yellow Warbler
Lucy’s Warbler

Leaving the lake, we continued our journey to our final destination, Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita mountains. As it is customary for me we first stopped at the Santa Rita Lodge to see what was feeding on the multitude of hummingbird and seed feeders.

The customary flock of Wild Turkeys was present as always as were numerous Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, House Finches and Lesser Goldfinch‘s.

Wild Turkeys

As we were watching the hummingbirds, first a Rivoli‘s hummingbird popped in for a drink and then an Arizona woodpecker flew in to one of the feeders to one of the suet feeders.

Rivoli’s Hummingbird
Arizona Hummingbird

There was not the type of activity I was used to seeing there and the numbers of birds was low, possibly being that it was 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Was not a particularly hot day, but it was pretty slow at the lodge.

Rich inquired inside the store as to the status of the elegant trogon‘s that day in the canyon. He was showing a map which he photographed that showed where the trogons had been seen earlier in the day. We were cautioned that we were not likely to find them at this time in the afternoon. We drove up to the upper parking area and made plans as to how to approach our target birds.

Rich with his uber-enthusiasm was anxious to go up the Carrie Nation Trail in search of the trogons. This was truly his most sought after target bird. I was feeling a little low on energy and with my injured Achilles tendon I was not anxious to go hiking up the trail at that point in time. So Rich went up the trail and I hung around the parking lot for about 45 minutes. I was enjoying the many Bridled Titmice and Painted Redstarts that were flitting about the shrubs.

Bridled Titmouse
Painted Redstart

Suddenly I see Mr. RICHARD BROWN practically running down the trail towards me. He yells out “Take a look at what I saw!” I knew what it had to be, an Elegant Trogon. Sure enough Rich had not only found, but taken a most excellent photograph of a male Elegant Trogon. He stated that he had barely gotten up 1/3 of a mile up the trail and could hear them calling, quite loudly. So after drinking some water we took off up the trail, so that I could also find and photograph the most elegant trogon in the canyon. We got up to the area where the Old Baldy trail veers off to the left and the Carrie Nation trail continues. There’s a nice bench there for folks like myself that might have depleted their oxygen supply getting there, and it was in the shade. What a nice spot to sit back and wait. Well the wait didn’t last more than about 60 seconds as the trogon started calling again. So over the next 45 minutes we followed the strange ventriloquistic sounds, which always seemed farther away than they actually were, and took a few nice images of the Elegant Trogon.

Elegant Trogon – Male

We managed to find not only the male but the quiet female Elegant Trogon.

Elegant Trogon – Female
Elegant Trogon – Female
Elegant Trogon – Male
Elegant Trogon – Male

And so the target of operation PhotoTrogon was in hand.

SUCCESS!

After a high five and a couple of very big smiles we walked back towards the car and at this point it seem like anything else would be anti-climatic.

But then I remembered there was a nesting Elf Owl right across the street from the Santa Rita Lodge. So we drove back down to the parking lot a little before 7:00 pm finding another half dozen birders excitedly waiting for the pending show from the female Elf Owl.

Waiting for the Elf Owl to Show

As we chatted, the owners of the property came out and invited us to stand up in the area that was next to the pole where the nest was. We were informed that this Elf Owl pair had been there for at least 10 years and that she was not bothered at all by the chatter of birders standing underneath her house. This was a nightly occurrence at the spot and the owner felt that this way birders got their Elf Owl and all of the neighboring Elf Owls were not bothered.

Almost on cue the Elf Owl appeared at the hole and sat there for about 2 1/2 minutes all the while photography cameras were going click, click, click.

Elf Owl

I inquired about the possibility of Whiskered Screech-Owl and Mexican Whip-poor-will and it was suggested that we go to the amphitheater parking lot just up the road for the screech owl. He laughed when I asked about the Whip-poor-will because he said you can’t miss them all the way up and down the canyon. So we join another couple and drove up to the amphitheater parking lot quietly closed our doors and almost immediately the toot-toot-toot call of the Whiskered Screech-Owl came from one side of the road followed shortly there after by a second owl on the opposite side of the parking lot. At the same time we could hear a Mexican Whip-poor-will start up. We decided to drive the rest of the way up to the top of the parking area at Mount Wrightson to see if anything else appeared and sure enough, there was probably four or five Mexican Whip-poor-wills calling from around the parking lot.

So, with feelings of complete satisfaction that the trip had been an outstanding success, we headed back to our best western hotel room in Green Valley unsure about where to go next over the next two days. At this point almost every one of our target birds had been not only seen, but also photographed and now we were starting to look for needles in a haystack so to speak.

Next stop unknown.