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