Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Mojave Roadtrip Part 3: Thrasher Connection and Wash Wandering

Friday May 6 was the last morning Ned and I had scheduled in the Joshua Trees before we headed north, so it was our last chance for the flicker or thrashers. Like the morning before the dawn chorus was underwhelming, but we headed out east from camp to explore a new area in the hopes we would connect with our birds.

Dawn at Wee Thump

Our wanderings produced the same Ash-throats, Black-throats and Cactus Wrens as morning before, and after walking for a while we weren’t feeling terribly optimistic when we both heard the unmistakeable, forced mimid song of a Bendire’s Thrasher. “That’s our bird, get eyes on that bird!” The clouds were covering the now-risen sun and the light was dull, but we soon saw the characteristic small bodied- and straight-billed silhouette of our bird teed up on top of a Joshua Tree singing it’s heart out. It changed perches a number of times and  we only got some faint hints of its warm brown plumage in the poor light, but we were close enough to see that short bill open and shut as he sang his unique song, and we were very satisfied with the find.

Following our bird back west we eventually lost it but heard a second and possibly a third individual further along. We kept checking our flickers as well and saw one that looked potentially less red-winged than the others, but the look was far from conclusive and we lost the bird.

Eventually we agreed we needed to move on if we wanted a chance for our Curve-bills in Searchlight, so we resigned to being ‘flicked’ by the Gilded Flicker. Really too bad we didn’t get a better look at that first flicker from the day before! Ah well, there are always some that get away. We got to Searchlight and walked the park once again. A few of the children from 2 days before came out and were curious if the strangers with binoculars had found their bird yet, but discovering we hadn’t they left us on our way.

Leaving the park we heard a couple “whit-weets” that must have been our target, so we headed in that direction and began to pace the streets and scour the shrubbery. The caller refused to show itself, although we did discover our first Warbling Vireo of the season singing between some houses and a female Cassin’s Finch which was unusual at the low elevation.

We were walking back to the park and thinking of accepting our lifer as a ‘heard only’ when a large bird flew into an ornamental pine with the House Sparrows. Both of us got our glasses on the spot where it flew in, and eventually our lifer Curve-billed Thrasher popped onto the powerline and gave us great views of the most local thrasher in the state. Success with both our thrashers!

As happens so many times with new birds, the first individual is really tough, but afterwards they pop right out of the woodwork. Just before we got to the car to head off we heard a second bird call, and this new Curve-bill teed up for us on top of a power pole.

With our thrashers in the bag we happily headed north. After a quick stop in Vegas for errands we headed along the Northshore Highway through the mountains north of Lake Mead. Gorgeous drive especially with the stormy sky we were driving into, and perhaps worth the admission fee we were forced to pay. Unfortunately I logged most of the views mentally and didn’t take many photos, but here are some.

Storm clouds and rock formations north of Lake Mead

At the end of the highway we met up with Ned’s friend Nai from the sage-grouse crew outside the valley of fire. We waited out the ran a little while in a campground next to the highway, then went searching for a more secluded place to camp for the night. After a couple spots we set up camp next to a massive wash just down the road from the Valley of Fire.

The wash beside camp

Nai had just driven down from the north that night and was short in sleep, so while she napped Ned and I found a spot to clamber down and explore the wash. We had Gila Monsters on the brain, as rocky areas surrounded by Mojave scrub are where these beasts are found. Spring offers the best time to come across these fossorial monsters, and with the rainy weather we thought the moisture might bring them out of their holes.

Our hike took us farther from camp than we anticipated, but during our wander through the wash we saw no herps to speak of and very few birds. We concluded that maybe the bottom of a steep wash might not be such a safe refuge when the flash floods come, or perhaps the cool weather was just a bit too cold. Gorgeous hike though, and the scenery made up for the lack of critters.

View of Sally Suby from the end of the wash

After finally finding a way to climb out and crossing a couple smaller washes, we lucked into a pair of Lesser Nighthawks roosting. We see them most evenings down south and I always love hearing their generator-like song, but getting a close-up look at a roosting bird was a rare treat.

Lesser Nighthawk

We also came across this tortoise burrow. Couldn’t see anyone home, but it looks in good shape and Ned figured it was in use.

Desert Tortoise burrow

The rest of the evening we spent hanging out at camp with Nai, and the next day we would head west to spend the day at the Valley of Fire.

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