Thursday, 19 May 2016

Mojave Roadtrip Part 5: Spring Mountains and Quadfecta Questing

Our last morning of our Mojave circuit we woke up chilly and early and headed higher up for some montane coniferous birding. This was the same spot where I experienced my first montane birding last year with Dave and Ned and it was wonderful to back, this time with snow from the day before dusting the surrounding Ponderosa Pine and White Fir.

We made a couple of short hikes and were treated to the piping of Pygmy Nuthatches on the tree trunks, warbling of Cassin’s Finches from the treetops, and my personal favorite, the trills of Broad-tailed Hummingbirds flying overhead. These montane hummers were one of my highlights from last season, and seeing the bright rosy-throated males feeding on Cliffrose from meters away was lovely to see.

Western Bluebirds were abundant breeders up in the Springs, as were the more local Gray-headed Juncos. Ruby-crowned Kinglets were about too singing their jolly songs from the treetops, which sent my thoughts back to the boreal forest that I haven’t visited in my 2 years since the Manitoba Atlas.

One specialty of the Springs that did not show was Grace’s Warbler. This pine-lover is more common further south, but makes it up to Nevada only in a few sky islands such as the Springs Mountains. Especially this early they can be tricky to hear let alone see, and as of last they are still one of a few birds on my ‘heard-only’ list. However with the chilly conditions we were not even ‘graced’ with her song, so we had to leave this species for another time.

We also saw a couple of Palmer’s Chipmunks, a pale chipmunk species endemic to the Spring Mountains in the Ponderosa Pines up over 7800ft. I saw my first of these last season and this year the looks were very brief, but it’s always cool to see a species with such a limited distribution.

After our high mountain birding Nai and Ned caught up on some sleep for the drive north, and I took the time to wander around the Pinyon-Juniper forest around camp.

It was loaded with smart-looking Black-throated Gray Warblers as well as the plain but quirky Juniper Titmice, some Plumbeous Vireos and many of the usualy P-J birds. Western Bluebirds were abundant at this elevation as well, and one offered me a nice photo.

Western Bluebird

Here I also connected with a target lifer, the Panamint Chipmunk. Very similar to the Palmer’s it has an extra dark stripe on each side and prefers the Pinyons at lower elevations. This camp squirrel was quite tame and allowed me to study its field marks to be sure of the ID and get a photo.

Panamint Chipmunk

In the late morning Nai left us to head back to the sage-grouse crew and Ned and I made one final stop before heading north. The nearby access road to Corn Creek passes through sine Mojave scrub and salt flats and is one of the most well-known places in the state for Bell’s Sparrow and Le Conte’s Thrasher. I had seen both here last year but on this trip the Le Conte’s was the last hurdle in our way from achieving the mythical ‘Desert Thrasher Quadfecta,’ so despite it being midday we decided to give it a shot.

We got out for some very non-exciting birding which involved scanning quiet empty saltbrush flats in the heat of the noonday sun for movement or call notes. Many Bell’s were singing their song with less range than their Sagebrush counterparts, but these sneaky sparrows were very uncooperative and only one gave us a brief view of its field marks visually differentiating it from Sagebrush Sparrow. Try as we might, the thrashers gave us a thrashing by being both invisible and silent, and after a had an hour we decided we needed to leave our dreams of the Quadfecta begin the 7 hour journey north.

All in all despite some missed targets and cool weather it was an absolutely incredible trip. The Mojave showed us some of her incredible birds, habitats and scenery in addition to a taste of her wild weather tendencies. Plus the entire thing was comfortably relaxed logistically, and I got to spend it with a couple awesome folks. A great way to spend a weekend and pump me up for the start of the next tour.


  1. Brrr.. That first picture makes the cool weather here look warm!

    1. Haha yeah, Nevada's awesome in that you can go from lowland desert to mountain snow in no time flat. Have more snow photos from this past weekend coming up