Friday, 15 July 2016

High Sierra Birding

Nevada Bird Count Tour 6 Part 2

The second half of our tour started on June 24th with Kayla and I heading south across the California border to a couple of the NBC's handful of transects in the Sierra Nevada. Last year I got to spend a lot of time in this area, since my partner Alan had his area search at nearby Rosaschi. This was my first time heading down this season, so I welcomed the familiar drive through the sagebrush and pinyon-covered hills. We continued past Bridgeport Reservoir which often hosts Bald Eagle, scouted out Kayla's transect in the meadow across from the Pickle Meadow Mountain Warfare Training Facility (apparently choppers once came down in the meadow while someone was surveying), and then finally made it to one of the jewels of the NBC, LR-LittleWalker.

Valley leading to LR-LittleWalker

Situated in a large montane valley in the Sierra, there are almost no transects on the project like it. Sierra Junipers and Logepole Pines are western conifers that we don't get on the bulk of our transects, but they are found here in addition to aspen stands, sagebrush flats and willow meadows. Upon arriving, we hiked out to some of these willows in the hopes of finding some Calliope Hummingbirds. These tiny montane hummers are the smallest birds in North America, and and Little Walker was the only place I'd seen them before. Kayla hadn't ever seen one, so we were hopping we'd connect her with this lifer.

As we wandered up the valley we came across a spot where a Black Bear had marked a tree. Haven't seen any yet this season, but these were pretty high up on the trunk of this lodgepole.

Black Bear claw marks

Also fun was Giant Puffball. After we had hiked out another pair of hikers came out carrying it. Apparently they're delicious if you saute them in butter. I let them know I may have kicked their food when making sure it was a mushroom.

Giant Puffball

We eventually got to one of the wet meadows sprinkled with large mountain willows, and it wasn't long before Kayla spotted a small hummer on perched atop one of them. Due to its tiny size and location it was almost certainly a Calliope, but we wandered around a while longer for a satisfying look. Eventually we had close looks at the male when it returned to its same perch, and its mate came by to visit briefly. Really cool look,ing hummers, with their flared gorgets made of separate streaks of magenta on each feather unlike the solid throat patches of many hummingbirds. No photos worth posting unfortunately.

Hanging out back in camp for the evening we were treated to a single booming bout from a Sooty Grouse, my only one for the season and Kayla's life bird. A lone Mountain Quail was calling temptingly nearby as well, but remained quiet when we tried to track it down. This Western Tanager was more cooperative however and sang for us atop a juniper.

The next morning I headed out to my first point an hour earlier than I needed to in the hopes of hearing a new owl, perhaps a Northern Pygmy or Flammulated. Didn't connect with either of them, but a Great Horned Owl and a few Common Poorwills made a nice soundtrack for the moonlit walk to the transect.

As I said before, the habitat in this area is much different than most of the NBC, so it was a treat to get to count birds you get almost nowhere else on the project. Specialties like Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Red-breasted Sapsuckers, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Nashville Warbler were found in the forests, along with Thick-billed Fox Sparrows, Wilson's Warblers and Lincoln's Sparrows in the shrubby wet areas.

Coniferous forest at the end of a sagebrush meadow

Beaver pond, something I you don't see many of out here

Dense aspen stand

The one downside of the transect is that on half the points you're fighting with the noise of the fast-flowing Little Walker River for any sound of birds. Both years I've surveyed this transect, at Point 9 next to the river I've actually been able to watch birds sing and not hear them! But the scenery and cool birds make up for the difficulty point-counting. Last year I had a flyby American Dipper at this point, but not this time around.

The wildflowers up here in the sagebrush meadows were lovely as well. Red Castilleja, white Plox, yellow Senecio and blue Penstemon added their colours to the landscape.

Montane Wildflowers

After completing the transect I hiked out to where Kayla would pick me up, and we drove out to town west of the Pine Nuts to get some paperwork done before heading into the range for the next day's surveys.

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