Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Mojave National Preserve Part 2: The Binoculars In The Stone, Two (!) State Birds

The night after the thrasher gods (who resemble a cross between cactus and sagebrush) smiled upon me, I scoured eBird/satellite imagery to find some potential areas to track down Gilded Flicker - our search for them the previous day had come up empty. I know I've raved about it before, but having high quality satellite imagery at your fingertips as a birder is something I will never take for granted. With a vague search plan in mind, the next morning we wandered around the world's largest Joshua Tree Forest. At first, it was a lot of flicker cavities and no birds....then it was distant heard only birds...but finally we struck state birding gold with a nice male. State bird! Victory!

Shafts of gold. Almost all of California's population of Gilded Flicker resides in the Joshua Tree forest of Cima Dome, which is a very different habitat from what they use elsewhere.

A pair of bonus Bendire's Thrashers in the same spot successfully distracted me from the flicker, who lurked away undetected while I was watched the Bendire's. We also had Sage Thrasher at this location...few California birders are lucky enough to see Sage, Crissal, Leconte's and Bendire's in the same weekend. What incredible luck! I literally only know one person who is accustomed to this kind of luck, I did not deserve it.

When we arrived at this vortex of incredible desert birding, a car that obviously had spent the night had been parked directly beneath this large, messy, and very low nest. I paid it no mind at first, but after homeboy drove away I took a closer look while basking in post-flicker/thrasher glow. It looked like a sprawling mess, completely unmaintained, but then I noticed a pair of ears sticking up...

This enormous, blobular nest was actually owned by a Great Horned Owl. I wonder what the owls thought about having someone park directly beneath them the whole night. I doubt that dude got quiet, uninterrupted sleep, that's for sure.

I've come across many interesting things while searching for birds over these last 23 years of birding. Most are related to the natural world...mind-boggling insects, sea turtles, sharks, mountain lions, bears, blue whales, orcas, etc. However, we live in the Anthropocene...weird humanoids and the objects they leave behind are bound to occur in the pursuit of birds. I've encountered people making sex. I have been offered sex. I've awkwardly run into smugglers in the Huachucas of southeast Arizona. I've been robbed by a cartel in Mexico. I rolled up on a dude who had blown his brains out earlier that morning. I saw a lady who looked like Mimi from the Drew Carey Show but she wasn't in a tv show and she was laying out all these little toys and objects next to her in rows on the ground that matched her purple attire and it reminded me of a perverse, hideous bowerbird and it was hilarious but equally sad (this was in California City, if you must know). I've found sex toys in the strangest of places, and more human poo than you can possibly can ask Alex Wang about this. But none of that...the sex, the drugs, the death, the poo...would prepare me for what I discovered baked into the ground of the Mojave Desert.

Excalibur. The Binoculars In The Stone. The legend is real!!! Only the one true birding king may part these binoculars from where they have rested since the dawn of time. With Excalibur in his hands, the birding power he would wield is hard to fathom for us plebes. Of course, I tried to pull them out, but the binoculars did not budge...

We left the flicker and Excalibur behind, and headed east to explore another part of the park. Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay was up next on the birding menu. As advertised, they were found without difficulty at Mid Hills Campground.

Unlike California Scrub-Jays, Woodhouse's are not known for being confiding and crushable. The birds here weren't exactly skulking, but they sure knew how to avoid getting photographed well. Oh, by the way, this was another state bird. I love, love, love getting state birds. The last time I got two state birds in a day? Salvin's Albatross and Craveri's Murrelet in July of 2014...and yes, both were lifers at the time.

This was a good hillside to explore. So many barrel cactus. Few plants are as welcoming and jolly as barrel cactus. I feel like like I am looking at a hillside of friends.

This is Chylismia claviformis, aka "Clavate fruited primrose". Have you seen anything so clavate in your entire life??? "Clavate" means club-shaped, if you are wondering, and yes I had to look that up.

Behold...a small plant of mystery. It's name is not a name that I know.

Some wildlflowers are both aesthetically pleasing AND easy to identify, like this desert aster (Xylorhiza tortifolia).

Buttes! I love buttes. It's not every day you see a butte. Buttes are especially butteful when the desert blooms beneath them.

Full disclosure...I don't remember what this pleasant little shrub is. I recall the blossoms were a shade purpler IRL. Habitat: sub-butte

This Astragalus was one of my favorite wildflowers of the trip. The blossoms were very large and showy for the genus, especially considering the small stature of the plant.

Can anyone ID these beautiful vagina flowers to species?

One more desert post to come. I know it's September and all, but I really do plan to catch up to current events someday, promise.


  1. also GIFL's @ Betty's Kitchen on the Colorado, outskirts of north Yuma
    if you are ever near there.

    1. also, looks like a (fiddlehead) Phacelia campanularia

    2. I don't think those flickers have been reported for I wrong? Are they still there?

      It wasn't a phacelia, it has different leaves and was a perennial if I recall correctly. Not that you can see that from my shrunken photo.

  2. Your white flower is a species of Linanthus, not sure which one but probably not parryi (that species has markings in the throat). The pretty shrub is a species of Salvia(sage) but a quick glance my plant book didn't show the right species. Your Astragalus (locoweed) looks to be maybe A. lentiginosus

    1. Thanks for the input. Agreed on Linanthus...pretty similar to L. demissus, though maybe not a perfect fit.

  3. I wonder if Frank appreciates how often his incredible luck is referenced.

    Hillside of friends is a phrase that will no doubt pop into my head at a future date.

    1. We should get him to return to the West Coast again and find out.

      Perhaps with climate change friends will become more abundant in the United States.

  4. Cool! The weirdest thing I have ever found is a meth lab. Did you look through the binoculars? I am betting they would have showed you some life-affirming (or destroying?) truths.

  5. Late to this. I have seen Flickers in the Joshua Trees maybe 10 miles south of Cima Dome on Kel-Cima road, but didn't study them closely and ignorantly assumed that they were Northern Flickers, because well I am a sucky birder. Are there also Northern Flickers in the J-Tree forests of the preserve or are they all Gilded's?

    Going to have to keep my eyes peeled for Bendire's Thrashers next time too. That photo looks very familiar but I had never known of their existence until now.

  6. I too am doing blog catch up, so have been neglecting my "little help?" duties. :) I think your Linanthus ID is just fine - I'd call that L. demissus. The shrub looks to be Desert Sage, Salvia dorrii, and the Astragalus maybe newberryi or purshii. Well photo graphed in all cases too.