Tuesday, October 29, 2019

September in Mono County

The Grub directed us to camp at the Lundy Canyon Campground, operated by Mono County. We had a great site and it was nice and quiet EXCEPT for the first night, when some woman at the edge of the campground made terrifying shrieks and screams at the top of her lungs...she sounded like she had just come upon a grisly murder scene, or was getting stabbed over and over again. It really sounded animalistic and was very unnerving. Grub and I investigated but did not actually go knock on her camper as things still seemed very weird, but at least we discerned that no one had been stabbed to death (or stabbed at all). I think she was having a bad trip on something - Grub pointed out it was Burning Man season, and this location was in the post-burn dispersal path - but who knows what the truth is? Anyways, lots of Mountain Chickadees at the campsite...unlike hallucinogens, Mountain Chickadees are always pleasant.

How is that for an opening caption? Some more explanation is required...in September we took a family trip to the east side of the Sierras to hang out in one of my favorite parts of the state, Mono County. It's a weird place (see above, for example). There is good birding, facemelting scenery, and aside from a few places, not a whole lot of people. We met up with a couple friends of the blog: Alexis (Arexis), who is responsible for entirely shaping my fate, and famed east side financer, The Grub, who BB&B has spoken with at length (most recently here). Mono County is the part time home of The Grub, everyone's favorite venture capitalist and bitcoin miner, who lives in a junkyard there during the warm months. I don't mean to say he has a shitty house there (his house is in Nevada), I mean he lives in an actual junkyard. The Grub is, of course, the richest person you and I know, but he shuns the mansion and the Mercedes for a tent and Pinyon Jays. He is, after all, an artist, and that just complicates things further.

Despite all of The Grub's financial success, he would be nowhere without The Great Ornithologist Felonious Jive, which at least he readily acknowledges. Knowing how close I am with Felonious, Grub was more than happy to help us track down a Black-backed Woodpecker, so he took us to Inyo Craters, where they have reliably seen most of the year. It was my first time there, and was a fruitful stop.

The White-breasted Nuthatches at Inyo Craters are the interior subspecies (Sitta carolinensis tenuissima), which sound very different from my backyard birds here in San Jose (S. c. aculeata). You may recall that it wasn't long ago when the AOS considered splitting WBNU three different ways, these two subspecies and the eastern birds...I suspect that this potential split may be revisited at some point. In the meantime, for a nice breakdown of the distribution of S. c. tenuissima and S. c. aculeata in California, look here.

Here in California, it's a Red-breasted Nuthatch invasion year! What a relief, it has been a while. I've only had a few in my 5MR but they were very common at many sites in Mono County during our visit.

Williamson's Sapsuckers are a true high elevation specialty bird and just too great to ever really get accustomed to. They are more distinct than the other sapsuckers in plumage, genetics (they don't hybridize willy-nilly), and habitat preferences. This one was more cooperative than most.

After not seeing one in about a decade, it was relief to not wait very long to find a Black-backed Woodpecker near the parking lot. We would go on to see a total of three, and heard two more! My personal Black-backed dam that has been building for the last decade has finally burst. I thought it was interesting that this area has so many Black-backeds, as there is no sign of any fire, and these birds are known fire followers. Other birds of note here included Red Crossbills and a Band-tailed Pigeon.

See? Scenic. Not that phone photos really do the place justice. This is Minaret Vista, just outside the entrance to Devil's Postpile National Monument.

Green-tailed Towhees were abundant...which is ideal, considering they are the best towhee and one of the few green birds in the west. Still hoping to get the ultimate crush of one of these, maybe next time.

We were too late for most wildflower species, although rabbitbrush was blooming all over the place. Here is one of the year's last blazing star blossoms, somewhere in the sage flats near Mono Lake.

This aquatic thing was blooming mightily up in a few patches at the Lundy Canyon beaver ponds. Nerds, tell me what this is please.

Annie had her Mono Lake baptism, which she really enjoyed. Once she realized all the black stuff was a mass of flies she was slightly put off but was happy to wade around nonetheless. She did appreciate the brine shrimp.

Other than Black-backed Woodpecker, this is the bird I had my heart set on seeing. Like the woodpecker, I had only seen Greater Sage-Grouse once before, about a decade ago. After dipping hard on Gunnison Sage-Grouse earlier this year, I had a serious grouse itch (grouse-itch) that just had to be scratched. Luckily, Arexis found a flock for us at Bodie, which allowed for great looks.

So, so sick. Behold the majestic grouse surveying its domain. A supremely satisfying birdwatching experience.

Bodie State Park is an isolated ghost town, way out in the sagebrush north of Mono Lake and not far from Nevada. It was my first time there, and pretty fun to walk around in despite all the tourists. We also saw another distant group of grouse.

The cloudscapes were brilliant during out shortish visit.

It was pretty windy too, but some birds were still out making the best of it. The "town" was littered with not only Europeans, but also Mountain Bluebirds.

Brewer's Sparrows were the most abundant Bodie bird other than Mountain Bluebirds. I assume this very fresh looking, warmly colored individual is a Hotel Yankee.

Other birding highlights included Pinyon Jay flocks, a Mountain Quail loitering in the road, and a huge crossbill flock at June Lake. The water level of Mono Lake was extremely high at the time, which is generally a good thing except it made for poor conditions for shorebirds and the such - consequently, the number of species we actually saw using Mono Lake was pretty pathetic.

But with GRSG and BBWO in the proverbial bag, the trip was Great Success! Hopefully we will go back next year, maybe getting into the White Mountains...who doesn't want to camp in the bristlecones?


  1. White-flowered aquatic plant appears to be some sort of Ranunculus (Buttercup).

    1. You're prolly right - R. aquatilus or something very similar.