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Northern California July 2019

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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 22:15   #1
Hamhed
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Northern California July 2019

There is nothing about my writing that is concise, abbreviated, terse or to the point. IF you reach the end of this report, I'm sure you will agree with that. But that's a big "if"...

Several years ago, we missed out on a planned trip to northern California, mostly to visit Lassen Volcanic National park in the Sierra Nevada mountains. We revived those plans this summer, flying to Reno, Nevada, to begin our ten day stay. Although we had an early flight, the three hour time change from the Greenville, South Carolina, served only to offset the 3.5 hours in the Chicago airport, waiting for our connecting flight. Still, we arrived by midday in Reno to pick up our Nissan Sentra from Rent-A-Wreck and make several stops for groceries. It was one of those food stops that gave us our only Black-billed Magpie sighting of the trip.
Outside the city, on our way west and south to California, we took a break for a leg stretch at Crystal Peak Park. Here we became familiar with two species that would be ubiquitous during our birding days to come. The Western Wood Pewee has a quiet single note call, musically buzzy like the sound of some melodious insect in the background of other noises. Two common sounds come from the Stellar’s Jay. A harsh, ripping of paper type of note and also a rapid series of “wek” notes, given like a video game spaceship weapon. We watched a Peregrine arc through the sky, with some unfortunate mid-sized bird, legs still moving, in its talons.
Even after a meal break at the Sasquatch Tavern (excellent food and atmosphere) in nearby Verdi, enough daylight was left to drive into California, turn north at Truckee and make our way north to Sierraville and our lodging at Canyon Ranch Resort.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 22:18   #2
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The “resort” was series of small, well-spaced cabins within close proximity to the main house and small office. Cold Creek conveniently rushed close by the cabins and it wasn’t long before I saw the first American Dipper not long after dawn. One of the two hummingbird feeders was guarded by a male Anna’s; the other visited by a female Calliope. A Warbling Vireo sang louder than the roar of the creek while I watched a black-capped, male Wilson’s Warbler forage in the low willows. Movement in a cedar next to the ranch house produced a White-headed Woodpecker, the first of many we would see and high on the list of birds we hoped to reconnect with after our poor views years ago in Yosemite. As the sun rose over the adjacent hillside, the temperatures rose above the start of mid 40F’s (6C) and bird activity increased. House Wrens nested in a box attached to one building, a pair of Brown Creepers inched up the rough bark of a fir tree and one unexpected Townsend’s Solitaire showed up at head level. Singles of Red-breasted Sapsucker, Hermit Warbler and the Oregon race of Dark-eyed Junco were seen along with a few other species. A California Ground-Squirrel crossed the road giving us a look at its whitish collar and speckled back.
As usual, we had a few target birds to focus on so when Liz had recovered from a severe bout of jet lag, we drove back south a few miles to Kyburz Flats. I’ll add here that we use eBird nearly exclusively when we travel to uncover species rich habitats.

Kyburz Flats is a historical site where Spanish settlers grazed sheep and Native Americans created petroglyphs but where we were hoping to find a Gray Flycatcher. Here at 6200ft (1890M), we found a good number of Swallows, both Cliff and Tree, Clark’s Nutcrackers, a pair of White-headed Woodpeckers and our ubiquitous Pewee and Jay. We watched one each of Chipping Sparrow, Red-shafted Flicker and Mountain Bluebird before moving on to other sites we wanted to cover that morning. Calpine Meadows, north of Sierraville, was inaccessible to our low riding Sentra. Thanks to the warning sign at the head of the road, we avoided trouble and pushed on to Cottonwood Creek Campground that had none of the open habitat that Gray Flycatcher is more commonly found in. Another eBird reported site just up the road was Mountain Quail Road giving us a chance at another target bird. No need to say which bird that is. Neither species seen on the short stretch at 1500ft lower elevation than Kyburz, though the habitat was better, being less densely forested and somewhat brushy.

Long ago, my brother had visited Plumas-Eureka and convinced us to spend some time there. We stopped there next, choosing to make a 2.8M (4.5K) circular hike from the Museum by using the campground trail to the Jamison Mine and return via the Jamison Mine road. Where the tail came close to Jamison Creek, I was focused on getting a photo of one of the many wildflowers when a loud series of calls came from a nearby streamside shrub, a call I recognized as some sort of quail. Seconds later, a Mountain Quail burst from the shrub and across the trail, giving us a fleeting glimpse, called once more and went silent. The sound, which I recorded and added to my eBird report, is the alarm call of the quail, not the “Quee-ar” of the male which I had spent some effort trying to memorize. The balance of the afternoon hike was more a wildflower focus as bird life was reserved. We added Western Tanager, Hairy Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Raven to our trip list before finishing our loop and driving to a short distance to the west side of Quincy, CA, where we checked in at the Pine Top Motel. Despite being on the main road, traffic was minimal by evening so we slept deeply.

Mammals at Plumas-Eureka, we saw Black-tailed Mule Deer and many chipmunks, most we think were Long-eared. We likely saw Douglas’s Squirrels there though I can’t say where we saw them first.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 22:23   #3
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July 11
On occasion, I look for the help of a member of the Birding Pal organization. John Shower, of Greenville, CA, responded to my request by offering to spend the morning birding with us, with a focus on birds we wanted to see. Knowing we were keen to find a Gray Flycatcher, he consulted with local birding friends and got the advice to look at the grounds behind the Chester airport. Though distance between us was not great, the cell phone connections were terrible. I barely managed to connect with John once we got to Quincy, arranging for us to meet him the following morning in Greenville, 30 minutes further north.

That appointment was kept and we found ourselves following John and granddaughter, Charlie, another 30 minutes north to the airport which is on the northwest corner of popular Lake Almanor. It’s a small town and small airport with little security. We had no trouble finding the brushy habitat nor were we approached by anyone questioning our binoculars and bushwhacking across the grounds adjacent to the runway. Despite what appeared to be very dry and dusty conditions, the abundance of mosquitos was apparent within seconds of exiting the car. However, a Flycatcher, THE Flycatcher as we were soon to find out, was calling a short distance away and off we went, through a break in the wire fence, on a narrow path and into the waist high bushes. After locating the calling bird, we began recording and getting photos, working hard on documenting this species. Soon, it was apparent that John and Charlie, in short sleeves and short pants, were not prepared to spend time in the clouds of mosquitos so I thanked John, chased them off before they lost too much blood and went back to the still calling flycatcher. Long story short, Liz and I spent some time here, never 100% positive we’d found a Gray Flycatcher. Once back in North Carolina, I gave our collected information to Birdforum members here:
https://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=379100

Our only California Quail was seen here, along with an Osprey, no doubt making its way to the nearby lake. It was not quite mid-morning when we lost the flycatcher and left for the south end of Lassen Park, driving 14 miles up the paved Chester-Warner Valley road, then three miles on a gravel surface until we reached the trailhead parking for Devil’s Kitchen. One stop was made just after crossing Warner Creek. I’m sure you all know the situation - windows open, bird sounds heard, brakes applied. Pewee, Jay and Warbling Vireo, Raven, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted and Song Sparrow could all be identified by ear. The singing MacGillivray’s Warbler had to be tracked down, the song as yet unfamiliar to our eastern ears.

I attached a photo of a sticker on the back of a pickup in the trailhead parking lot that likely sums up the feelings of all US voters, not to mention most of the rest of the world. This trail ran along Hot Springs Creek and concurrent with the Pacific Crest trail until the latter forked off to the south. Passing through sections of flat meadow habitat but often through typical forest of cedar, fir and pines, we enjoyed a pleasant walk, collecting bird sightings and flower pictures, reaching the Kitchen in just over 2 hours. We added White-breasted Nuthatch, Hermit Thrush and Black-headed Grosbeak to the list with a total of 5 White-headed Woodpeckers, now becoming a trash bird! Devil’s Kitchen itself was a short walk among sulphur fumes, bubbling mud pits, and steam vents, all evidence of Lassen Park being situated on the massive Pacific “Ring Of Fire”.

A bit of daylight remained on our return to the town of Chester so we decided to visit the top end of Lake Almanor for a complete departure from birds of evergreen forests. Even without a scope, from the west side of the causeway, we were able to pick out a good number of American White Pelicans, Canada Geese, White-faced Ibis and blackbirds of two species, Red-winged and Brewer’s. A distant Great Blue Heron flew over the marsh lands past a pair of Great Egrets. We picked out one Clark’s Grebe among the few Western’s, a floating Common Goldeneye and a Long-Billed Curlew, almost too far to i.d. for my 8X binoculars.

Our next two night’s stay was at Mill Creek Resort, a short drive west of Chester. As was the case with Canyon Ranch, “resort” was used to describe a spaced, cluster of cabins with rough exteriors but all the necessities inside.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 22:26   #4
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Photos from Devil's Kitchen.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 22:29   #5
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July 12
Mill Creek was not only in a cell phone dead zone but they lacked any internet access, except for their own use. At $118 a night, we were disappointed in that lack of basic communication. Being disconnected from the “outside” world, we missed Lassen Park warnings for trail closures.

In the morning, it was exciting to leave Mill Creek at 4800ft (1463M), enter the park at 6700ft (2042M), driving on a narrow and sometimes precipitous paved road and pass the trailhead for Lassen Peak at 8500ft (2590M), near the high point of the park road. It was becoming obvious at altitude increased that there was still a great deal of snow over the ground. I read that in early February, one storm brought 6ft of snow to the Sierras in 24 hours with snow storms continuing into early May. King’s Creek picnic area, where we hoped to start on the trail to Cold Boiling Lake, was closed. In fact, we found out later, every trail above 7500ft (2286M) was closed. If only we’d spent more time practicing in those awkward snowshoes in Minnesota!

After a shivering walk down the short access road to King’s Creek, finding Pine Siskins and Spotted Towhees, we reversed course and returned to the parking lot for the Sulphur Works, to view more steamy, stinky, bubbling mud. The parking lot was also the start of the Ridge Lakes trail and we were finally able to stretch our legs in the bright and warming sun. A mile up this steep (20% grade) hillside and we were stopped just short of the actual lake by ever deepening snow. Hiking slowly so as to see and experience everything, we took over an hour to reach the snowbanks, collecting a Cooper’s Hawk, a Golden-crowned Kinglet and a Pacific Wren, singing its very long and complicated ramble of a song. The wildflowers again were distracting with yellow Mule’s Ears, orange Leopard Lily, white False Hellebore and many others.

A stop at the now open Visitor’s Center for a few minutes, making use of their WiFi and learning of trail closures before leaving from the Center on the Mills Creek Falls trail, 8 miles upstream from the same Mills Creek that flowed through the resort grounds where we had our lodging. With the promise of a waterfall, we shared this trail with many others but at over 1.5 miles (2.4K), our hike never felt crowded. We saw our second Wilson’s Warbler in dense alders at the first creek crossing, Pewee’s and Jays also calling in the warm afternoon air. Another White-headed Woodpecker found, making us laugh about how we were wondering if we’d see any during our stay. At the falls itself, a Dipper gave us a quick look seconds after I wondered aloud whether they would be found in such strong water. They continue to amaze us with their hardiness. Though we added more Kinglets, Tanagers, Chickadees and Siskins, no new birds for the trip presented themselves. Again, we busied ourselves with photographing the wide assortment of wildflowers.

Returning to the resort, where the sound of Stellar’s Jays was a constant, we opted to order food from their restaurant, which turned out to be a good choice. Food was excellent and prices were more reasonable than the rooms. An after dinner walk down to Mill Creek produced our second Hermit Warbler, several Red-breasted Nuthatches and other common birds, including a White-headed Woodpecker.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 22:32   #6
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July 13
The time change we experienced going from one side of the States to the other made it easy for us to rise early. Getting up at 5 was not difficult and this morning was no exception. By 6:45, we had eaten, readied our packs and driven an hour to the Bumpass Hell parking lot very close to the high point of the park road. By now, we were aware of the trail here being closed even if we could find it under several feet of snow. The parking lot was clear of snow and for a few minutes we used this to open surface to watch a few early birds including 5 Clark’s Nutcrackers, who calls rivaled the harsh and scratchy notes of the Stellar’s jay with their “raack, raack, raack” sounds. A Mountain Quail was heard calling far below us, almost out of earshot, and a few Finches and Siskins flew about. It wasn’t likely that we’d be back at this elevation so we lingered but eventually drove on, dropping down to 6700 feet (2042M) at Summit Lake.

Our mile long hike started at the south Campground, traveled counter-clockwise around the lake, through the north campground, ending back at the car. Mallards on the lake were added immediately to the trip list but the rest of the walk included typical birds of fir and pine forest. These included Pewees and Jays, White and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadees, Clark’s Nutcrackers, Brown Creepers, American Robins, Cassin’s Finches, Juncos, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Western Tanagers. The icing on the birding cake came as the last bird - a striking, male Williamson’s Sapsucker. With snowy Mount Lassen reflected in the still waters, the view was had to beat.

A few miles further north on the park road, the trail to Paradise Meadows (how could we not want to add a destination with that name?) started near Hat Lake, which we ignored, and traveled alongside the east fork of Hat Creek, a small, rushing and likely ice cold stream. The trail climbed 625ft (190M) in the two miles trek but seemed more steeply inclined. We reached the meadow with just a short list of birds, crossing paths and briefly talking with two young women we had now seen for the fourth time in the past two days, who we learned were camping and traveling in a convertible. One from Wisconsin and the other from Los Angeles, they made similar hiking choices but always seem to be finishing as we were arriving. Near the end, a small bank of snow and a plank bridge had to be crossed then the view opened up into a flat and boggy meadow, surrounded by low hills, patches of snow highlighting the evergreens. Here, we found a few new birds. A House Wren sang, Lesser Goldfinches flew overheard, Song Sparrows hid in the short willows, a Spotted Sandpiper wrested lunch from a mud bank, one each MacGillivray’s and Wilson’s Warblers were in the shrubs on the sides of the meadow. We had missed them until this point but two Dippers made multiple appearances, foraging in the slow moving and grass lined waters. On our return trip, a pair of Pacific Wrens began talking to each other and I recorded the longest wren song I have ever heard. We also stopped to view a dense cloud of insects, backlit by the afternoon sun. They appeared to be a hatch of mayflies, freed from the stream where they grew as nymphs.

I want to interject here that in planning our visit, we purchased Mike White’s Hiking Guide to Lassen Park, 5th edition. The maps and descriptions are very nice though I have found some small contradictions or confusing statements, the guide served us well during our time at Lassen and the surrounding area. Based on his book, we chose the Nobles Emigrant trail named for a wagon route used over 150 years ago. The first mile of open trail was not ideal for a warm afternoon hike and we saw few birds until we came to a low, wooden bridge over Hat Creek. A Yellow-rumped Warbler family played here along with a Tree Swallow or two, cruising the willows and aspens along the creek line. Pewees and Jays, Juncos and Tanagers, Robins and Sparrows made up our short list. We did find three Hairy Woodpeckers in habitat that included a good amount of burned forest from the fire of August, 2018. Black-backed Woodpeckers would find this excellent habitat but we saw none that day.

The final run of the day, on tired legs, was to McArthur-Burney Falls State Park, north of Lassen park and home to Black Swifts. Not sure what our chances were to find them in this season, we hopefully entered the park and saw the swifts in less than 30 minutes. Relieved to find our last target bird, we left with plans to come back the following day for more swifts and park trail exploration. At some point that afternoon, the temperature rose to 92F (33C), partially the collateral effect of dropping down to an elevation of 3000ft (914M). That evening, we checked in at the Green Gables Motel in the town of Burney.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 22:34   #7
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From the Paradise Meadows hike.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 22:38   #8
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July 14
In the morning, we voted unanimously to skip the sub-standard continental breakfast at the motel, digging into our stockpile of groceries instead before returning to Burney Falls. We stayed near the falls long enough for a few attempts to camera capture the swifts. One Vaux’s Swift flew with them; the size difference being easily discernible. Though the water was reported to be near 48F (9C), at least one person was in the water. Several trails along Burney Creek were closed due to storm damage. We followed the Loop trail, crossing the creek and connecting to the Pacific Crest trail for almost a mile before returning to Burney Creek. Along this trail, we added a calling Olive-sided Flycatcher, a pair of Turkey Vultures, a rare bird during this trip, Pileated Woodpecker, Bushtits, Black-throated Gray Warbler and Western Bluebird. Along with Nuthatches, Pewees, Jays, Chickadees and others, we weren’t without birds very often.
At the bridge, I was stunned to see a dry creek bed, this being “upstream” from the roaring falls, my mind was severely boggled at this apparent confliction. We followed birds and the Pacific Crest trail for a few additional minutes then backtracked to the dry stream bed. The first water visible downstream from the bridge we had crossed earlier was seen 350ft (106M) down the Headwaters trail on our return journey. The spring-fed Headwaters Pool was apparently very attractive to thirsty birds. We spent some time here, watching the nice variety of bird species. The non-stop action included Purple and Cassin’s Finches, Spotted Towhees, Lesser Goldfinches, Juncos, Song Sparrows and one unidentified hummingbird. One Lesser Goldfinch ignored our presence, preening and shaking recent bath water from its feathers at head level and a few feet away. Though our attention was mostly on the water below our feet, four Acorn Woodpeckers gathered in one tree and a Black Swift passed overhead. As we continued on this return trail, the stream grew in size and volume, without the aid of feeder streams, until there was no longer any question of its capability to feed the million gallon a day Burney Falls. The mystery was explained at the Visitor Center, by a informative and interactive diorama. Basically, the hills surrounding Burney Creek are of a porous rock that allow water to percolate directly into the creek via underwater springs numerous enough to create the flow of water needed to keep the falls at its stunning best. Which is fortunate for the swifts, since they nest behind the falls and for us, to have a place to easily see this curious bird.

Our next choice of birding stops was 10M (16K) to the northeast, up Rt. 299 to Fall River Mills to visit a Bank Swallow nest site. A little head scratching to find the exact spot which turned out to be easily visible from the highway. The swallows, a species not all that common in our North Carolina mountains, zoomed through the air over our heads, with heads of nestlings visible in the pockmarked, dry hillside. Trying to catch them with my camera lens in their constant airborne state was fun and exasperating at the same time.

Another push in the same direction, we turned north at the town of McArthur to locate Rat Farm road, named for an entrepreneur who thought raising muskrats (for pelts?) would be a worthwhile enterprise. We used the 3 mile gravel road to access the lakes of Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park, a place we’d like to revisit with kayaks some day. Sans boats, we walked in the warm but breezy afternoon on the Tule River trail along lake-sized Horr Pond, Mount Shasta in the distance to the north.
Naturally, the numerous water birds drew our attention though many Tree and Barn Swallows filled the air. New birds included American Coot, American Avocet, Black-bellied Plover, Marbled Godwit, Killdeer, Northern Harrier, Brown Cowbird and Common Yellowthroat. White Pelicans, Brewer’s Blackbirds and White-faced Ibis were there in numbers as were some unidentified gulls but couldn’t match the 50 Canada Geese scattered throughout our view. After about a mile, fading a little on the exposed dike, we reluctantly turned around. Bonus birds were 3 Western Meadowlarks on the dusty ride out.

Nothing like a little air conditioning and a few miles of riding in a soft seat to refresh our motivation to revisit Burney Falls. Priorities in perfect order, we stopped for soft serve ice cream and a bathroom break at the Visitor Center. This revived us even further so we added one last, short, unmemorable walk on the level but exposed Rim trail. Our evening meal was a delicious Asian one. Gas and groceries also secured, we returned to the Green Gables to take advantage of our infrequent internet access.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 22:41   #9
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Birds at the Headwaters Pool.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 22:46   #10
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More from the 14th. Swift at Burney, Bank Swallows at Fall River Mills, others from Ahjumawi.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 22:52   #11
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July 15
Our northernmost motel was in the rearview as we drove out of Burney and went south, back into Lassen Park. The entrance to the park is at Manzanita Lake, which also happened to be our destination. We planned to walk around the lake and did so, starting just after 7am. Bird activity was steady with a spots busy enough to make us linger. Birds in the water included Canada Geese, Mallards, Buffleheads, an American Coot and a Pied-billed Grebe. The Spotted Sandpiper walked on a partially submerged log, technically speaking, not a water bird. We had five woodpeckers species. At Devil’s Kitchen, EBird complained about me reporting more than 3 White-headed Woodpeckers, saying it was an “unusually high number” so I stopped counting them at 3. Four Flickers, two each of Downy, Hairy and Red-breasted Sapsuckers also made the list. We did well with birds at water’s edge in the willows and other short, thick shrubs. Red-winged Blackbirds, Warbling Vireos, Song Sparrows, one Orange-crowned Warbler and the only Lincoln’s Sparrow of the trip were seen in this environment. Up slope a bit, we found Creepers, Bluebirds, Hermit and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Mountain Chickadees, and many Nuthatches, White and Red. Our largest numbers of Pewees and Stellar’s Jays were recorded. A very nice walk of less than two miles without much elevation change, so nice we spent three hours completing that trail.

We next visited the well-stocked Manzanita Lake camper store, mostly to supplement our supply of food for a midday meal and ate our lunch in the empty picnic area, sounds of Stellar’s Jays overhead. Thus fortified, our car and feet led us to the Manzanita Creek trail. The sign at the head of the trail warning of recent bear activity did not pause our forward progress but we did remain alert. At least for a short time. Until our attention was diverted by a Sharp-shinned Hawk crossing our view in swift pursuit of what we think was a woodpecker. The rest of the hike, through a small snowbank or two, to a swampy area below Loomis Peak and Crescent Cliff held many of the now familiar birds with now more recognizable sounds. Species like Cassin’s Vireos, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Western Tanagers were no longer “what’s that sound?” Jays and Pewees we knew from day one. Nuthatches, the Hairy Woodpecker’s strong “peek”, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Chickadees, Ravens and Juncos were sounds transplanted from the east. Still, we surely missed a few, especially those that stay high in the tops of the tall evergreens, unseen and hard to hear. Another Black-backed Woodpecker was found. Like the White-headed, we had previously seen only a single bird of this species. Their regular presence was appreciated. Wildflowers occupied much of our time when the trail disappeared in a small, wet meadow at just over 7000ft (2133M).

A round trip length of 7.5 M (12K) and a climb of 1300 ft (396M), had us done for the day. We left the park and drove 15M north to the Hat Creek Resort (there’s that word again) where we reserved a room for a pair of nights. The room was comfortable enough but promised WiFi was not available nor was there phone service.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 22:57   #12
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July 16
Today’s plans were put together the evening before. A ten minute drive took us to Cave Campground where we began a downstream walk along Hat Creek just after 6am. Never a great idea to listen for birds along a noisy, cascading stream, we didn’t build a large bird list but seeing an adult Dipper feed a immature bird was a fair tradeoff. Anna’s and Rufous hummingbirds were active. With a great assortment of wildflowers blooming, they actually perched in a non-combative state fairly close to each other, plenty of nectar for all.
Yesterday, on our southbound drive from Burney, we noticed a dirt road disappearing into manzanita scrub habitat through which flowed Hat Creek. To investigate the variety of birds that might be there, we refound this area, just a mile away. Liz spied an unusual bird on a blackened tree trunk which proved to be a completely unexpected but handsome Lewis’s Woodpecker. Then we discovered another! One was holding a berry in its bill and the broken off tree trunk they were gathered on had several woodpecker sized holes, though we never saw them use one. Our attention was then distracted by three American Kestrels making a fuss, possibly a family unit. They quieted down and went hunting in separate areas. A Townsend’s Solitaire perched for a photo and a few Brewer’s Blackbirds flew past. Besides a Vaux’s Swift and a pair of Song Sparrows, we saw nothing else in an hour there.



Heading back south and through the park entrance using my National Park Senior Pass, we stopped again at Manzanita Lake, crossing the road to try the 1 mile Lily Pond Nature trail. The water of Reflection Lake, which we first passed, attracted expected birds like Canada Geese, Red-winged Blackbirds and a Bufflehead. Incredibly, though we saw a half dozen Pewees, the Stellar’s Jay did not show. At the Lily Pond, we tracked down a Nashville Warbler that refused good views. Otherwise, the other birds were the usual Chickadees, Hairy Woodpeckers, Song Sparrows and a few others.

Another visit to the Campground store, a bite of lunch and we shouldered our daypacks and left directly from the campground on the Chaos Crags trail. This was a round trip of 4.5M (7.2K), gaining 1000ft (304M) to an altitude of 7000F (2133M) through more open territory in the heat of early afternoon that we would like. Fortunately, there was a fair bit of cloud cover, the first we’d had this trip and much appreciated in its timing. Birding was the slowest we’d experienced so in 90 uphill minutes, we reached a viewpoint for Chaos Lake and the mountainside of Chaos Crags beyond. Our Lassen hiking guide describes the loose material shown in the photo as “dacite lava”, a silica product of volcanic eruptions. Amusingly, my phone showed a strong signal so I called my mother in North Carolina and had a nice chat. Better birds on the return trip included an Olive-sided Flycatcher, yet another Black-backed Woodpecker, a Hairy and a White-headed Woodpecker.

You might expect we were done for the day but we had saved something different for last. Driving back north and passing the Hat Creek Resort for the second time, we parked at Subway Cave in what was now late afternoon. The “cave” was actually an open ended lava tube, formed when hot lava continued to flow beneath a cooled shell. The walk through the tube extends for only 1300F (396M) but the middle third is really, deeply black. Three inches from my face, I could not see my hand. It is a reported 46F (7.8C), perfect for those of us who had been outside the entire summer day. With flashlights, we spent probably more time than most, noting anything of interest, such as lava bubbles, sections where the ceiling collapsed (we moved quickly here) and in Lucifer’s Cul-de-sac, a spider. Once we finished our tube walk, we put in 20 minutes on the trail outside and found it active with birds. California Scrub Jays gave us our second species of Jay, Cassin’s Finches, an Orange-crowned Warbler and another Nashville Warbler.

That evening, I mustered up the energy to return to the Lewis’s Woodpecker spot and saw another along with a Cedar Waxwing, an Osprey, a Flicker and Towhee. My hopes were for soaring Nighthawks but my energy levels ran dry before dusk really set in.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 22:58   #13
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Chaos Crags.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 23:01   #14
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July 17
With a hunch that birding at Subway Cave might be productive in the morning hours, we arrived at 6am. Our intuition was correct. It was a cool start but the sun was beginning to rise over the Hat Creek Rim to the east, warming us quickly. Birds were still active and numerous when we tore ourselves away over two hours later.

The California Scrub-Jays again took the place of Stellars but Pewees kept their place in the hierarchy. We added a few new species in between the Finches, Chickadees, Towhees and Warblers. Most unexpected were 4 Band-tailed Pigeons flying in to perch in a pine for a few minutes before continuing their flight. Two Pygmy Nuthatches were also in the pines, foraging more warbler like than typical of the other nuthatch species. Also new were 2 Bewick’s Wrens and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. A Red-breasted Sapsucker looked splendid in the sunlight and kept the air filled with the erratic sound of its drumming. A healthy number of Cassin’s Finches and Orange-crowned Warblers never seemed to be out of view and we found a pair of Nashville’s as well. A Black-throated Gray Warbler was our second and last look at that species. One Vaux’s Swift counted which seemed to be all we would ever see at one time.

Our lodging for our final night in California was back at Canyon Ranch, a few hours of driving down past Lassen Park, Lake Almanor and the town of Quincy. When that was accomplished, and the afternoon just beginning, we made a detour to Plumas-Eureka State Park, opting for a final California hike to and around Madura Lake. In the streamside habitat on the way to the lake, we found a juvenile Thick-billed Fox Sparrow, a species I thought would be much more common. The lake held Mallards and single Pied-billed Grebe and a dead snag of a tree was a fortress for Tree Swallows. An Olive-sided Flycatcher gave us an exceptional view though we missed the identification of a silent empidonax flycatcher. Junco’s, Towhees, Flickers and Pewees, a Warbling Vireo, Nashville and MacGillivray’s Warblers completed our sightings in the 1.5M (2.4K) walk.

We stopped in Sierraville at the last possibility for supper, scoring delicious, takeout burritos at Los Dos Hermanos. Much reorganizing and packing that evening, folding our dirty clothes, trying to arrange them so our bags would zipper shut, setting the fluids to one side, and wondering why I brought my huge and heavy hiking boots that I hardly wore on the dusty trails. A break in the fading light had me outside, finally seeing a few Common Nighthawks, distantly soaring over nearby cattle fields.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 23:03   #15
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More from Subway Cave.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 23:05   #16
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July 18
Our 2pm flight from Reno, Nevada, gave us time for a last look at western birds. Canyon Ranch was convenient and good birding so we finalized our packing, splitting our time between loading the car and seeing what birds the morning had to offer. Diversity was high though we failed to see a Dipper, we did pick up one final California bird - a Belted Kingfisher. Calliope and Anna’s Hummingbirds were regular at the feeders, Creepers, Chickadees, Kinglets, Warblers, Tanagers and 17 other previously seen species, including a flyover Bald Eagle, kept our binoculars in constant use.

Rising so early not only gave us time to linger at Canyon Ranch and drive back to Reno but just a mile or two into Nevada, we thought another short stop at Crystal Peak Park could easily happen. The 45 minutes we stayed there was every bit as active as Canyon Ranch though with a slightly different suite of bird species. The Pewees and Stellar’s sang their respective tunes. One barely in range California Scrub Jay was there though we did have potential for Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay, the more interior of the two. We spied a Black Phoebe working the banks of the Truckee River, found 5 more Cedar waxwings, Lesser Goldfinches pulling the thistle apart and Black-headed Grosbeaks tending one youngster. Again, we needed to watch the time and leave before we wanted. In the car, exiting the park, we saw one Eurasian Collared-Dove.

A few final notes to add. We saw temperatures from 43F (6C) to 92F (33C) in humidity at 10% or lower. Rent-a-Wreck was good to work with and by far, the cheapest of our rental options. We will try them again.
The only bird book we brought was Sibley’s Birds West, 2nd edition. I copied several pages from John Kemper’s Birding Northern California from 2001 which was too expansive carry along. We both have iBird Ultimate on our phones to help with sounds and quick i.d. checks.

Our pair of American Airline flights first to Dallas, Texas, ending at Greenville, South Carolina, were straightforward but tedious. We did not actually walk in our front door until 2am, staggering up the stairs to collapse.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 23:06   #17
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Crystal Peak Park.
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Old Sunday 4th August 2019, 11:23   #18
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Excellent report - I love some of the little additional details. The landscapes are stunning.
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Old Sunday 4th August 2019, 13:58   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by foresttwitcher View Post
Excellent report - I love some of the little additional details. The landscapes are stunning.
Thanks, Pete. I am aware that the "little additional details" will keep many from attempting to complete the reading. And, yet, there's so much I left out!

The American west is very different than our area in North Carolina. The forests are so much more open, I think due to the dramatically reduced amount of rainfall and soil composition. Many of the birds are difficult to see, spending their time in the vegetated part of the tall evergreens near the upper half of the tree. Still, we do enjoy our visits in these sort of places. My motto has become "Walk slow; see everything".

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Old Sunday 4th August 2019, 19:40   #20
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"Walk slow; see everything".
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