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Mono Lake & Sierra Nevada - May 2017

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Old Friday 25th November 2016, 21:20   #1
Sam Bryo
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Mono Lake & Sierra Nevada - May 2017

I'm planning a birding trip to Central CA in May 2017 and have done a lot of e-bird searching, site guide reading etc. I have a couple of questions that I hope a local might be able to help with:
1) my plan is to cross from Lee Vining/Mono Lake into Yosemite via Tioga Pass, but I'll be there on ca15th May so it's touch and go whether the road will be open. If it's closed, can anyone recommend sites in the eastern Sierra Nevada within an hour or two of Lee Vining where my Yosemite targets might be found: Black-backed Woodpecker, Great Gray Owl, Calliope Hummer, Pileated Woodpecker, Sooty Grouse and Williamson's Sapsucker? Lundy Canyon and the Mammoth area look potentially good, but local info would be great!
2) is Wildrose Canyon in the Glass Mountains as good as eBird seems to suggest. The two North Cal site guides I've got don't mention it, and nor do any trip reports, but eBird shows a few sightings for a stack of Great Basin species I've got no other chance at: Broad-tailed Hummer, Juniper Titmouse, Red-naped Sapsucker,Plumbeous Vireo & Virginia's Hummer, plus Woodhouse's Scrub-jay and Black-billed Magpie which may also be nearer Mono. Is it an under-watched site that's at the western edge of these species' range, or a dull place that occasionally picks up a wandering species from the Great Basin?
3) is the Lake Crowley Sage Grouse lek (closed in April from what I have read on-line) worth a try in May, or should I put all my eggs in the Bodie basket?

My wants list is a hotch-potch of mountain residents, elusive b*ggers like Lawrence's Goldfinch, and summer migrants, following 10 days in Jan 2013 in SoCal that produced 190 species. My current route is: Sta Cruz Island, Ventura, Bitter Creek NRW, Maricopa, Mt Pinos, Kern Valley, Butterbredt & Jawbone, Mono Lake, Wildrose Canyon, Tioga Pass, Yosemite, Pigeon Pt, Santa Cruz, Pinnacles NP.

Many thanks in advance for any guidance people can give!
Sam
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Old Saturday 26th November 2016, 00:19   #2
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Of your Yosemite targets none are particularly easy. Black-backed woodpecker is not very common in recent years because the burn areas have grown back. Sooty grouse is very incidental and scattered around, with no particular spot that seems best for it. Calliope hummingbird apparently can be found around Mammoth itself if you find the right sort of wildflower meadow, but I can't point you to a specific spot. If you head up the road to Mosquito Flats (near Tom's Place, Mammoth) there is an area with a hummingbird feeder, the location of which you can find through eBird.

You can get Woodhouse's Scrubjay (and Juniper titmouse) fairly easily in the White Mountains, anywhere along the road leading to the bristlecone pine forest (I had mine at a spot called Pinyon Picnic Area, which is not labelled on maps but has a sign along the road).

Lawrence's goldfinch is very erratic and turns up sometimes but not other times--they are most common in the mountains of the south (San Gabriels, San Jacintos) but you may get lucky.

Black-billed magpie I have seen fairly regularly on any rural roads around Mono. You most often see them flying overhead or across the road while driving. But they are capable of entirely disappearing at a moment's notice.
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Old Saturday 26th November 2016, 03:29   #3
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I would pretty much refer to e-bird (as you are doing) for the latest sightings - the whole area is very well covered (most good local birders update on e-bird in the US). You've got a strange list of some very easy birds (regionally) and some fairly hard ones.

1)Lawrence's Goldfinch is highly nomadic - unless it's a very recent sighting I wouldn't travel specifically for it.
2)Regarding Sooty Grouse, In many places I've found them skittish and even difficult to call in - very deep base call (however you'll typically get a response that you can track down); I had a strange encounter with a very bold Sooty Grouse just SW of mono lake that wouldn't get out of the road and was not bothered by me at all. I just posted a picture of that bird in my infrequently used BF gallery.
3) Sage grouse can often be seen near to their leks much of the year.

BTW there are places that are very good for black bear SW of mono lake and throughout Yosemite. Just ask the rangers at the camp sites etc for the latest activity.
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Last edited by cassowary : Saturday 26th November 2016 at 03:44. Reason: deleted a sentence
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Old Saturday 26th November 2016, 07:33   #4
Sam Bryo
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Thankyou James and Mike. It's encouraging to read that Sage Grouse should be somewhere around the lek in May, albeit probably hiding. Mammoth sounds like a good option for some of my targets, so I'll look up Mosquito Flats, and I read that Bears are sometimes seen in town there.

I did wonder about the White Mountains en route from Butterbredt (dawn) to Lee Vining, but would be passing in the heat of the day and I guessed that pushing on would put me in a better location for late afternoon.

Judging by the books and eBird, Lawrence's Goldfinch and Tricolored Blackbird are relatively probable in the Kern Valley: they are my main reason for spending a couple of days there. Having said that, I assumed I'd get both on my January visit and failed.

Some of my wants are very easy because I've only been to the west in January - Warblers, Grosbeaks, Flycatchers etc should fall without me targeting specific sites (I hope). Pileated Woodpecker is a bogey bird from 3 trips to New England.
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Old Monday 28th November 2016, 21:35   #5
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I visited kern valley and lake Crowley in may 2014, the sage grouse weren't displaying but 60 odd were present at the lek at dawn. Had to view from a distance though. Also saw sage thrasher and brewers and sagebrush sparrows there. Migrant corner at the kern river valley was the best migration spectacle I have seen, it was absolutely dripping with birds first 2 hours from dawn! Saw several Lawrence's goldfinch but just the 1 tricolored. Also le contes thrasher in inyokern, and grey-crowned rosy-finch was easy in aspendell. There is/was a reliable dipper spot at lake Isabella behind the dam. Saw several williamson's sapsuckers along Owens river road too. Even had the tioga pass open on 8/5 but think that was exceptionally early!
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Old Friday 2nd December 2016, 18:03   #6
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LeConte's thrasher is extremely hit and miss and I've missed it at the Inyokern spots several times. That doesn't mean you won't find them, though. If you need them sage thrasher and Brewer's sparrow are very reliable at the southern tufa monuments around Mono Lake (I have seen multiple each visit). Green-tailed towhee shows up too.

There are a few spots for dipper. I saw mine (flyby) at the Devils Postpile picnic ground, where a stream runs through. There is also a dipper spot near the hummingbird feeder outside of Mosquito Flats. If the water level is right you could see them at Tom's Place also (nearby the base of the road leading up to the Flats).
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Old Friday 2nd December 2016, 20:01   #7
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I saw the le conte's thrasher at Louise knecht's ranch, where she puts out meal worms for them. Can't comment on how reliable they are as only been once, but seems to be the spot for them still per ebird. Need to arrange your visit in advance if interested. Owens river road, north of mammoth lakes and east of the 395, is well worth an hour or 2. As well as the sapsuckers, saw c10 mountain bluebirds, gray flycatcher, coyote, solitaire and multiple nutcrackers. It also has black-backed woodpecker, but I didn't put much time into looking for them as saw the previous year in Ontario. May is an excellent time for birding in California!
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Old Tuesday 6th December 2016, 19:27   #8
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Thankyou JWReeves and James. I know all to well how hit and miss Le Conte's Thrasher is, having spent 10 hours searching for them in the washes of Joshua Tree in 2014 with no luck, only to find subsequent eBird reports from exactly where I was looking. I've got Maricopa as my 3rd evening on this trip, hoping to see Le Conte's early on, with Jawbone or Inyokern as backups.

The info on Owens River Road is tremendously useful and encouraging. I have found it on eBird and added it to my provisional itinerary. I'm thrilled to hear that Sage Grouse were at the lek in May 2014.

A snow-free Tioga Pass in early May 2014 tallies well with my snow-free visits to the San Jacinto and San Bernardino Mountains in January 2014. I will be keeping track of the Sierra snow falls as my visit approaches...

Devil's Postpile is on my potential sites list for Pine Grosbeak, so I'll mark that one for Dipper too. I have also earmarked Carson Pass and CA-88 as the birdiest way of heading west if the Tioga Pass is shut. The next leg of my trip targets Marbled Murrelet and Sea Otters...

Last edited by Sam Bryo : Tuesday 6th December 2016 at 19:40.
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Old Tuesday 6th December 2016, 19:39   #9
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My current planned itinerary for mid May 2017 is:
Day 1: leave LAX at dawn, Santa Clara River Mouth, Santa Cruz Island (Island Scrub Jay)
Day 2: Ventura, Cerro Noroeste/Bitter Creek NWR (Condor), Maricopa (Le Conte's Thrasher)
Day 3: Mount Pinos (Mountain Quail etc), Kern Valley (Lawrence's Goldfinch, Tricolored Blackbird, Dipper, migrants)
Day 4: Kern Migrant Corner & Preserve, Southern Sierra Nevada
Day 5: Jawbone Canyon (Le Conte's Thrasher if not see at Maricopa) otherwise Kern, Diaz Lake, Lee Vining, Tioga Pass area (Gray-crowned Rosy-finch)
Day 6: Lake Crowley (Sage Grouse), Wildrose Canyon (various edge of range things), Mono Lake (Lewis' Woodpecker, Gray Flycatcher)
Day 7: Yosemite NP (Sooty Grouse etc etc)
Day 8: Yosemite NP morning, Mines Road (Y-b Magpie), Palo Alto Baylands (Ridgway's Rail)
Day 9: Pigeon Point (Marbled Murrelet & seabirds), Moss Landing (Sea Otter), Pinnacles NP (Condor if not seen at Bitter Creek)
Day 10: a morning targeting whatever I missed, prior to a 17:00 flight from LAX

If Tioga Pass is closed then Days 5-8 will be substituted with various sites in the Eastern Sierra Nevada and a trip west past Carson Pass or Lake Tahoe

Of course, there's an awful lot that can change before then!!
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Old Thursday 8th December 2016, 18:03   #10
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I found the estimated drive times on google maps way off around yosemite, lots of traffic and windy roads, think it took me over 1.5 hours to get from wawona meadow to oakhurst when it was meant to be about a third of that! That made me abandon going back the next morning before heading off to del puerto canyon road(which joins onto mines road).
If you haven't seen lawrence's goldfinch, tricolored blackbird and lewis's woodpecker by the time you get to mines road, that could give you another chance at them. I saw all 3 around the mines/del puerto canyon/san antonio valley junction. Magpie was seen in a few spots so should be easy. Very birdy area, i struggled to get myself away from here!
The kern valley targets are easily doable in a day, i headed back to ridgecrest mid pm as saw all i wanted to, so no need to rush there on day 3.
I had a day similar to your day 5( i did inyokern, aspendell, check out lake crowley to get bearings, owens river road) so that is very doable.
IF the tioga pass is open then leave with plenty of daylight to see it, its stunning!
Jetty road at moss landing gave excellent views of the sea otters, plus wandering tattler, black oystercatcher, gulls, a few waders, with breeding snowy plovers a short way up the beach from there. The reserves near there aren't worth the time IMO if you got tempted!
There is also an impressive elephant seal colony on the us-1 about 30 miles north of morro bay that is worth a visit if time allows
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Old Tuesday 28th February 2017, 20:12   #11
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After a couple of months more planning - and reports of a lot of terrible weather in California - I am sure that my plan to cross from Mono Lake to Yosemite via Tioga Pass in late May isn't going to happen. Correlating snow levels at Mammoth and the Tioga Pass opening times for the last 30 years show that when it's snowed anything like this much the pass doesn't open until June. Ah well, that gives me an extra day around Mono Lake/Mammoth looking for Woodpeckers etc: Owens River Road, Inyo Craters and Glass Creek Meadow all sound worth a try, plus Rosy Finches at Aspendell. It also means that rushing north on Day 5 to Tioga can be replaced with a diversion into the White Mountains.

Thinking about the White Mountains and Glass Mountains (Wildrose Canyon) on consecutive days - targeting Plumbeous Vireo, Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay, Virginia's Warbler, Juniper Titmouse, Broad-tailed Hummer etc - got me thinking about other taxa that are different in these easternmost bits of California compared with the Sierra Nevada or Pacific area. Examples include different subspecies of Mountain Chickadee, Northern Pygmy Owl, Downy & Hairy Woodpeckers, Bushtit, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Hermit Thrush, Orange-crowned Warbler and Dark-eyed Junco (some of which have been mooted as potential future splits). I'm going to have to keep on my toes and take notes on how all these and others look :-)
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Old Tuesday 28th February 2017, 20:17   #12
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One last thing - are there phone numbers to report county/state rarities so that they go on to the List Servers? I won't have email access on my trip, except perhaps in the evening, and it would be a shame if I stumbled across something special and couldn't let anyone know. An hour searching on-line didn't produce phone numbers, just email addresses. If anyone felt like PMing me a number for CalBirds or any of the following counties I'd be grateful: Ventura, Kern, Inyo, Mono, San Mateo.
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Old Monday 22nd May 2017, 21:22   #13
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I have just returned from my 10 day trip to central California, and thought it might be useful to anyone visiting the area in the near future to hear about a few sites where I saw key species. I will put full lists on eBird soon, but realistically not in the next couple of weeks, and will eventually write a trip report for CloudBirders. My trip was a bit messed around by fog (Bittercreek NWR fog-bound so no visible Condors), snow (Tioga Pass closed, Mammoth snow-bound and very few migrants around Mono Lake) and snow-melt (Kern River in spate, Lake Isabella very full, and Kern River Preserve flooded & closed), but the wintery weather probably helped with some species (eg Pine Grosbeak).

The following were highlights and/or difficult species.
California Condor - missed at Bittercreek NWR because of fog one day and high winds the next, but 2 seen at Pinnacles NP on my final day. I arrived almost too late - I saw two as I walked up Condor Gulch Trail (14:30-15:45) but none on High Peaks (15:45-16:35) and the rest had probably gone to roost. Two people I talked to as they descended the trail said they had incredible views on High Peaks in the early afternoon, so getting to the tops for 13:00-14:00 would seem the best plan
Greater Sage Grouse - 15 flew up from sage beside one of the tracks to Lake Crowley at 07:15
Mountain Quail - a singing bird seen twice in a gap in chaparral next to the Chilao Visitor Centre (Angeles Crest Highway); the very knowledgeable volunteer there said that Mountain Quail come regularly to feeders at the Chilao Visitor Centre early in the morning and late in the afternoon when there are few visitors around, but that they are extremely difficult during most of the day (as everywhere!)
Elegant Tern - 4 on the estuary by Surfer's Knoll, Ventura before catching the boat to Santa Cruz Island
Cassin's Auklet - 2 from the boat to Santa Cruz Island
Rhinoceros Auklet - several whilst seawatching from Pigeon Point lighthouse
Marbled Murrelet - 6 seen from Davenport Bluffs, just north of Santa Cruz, during an evening seawatch
Costa's Hummingbird - 1 in southwestern Inyokern, 2 at Tollhouse Spring on the way to the White Mountains
Calliope Hummingbird - none seen in the Mono Lake area (too cold), but good displaying males in Wildrose Canyon (Glass Mountains, Benton Crossing Road)
Lewis' Woodpecker - 1 in a fallen conifer wasteland immediately east of the Mono Mills historic site (SE of Mono Lake), and a pair roadside at the eBird site just south of the junction of Mines Road and Del Puerto Canyon
Cassin's Kingbird - several at Arroyo Verde park, Ventura (a really great evening birding spot)
Brown-crested Flycatcher - 2 at Canebrake Creek Preserve and a few at Migrant Corner, Kern Valley
Vermillion Flycatcher - the pair by Lone Pine ball park (as on eBird) in the SW-most trees on the edge of the wooded area immediately north of the sports fields
Canyon Wren - one on rock outcrops at the east end of Migrant Corner trail, Kern Valley, and one on the High Peaks Trail, Pinnacles NP, but incredibly elusive even when singing
Island Scrub-Jay - a pair with 3 juvs by the first stream/river on Del Norte Road as I walked up from Prisoner's Harbour, plus a couple of adults in the first major valley along Del Norte Road. The ecologists on the Island Packers Boat said the Jays were easy at Scorpions Landing too, so perhaps Prisoners isn't the only choice. Island Fox was by/on the Scorpions Landing jetty whereas I didn't see any at Prisoners, but Prisoners did produce the island subspecies of Northern Flicker, Pacific Slope Flycatcher and Hutton's Vireo which I don't think would be at Scorpions
Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay - a couple in the White Mountains at the junction between the main road and the Bristlecone Pine Forest
Pinyon Jay - lots around Mono Mills
Yellow-billed Magpie - none in the Cuyama Valley in 2 hours' trying including at Cottonwood Canyon; however, I saw 4 lurking in cherry orchards by the main road at Waterloo (near Lodi), and a few in the Bitterwater area SE from Pinnacles NP. Very difficult though.
Black-billed Magpie - only 2 roadside birds near Mono Lake, but several around Bridgeport Reservoir and along Rte 89 NW of there. Definitely easier north from Mono
Clark's Nutcracker - 2 on the walk up from Iris Meadow to the summit of Mount Pinos, 2 roadside in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, and several in the Mono Lake area, especially at Mono Mills
Juniper Titmouse - several at the junction between the main road and the Bristlecone Pine Forest, but none in the Glass Mountains
American Dipper - 2 at Aspen Campground in Lee Vining Canyon
Plumbeous Vireo - 2 in Wildrose Canyon in the Glass Mountains on Benton Crossing Road
Le Conte's Thrasher - one singing late afternoon just north of Lakeview Gusher (where I parked) near Maricopa and another early evening on the Carrizo Plain (prior to a night drive with Kangaroo Rats and a Kit Fox)
Black-chinned Sparrow - 2 came to pishing from low chaparral opposite the head of the Big Tujuna Canyon Road along the Angeles Crest Highway (Route 2)
Lawrence's Goldfinch - a small flock by the S-bend at Canada Larga (mentioned in Schram), several in trees at the back of Cottage Grove Cemetery in the Kern Valley, and plenty along Migrant Corner in Kern Valley
Blue Grosbeak - a male by the layby where I parked at Migrant Corner Trail, Kern Valley
Pine Grosbeak - 2 females in a roadside willow a couple of hundred metres down the road from Twin Lakes (Mammoth), a pair around the first group of big Aspens along the Inyo Craters trail (Mammoth) and 2F&1M by the snow-covered carpark by Woods Lake (Carson Pass)
Gray-crowned Rosy-finch - 1 feeding on seeds on the roadside 4 miles along the Virginia Lakes road from the road entrance, it was using areas below 'cliffs' of snow-ploughed snow where seeds were being exposed as the snow melted; I didn't go as far as Virginia Lakes Resort to see whether any Rosy-finches were on their feeders
Tricolored Blackbird - only one seen in the Kern Valley (where the book suggests they are easy), so a large number at the Lewis' Woodpecker site at the junction of Mines Road and Del Puerto Canyon were very welcome
Yellow-headed Blackbird - a few among R-w Blackbirds in Alfalfa by the Weldon Methodist Chapel, Kern Valley, and plenty at De Chambeau Pond (north side of Mono Lake)

I failed to locate Sooty Grouse, Black-backed Woodpecker or Williamson's Sapsucker despite a lot of trudging/driving around suitable habitat south of Mono Lake. I also completely failed with Owls despite 3 night drives (too cold?).

10 days of dawn til dusk birding produced 225 species on my loop drive from LAX through Maricopa, Kern, Mono and Santa Cruz.

Last edited by Sam Bryo : Tuesday 23rd May 2017 at 12:30. Reason: completing post with more data
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Old Sunday 28th May 2017, 20:47   #14
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Glad the trip was productive! I went to the Sierras way back in 2013 but haven't been back since. Really want to head back there to finish up some easy species for my state list (Pine Grosbeak, Black-billed Magpie, etc.).

Weather this year has been odd to say the least. Went from a drought to above average rainfall in the snap of a finger. Tons of snow in the Sierras this year. It'll be an interesting year to bird the Sierras in the summer.
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Old Monday 24th July 2017, 19:15   #15
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I have just added a trip report to www.cloudbirders.com covering my 10 day trip to central California in May 2017. It's quite long, with an annotated checklist and various bits and pieces on the sites I visited, so I hope it will be useful for anyone planning a May visit to this wonderful state in the future.
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Old Tuesday 25th July 2017, 21:34   #16
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Nice report! Brought back some good memories! The first 2 hours of daylight at kern migrant corner will probably always remain one my most exciting times birding!
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