08-29-01

The big this week is that a Common Greenshank, an extremely rare Asian counterpart to our Yellowlegs, was found at the mouth of the Mad River in Humboldt County. A frenzy of updates and inquiries has dominated the CalBird traffic for the past 24 hours, with many people from all over the state entertaining plans to make the long trip up North this weekend. I'm one of those crazy people, but my employer probably doesn't share my enthusiasm for birds or my willingness to drop all projects for a last-minute trip. Oh, well... If the bird appears to be comfortable in its present location, I may find myself driving up to Arcata for the second weekend in three weeks.


08-22-01

Last weekend I took a brief trip up to Humboldt to visit a friend. We saw very few interesting birds, but did make one discovery while driving on Hwy 101. We were near Redwood State Park when we saw a large brown bird on the ground by the side of the road. We stopped as close as we could, but had already passed several hundred yards beyond the animal. As we approached, we discovered with horror that it was a freshly struck (and quite dead) Spotted Owl. We were torn between sadness at seeing this endangerd bird lifeless, but also excited to see it so close and with such detail. We gathered up the beautifully preserved carcass and after examining it for any leg bands or signs of foul play, we placed it in the trunk of our car and drove back home. The bird will be delivered to the Biology department at Humboldt State University by my friend, who works with the department, where it will be catalogued and hopefully stuffed for others to see. We couldn't help joking about how we would explain it to a police officer if we were pulled over for speeding...


08-04-01

A weekend camping trip to Yosemite, my second for the summer, was assembled for the purpose of finding the ellusive Gray-crowned Rosy Finch. This bird, as one book states can be found "among the cirques and ridges, alpine lakes and meadows, sheer escarpments and eternal ice and snow (of the Sierras)." It goes on to say that "no peak is too high, too rugged or to exposed for Rosy Finches..." If ever a challenge existed for a birder it seemed this was it. The gnawing realization that two good friends had managed to locate this species earlier in the season only fuelled to my desire to succeed on this single-species mission.

Upon arriving at Saddlebag Lake, shortly beyond Tioga Pass, my friend Jesse and I loaded up on granola bars and snapple in preparation for our 6-mile hike at 10,000+ feet. Our trail led us through alpine vegetation and breath-taking scenery that challenged us to name a more beautiful setting. Soon we observed, with some suprise, a Caspian Tern foraging high above us over the lake, as well as California Gull and Osprey. Apparently, we had some distance to go before the the habitat achieved the required "rugged and exposed" quality. Eventually though, we arrived in an area of widely-spaced stunted trees, huge bolders of glacial rock and nearby fields of icy snow that seemed other-worldly and appropriate for the Rosy Finch. I began to remember my hike down from the Jungfrau in Switzerland a few years earlier, and I have to say this was no less impressive. There was an overall romantic barreness to the plateau, but lawn-sized patches of spring green grass lay between the huge bolders and miniature wind-sculpted trees offered some relief from the elements.

Then, almost as if summoned by our arrival, a medium-sized songbird landed on the ground about 40' before us. The wings appeared transluscent and its flight seemed similar to a Bluebird's. In our binoculars the smooth tan plumage with horn-colored bill and pinkish wing highlights made it an easy task to identify: an immature Rosy-crowned Rosy Finch! We observed the bird for some time as it foraged for a few moments, unconcerned with our presence. When it moved up hill we followed it and observed it for a few more moments. As many as four such birds presented themselves for identification and each time they remained for a moment or two before scattering. A few repetitions of these events gave us ample opportunity to scruitinize every feature of the birds, but we found ourselves quitely longing to locate a brilliant adult male.

We continued hiking for another half hour or so, steadily climbing and discovering more beautiful scenery. Finally we arrived at a flattened area where enormous white boulders rested against eachother and formed a lumpy field of stone. Between the stones were collections of delicate alpine flowers, small pools and curious groupings of tiny rocks. There, only a few feet from Jesse was a very dark bird, a Rosy Finch! It was a textbook-perfect male with all the rosy tones and gray head stripes you could possibly ask for. We crept up on the bird, trying not to flush it. It seemed occupied with feeding on tiny seeds and insects gathered from between the stones or tiny plants. We were able to get many satisfying looks at this stunning individual and stayed with it while it moved as if on some personal feeding schedule. Evenually, we lost the bird in the distance and decided to leave ourselves. We felt we had succeeded in our mission and returned to our campground exhausted and ready to celebrate with a great steak dinner (the steaks had been marinating for 48 hours in anticipation of this event!).

Other interesting birds discovered on this trip, primarily in the Tuolumne Meadow portion of Yosemit, were Spotted Sandpiper, Clark's Nutcracker, , House Wren, Townsend's Solitaire, Hermit Warbler, Nashville Warbler, MacGillivray's Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, Pine Grosbeakand Cassin's Finch.