Owens Valley, Bishop to Mono Lake to White Mountains

Observers: Mary & Nick Freeman
Email: mnfreemanatearthlink.net
Date: 04/16/2007
Time: 08:09 PM -0400

I led my 16th trip for Los Audubon Society to the Owens Valley this past weekend to see the dancing chickens. Nick and I along with Paul Weers scouted out Big Pine Creek Canyon, aka Glacier Lodge on Friday. We were surprised to see the lack of snow here. We had numerous Sooty Grouse booming away. One high on a tree and high up the hill across the entrance and bridge at Upper Sage Flat Campground and about two behind the packstation up the hill. We began the official trip Saturday morning where we visited Aspendell and we had about 100 gorgeous Grey-crowned Rosy Finches (no Hepburn's were seen), Cassin's Finches and a Lincoln's Sparrow at Ken's house (the former Wallace home). We then went up north to beat the weather front around Mono Lake and the Jeffrey Pine forest where snow was falling. We saw and heard only a few Pinyon Jays. We had 55 Greater Sage Grouse dancing away at the Crowley Lake lek. We were beating the nasty storm that was bringing snow flurries further north. The biggest surprise was seeing a single male Purple Martin at the shore of Crowley Lake. A first for our trip. We didn't see any eagles as in the past. The second pond as you travel east on Benton Crossing Road from Hwy 395, we had saw two immature Snow Geese and two Sage Thrashers. Also on Saturday we saw about six Swainson's Hawks along Hwy 6 in the first ag field. We managed to locate a Swainson's Hawk with a radio antenna on its back. It wore a silver band on its left leg and a yellow band on its right foot. I'll get more info on that hawk and a photo posted to this site. We also saw two Ferruginous Hawks, one an immature lacking the rusty leggings. We also saw a Golden Eagle flying high in the sky. We had more Golden Eagles throughout the weekend. On Sunday the big snowstorm in the White Mountains and Eastern Sierra Nevadas made for gorgeous scenery, we spent time at Nik & Nik Gravel Pits. We had breeding plumaged yellowlegs, both species and a Willet amongst the dowitchers. We had Yellow-headed Blackbirds, the expected swallows including a few Bank Swallows. The weather was blustery than ever but we made a quickie stop at Farmer's Pond. We found two Semipalmated Plovers, Cinnamon Teal and brightly colored Least Sandpipers and a single Wilson's Snipe. We also came across a Bullock's Oriole. We then opted to go up to Westgard Pass where it was snowing but not sticking. The forest was quiet, no bird sounds except the faint sound of falling snowflakes. We had a single Hermit Thrush at Tollhouse Springs. Gambelli White-crowned Sparrows are still present every where we visited. We closed out the trip where in the Bishop area we were treated to a pair of beautiful Swainson's Hawks building a nest and mating. The female wore a silver band on her right foot. They would both bring nesting material in their talons and each would work at building the nest. That was my personal highlight of the trip but it was hard putting the rosy finch and sage grouse close behind! We didn't return to Glacier Lodge due to the falling snow. We arrived to Owens Valley with the ridges covered with a few patches of snow but leaving the valley where the snow was down to the 6K' level. So in case you need a fix of dancing chickens, we got ours! Another great trip with great birds (90 species) and a great group. I'll post the hawk photo later today. Happy Birding! Mary & Nick Freeman, Glendale, CA

Swainson's Hawk, with antenna tracking device, 14 Apr 2007, south of Chalfant Valley, digiscoped by Mary Freeman,