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Articles from The Sierra Wave for March/April, 1998

Volume 16, Number 4

Cover Illustration: Bighorn Sheep update at the March 14 meeting. Photo by John Wehausen.

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Evening Programs

Evening programs will be preceded by (1) announcements of interest to the membership, and (2) recent bird sightings and other news on the local natural history scene. Come prepared to participate! March 11

Refreshments: Helen Dhaliwal

Main Program: Dr. John Wehausen, bighorn sheep biologist, will present a slide program on "The Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep".

The Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep exist in five populations and are one of the most endangered mammals of North America. Dr. Wehausen is a research scientist with White Mountain Research Station and has been studying Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep since 1974. Many factors play into the survival of this mountain trapeze artist including predators and weather. Dr. Wehausen studies these sheep year round, hiking high with them in the summer season and checking on them in the winter months. He will share with us the status of these populations and let us know what the future holds for these beautiful and elusive animals.

April 8

Refreshments: Dee Finkbeiner

Main Program: The Eastern Sierra Audubon Society and the Bristlecone Chapter of the California Native Plant Society will jointly present a special program by Dr. Constance Millar entitled, "1000 Years of Vegetation History in the Glass Creek Watershed: Climate Change, Volcanic Eruptions, and Fire".

Dr. Millar and associates are using tree rings, analysis of old wood, pollen, fire scars, volcanism and shifts in the global climate to interpret forest and meadow changes over the last 1000 years of the Glass Creek watershed. They are also looking at plant conditions before and after livestock grazing and discussion of the "ecosystem management" concept that is currently "in vogue" with Federal land managers.

Dr. Millar is a research geneticist and conservation biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Institute of Forest Genetics, in California. She has worked on projects in the Eastern Sierra for the last 10 years and was assistant team-leader and scientist for the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project.

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Chapter Notes


We welcome the following new, returning, and transfer members:

Jimmy Angost * Tom Boo

Frances Cholewa * D. R. Clark

Kay Clark * Michael George Cordes

John Davito * Ms. Patricia Eckart

Debbie Eilts * Mrs. Adelina G. Farine

Ms. Wanda D. Finley * Cole Hawkins

Heidi Hopkins C Minta Ozolins

Lauren Romo * Stephanie Sheltz

Paula Sutton * Richard A. Webb


We still have limited edition Peggy Gray prints available. If you are interested please call me at 873-6314.

Sandra Whitehouse

From the President

Chris Rumm

Hello fellow ESAS members! If and when our wintry weather suspends itself the skies will brighten, the flowers will start blooming, and the birds will return to the Owens Valley. Spring is almost here! We have several field trips planned to take advantage of the season. These include birding trips, two field trips to the Death Valley area ( the rangers say it will be the best bloom of the century!), Earth Day, Highway Cleanup, and a hike into the Owens River Gorge. Plenty of opportunities for fellow Audubon members (and non-members too!) to get together and enjoy the wonderful region we call home!

One of the National Audubon Societys primary objectives at the federal, state, and local levels is for bird habitat and wetlands protection. Local members may wonder what the ESAS does in these areas of conservation. Our Chapters Conservation Committee convenes monthly to discuss pertinent issues. These hard working individuals include James Wilson, Chris Howard, Jim and Debbie Parker, Warren Allsup, and Kathy Duvall, along with a host of many other dedicated ESAS members. The committee members gather information, discuss the federal, state, and local conservation issues that are current, and then determine which issues warrant further action. There is never a shortage of issues; sometimes there are too many! (Just as an example-for the next few months the issues with potential local ramifications include: debate over the Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Areas; Management Plan for the Ansel Adams, John Muir, Dinkey Lakes, and Monarch Wilderness; proposed RV park and resort near Bodie State Park; proposed gold mining in the Hot Creek region; the never-ending Owens Dry Lake Dust Mitigation battle; the Lower Owens River Project; proposed mining in Death Valley National Park; and the list goes on...) The Conservation Committee never has any dull moments! The Committee members then summarize the information and deliver it to the group via our Chapters meetings and/or the newsletter. We urge all members to take these issues into consideration and do your own part by writing letters, sending e-mail, making calls, etc. Many members have done so over the years. Thanks goes out to all the dedicated committe members and ESAS folks who volunteer their time and efforts in the name of conservation!

Enjoy the start of spring! Hope to see everyone at the next meeting and on the Chapters up-coming field trips.


Once again, the ESAS will conduct an overnight field trip to Death Valley National Park. This year should be one of the best for wildflowers. Everyone will be responsible for there own camping or lodging accommodations and meals, hiking gear, water, etc. Car-pooling is recommended. For further information call Chris at 873-8763. The schedule is as follows:

March 7:

9:30 AM Meet at Furnace Creek Visitors Center

9:45 AM-12:30 PM Titus Canyon hike ( easy )

1:30 PM Meet at Furnace Creek Visitors Center

1:45 PM-4:00 PM Artist Palette hike ( moderate )

4:00 PM Return to Furnace Creek for camp

March 8:

6:15 AM Meet at Furnace Creek Visitors Center for birding

6:30 AM-8:00 AM Birding at Furnace Creek

8:15 AM-9:15 AM Breakfast at Furnace Creek Ranch ( optional)

9:30 AM Meet at Furnace Creek Visitors Center

9:45 AM Drive to Stovepipe Wells

10:45 AM-2:00 PM Wildflower walk at Stovepipe Wells area

2:00 PM? Leave Death Valley


Mono Lake Shorebird Census

Again this year, on Saturday, April 18, there will be a Mono Lake shorebird census, which will cover the entire lakeshore. Interested folks can contact Bartshe at the Mono Lake Committee, 760.647.6595, or <>.

Bartshe Miller

David Gaines Golden Trout Natural History Workshop Scholarship

Eastern Sierra Audubon Society is once again offering a high school scholarship to the Golden Trout Natural History Workshop this summer. The camp is located in the Golden Trout Wilderness at an elevation of 10,000 feet. Participants of all ages are led on daily hikes by naturalists who share the natural history of the Sierra Nevada. Students with an interest in the outdoors, conservation or the sciences are encouraged to apply. The scholarships are available to any high school student in Inyo or Mono County. Interested families should contact: David Gaines Golden Trout Scholarship , Drawer D, Lone Pine, CA 93545. Deadline is June 12, 1998.

1998 Eastern Sierra Audubon Bird-A-Thon

Our chapter's annual Bird-A-Thon will take place Sunday, April 26th in the Lone Pine area. Each year a team of birders seeks to identify as many species of birds as possible in a 24 hour period and raise money for our chapter's efforts on behalf of the environment. Covering habitat from Whitney Portal to Cartago, as many as 112 different kinds of birds have been seen in past years. Before the Bird-A-Thon day, pledges are sought from Audubon members and others, based on the number of species found. For example, if $.10 were pledged per species and 100 species were seen then the total pledge amount would be $10.00. All Audubon members and others with a deep interest in the environment are encouraged to please pledge generously. All who join in will receive a list of the birds seen and a narrative of the day. Send your pledge (amount you pledge per species) to Eastern Sierra Audubon 1998 Bird-A-Thon, Drawer D, Lone Pine, CA 93545 before April 26th!

Mike Prather

1998 Golden Trout Natural History Workshop

Located at the 10,000-foot level in the Cottonwood Lakes basin of the southern Sierra Nevada near Mount Whitney, Golden Trout Natural History Workshops provide a special educational adventure to individuals and families. These six-day workshops have been organized by a non-profit overseer since 1974 and provide professionally led tours of Sierran natural history. The Golden Trout Camp educational facility serves as each workshop's high altitude classroom base camp, and is one of only a few such facilities remaining inside federally designated Wilderness Areas. Workshops offer daily hikes within the Cottonwood Lakes basin and surrounding areas; evenings include exposure to the local history and talks by special guests. All meals and shelter are provided. Three 1998 sessions are offered beginning June 28, 1998 through July 18, 1998, including a special photography session the first week.

Enrollment is limited. This is California's most unique outdoor workshop!

To receive a brochure, write to: Golden Trout Natural History Workshop, Inc., Attn: Cindi McKernan, 1230 Friar Lane, Redlands, CA 92373 (Tel: 909-798-3060). See us on the world wide web:


No one enjoys the sight of litter strewn around in our beautiful Owens Valley! So once again, the members of the ESAS and the Eastern Sierra community will join together for our annual `Earth Day Owens River Cleanup' and the `Noon-Fire-Siren-Clean-Up-Our-Neighboorhoods' campaign. We will convene at the East Line St. Bridge crossing of the Owens River starting at 8:00 AM until 12:00 Noon ( table on the west side of river ). Participants are asked to wear suitable clothing, bring a lunch, water, gloves, etc. Sodas and garbage bags will be provided. Children should be accompanied by an adult. We will concentrate our cleanup on the section of the river from Hwy. 6, Laws Bridge to Warm Springs Rd. For those that cannot attend there will be an opportunity to do a little local `sprucing up' in and around your yard or neighborhood with the `Noon-Fire-Siren-Clean-Up-Our-Neighboorhoods' campaign.

The Earth Day Cleanup has been a tremendous success so far thanks to plenty of dedicated vounteers. Let's all get out and help make the Owens River and our community even more beautiful! We will need volunteers to assist with planning and logistics. Please call Chris at 873-8763 if you would like to help or if you have any questions.

Chris Rumm

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Field Trips


by Chris Howard

March 7-8 - Death Valley Overnight at Furnace Creek Campground - Chris Rumm (873-8763)

This year is being called the "Wildflower year of the Century". This weekend should be the peak on the Valley floor. Great birding at Furnace Creek. Early migrants arrive at Death Valley first. Expect ducks, teal, shorebirds, first swallows, and hummingbirds.

March 14th - Glass Creek Meadow Cross-country ski - James Wilson (873-3859)

James shares an Eastern Sierra treasure in a winter wonderland. James caters to a variety of skill levels - call him for more details.

March 21st - Owens Valley Birding - Chris Rumm (873-8763)

Spring migrants will be the main attraction while birding the Owens Valley. Welcome shorebirds and ducks back from their migration.

March 28th - Introduction to Birding - Bishop Area - Larry Nahm (872-1282)

Good birding for everyone. Larry is an excellent teacher who loves birds from the heart.

April 4-5 - Joint Audubon-CNPS Field Trip - Desert Birds and Blossoms.

April 11th - Highway Cleanup at Tom's Place - John and Ros Gorham (938-2023)

A good breakfast and companionship accompany this rewarding contribution to the environment.

April 18th - Earth Day/Owens River Cleanup - Chris Rumm (873-8763)

Chris has a reputation for making this event a fun and rewarding way to spend the day.

April 25th - Owens River Gorge Hike - James Wilson (873-3859)

A beautiful area to visit and so close to home! See the waters flow and the riparian recovery first hand.


Pleasant Valley Reservoir Birding

January 24th, 1998

Leader: Chris Howard

Taking advantage of unseasonably warm January temperatures, twenty Auduboners birded from the Pleasant Valley Powerplant down to the reservoir. The trip started off with excellent views of an American Dipper bobbing in the water under the foot-bridge. In the riparian willows, most birders had good views of several male Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, busy showing off their crowns. Up on the rocky slopes, Canyon Wrens and Rock Wrens could be heard. Down on the reservoir, the most common ducks were Ruddy Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, and American Widgeon. Scopes afforded great views of Great-Blue Herons perched on Bishop Tuff outcrops. Notable waterbirds included at least 15 Common Snipe (which are not so common in a group this size) and several Common Merganser. The unanimous highlight for the trip was a spectacular view of a Common Goldeneye, picked up by Jo Heindel. This remarkably beautiful and uncommon bird was a life-bird for many on the trip.

Chris Howard

Fish Slough Work Party

January 31st, 1998

Leader: Gordon Nelson

Though our group was not great in numbers, it was impressive how much was accoumplished in several hours. The main project was the closing of road entrances to an old quarry site. Also, considerable trash was picked up in the area. In addition, off road tracks were raked out at a nearby petroglyph site. After our work was completed, we met for a friendly lunch gathering at a scenic viewpoint on a bluff overlooking the Owens River.

Appreciation is extended to the following dedicated and industrious participants:

Larry Nahm, Dick Schneider, John & Dorothy Burnstrom, Ruth Hill, Joan Sahl, Pete Bakuses, Gordon & June Nelson, Jim Jennings (BLM), Stan Overholt (BLM).

Gordon Nelson

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In late May 1993 Richard Webster, bird tour guide leader, found one territorially singing Bell's Vireo just east of Scotty's Castle, Death Valley National Park. We went up and it was still there and we found another singing male a little further up the stream. This species is recognized as an endangered species by both state and federal governments and protected under the Endangered Species Act. We included their breeding information in our annual investigator's report to the national park and it was published in American Birds (47:1151). We were out of state during the breeding season of 1994 and no one else reported them so we were anxious to see what we would find in 1995. We checked and on 11 & 18 May both males were set up and singing almost constantly while we were there. It's not much of a leap of faith to assume that they also bred there in 1994. The habitat is a small clump of mesquite trees with a dense undercover of Baccharis in a wash with some water running about a mile east of the castle. The territories are just slightly more than a quarter of a mile apart. Most Bell's Vireo nests are within three feet of the ground and in an almost impenetrable tangle of vegetation. This area was perfect for them and the lack of Brown-headed Cowbirds made it even more so. We returned in 1996 and everything within four feet of the ground was gone! All of the Baccharis was uprooted and the mesquite trees were pruned from ground level to about shoulder height! The ground was bare and exposed and the stream was almost entirely put in a pipe! We went to the natural resources section of the national park and asked what had happened. They didn't have a clue that there were any Bell's Vireos breeding there. Our data had fallen through the cracks. It was too late to undo the damage but if work was done to rehabilitate the habitat maybe the vireos would return. Under the Endangered Species Act federal agencies need to consult with the U.S Fish & Wildlife if a federal activity has the potential to affect listed species or habitat. The consultation needs to be done BEFORE work is initiated. At Scotty's Castle, vegetation was cleared and the hydrology of the area was modified. The superintendent made the determination that the project would have no effect! Wait a minute! The Bell's Vireos were singing on territory and now they aren't. Guess the superintendents' determination was wrong. With whom did he consult? Now we've heard that more maintenance cleaning and clearing is planned. We've written to Dick Martin, the superintendent, asking what plans the national park has to recover the lost habitat for the Bell's Vireo and have had no response. It's time to ask the public to speak out for the vireos as they can't speak for themselves. If an endangered species isn't protected in a national park then something is wrong with the law or with those whose job it is to enforce the law. Please make the time in your busy lives to write a quick note to: Dick Martin, Superintendent Death Valley National Park Death Valley, CA 92328 ( and send a copy to: Denyse Racine, CA Fish & Game 407 W. Line St, Bishop, CA 93514 (

Tom and Jo Heindel


LORP Documents

The Lower Owens River Project was described by Mike Prather in the Sept/Oct '97 issue of the Wave. All documents are available at the Inyo Co. Water Dept. in Bishop. They may be found in their entirety on the internet at:

They are also linked on the ESAS Web Site, along with a beautiful color photo (by Andrew Kirk) of a Least Bittern, one of the habitat indicator species of the project.

USFS Wilderness Proposals info

Information can be obtained at the Forest Service office in Bishop, and on the internet:

BLM Wilderness Study Areas Released from Review

Info at BLM office in Bishop; some details at:


If you didn't write that turkey letter yet, there's still time and need. See the Sept./Oct., '97 issue of the Wave. The address to write to is:

Ms. Patricia Wolf

CDFG Region 5 Manager

330 Golden Shores #50

Long Beach, CA 90802

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by Tom and Jo Heindel

Is it possible? Is it time to think of spring migrants already? Not only is it time to think of spring birds but, be advised, that a handful have already made an appearance. On 14 January two Barn Swallows were at Fish Springs; the first January records ever! On 17 January Chris Howard had the first Cinnamon Teal of spring at Furnace Creek Ranch. The same day Earl Gann's field trip had the first Turkey Vulture of the year and four Tree Swallows were at Tinemaha Reservoir. It has started. Winter often persists in the eastern Sierra until quite late. Visiting southern California birders are often surprised that our trees are still leafless in early April because theirs have been leafed out for a month. Our land bird migration does not have a major push until late April or early May. Our shorebirds, however, have been on the move long before this land bird movement began. Greater Yellowlegs often begin to migrate in February. As a few winter, it may be difficult to determine if a bird is wintering or moving through. If a person is able to bird the same area repeatedly they would know whether the bird had been there through the winter or not. Over the last decade we have February records of fifteen (1993), thirty-nine (1994), and thirteen (1997), for example, where only a few had been seen in December and January trips to the same location. Black-bellied Plovers begin moving through by late March. Our earliest record is 11 March 1996 at Farmer's Pond, north of Bishop found by Floyd & Sandy Bero. Killdeer begin to reappear in large numbers during March while in the winter they are seen in very small numbers. By late March our first Black-necked Stilts have returned. The earliest Inyo record is 19 March 1995 at Haiwee Reservoir. Similarly, large numbers of American Avocets have returned by the third week of March to brace the still icy weather. By the last of March our first Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpipers have returned. By late March or early April our two most common small sandpipers, the Western and Least, are moving through in great numbers. A few Long-billed Dowitchers are moving in February and by mid March in some years may be found by the dozens. While Wilson's Phalaropes don't normally appear until mid-April, there is a 27 Mar 1990 record for Bishop. If these regular spring migrants are not enough to get you out to your favorite shorebird area, keep in mind the possibility of finding a truly rare visitor such as Red Phalarope (2 spring records over the last decade), Baird's Sandpiper (2 spring records over the last decade), and Pectoral Sandpiper (2 spring records over the last four decades)! Where might we find these migrant water birds? Anywhere there is standing water. The best shorebird area in the county is probably Cottonwood Marsh, about ten miles south of Lone Pine (see the ESAS WWW site for a map and photo-Ed.), along the west shore of Owens Lake. A fresh water pond overflows providing birds water to drink and bathe. Other good areas include Tinemaha Reservoir, Nik & Nik gravel ponds, north of Bishop, and Crowley Lake to the north in Mono County. Spring has sprung!

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