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Articles from The Sierra Wave for September/October, 1998

Volume 17, Number 1

Clem Nelson, foreground, tells June 20 field trip participants about the geology of Papoose Flats (see Report). (L. Blakely photo)

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Chapter Notes


by Jim Parker

Many of you who missed the June meeting may be surprised to learn that ESAS has a new president. We will miss Chris Rumm and all of the energy he devoted to Audubon over the years. Fortunately, he has only moved as far away as Chico, so he should be over here for frequent visits as soon as it dawns on him that the East Side is the best side.

It is an honor for me to be chosen president of the best small Audubon chapter in the country and to follow in the footsteps of my forebears: Earl Gann, Michael Prather, Joan Benner, Sylvia Colton, Larry Blakely and Chris Rumm. Since its founding in 1982, ESAS has developed into a premier Audubon chapter. Our program series and field trips are consistently excellent. Thanks to the hard work and artistic flair of Larry Blakely, we have one of the best newsletters and Audubon web pages around. The conservation efforts of James Wilson, Chris Howard, Mike Prather, Kathy Duvall, John Finkbeiner, Debby Parker and so many others are making a real difference for wildlife and wilderness. The public service efforts of Gordon Nelson and Chris Rumm and all of the chapter members have given ESAS a great reputation both locally and nationwide. And, as if that were not enough, we are privileged to enjoy the birding expertise, enthusiasm, and exuberance of Tom and Jo Heindel, the two best birders that I know.

Yes, Eastern Sierra Audubon is rich in resources and rich in opportunities. Along with the privilege of living over here in the best part of California, we have a concomitant responsibility. It is our duty to do all we can to keep the Eastern Sierra in good working order. Every time I look out at the Valley and the surrounding mountains, I am reminded of why I choose to live here. Besides the beautiful scenery, this is an area rich in yellow-billed cuckoos, black toads, blue grosbeaks, red crossbills, gray flycatchers, green-tailed towhees, brown creepers, and orange-crowned warblers. Our challenge, the reason ESAS exists, is to do all we can to preserve the wildlife of the Eastern Sierra and its grand habitat. As your new president, it is my job to coordinate these efforts in the year to come. I invite any and all of you to get in touch if you have an idea for Audubon. My phone number is 872-4447. You can e-mail me at It would be great to hear from you.


Over the summer we have gained many new, returning, and transfer members; we welcome you and are very happy to have you with us.

Tibu Bater, Allen Berrey, Patricia Bramhall, Robyn Butler, Ardyce Carter, Julie H. Cline, Anne K. Curtis, Jan Daigle, Joy Fatooh, Michele Frederickston, Karen Gaines, Amelia M. Hughes, Ed La Plount, Warren Morefield, Irma A. Naintre, Daniel Pritchett, Margine Rhyne, Scott C. Roripaugh, Sara Steck, Charles Washburn, Steve White

Sandra Whitehouse, Membership Chair


Our 1998 Eastern Sierra Audubon Bird-A-Thon was a great success. The birding group identified 113 species on April 26th in the Lone Pine area - a new high. This resulted in a pledge total of $770.00. Thanks to all of you for your generous support once again. One of the primary uses of the money generated from the Bird-A-Thon is for the Golden Trout Natural History Workshop David Gaines Scholarship that sends a high school student from Inyo or Mono County to the workshop for one week each summer. This year we were happy to send Vireo Gaines (David and Sallys daughter) from Mammoth High School! Congratulations, Vireo.

Mike Prather


Wave Contributions

Our chapter was the beneficiary of two major contributions for newsletter publication. Each issue costs around $200 for printing and $80 for postage.

Warren Allsup paid the entire costs for printing the May/June issue.

Sally Gaines recently sent us a check for $100 to be used for newlsetter publication costs.

Many, many thanks to both!


May 28, 1998

Dear Fellow ESAS members,

As many of you may have heard, I have left the Bishop area in order to be close to my son, Wesley. I am relocating to Chico, CA, to begin work as a Senior Air Pollution Specialist with the Glenn County APCD. At this time I would like to express a great big THANK YOU to all members for your support.

In my seven years with the ESAS, first serving on the Board, next as the vice-president , and finally as president, I have watched as the Chapter has undertaken many new projects. This ESAS Chapter can boast of many exciting accomplishments! Everyone should be proud of the Chapter's involvement in the schools, the Adopt-A-Highway, our work at Fish Slough, Earth Day, the wonderful assortment of field trips, and the list goes on and on. Our general Chapter programs offer a wide diversity of topics to the Eastern Sierra community, our Conservation Committee has campaigned for many issues on behalf of the birds and the environment. Recently our Chapter has undertaken an aggressive campaign concerning WSA's and the Wildlands 2000 project.

Yes, I am saddened to leave the Chapter on such a quick notice. I will continue to be involved with conservation issues wherever I end up. I will certainly return to the Owens Valley again and again! Through the Chapter, I have fostered many friendships and have discovered plenty of special places throughout the region. I extend thanks to all board members and Chairpersons for their hard work and dedication! I will miss all of you and I bid everyone the best of times ahead!


Christopher Rumm


Dear Audubon,

Thank you for the scholarship to the Golden Trout Workshop. I greatly enjoyed my time there. Having not been to the camp since I was a baby, I didnt know what the week would be like. As it turned out, I enjoyed every minute in this beautiful high mountain setting.

The weather was perfect, the food was excellent, the hikes were interesting and educational, and I made some great friends. It has been the highlight of my summer.

Some of my favorite parts of the week were hiking, bird watching, swimming in the lakes, floating down the stream, seeing the Warbling Vireo, looking for crystals on top of the mesa, having snowball fights, relaxing in the hammock, and in the evenings after dinner, playing games.

It was a very relaxing, week away from work, noise, traffic, and daily home life. Thanks again to our wonderful naturalist, Mike Prather.

Vireo Gaines

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Field Trips


Brockman Lane, Along the Canal (aka Finkbeiner Woods)

May 16, 1998

Leader: John Finkbeiner

There was a good omen right from the start with a male Western Tanager at the "Y" meeting place.

Our group of 10-12 saw the woods alive with Warblers and other spring migrants (Neotropical). At least 10 Western Tanagers, including males and females, were scattered throughout the tract. Eight species of Warblers were seen, including the "find of the day" - a Virginia's Warbler, finally identified by a committee of four, directed by Chris Howard. This was a life bird for Larry Nahm. We probably observed at least 100+ Warblers, most of which were Wilson's Warblers in numbers close to that. Empidomax Flycatchers seemed to be under every other tree. Four of these species were identified, we hope.

In total, 45 species were seen, including other interesting species: Osprey, Swainson's Hawk, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Swainson's Thrsh and Hermit Thrush.

John Finkbeiner

Papoose Flat

June 20, 1998

Leaders: Clem Nelson and Kathy Duvall

Splendidly austere lies Papoose Flat, to which ventured about thirty people in nine rugged vehicles. What a privilege it was to glean the mind of the master, the mapper of the area himself, Clem Nelson.

En route, several of us closely read his Road Log B in the Natural History of the White-Inyo Range. Clem lectured at many stops, always adding a personal touch or reminiscence. Caution: when in these mountains, listen extra carefully to your geologists. With unnerving frequency they can toss about, as a football, timespans of one hundred million years or more.

I increased my vocabulary as we gazed at a monocline and many faults and warps, stood at a knickpoint, and mulled over the orogeny. High on the shoulder of Andrews Mountain we examined shales of the upper Harkless Formation near which bloomed bitterroot, Lewisia rediviva.

At sparkling Papoose Flat scenic inselbergs, erosion-resistant plutons, float like ships upon an elevated sea of sand and sage. One of them provided an arch through which gleamed the brilliant, snowy Sierra. Kathy told of the changing uses of the flats by Native Americans over several thousand years. Aromatic cushion phlox, prolific now, delayed our departure.

Back home we went through Harkless Flat, convinced again that beauty, learning and adventure await in our own majestic backyard.

Larry Nahm

Big Pine Canyon Hike

July 18, 1998

Leaders: John and Dorothy Burnstrom

Our small, but enthusiastic group made the hike to the Lon Chaney cabin on a fine Saturday. Located on the North Fork of Big Pine Creek, this historic cabin provided a cool picnic spot. Special thanks to US Forest Service employees Howard Grice and Mark Husbands, who gave us information and a tour of the site. Attendees included leaders John and Dorothy Burnstrom, Carol and Maura Richman, Mary Ann Silleman and Carol Emshwiller.

Dorothy Burnstrom

Highway cleanup, July 25, 1998

Leaders: John & Ros Gorham

After a hearty breakfast at Toms Place, 13 dedicated volunteers assembled for the trash pickup on our stretch of 395. Due to our great turnout, the job was accomplished in record time (about 1 hr and 15 minutes!). Larry Nahm found the treasure of the day, a quality (non-functioning?) wristwatch (Larry found a motorcycle on Earth Day a few years ago!). A close but more saddening find was a dead Screech Owl in good condition by Dorothy Burnstrom and Don Constans. Those participating included: Larry & Ruth Blakely, Gordon & June Nelson, Dorothy Burnstrom, Sandra Whitehouse, Warren Allsup, Larry Nahm, Pete Bakuses, Don Constans, John & Ros Gorham and Arlene Bouman (new, welcome volunteer!). Thanks to all!

John & Ros Gorham

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Why is Inyo National Forest doing controlled burns during nesting season?

by Debby Parker

This summer, Inyo National Forest carried out a program of controlled burns in the Jeffrey Pine forest east of Hwy 395 to reduce fuel loading and to return the area to a more natural state after decades of strict fire supression. Is it really necessary to do this during the month of June, when nesting activity of migratory birds is at its height?

Our concerns are for the migratory birds that depend on Inyo Forest lands for breeding habitat. Most of the breeders, observed on a Breeding Bird Survey route through the Jeffrey pines, winter in Mexico and the tropics, and migrate up to specific places to breed. Throughout the breeding range of all of these species, habitat for birds is steadily being lost to timber harvest, development, loss of riparian woodlands and other human encroachments. Many bird species that were formerly abundant breeders in North America are becoming scarce, and it is very important for responsible land management agencies to do all they can to protect them. Birds are extremely vulnerable to disturbances to their nesting habitat. Of course, some birds will simply fly off, find another suitable nesting site, and start again. It is likely, however, that most will not. The cumulative effect of disturbances such as these is likely to be a decline in some of our local bird populations. We should be directing our efforts towards enhancing bird populations, not lessening their chances for survival. The U.S. Forest Service and the Audubon Society are both members of Partners in Flight, an organization dedicated to preservation of migrating songbirds. In the spirit of this partnership, Eastern Sierra Audubon suggests a better scheduling of projects so they would not seriously disturb nesting birds.

Owens Lake Dust Settlement - Will what we had be gone once the dust settles?

by Mike Prather

Tuesday, July 28th the City of Los Angeles and the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (GBUAPCD) agreed to a settlement solution for controlling the unhealthful dust that pours off of the surface of Owens Lake. With approval by the state air pollution board this compromise solution will result in 16.5 square miles of the lake bed being covered with gravel, sheet flooding or salt grass vegetation by the year 2003. After that 2 square miles per year will be treated until the GBUAPCD determines that the air standards have been met. While efforts to control fugitive dust should be applauded there is a potential downside resulting from the cure. When the GBUAPCD studied the environmental impacts of the dust solution that their office originally developed the subsequent EIR only applied to the use of surface water by the City of Los Angeles. The agreed-upon settlement solution, however does not specify whether the water used in the project is surface water or groundwater. Surface water would come from the aqueduct and ground water would come from under and around the lake. The pumping of large volumes of ground water from under the lake carries potentially adverse impacts on the numerous wetlands and springs that line the shores. These wet areas are used by thousands of ducks, geese and shorebirds for feeding, rest and nesting. Some of the clouds of shorebirds are traveling from their arctic tundra nesting areas to winter as far away as South America and then back again each year. Brine flies and other food sources help these birds make the long migration journey. Owens Lake is not dead and is in fact quite alive and critically important to thousands of birds. Eastern Sierra Audubon has helped census birds on Owens Lake by participating in the Pacific Flyway Project with the Point Reyes Bird Observatory from 1989-1994, and by helping with numerous surveys of snowy plover populations at the lake (Owens Lake is the largest inland nesting site for the snowy plover). In addition, fieldtrips and study trips to the lake over the years have shown the tremendous level of use by many bird species. Los Angeles and Inyo County have jointly hired a consulting firm to study the effects of ground water use at Owens Lake. Since the EIR written by the GBUAPCD did not study use of groundwater an entirely new EIR must be developed. This provides the public an opportunity to comment on the study and its predicted impacts. The Inyo County Water Department will eventually determine the pumping limits, or whether there will be any pumping at all. In addition, Inyo County plans to have the consultants write a Management Plan for water use at Owens Lake since the groundwater management plan for the Owens Valley doesnt specifically fit Owens Lake. Audubon members need to study and comment on the ground water EIR as it is developed. We should stand strongly in support of wetland and habitat protection at Owens Lake. Members should advocate use of surface (aqueduct) water as opposed to ground water pumping in order to protect wildlife and habitat for the future. Let your neighbors and elected officials hear how you feel.

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1998 Year of the Hummer for Rehabber

by Cindy Kamler, Bishop Wildlife Rehabilitator

I received 11 hummingbirds for care during the spring and summer baby season. In the previous 3 years here, I have never gotten a hummer. I havent had a lot of experience with them, but fortunately I had guidance from a good friend has been a hummer rehabber for 12 years. Ten of the 11 hummingbirds were black-chinned; one was an Annas.

Two of the birds were beaners, no more than 2 days old; sadly, they didnt make it. Even experienced rehabbers have limited success with such young hummingbirds. Two injured adults did not survive. Five nestlings were raised successfully and released; two others with suspected coracoid fractures have been transferred to the Lindsay Museum rehab center in Walnut Creek where a staff member has pioneered a hummingbird wing wrap effective with this type of injury.

One pair of nestlings needed my help because their nest was unwittingly cut down; in other cases, the mother disappeared or was killed. Please do your pruning either before or after nesting season, the rehabilitator emphasized. Also, protect adults and fledglings from fatal impacts with windows or glass doors by putting cutouts or stickers on the glass or hanging ribbons or streamers in front of the panes.


by Tom and Jo Heindel

Drawing by Alyxandra Bien, 9 years old, a student in Rosanne Beach's 3rd grade class at Pine Street School.

(For a photo of the bird in Inyo County, click here).

The Red-faced Warbler is a beautiful Mexican species that barely reaches the United States in south-central Arizona and the smallest southwest corner of New Mexico. California has had eleven records and, as expected, most are from the southern part, close to the Mexico and Arizona borders. Knowing that late May is a great time of the year to find vagrants, lost birds who have wandered far from their normal range, many birders spend an inordinate amount of time looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

Bob and Barb Toth, of Bishop, had spent a week in Crane Creek, Ohio studying eastern birds. The idea was to learn these birds, their plumage variations, and songs, and then go back home to Inyo County and find one. On Bob's first day back, 20 May, he was birding Dixon Lane, north of Bishop, a proven Inyo County Hot Spot when he spied a bird flitting in a cottonwood. When he focused his binocs on it he could hardly believe his eyes. A Red-faced Warbler, never before found in the county and only the twelfth ever for the entire state! Even though this was not the eastern bird he was looking for he was going to keep it! In a previous article (WAVE Vol. 14, No. 2) we gave the steps necessary to turn a personal sighting into a scientific record and from this point on Bob did everything right. He was sure of the identification as he had seen the bird in Arizona in 1996 and he also knew that there were no records for the county. All of a sudden his joy at seeing a truly remarkable bird became a burden to insure that every step was followed properly to turn this sighting into a record.

Bob hailed a nearby birder, Larry Nahm of Bishop, to look at the bird and they discussed all the marks. They were a little concerned because instead of being bright red, as those in the book or those that were seen in Arizona, it was a more washed out pinkish-orange. What the books did not show was that immature females (those born last summer) are a pale version of the female who is a pale version of the male and they look just like this bird. Bob and Larry went through all the warblers looking at any with red or orange in the plumage and concluded that, even though washed-out, no other bird had the head pattern of this bird. Bob went to get other birders that were in the vicinity (Jim & Debby Parker, Chris Howard, and John Finkbeiner all from Bishop). They all saw the bird and agreed with the identification. As the others kept an eye on the bird, Bob went to a telephone and called every local birder in the Owens Valley and those who could came up over the next two days, and saw, and oh'd and ah'd. Bob spent the afternoon writing a detailed description of the bird, his experience with the bird, and how all other birds were eliminated from contention.

The next morning at dawn a crowd of people turned out, the sheriff gave us a slow drive by, and it was a long 2.5 hours before Chris Howard called out that he had refound the bird. Bob spent the time double checking the bird to see if he could find anything he wrote that was wrong or if there was anything he had not explained well enough. Word went out on the internet and some other birders came in that afternoon and were able after a long hunt to see this very special vagrant. People came from as far as Los Angeles and San Diego to see her. Documentation has been submitted to us to forward on to the California Bird Records Committee for review. If convinced that no mistake was made (and the pictures will prove that Bob was correct in his identification) the committee will accept this sighting as the twelfth State record and all because Bob Toth did everything right!


by Tom and Jo Heindel

From dawn until almost dusk twenty-one observers covered the Owens Valley, White Mountains, eastern Sierra canyons, and Death Valley, searching for all the birds they could find. The goal of the day was to see how many different species of birds could be seen in one day. Some interesting statistics: 180 (up 15 from last year) different species were found totaling over 7100 (up 827 from last year) individual birds; of the 180 species 134 (up 7 from last year) were neotropical migrants, that is, birds who spend the winter in Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean and migrate north to breed in Alaska, Canada, and North America; most common bird was the European Starling (360) followed closely by the Cliff Swallow (350). About 195 observer hours were recorded which is like one observer looking for birds for 195 hours or over 8 straight days and nights! Thirty species seen this year were new to the count as they were not seen last year, our first count. Thirteen species were seen in larger numbers than ever recorded before: Turkey Vulture (199), Rock Dove (114), Black-chinned Hummingbird (75), Nuttall's Woodpecker (10), Dusky Flycatcher (31), Steller's Jay (55), Cassin's Vireo (26), Warbling Vireo (25), Townsend's Warbler (91), Western Tanager (87), Black-headed Grosbeak (82), Bullock's Oriole (87), and Lesser Goldfinch (123).

Each town had a team and each town turned up some interesting birds that none of the other teams had. The Lone Pine team, made up of Tom Heindel, Bob & Barb Toth, and Shawn Morrison had sixteen species that no other team recorded: Mountain Quail, Virginia Rail, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Bonaparte's Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Long-eared Owl, Common Poorwill, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, Cactus Wren, Nashville Warbler, and Scott's Oriole.

The Independence team, made up of Leah & Andrew Kirk, Bob Hudson, and Larry Nahm, were the only ones to find Least Bittern and Townsend's Solitaire.

The Big Pine team, made up of Jo Heindel, Earl & Carolyn Gann, Penny Ashworth, Stan Kleinman, and John & Ros Gorham, were the only ones to see Western Grebe, Redhead, Greater Yellowlegs, Broad-tailed and Rufous hummingbirds, Pinyon Jay, Juniper Titmouse, Mountain Bluebird, Indigo Bunting, and Lincoln's Sparrow.

The Bishop team, made up of Jim & Debby Parker, John Finkbeiner, and Chris Howard were the only ones to find Great Egret, Black-crowned Night-heron, Canada Goose, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, White-tailed Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Bank Swallow, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Marsh Wren, Swainson's Thrush, Sage Thrasher, Virginia's Warbler, Harris's Sparrow, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, and Pine Siskin. The Death Valley team, made up of Judy Wickman and Mike Prather were the only ones to find Verdin, Lucy's and Black-and-white warblers.

The bad news is that we found 299 (up from 176 last year) Brown-headed Cowbirds. Some quick math. If half were females and each female lays 30 eggs this season (the accepted average) 4500 cowbird eggs will be laid. If a cowbird egg is added then most or all of the host species are dumped out of the nest by the newly hatched cowbird, pecked to death when hatched, or die from starvation while their parents feed the bigger mouth. Most female cowbirds will not lay an egg in a nest already containing a cowbird egg so each cowbird egg results in the death of most or all of the host young. Using the range of eggs per nest as 3-6, normal for small song birds, the cowbirds are insuring that 13,500-27,000 passerines like Willow Flycatcher, Yellow Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Yellow-breasted Chat, etc. will not be raised this year so that 4500 cowbirds can be. Mankind was responsible for introducing cowbirds into this area and should also be responsible for controlling the cowbird population so that we will have birds to look at besides the brown-headed wonder bird. Return to top








to a gathering of organizations active in local environmental issues - -

to share information and learn about conservation efforts

taking place on the East Side of the southern Sierra.


DATE: Thursday, September 17, 1998

TIME: 7:15pm - 9:45 pm

LOCATION: Mammoth Lakes Community Center on Forest Trail Road

[from Highway 395, take the Mammoth Lakes exit (Highway 203) to the second stop light (Minaret

Road). Turn right on Minaret Road and continue to Forest Trail.

Turn right on Forest Trail, and the Community Center will be about  block down on the left.]

Together we will look at: different organizations and their activities on

the East Side of the Sierra, tools being used to protect

important areas of concern, how different conservation efforts in

the area interrelate, where the Sierra Nevada Alliance

can be of assistance to local groups in these efforts, and more.

** Feel free to share this invitation with other individuals and/or organizations

that may be interested in attending **

Please RSVP to Kern (Varian) Timmer

at 530-470-0526 or

The SIERRA NEVADA ALLIANCE is committed to a future that is shaped by the 

physical and spiritual values of the Sierra, the integrity of its landscape, 

its human and cultural resources and its communities. Through community-based 

efforts we can weave the tapestry that celebrates the splendor, values our 

quality of life, and protects the long-term health of the Range of light.

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