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Articles from The Sierra Wave for September/October, 1999

Volume 18, Number 1

California Quail by Audubon (known to Audubon as the Californian Partridge) See his text for this plate.

Also see Meeting Programs and Field Trips for these months.

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Chapter Notes


By Jim Parker


This is about the Owens Valley Radio Observatory the Big Ears down by Big Pine. Radio astronomers at OVRO interpret the information from radio and microwave-frequency waves that reach us from the depths of space. I think this is interesting work, and I enjoy learning more about the universe from their studies. Now, however, OVRO wants to set up a new higher-altitude facility to get above all the interference from water vapor in the air at the level of Owens Valley. They are setting their sights on a place they call Upper Harkless Flat, high in the Inyo Mountains, just north of Papoose Flat. In this, the Owens Valley Radio Observatory is making a mistake.

Even though the Upper Harkless Flat site meets their need for elevation, and is convenient to their existing facility, it is not a fitting place to put an array of 18 large radio telescopes that can be moved around to 52 different concrete pads. In addition, there would be hundreds of trees cut, miles of new or enlarged roads, busy traffic, and constant generator noise.

The Inyo Mountains are one of the last places in California where people can go to get away from all the human clutter of our modern age. The range is completely undeveloped, save for relics of long-ago mining that have now become cultural artifacts. You can go there on a summer day right now and not see another person all day. Try that in Yosemite or anywhere else in the Sierra, or even in Death Valley. Those places have already been changed beyond recognition by the sheer weight of numbers of people.

Perhaps the folks at the radio observatory think it is OK to put their telescopes up into the Inyos because there is nothing up there, nothing to be disturbed. That is exactly the reason why they should not do it. It would be a major land-use decision to begin chopping up the Inyo Mountains for projects such as this. Right now there is no development up there. If this telescope array were allowed, then what would be the problem when the next proposal comes along? A precedent would already have been set.

If we simply sit back and watch this happen, we can kiss the wild Inyos goodbye. I, for one, am not willing to let that happen. I strongly encourage all Audubon members to let OVRO know that we dont want to sacrifice the Inyo Mountains for the sake of their project. The project can still be done, just do it elsewhere. I also feel that it is time for us to contact Inyo National Forest Supervisor Jeff Bailey and tell him that we need to keep the Inyos intact. He needs public opinion to direct such an important land-use decision, and if he doesnt get it from us, others will surely give him a different opinion.


Eastern Sierra Audubon welcomes the following new, returning and transfer members:

Harry and Alice Conway

Jean Dillingham

Linda Hess

Mrs. Victor B. Link

Minta Ozolins

Mike Ryan

Theresa Sowards

Maurine Stephens

Bob Struckman

Derrick and Mary Vocelka

Scott Weaver

Sandra Whitehouse, Membership Chair


Eastern Sierra Audubon wishes to thank John Wedberg and the For the Love of Swing band for their $300 contribution to our Birds in the Classroom program. On August 1, as they do each first Sunday of the month, the band entertained at Whiskey Creek, giving the donations from that concert to Audubon. The band has generously donated their talent not only to providing pleasure to the people of the city of Bishop but also to financially supporting a different local, non-profit program each month. We are most grateful to have been their recipient in August. Our thanks also to Dan Wells of Sierra Office Supply who donated the materials needed to put together a folder illustrating our Birds in the Classroom program.

Sandra Whitehouse


Many thanks to our outgoing Secretary, Bonnie Reed. Bonnie served the Chapter in a most professional and effective manner for nearly 3 years. Past President Chris Rumm has returned to the Eastern Sierra scene, and will be taking over as Secretary.


By Mike Prather

Nomination for IBA

Eastern Sierra Audubon has nominated Owens Lake for designation as an Important Bird Area. These are areas with regional, national or global significance with regards to bird conservation. They may contain nesting habitat for threatened species or have large concentrations of certain species during migration, breeding or wintering. The IBA program is an international effort coordinated by BirdLife International. Here in California, our Audubon office in Sacramento is the primary overseer. An IBA designation can help build impetus needed to protect bird habitat by informing the public and land managers of the importance of local bird areas. Partnerships may form, and perhaps the local economy may benefit from visitation by bird enthusiasts. Lets have a celebration at the lake when the nomination is approved!!

International Shorebird Surveys Begin at Owens Lake

Starting this August regular 3-times-per-month surveys of shorebirds at Owens Lake have begun by chapter members in cooperation with the Manomet Bird Observatory in Massachusetts. Surveys run in the fall from July 11 to Oct 31 and in the spring from April 1 to June 10. Surveyors will collect three years of data and then reevaluate to see if changes are warranted in the survey methods. So far after two visits, flocks of up to 1,000 Least and Western Sandpipers have been counted as well as hundreds of Avocets. Smaller numbers of other species have been seen such as Wilson's and Red-necked Phalaropes, Black-necked Stilt, Greater Yellowlegs, Dowitchers, Solitary Sandpiper, Black-bellied Plover, Common Snipe, Willet and Long-billed Curlew. A little gravy have been both Peregrine and Prairie Falcons as well as dozens of White-faced Ibis. If you would like to join us on any of our surveys please contact Mike Prather, 876-5807 or


Bird Lovers Should Flock to Plant Sale!

Increase bird sightings in your own yard! Create habitat for your favorite feathered, furred, and six-legged wild creatures! Plant a beautiful,carefree garden! The native plant sale held by the Bristlecone chapter of the California Native Plant Society offers all this and more. On September 11 from 9 to11am at the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop, many special bird-attracting native plants will be offered for sale. The Bristlecone Chapter has collected seed over the last year of many different species of perennials, shrubs, rock garden plants, and grasses. Some of the highlights from the bird-attracting department include Scarlet monkeyflower, Coffeeberry, Desert olive, Willow, various Buckwheats, five different Penstemons, and Great Basin wild rye. To showcase the wide variety of plants offered at the sale, the Bristlecone chapter is holding a plant sale preview on September 8 at 7pm at the White Mountain Research Station. There will be slides illustrating all the plants along with information on their care in the garden. A free plant raffle and delicious refreshments will round out the evening. For more information or for a copy of the plant list, please call Karen at 387-2913 or e-mail at


Is your old ESAS T-shirt tattered, stained, faded, and ready for the rag bin, but you just can't bear to be without it? Grieve not - a new supply has arrived, in many sizes and new natural mountain and desert colors, according to T-shirt chair Debby Parker. And (isn't low inflation great!) prices are the same: $13 for short-sleeve and $16 for long-sleeve, with XXlarge sizes ($15 and $18) available also. Get yours from Debby.

Monterey Bay Bird Festival, Oct. 1-3

The Monterey Bay Bird Festival is pleased to offer an array of field trips and workshops to match the varied habitats in the area: birders can choose to walk through dense riparian woodlands, explore rich tideflats, or cruise over the deep submarine canyon. Workshops will explore many facets of avian existence, from food to feathers and beyond. By participating in this event, you will not only be able to observe an incredible number of bird species in many diverse habitats but you will also be helping to support and protect a unique and special geographic area. For more information, call 1-831-728-3890, or see their website.

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Field Trips


July 17 Hike

We had a great hiking trip Saturday with ideal weather conditions. Nine persons attended as follows: John & Dorothy Burnstrom, Gordon Nelson, & Robert Paschall from Bishop; Bob Meador from Aberdeen; Pheobe Wood, a summer volunteer at Schulman Grove, Bristlecone Pine Forest, and resident of Socorro, N.M.(adjacent to Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge); and the Ron Nelson family from Mammoth Lakes. Our lunch at Chickfoot Lake was attended by cool mountain breezes. We saw only a few birds, namely: Juncos, Cassins Finch, White-crowned Sparrows, and Clarks Nutcrackers.

John Burnstrom

1999 Bird-A-Thon, April 24

This years weather reminded me of the visitor to our valley on a windy day who asked a local, Does the wind always blow this way? and was told, No, sometimes it blows the other way. Judy Wickman, Bob Hudson and I started with a 5-15 mph north wind at 6:30AM and ended with a 15-20 mph south wind around 7:00PM. Beautiful storm clouds of all shapes and sizes floated by all day, and a blizzard of dust-like snow engulfed us up at Whitney Portal. Quite a show. Real John Muir weather. Starting up on the alluvial fans above the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, the wind made birding by ear difficult, however we managed to find the usual open scrub species such as Sage Sparrow and Horned Lark. An Osprey cruising north along the fan was a bit of a surprise. Later down at a protected spot along Tuttle Creek Road in the canyon there finally was a flurry of activity in the flowering willow trees. They were dripping with Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-crowned Sparrows. Male Annas hummers jousted, Nuttall's Woodpeckers drummed, and at the edge of the roadside a fully plumaged Golden-crowned Sparrow scratched for breakfast. This bird would be in Canada or farther north in just a short time. By the time we arrived at Diaz Lake we had over 60 species and it was just 8:15AM. We were into a variety of birds all day and the weather, although not perfect, was allowing us a chance. Diaz Lake had many water species from rafts of Eared Grebes to a Common Loon in full breeding plumage. Two Franklin's Gulls, a Townsend's Solitaire and a ker plunking American Bittern added to our excitement. The bittern gulps air and then releases it making the strange sound that comes out of the tules. We left Diaz Lake with over 80 species at 10:15AM. On to Whitney Portal, where clouds covered the range front. The birding here was in falling snow and it looked very quiet. Adding a Steller's jay and a Hermit Thrush in the lower campground, we moved up to the pond at the roads end. The snow eased a bit and the sky lightened up. Birds began to make noise and we soon added Blue Grouse booming in its deep voice, Red-breasted Nuthatch and a Brown Creeper. When we left Whitney Portal around 1:00PM we had 100 species. On to Cottonwood Marsh at the western shore of Owens Lake. An earthquake fault spring system here creates acres of marsh that drains into the lakes brine pool where birds come to drink and bathe as well as feed. Avocets, Willits, a Whimbrel, Semipalmated Plovers, a Snowy Plover, Western and Least Sandpipers by the hundreds, a Wilson's Phalarope, Dunlin and a Greater Yellowlegs ran our list up to 118 by the time we turned back for Lone Pine around 6:30PM. The addition of a Lark Sparrow feeding on grass seed with hundreds of Cowbirds at the golf course made our ending total 119 species. This broke the record set last year of 113, but was just short of the 120 species barrier. Maybe next year! So we made more than $1,100 with this years Bird-A-Thon thanks to all of the generous donations and pledges. This money will support the David Gaines Golden Trout Natural History Workshop scholarship for an Inyo or Mono county high school student, binoculars for local classrooms to use in their study of birds, sponsorship of Christmas bird counts in Lone Pine, Bishop and Death Valley plus the chapters continuing work on the Lower Owens River Project and Owens Lake. As you can see, your support is IMPORTANT to the effectiveness of your chapter. You make a big difference here locally for Audubon. We cant thank you enough.

Mike Prather, Bird-A-Thon coordinator

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Whizz whur zipp zoom. Wow, what was that? Fall hummingbird migration is here. I asked a few local folks what plants the hummingbirds were visiting in their yards. Here are their answers. Most of the plants below can be found in Sunsets Western Garden Book.

Since its a southward migration for these tiny fliers, Ill start with folks up in Mono County. The Ferrell-Ingrams, who live in Swall Meadows, give Scarlet Penstemon (Penstemon rostriflorus), a California native, top billing in their garden, with the red and yellow native Columbine (Aquilegia formosa), being visited earlier in the summer. This year theyve had a bumper crop of Indian Paintbrush nearby and found that the hummers have staked out patches and are defending them like crazy. The native Sunflowers are also popular for plucking insects from for some needed protein.

Moving south to Round Valley, Kathy Duvall says that, besides plants mentioned above, Monkeyflowers, Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens, native to the Eastern U.S.), Delphiniums and Lupines are popular in her garden. In the Rocking K area, Marilyn and Jack Ferrell rate Scarlet Monkyflower (Mimulus cardinalis) as their number one hummer plant. Next is the native red and yellow flowered Columbine. The Scarlet Hedge Nettle (Stachys coccinea), a native to Arizona, blooms profusely with large red tubular flowers for long periods of time. Cosmos attracts the hummers in their yard too, with the goldfinches eating the seeds.

In Bishop, Laurie and Don Sada say the manzanita shrub (genus Arctostaphylos) in their yard always looks good. It is a good addition to the garden as it blooms early in the season, offering a sugary drink from the tiny white bell-shaped flowers for the early migrators. Another native, Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis), [not a true willow but a member of the Bignonia family] occurs along lower elevation desert washes and streambeds of Arizona and California. The Bignonia-like magenta flowers are but one of the wide assortments of colors available. Lastly, the perennial red Bee-balm (Monarda didyma), an eastern U.S. native, has clusters of long-tubed flowers, which the hummers find irresistible.

Dee and John Finkbeiner, Bishop, hang Fuchsias and Begonias off their patio cover each year and say the hummers readily visit both. They bring these plants back inside for the winter months.

Bea Cooley and Chuck Washburn, Bishop, say the top plant in their new yard is Russian Sage or Blue Spire (Perovskia atriplicifolia), a perennial growing to 3 ft.; it is another long bloomer, heat tolerant and good for drier climates. They mention its listed in Low-Water Flower Gardener (Tucson, 1993) on page 110. The other popular plants in their yard are the wild volunteer Sunflowers, which the hummingbirds are also gleaning from.

Sally Manning, Bishop, says her native Scarlet Mimulus (Mimulus cardinalis), with its bright red flowers' are visited frequently by hummers. The hummers also glean the leaves of her mature cottonwood trees (Populus fremontii).

In Wilkerson, Ruth and Larry Blakely place their Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis), with its lavender flowers, as their number one hummer plant. Larry says this plant is well suited to our dry climate as it needs little water. The graceful Mimosa or Silk Tree (Albizzia julibrissin), native to Asia, is also attractive to the hummers here, with its fluffy pink flowers, blooming all summer! Thirdly, the 'Pink Dawn cultivar of X Chitalpa tashkentensis, a hybrid between Desert Willow and Catalpa (Catalpa bignoniodes), is similar to Desert Willow in flowering through summer, and has more attractive foliage. Lastly, their Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii), another heavy bloomer with its hanging spikes of flowers, also makes their hummers happy.

Moving south to Big Pine, Jo and Tom Heindel truly have hummingbird heaven in their backyard. With close to a dozen hummingbird feeders, and the top hummer plants listed below, you can imagine the busy scene going on there now. Greggs Salvia or Autumn Sage, (Salvia gregii), is a 3-4 ft. tall perennial with fuchsia colored flowers. Growing right next to it is Scarlet Bugler, (Penstemon centranthifolius), similar in size, with red flowers too. Anise Hyssop or Giant Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is a narrow clumping 5 ft. herbaceous perennial, with whorls of purple spikelike flowers (mint looking) which the hummers claim also.

Still moving south, we check in at Judy and Andrew Wickmans garden in the wilds of Lone Pine. Judy lists Mimosa trees (Albizzia julibrissin) (as mentioned above by Blakelys), and the fragrant herb, Lavender. Next she lists Princes Plume (Stanleya elata), a local native in the White-Inyo Range, with tall (up to 6 ft.) yellow plumes. Those on the tall stems make a handsome sight when back-lit by an evening sun as one winds down the canyon roads toward Owens Valley(quote from Natural History of the White-Inyo Range Eastern California, Pg. 130, 1991). Her last plant is Abelia, which is a large shrub with pinkish white tubular flowers and grows well at her home.

The Parkers place has the Anise Hyssop (refer to Heindels above), which daughter Sarah sent from her greenhouse in Washington state. The hummers hug up to it, with their bills sunken into the tiny purple flowers. My Wisteria and Sunflowers offer lots of aphids, which I keep in my garden as they are a choice food for other birds too, like goldfinches and migrating warblers. Thanks for everyones help, and I would be happy to help track down any of these plants above for anyone. Also, many of the plants above will be offered for sale at the annual Bristlecone Chapter of Native Plant Society plant sale, mentioned in this newsletter. Lets support them in their fundraising efforts. See you there! If you just cant make it to the sale, then order High Country Gardens catalog (1-800-925-9387), which offers many of the above mentioned varieties. Or visit our local nurseries.

Debby Parker


3 Treasuree-filled Sites

The Library at Cornell University has recently put up an internet exhibit on bird illustrations found in natural history books going back to the 16th century, extracted from its extensive collections. (Cornell is the home of the famous Lab of Ornithology.) There's only room here for a brief glimpse of this extensive site.

The different methods used over the centuries to produce book illustrations (Wood Engravings & Woodcuts, Metal Engravings & Etchings, Hand-Colored Lithographs, and Chromolithographs) are explained, and numerous examples are presented, mostly from works published before the onset of the 20th century and the introduction of photographic printing methods. One of the oldest, from 1555, is a woodcut of turkeys from a book by the French apothecary and naturalist Pierre Belon. Then there is a dramatic 1599 metal engraving depicting an eagle on a flying fish, by Ulisse Aldrovandi, Italian philosopher and physician.

The work of George Edwards, the father of British ornithology, is represented by several hand colored engravings from his 1743 book, A Natural History of Uncommon Birds. Hand colored engravings and etchings of American birds by Catlin, Wilson, and Audubon take the exhibit up to the middle 19th century. Additional works round out the 19th, and a few rare early 20th century works are also represented.

Alexander Wilson produced the first American bird book, an eight volume affair that started appearing in 1808. He produced 268 hand colored engravings for the work. All of the illustrations can be found on another internet site. The files are large enough so that, with a good color printer and photo-quality paper, it is possible to make very nice 8 x 10 reproductions to hang on your living room wall. Unfortunately, Wilsons delightful and informative text is only sampled (often with typos) in this collection, and I have yet to find it available in toto anywhere except in the original works - difficult to get at in libraries and exhorbitantly expensive on the used book market.

Another site presents Audubons complete work. While the illustrations are too small to make satisfactory prints from, in this case the entire text is given. Unlike Wilson's illustrations, large prints of all Audubon's paintings are found in modern books. The text that he wrote to accompany his paintings, however, is not readily available apart from this website. His text is of considerable historical interest, but is, perhaps, less relevant to modern readers than it was to the early- to mid-19th century patrons of the sciences who bought his gigantic double elephant folios. (In The Audubon Society Baby Elephant Folio [1981], Roger Tory Peterson provides the excellent textual material.)

Originals of many of the old hand-colored engravings are available for sale; an internet search of artists names will often turn up dealers sites where they may be purchased. Prices are generally in the few-hundred to several thousand dollars range.

One last thought: if you find any of these internet sites overwhelmingly interesting (as I did), be sure to snag the entire site for your future reference. Web sites have the disturbing habit of disappearing from cyberspace!

(A book, The Bird Illustrated: 1550-1900 by Joseph Kastner (1988), has many illustrations similar to the Cornell site. It was put together to accompany an exhibit at the New York Public Library. It is readily available on the used book market for about $20.00.)

Larry Blakely


by Tom & Jo Heindel

This years IMBD dawned windless and beautiful, far from the day-long gale last years hardy teams withstood. From dawn until almost dusk thirty-five observers covered the Owens Valley, White Mountains, and eastern Sierra canyons, vacuuming with their eyes and ears 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 as well as how many individual birds are using our area as they migrate to their breeding grounds. Some interesting statistics from this years count: 182 different species were found (up 2 from last year and a new record) totaling over 10,340 individual birds (up 3240 from last year and another new record); of the 182 species 139 were neotropical migrants (up 5 from last year and another new record). Neotropical migrants are birds who spend the winter in Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean and migrate north to breed in North America.

The most common bird was the Cliff Swallow (594) followed closely by the European Starling (535), just the opposite from last year when Starlings barely outnumbered Cliff Swallows. About 241 observer hours were recorded, which is like one observer looking for birds for 241 hours or over 10 straight days and nights! Nine species seen this year were new to the count as they were not seen the last two years bringing the total species seen during IMBDs to 210, a remarkable number for a county without an ocean. A staggering twenty-seven species were seen in larger numbers than ever recorded before: Osprey (9), Northern Harrier (11), Red-tailed Hawk (41), American Kestrel (55), Spotted Sandpiper (61), California Gull (437), Greater Roadrunner (7), Great Horned Owl (15), Vauxs Swift (117), Calliope Hummingbird (7), Belted Kingfisher (15), Nuttalls Woodpecker (14), Downy Woodpecker (15), Northern Flicker (80), Black Phoebe (45), Western Kingbird (129), Cliff Swallow (594), Nashville Warbler (22), Yellow-rumped Warbler (314), Blue Grosbeak (18), Spotted Towhee (139), Song Sparrow (76), Yellow-headed Blackbird (390), Brewers Blackbird (328), House Finch (206), Lesser Goldfinch (214) and, lastly, American Goldfinch (10).

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 Judy Wickman, Tom Heindel, Bob & Barb Toth, and Shawn Morrison were the only ones to find Ring-necked Pheasant, Greater Yellowlegs, Oak Titmouse, Pygmy Nuthatch, and Black-and-white Warbler.

The Independence team made up of Leah & Andrew Kirk, Bob Hudson, Larry Nahm, and the Point Reyes Bird Observatory crew were the only ones to find Least Bittern, Blue-winged Teal, Prairie Falcon, Lesser Nighthawk, Western Bluebird, Swainsons Thrush and Hermit Warbler.

The Big Pine team made up of Jo Heindel, Earl, Eliot & Carolyn Gann, Penny Ashworth, Stan Kleinman and John and Ros Gorham were the only ones to see Western Grebe,Golden Eagle, Willet, Short-billed Dowitcher, Red-necked Phalarope, Western Screech-Owl, Common Poorwill, White-breasted Nuthatch, Sage Thrasher and Lawrences Goldfinch.

The Bishop team made up of Jim & Debby Parker, John & Dee Finkbeiner, Laurie Sada, Bea Cooley and Chuck Washburn, Jack Ferrell, Rosie Beach and Chris Howard and Chriss parents were the only ones to find Canada Goose, Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Common Snipe, Franklins Gull, Bonapartes Gull, Pinyon Jay, Brown Creeper, American Dipper and Golden-crowned Kinglet.

This is the 8th year this international count has been conducted, and the third for the Owens Valley. The IMBD is a cooperative global effort to inventory birds during their migration. Many species are in serious trouble because of habitat destruction in both their wintering and summering grounds, so counts like this one help scientists determine the severity of the problem and which species are most heavily impacted. Fun was had by all and exhaustion by most, but the birds benefitted from another year of data collection by a dedicted group of concerned citizens. If you are interested in helping out, contact the town captain, the first one listed after each town, as soon as possible as some previous experience is an important help, and there is plenty of time to get ready for the Y2K count!


(See illustration at top)


ORTIX CALIFORNICA, Lath. [Callipepla californica.]


This beautiful species was discovered in the course of the voyage of LA PEROUSE, and figured in the atlas accompanying the account of that unfortunate expedition, but without any other notice respecting its habits or distribution, than an intimation of its having been found abundant in the plains and thickets of California, where it formed large flocks. MR. TOWNSEND has lately sent me a beautiful specimen of the male, which he procured on the 6th of March, 1837, near Santa Barbara in California. I have to regret, however, that he has not furnished me with any account of its habits. MR. NUTTALL, in speaking to me of this bird, informed me that it is very gentle or confident, so as to be in a great measure regardless of the approach of man, that its manners resemble those of our Common or Virginian Partridge, and that the males in spring are seen perched on low bushes, where they utter their love-notes in the same emphatic manner as the species just mentioned.

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