Sierra Wave -  Newsletter of the Eastern Sierra Audubon Society

Eastern Sierra Audubon
Sierra Wave Newsletter

Volume 31, Number 1
September-October, 2012



David Lukas, Sierra Nevada Naturalist

David Lukas, Sierra Nevada Naturalist

The Mystery of Bird Song, with David Lukas

Where: White Mountain Research Station

When: October 3rd, 7pm

How do birds learn to sing such beautiful songs? And why do they produce so many different types of vocalizations? David Lukas will help answer some of these questions and share his insights into the magical world of bird song — from the ways we study bird song, to the anatomy of how birds produce sounds, to some of the social behaviors that explain common bird vocalizations.

David Lukas is a California naturalist and author whose books include Sierra Nevada Birds and Sierra Nevada Natural History. David grew up in Oregon but has been living in the Sierra Nevada and leading bird programs for over 20 years. His newest book is Bay Area Birds and it is the first comprehensive guide to the status, life history, and distribution of all the birds that occur in the Bay Area from Monterey Bay to Sonoma County (

For more information contact Jenny Richardson. Also, visit our Programs page for updates and the exciting list of speakers for the 2012-2013 season. Everyone is welcome to attend all programs!

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Upcoming ESAS Field Trips

September 29, Saturday: Birding off Brockman Lane, Bishop

Leader: Larry Nahm

The open woodlands northwest of Bishop, called Finkbeiner Forest by local birders, are surrounded by desert and meadow. Late migrants are still a possibility. Bring water, snacks and binoculars for this easy walk which will end by noon. Meet at the southwest end of Rite-Aid's parking lot off Highway 395 north of Bishop at 8:30 a.m. Call leader Larry Nahm at (760) 872-4125 for more information.

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October 27, Saturday: Rock Creek Birding

Leader: Bill Mitchel

This easy annual hike along scenic Rock Creek offers a look at the hardy species which have lingered in the mountains as cold weather settles in. Will the voices of Townsend's Solitaires be heard again this year? Meet at 9:00 a.m. at the Sno-Park below East Fork Campground. Carry binoculars, lunch, water, warm clothing, and a warm hat. For more info and to check in case the location needs to be changed, please call leader Bill Mitchel at (760) 872-4774.

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Check back for additions and updates here and on the Field Trips page of the ESAS website.

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North American Bluebird Society Conference, October 4-7, 2012

The 35th annual Bluebird Conference of the North American Bluebird Society (NABS), hosted by the Southern California Bluebird Society (SCBS), takes place October 4-7 in Newport Beach. The conference is being organized and hosted by the Southern California Bluebird Club. The meeting will be held in the Radisson Hotel in Newport Beach about five minutes from the Orange County Airport (also known as John Wayne Airport).

Speakers include Cornell's Laura Erickson, giving the keynote on "How Birds Learn," and Steve Shunk, the Friday dinner speaker, speaking on "Woodpecker Conservation as a Keystone for Bluebird Recovery." There will also be more programs, workshops on Western Bluebirds, Mountain Bluebirds, Owls of California, the Lewis Woodpecker among others, many great field trips to local wetlands and wildlife areas, and family-friendly events throughout the weekend.

More details and registration materials are available on the SCBS web page:

Video Invitation to the conference

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Central Valley Bird Symposium

On November 15th-18th, 2012, the Central Valley Bird Club will be hosting the 16th Annual Central Valley Birding Symposium at the Stockton Hilton Hotel, in Stockton, CA.

Please come and help us kick off this year's CVBS! Come meet the CVBS board & staff members! Reconnect with old friends! Meet new ones! Take advantage of the scrumptious hors d'oeuvres buffet & No Host Bar on Thursday night.

Thursday Night’s keynote speaker is Ed Harper presenting a program on “Appreciating the Birds of the Central Valley”. Come sit back and watch as Ed takes us on a photographic journey to catch a glimpse of the avian world of the Central Valley.

Friday Night's keynote program is by Sophie Webb on “Seabirds & Marine Mammals of the Tropical Eastern Pacific.”

Sophie will give us a wonderful glimpse into the natural history of the fascinating birds and mammals she has encountered on research vessels over the deep seas, emphasizing those that venture close to the California coast, especially during migration.

Saturday Night's keynote program is by Carlos Bethancourt on “The Natural Splendor of Panamá!” Come sit back and watch as Carlos takes us on a photographic journey across Central Panama, where myriad tropical birds, bizarre mammals and unusual reptiles and amphibians are seen in their natural setting! From Toucans to hummingbirds, Mouse Opossums to tongue-wielding Orange Nectar Bats, Carlos will keep you spellbound with his stories of discovery and vivid images. Come experience why Panamá is indeed the country of Natural Splendor!

Also on Saturday, Paul J. Baicich will present "Access Matters: Why Birders Should Care" Is access to birding locations important? Well, only if you want to see birds! Other events include a “Century of Field Identification” by Joe Morlan, Bird ID Workshop by Jon Dunn and a sketching workshop by Sophie Webb. Our field trips always turn up exciting birds. Add in the always entertaining and educational Bird ID Panel, the wonderful display of art and gifts for yourself or others at the Birder's Market and the camaraderie of hundreds of like-minded folks, and you know you'll have a good time! There's something for everyone interested in birds. Come and join us to bird, learn, and just have fun.

To look over the line-up of speakers, workshops, and field trips check out our website at:

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President’s Message

“It is among birders, all of the naturalists and
adventurers that the child can find role models”

— E. O. Wilson

Banking Avocets, Owens Lake, Photo by Gail Klett

American Avocets, banking at Owens Lake
Photo by Gail Klett

My goodness, it is August. It’s the annual refrain: “what happened to the time.” In the Audubon world, August is annual report month. Each chapter has to prepare a document for National Audubon that describes the chapter; its volunteers and its activities. Like all forms, it is a pain, but it enables us to receive our chapter funding allocation and enables National Audubon to be supportive of our local group. ESAS has benefitted greatly from its relationship with Audubon California and the national organization, so participating in this bureaucracy is a pretty small price to pay. When you fill out the report, you get a clear picture of the many activities, school programs, community education and outreach and research support activities we have a hand in.

One of these is the chapter’s support of the Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua. We provide financial support and chapter members help out as event volunteers, program presenters and field trip leaders. This year’s event was fabulous. I was really impressed by how mellow the weekend was; the way people cooperated with each other to share rides, scopes and information, forming a real community. The birds did their part; a Golden Eagle nest, Osprey chicks, a Black-chinned Sparrow, Willow Flycatcher and the posing Buntings and Green-tailed Towhees that kept us transfixed at Jordan Creek. It is amazing how many people are involved in making this event work and how well they work together.

Birders in Horse Meadow, Chautauqua 2012

Birders in Horse Meadow, Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua Field Trip, 2012

Volunteerism is a hallmark of the Eastern Sierra. The fabric of our communities is held together by the energy and dedication of people who give their time and talent to sustain a wide spectrum of services and activities. Eastern Sierra Audubon is a part of that fabric; we are totally volunteer driven. Audubon members give so many hours on behalf of this organization and it is greatly appreciated. We are working on ways to make it easier to contribute to the chapter by making sure our opportunities are on our website and getting a calendar of events and needs out well in advance so that people can more easily set aside time for ESAS.

The chapter is committed to playing a significant role in the community and creating outdoor education opportunities to inspire and challenge our next generation of birders. We already have a wonderful program for Bishop third grade students and have been able to take first steps to bring that experience to elementary students in Lee Vining and Bishop. Wouldn’t it be terrific if every elementary student in Inyo and Mono counties could be exposed to the wonder of birds through this program? What would happen if we could put together a program which gave families a regular opportunity to spend time together in nature and learn more about the places where they live? I like to believe this can happen because I know that there are so many people here who have incredible talents that can make it so. Please let me know if you have any interest in sharing your knowledge and passion and we will find a way to get you involved at a level that works for you. Above all, this is going to be fun! If you are a member of an organization that you think could provide a partnership or a program opportunity (eg. scout troops) let me know and we will sit down and brainstorm.

Annual report time is like New Years without the fun. It is the time to look back and feel good about the chapter’s ability to do amazing and valued things. What an incredible group of people you are. There is also a space on the report to list our agenda for next year and I can see great things ahead. Our well being depends a lot on the extent to which we can make meaningful connection with place. Audubon can provide that connection. We can also provide the chance to meet and talk with our neighbors while we take a few minutes to marvel at birds in the park or along a canal or near our schools. Without a doubt, it is a worthwhile effort to work on defining and securing a sustainable future for habitat at Owens Lake. I am very proud of the ESAS role in that effort, but I know that what will l make it truly meaningful depends on our ability to entice people to learn from that habitat effort and enrich their lives by spending some time among the Owens Lake birds. I am already looking forward to reporting our successes a year from now.

Baird's Sandpiper, Owens Lake - photo by Ali Sheehy

Pectoral and Baird's sandpipers as well as other species are on Owens Lake right now. The 'fill' has begun (water being turned on in preparation for dust control season starting Oct. 1). Baird's sandpiper photo by Ali Sheehey.

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Congratulations to Our First ESAS Scholarship Recipients!

Certificate: Bishop Union High School's Scholarship Program, 2012. Thank you for supporting the future endeavors of our gratuates! Jamey Wilcher and Nicholas Schley (photos of each). Eastern Sierra Audubon Society of Inyo/Mono Counties

Congratulations to Our First ESAS Scholarship Recipients!

It was not an easy task to choose between the several excellent candidates from whom we recieved scholarship applications by the deadline. But in the end, we chose two students, one living in Inyo County and one living in Mono County, whose combination of past experiences and intended goals most closely aligned with the Audubon mission. Both are pursuing careers related to the environment, and both shared experiences they've had here in the Eastern Sierra which have affected them in their choices. Both also showed through their past volunteer and work experiences that they are dedicated to their goals of protecting wildlife and their habitats as well as sharing their enjoyment with others. Excerpts from both of their essays follow. Congratulations to Jamey Wilcher and Nicholas Schley!

Jamey Wilcher's Essay

Jamey wants to pursue a career as an environmental scientist working for a consulting firm, and has been accepted to UC Davis, UCSB, and Mills College. She has been Outdoor Club vice president and has volunteered for Fish and Game.

I take ten steps, then have to stop, exhausted legs trembling from the eleven-mile hike between the trailhead at Whitney Portal and where I am now, mere steps from the summit. I look back at my best friend, who somehow manages to smile, and then steel myself to tackle the last few feet, pushed by a burgeoning sense of excitement, and the threat of over eight hours of hiking going to waste if I fail. As I crest the last hill, the terrain flattens somewhat, sharp-cornered shale morphing into a collection of smooth boulders, and a spectacular view unfolds before my eyes. Endless grey mountains march away in every direction, broken only by the narrow divide of the Owens Valley to the East. Incredibly, I don’t have to look up to see the top of a single one. For a moment, I forget my fatigue, take a deep breath, and smile, savoring the crisp air in my lungs as a rush of invigoration, confidence, awe, and pure joy in my achievement widens the grin on my face. Echoes of song lyrics I’d walked to that morning resonate within me, affirming my feeling of holistic rightness. Yes, this is “where I belong.”

Over time, I’ve come to realize that every experience I’ve had and lesson I’ve learned from living in the beautiful Eastern Sierra my entire life mingled to create that single perfect moment. The countless childhood “adventure walks” hunting for quartz down my unpaved driveway, and later hikes, camping trips, and days adrift on the Owens River, taught me to treasure time outdoors, whether on a mountain trail or a cultivated lawn somewhere, as a chance to push everyday worries out of my mind and simply enjoy the fact that I’m alive. Those memories combined to form the backdrop against which my experiences hiking Mt. Whitney defined a new wealth of knowledge about myself. I moved into my junior year with a fresh awareness of my mental and physical capabilities, as well as how important my natural surroundings are to me. That year, I took AP Environmental Science, which showed me the extent of my interest in the environment beyond simply appreciating its splendor on a hike. That knowledge has grown into a dream of protecting all the diversity and beauty, which I was so lucky to be able to enjoy while growing up, from the threats of overpopulation, exploitation, and pollution.

My determination to make a positive impact on the way that humans interact with their environment truly began to coalesce after my day on Mt. Whitney, and my educational goals reflect that dream. I hope to major in Environmental Science and Management Program in college, and then continue on for my masters in the same discipline. That education will give me the knowledge, training, and skills I need to be successful in my dream job as an environmental scientist, where my work will coincide with the goals the Audubon Mission Statement expresses by preventing humans from destroying aesthetically and biologically precious habitats and species, and helping to recover territory that has been misused.

Nicholas Schley's Essay

Nick hopes to be a mountain guide, leading others to appreciation of wild places, and has spent time working as an assistant backcountry guide with Outdoor Link, and has also done volunteer trail work with YCC and Friends of the Inyo. He has been accepted to Western State College of Colorado in Gunnison, and Montana State University in Bozeman.

Cool morning temperatures float with the breeze over our exposed calves as my partner Aaron and I leave the trailhead for a day of fun cross-country scrambling around the Sabrina Basin. We depart from the car with an intended goal of grabbing Aaron his last peak of the summer; one year my senior, he is headed off to college in Southern California the very next morning. Moving briskly up the trail past the Sabrina reservoir and the shores of Blue Lake, granite ridgelines begin to encompass us as stacked glacial moraines emphasize the depth of this majestic playground we have chosen. Here, I ask Aaron how he will keep his sanity in the confines of multi-story buildings and 75 mile per hour freeways. He replies without reluctance, “Because I have faith that this will always be here to come home to.”

The time that I have spent with companions and alone in towering snow-filled lodgepole glades, and on crumbling talus slopes with views that would expand even the smallest of minds has inspired me to pursue a life and line of work that will not only preserve these places for my friends like Aaron, but also introduce their importance to the many people that do not yet understand.

We continue on; the sun begins to gain radiance and sweat drops from each of our brows. Soon Donkey Lake appears to our east; above it we admire the jagged cinnamon gold tipped horizon of the Thomson Ridge. I sadly realize the only cinnamon gold Aaron will be seeing in a few days is the color of polluted afternoon skies. From here we head off and up to the west, where Baboon Lakes await at just below 11,000 feet. We approach the lake’s glassy blue waters with childish giddiness and make the very easy decision to go for a signature “Radical Radical,” or as more people know it, skinny dip. Together we choose separate rock diving points, strip, and on the count of three, inject ourselves head first in to the pure, icy water. Surfacing and echoing out cries of “koooo-eeee” and “yaaa-hoooo,” we laugh at each other and swim to our clothes. Filling our water, we decide on the peak directly south of Baboon Lakes and plan our path to its summit. By 12:30 we are at 12,400 feet standing on top of what we now know to be Boy Scout Peak. With an awe-inspiring view of Sunset Lake to our east, and Clyde Spires to the west, I decide in my head that the mountains are my true home, where I feel the most free and at ease. I share the realization with my friend, and he agrees.

The mountains have been my greatest inspiration in life, from watching a bear chase a deer up a hill to finding out just how bad warming frozen toes can hurt on a powder day. I have realized my love for this place, its animals, people, and culture, have all taught me how to be a person that cares. I’ve learned that mountains are places for everyone to share and respect, and for no one to own or neglect. They have formed in me a person that wants to work for their health and preservation. I believe that my love and respect for natural lands is greatly in line with the Audubon Society’s mission to conserve and restore natural ecosystems.

Thank yous from the recipients

In her thank you card, Jamey stated that she was "glad there is a scholarship related to the love for the outdoors the Eastern Sierra cultivates in the students who grow up here..." and Nick reminded us to "keep listening to the birds on the trail." These two students remind me of how lucky we are to live here, and how wonderful it is to be able to be part of this great community, where there is so much support for our high school graduates. We are happy to be able to offer these scholarships!

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New Thrasher added to Inyo County Avian List

[Click on any photo to see all in a slideshow]

Curve-billed Thrasher in Starlite, photo by Karen Scott

Curve-billed Thrasher, photo by Karen Scott

This is a primer on what to do if you see a bird that is unfamiliar to you...whether you are a birder or not. Scientific protocol is a wonderful and beautiful thing and is so easy that everybody, and we mean everybody, can understand it and follow the simple, sequential steps.

Rick Scott, a long time resident of Starlite and a non-birder, heard a song in his yard on 11 June 2012 that was new to him. Instead of saying, "That sounds different" and continuing with his yard work he searched for it and found it in the top of a tree at the edge of his property. It was a medium large bird with a long decurved bill, singing his heart out. Rick called to Karen, his wife, "Quick, come here! I've got a bird that I've never seen before!" Karen grabbed her camera and began taking pictures of this avian surprise before it flew away. Step 1, recognizing that something is out of the ordinary, and Step 2, gathering evidence, were over in about ten minutes.

Curve-billed Thrasher in Starlite, photo by Stan Conger

Curve-billed Thrasher, photo by Stan Conger

Rick is a herpetologist, someone who studies reptiles and amphibians, and intellectually curious...a dynamite combination. He applied his years of training to a new field, birds, and began the research (Step 3) necessary to determine what he saw. Almost all biologists have a specialty but while in the field looking for their targets, be they animals or plants, they are constantly bumping into other interesting forms of fauna and over the years develop a wide breadth of general field biology knowledge. Rick thought he knew what family the bird was in based on the beautiful song, long decurved bill, and unremarkable brownish-gray plumage. In looking at The Sibley Guide to Birds, he went to the thrashers and looked at each species carefully, eliminating them one by one on one characteristic or another–wrong eye color, wrong bill size and shape, wrong undertail coverts, etc. He decided that it was a Curve-billed Thrasher. When he looked at the map he saw that it is a resident of Mexico, southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, western Texas, and north barely into southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado. There were a few green dots in southwestern California indicating a few extralimital records have occurred in the state but nothing up in the Inyo County area. There was one dot in eastern Nevada and another in southern Idaho hinting at the fact that this species has very rarely occurred north of the southern boundary of the western States. Still questioning himself, he went online to search for bird vocalizations where he found songs of all the birds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. He played all the thrashers and he and Karen agreed that the song most similar to 'their' bird was a Curve-billed Thrasher.

Curve-billed Thrasher, Starlite, 6/14/11, photo by Susan Steele

Curve-billed Thrasher, photo by Susan Steele

After determining its identity, based on his research and limited experience, he took Step 4 and looked for additional help and collaboration. He went to the Eastern Sierra Birds website to find the e-address for the people who have developed a graph booklet of bird distribution in Inyo County that he saw referenced numerous times and emailed his wife's pictures and his description of the event. When we open a post by a person unknown to us, we are always wary...then Jon Dunn arrived and, based on the images, confirmed that Rick & Karen Scott had a Curve-billed Thrasher in their yard...then the race began. Because of privacy factors for this small mountain village, a decision was made to not put the sighting out globally but to let a few people tell a few of their friends. We've been part of events like this where 50-100 cars with 100-200 people show up and common sense by a few inconsiderate birders disappears and the area is closed to birders forever. So the ripple-effect of bad behavior by a few birders far from here was the reason for the exclosure decision. Sad, but in the Eastern Sierra, neighbors take care of neighbors.

Curve-billed Thrasher, Starlite, photo by Jo Heindel

Curve-billed Thrasher, photo by Stan Conger

Over the next week, two to a dozen people wandered the five short streets, meeting the welcoming residents who were thrilled that such a special bird was found in their special paradise! Most birders were able to find the bird, sometimes after hours of walking, but a few were not so lucky. The last day for which there is documentation is 23 June although residents say they have heard the bird occasionally to the end of July. This is the first Inyo County record and the northernmost California record but the state has 28 records, not counting this one, with all but three along the Colorado River, from Lake Havasu south, and from the Salton Sea south to the Mexican border. The three 'northern' records were at Huntington Beach, Montebello, and El Monte.

But, it was not over for Rick! The final step was to formalize his sighting by writing documentation to accompany Karen's images and submit the evidence to the California Bird Records Committee for review. All the documentation written by other observers will also be included in the review package. Because of the photographs, which clearly show that it isn't only a Curve-billed Thrasher but a bird of the race palmeri, this will be an easy sighting for the Committee to accept as a state record.

Curve-bill Thrasher on August 9, Photo by Rick Scott

Curve-bill Thrasher
last seen in Starlite Estates on August 12th
Photo by Rick Scott

How fortunate for Inyo County's avian history, that a Curve-billed Thrasher decided to descend into the yard of Rick Scott! In almost any other yard in the Eastern Sierra, although not all, it would have hung out for a couple of weeks, singing and calling, and then departed with no one the wiser and one of the most spectacular county bird records would have been lost.

EPILOGUE: The Curve-billed Thrasher lingered through 12 August with a 9 August image to substantiate its continuing presence in Starlite, photographed at the home of Rick and Karen Scott, where this saga began.

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Baby Season 2012: Challenges And Growing Pains At ESWC

Baby season at Eastern Sierra Wildlife Care: Twelve-hour days (more if you have a baby mammal with night feedings), 7 days a week; April, May, June, July, August. The days are a little shorter, except for the baby hummingbirds; many of the babies are now self-feeding and learning to fly, climb, forage, hunt, catch, dig; developing the skills they need to survive in the wild. Volunteers and staff : hot, tired, longing for shorter and cooler days; teaching the Cliff Swallows to catch insects and the Robins to forage for worms; giving owls, Kestrels, and hawks crickets, superworms and mice to hunt and catch; readying baby ducklings for the “big pool.”

Baby Season begins: About 315 wild patients have come in since May 1; the year-to-date total is 381 birds, mammals and reptiles. Most admissions are birds—65 raptors alone—along with water birds, gamebirds, corvids and songbirds. Mammal admissions were low this year. Not all are babies; injured adults continue to arrive as well.

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle, Eastern Sierra Wildlife Care

Two Golden Eagles are admitted; one is found in late March in the vicinity of the South Barlow cemetery, the second rescued near Black Rock Fish Hatchery in mid-July. The first eagle is an older male, suffering from impact trauma. Because of severe damage to tail feathers, he is still at the Ojai Raptor Center while he grows in new ones. The second one is a first-year bird with no apparent injuries but severely underweight. Once he is fattened up and regains his conditioning, he will be coming back for release.

Our earliest babies this year are 3 Great-horned Owls, a coyote, desert woodrats and cottontails. One of the young owls is rescued from the Bishop Country Club golf course. Once he’s examined and found to be healthy, ESWC staff return him to his nest. BCC staff report that he settled back in and all is well.

The 4-week-old coyote pup is rescued from the shoulder of Hwy. 6. The mother is nearly struck by a vehicle while crossing the road with the pup in her mouth. Two men in a truck observe the incident and notice that the female has dropped her baby and fled. They rescue the youngster and place it up the bank and away from the road in the hopes that mom will return. An hour later, the pup is still there and is brought to ESWC. After consultation with coyote specialists, an attempt is made to reunite the family but is unsuccessful. She is transferred to Sierra Wildlife Rescue to be raised with other coyote pups. Six weeks later, a 12-week old pup is turned over to ESWC by someone who has been attempting to “tame” it. This still-wild coyote also goes to SWR. Yet another coyote, a juvenile, is rescued a few weeks later from Hwy. 120 suffering from severe concussion. Once he recovers fully, he is happily returned to his family.

Our roll of raptors received includes most of the species found in our area: Great-horned, Long-eared, Screech, Pygmy, and Barn owls; Golden Eagles; Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, Swainson’s (she was returned to her nest!), Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned hawks; American Kestrels and a Prairie Falcon.

An adult Red-tailed Hawk is admitted with his throat torn open by barbed wire. Several stitching sessions and 12 weeks of recovery later, we take him home. When we open the cage, he immediately flies into a tall cottonwood. In less than a minute, a second Red-tail flies into the tree from elsewhere; the two hawks take off into the breeze and begin a lengthy and beautiful aerial dance, diving and wheeling in a magnificent display. We like to think that the male has reunited with his mate.

While caring for the above, along with a miscellany of Cliff Swallows, Mountain Chickadees, Desert Woodrats, Striped Skunks, Least Chipmunks, Spotted Towhees, Swainson’s Thrush, Steller Jay and American Robins, Ruddy Ducks, Mallards, Grebes (Pied-billed, Eared and Western), Poorwills and Nighthawks, hummingbirds (babies and adults), and Red-shafted Flickers, we expand our animal housing (thanks to a grant from the Donald and Ruby Branson Foundation). A special pen is built for our education birds, Razzle the Raven and Spirit the Red-tailed Hawk; a second “multipurpose” two-part pen will house overflow mammals and birds. At present, a Blue Grouse, feathers broken and torn by a dog, is occupying one part of the pen.

The babies are winding down now and we’re receiving only a few nestlings and fledglings. Sadly, however, we are admitting a slow but steady flow of juvenile raptors, some suffering from injuries and almost all suffering from some degree of starvation. Prey species for many of these hawks and owls are dwindling and the youngsters, still learning hunting skills, are failing to hunt successfully. As they weaken from lack of food, possibility of injury increases. This “thinning out” process usually occurs much later in the fall or winter; happening so early does not bode well for young raptor survival rates. Maybe our recent showers will help.

Coyote Pup being released

Coyote Pup being released, Eastern Sierra Wildlife Care

Editor's Note: Learn more about Eastern Sierra Wildlife Care and how to volunteer or donate on their website:

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Watch for Banded Gulls!

From the Eastern Sierra Birds Google Group

It's been very fun birding the shore of Mono Lake recently - Sammon/Simon Springs has been especially amazing. Tons of birds - thousands! Phalarope numbers are still good, shorebird diversity is great (no vagrants by me yet), and of course the California Gulls are busy taking advantage of all summer bounty Mono Lake has to offer. Adults are now joined by fresh juveniles, which is especially fun for me to see.

I've run the Mono Lake California Gull project with PRBO for a number of years, and since 2009 we've been colorbanding gull chicks. In recent weeks - sightings of them have spiked - not just this years' recently fledged birds, but from other years, too. Since 2010 we have been using coded red bands - they are fairly large, easy to see, and have a field readable unique number on it, which allows us to quantify and track individuals involved in sightings.

Gulls at Mono Lake, photo by Maggie Wolfe Riley

Gulls at Mono Lake, Photo by Maggie Wolfe Riley

In early July Chris McCreedy saw red 183 at Sammon Springs - it was banded at Mono Lake a year ago. Then another red banded gull from the same 2011 cohort was seen in Davis. I saw red 063, a 2 year old banded at Mono in 2010 at Sammon Springs - it was one of the first gulls I saw when I got out there! So these gulls are out there, and I ask everyone to keep an eye peeled for them, and let me know if you see any. It's pretty amazing to me what a small world it is - the last 2 years have been very poor for Mono Lake's gulls, and both years we only banded about 75 with the red coded bands. Factor in annual mortality, and there are just not that many of these guys out there. So 3 sightings in that many weeks is pretty neat. Also, including a 2009 color-banded gull we saw on the Mono Lake colony back in May, this summer gulls from all 4 years of color-banding efforts have been detected at Mono Lake! The chicks we banded in early July this year are out and about (see photo), I've seen 4 color-banded juvenile gulls from this year in just 2 days of birding the Mono Lake shore. I like seeing them as healthy, independent birds. And where will they be seen next as they leave the Mono Basin?

So, bottom line, it's a small world, and let me know if you see any. We're curious about several aspects of their breeding and migration biology that these sightings help tell us.


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Happy Birders at Owens Lake Fall Big Day 2012

Happy Birders at Owens Lake Fall Big Day

Owens Lake Fall Big Day

Birders from Eastern Sierra Audubon and from around the state flocked to Owens Lake August 21st for the Fall Big Day. ESAS is a partner with the Los Angeles Department of Power in censusing all bird species on the lake. This year’s focus was on parts of the dust control project that still had water. No one was disappointed.

Although the data has not yet been compiled, there were anecdotal reports from the surveyors. Thousands of American avocets, least and western sandpipers as well as hundreds of red-necked phalaropes covered the choicest habitats where they fed on alkali flies and brine shrimp. Uncommon species included dozens of Baird’s sandpipers, pectoral sandpipers, black terns and several semi-palmated sandpipers.

Owens Lake is once again becoming the enormous and important wildlife migration stopover and nesting site for tens of thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl. In 2001 it was designated an Important Bird Area by Bird Life International and National Audubon. And Audubon is leading the way for the creation of the comprehensive Owens Lake Master Plan the will protect and enhance large tracts of habitat for the birds and the people who love watching them.

Stay tuned for the Spring Owens Lake Big Day that will be in late April 2013

If you want to know more, California Audubon once again wrote about the Owens Lake Big Day: Fall Birds at Owens Lake- check it out! Great photos and story!

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Sabine's Gull

Sabine's Gull
Photo by Phil Johnson - see story below

Field Trip Report:
Mono Lake and Environs, August 11

By mid-August Mono Lake's gulls have bred, and brown-feathered young crowd the air. Phalaropes are abundant; they are mostly Wilson's. But from the end of the boardwalk at the county park we located many smaller, Red-necked Phalaropes. They're the first of thousands which will arrive from the arctic to refuel for the flight to the Pacific Ocean off South America. Eared Grebes, too, made our list, but the main influx of perhaps a million birds is some weeks away.

Genial Santiago Escruceria led our party of ten in hot weather. Noon found us at Deschambeau Ranch. By then storm clouds added drama to the magnificence. A highlight at one of several Deschambeau Ponds was a lone Sabine's Gull which showed its yellow-tipped bill while riding the water. Notable mentions among our forty-seven species included Grey and Ash-throated Flycatchers, Great-horned Owl, fledgling Ospreys on a tufa tower, MacGillivray's Warbler, Sage Thrashers, and Vesper Sparrow. We adjourned mid-afternoon, just ahead of a refreshing downpour.

Note on Sabine's Gull Sightings

The Sabine's Gull in the photos above was photographed in Wanda Lake - just over the crest from North Lake in the Sierra backcountry along the John Muir Trail. It may or may not be the same one sighted by the folks on the field trip at Mono Lake, but the photographer, Phil Johnson, made an interesting observation:

"To my knowledge, Wanda Lake is one of the few Sierra Lakes without trout (I may be wrong about this). It certainly has lots of Yellow Legged frogs. High Sierra lakes without trout have huge hatches of mayfly-type insects that are great feed for birds. It appeared that this Sabine's Gull was feeding off of the surface (in circles, much like a phalarope). This individual Sabine's could have been taking advantage of a insect hatch. Just a thought..."

Field Trip Report:
Devils Postpile Area, July 29

At Mammoth Mountain a small party of four boarded a crowded shuttle bus for easy walking in the drainage of the Middle Fork San Joaquin River. As we descended the canyon, the results of the windstorm of November 30 became more apparent. According to one reliable report, some forty thousand trees, mainly red fir, had toppled. Oh, for a John Muir to describe the impression that blowing must have made!

Agnew Meadows offered abundant flora as our group ambled along its wildflower loop. Monkshood and larkspur rose over our heads in places. Delicate white rein orchids and pink Lewis's monkeyflower grew lower. At least thirty Rufous Hummingbirds zipped into all this color. Warbling Vireos (4), Red-breasted Sapsuckers (4), Lincoln's Sparrow (4) and MacGillivray's Warblers (2) kept the binoculars moving.

At Sotcher Lake, damselflies and dragonflies prompted referral to our Laws field guide. Tanagers, Black Phoebe and Red-winged Blackbirds couldn't be missed. Then, flying low, came "the one lousy hawk we saw all day"— a bald eagle which retained a very few sub-adult feathers. Well-satisfied with our excursion we gained a small hill overlooking the lake, then wandered down a shortcut to Reds Meadow Campground and our shuttle bus.

Field Trip Report:
Mammoth Creek for International Migratory Bird Day, May 12

Jane Kenyon had a successful morning May 12 along Mammoth Creek leading her first Audubon field trip! In her words,

It was a joy.  Eight participants, all actively watching/listening for birds, etc.  It was a beautiful day along Mammoth Creek, quiet 'til the Mammoth Museum section.  The highlight of the IMBD walk was seeing the Ceanothus Silk Moth clutched to the Mammoth Museum logs, discovered by one of the participants.  We studied the detailed markings and impressive antennae.  The most activity that we could focus on were the cavity nesters in the tree snag that the group discovered. We had already identified the Pygmy Nuthatch watching over their chosen cavity nest, and eventually figured out it was the House Wren cleaning out their cavity nest.  Also perched on the snag was a Hummingbird that we eventually guessed from the books was a Calliope.  In another tree snag by the creek, you could hear the male Flicker drilling out a cavity nest from inside the snag.

It was a good bird walk.  Thank you Audubon for providing me the opportunity to lead a birdwalk for the first time.  I would like to lead a birdwalk again, maybe in the Horseshoe Lake tree kill area to discover what woodpeckers are there.

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Taking Care of Business

Welcome New and Thank You Renewing Members!

Great-horned Owl

Great-horned Owl
Mono Lake Field Trip - photo by Santiago Escruciera

Ulla Lipp Barbara Kelley
Tammy Grimm Jean Dillingham
Barbara Jo Timothy B. Sanford
  • Ulla Lipp
  • Tammy Grimm
  • Barbara Jo
  • Barbara Kelley
  • Jean Dillingham
  • Timothy B. Sanford

Your membership donations help keep this chapter alive. We get 8-10 renewing members a month, and from 3-5 new members. Your membership dues make it possible for us to offer and support great educational and recreational events throughout the eastern Sierra. Thank you!

If you would like to join and help support Eastern Sierra Audubon, there are two ways you can do it:

  1. Join as a National Audubon Society Member, designating ESAS as your chapter affiliation. Includes Audubon Magazine subscription. This is $20 for the first year, and goes up to $35 annually thereafter.
  2. Join as an ESAS Chapter-only member for $20 per year. Now that we do the newsletter online, you no longer need to join to receive it, but your chapter membership is a way to give back, and show your appreciation for all that ESAS does, and to help support our many programs. You may mail membership with your contact information and check for $20 to Eastern Sierra Audubon Society (ESAS), P.O. Box 624, Bishop, CA 93515

Click Here for a membership form to join or renew!

Join National Audubon - your zip code will associate you with the chapter nearest you.

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How You Can Help ESAS: Four R’s (and a V)

Renew your membership (or join): The money from your membership dues is what helps us bring great evening programs, special events, educational programs, trips, this website, and more to the community - we need your support!

Recycle at Manor Market and tell them to donate the money to Eastern Sierra Audubon.

Respect property and get permission to bird on private or restricted access property.

Repeat: Spread the word about programs and events, encourage others to join and participate.

Volunteer: Come to a board meeting and consider volunteering for an open board position! We welcome new board members, and we also always need volunteers for Birds in the Classroom, participants in bird counts, Bird-A-Thons, etc.

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Message from the Editor


Our next newsletter deadline will be October 25th for the November-December issue. We will send a reminder when the newsletter is online, and for any other timely events.

We try to send out no more than one email each month to remind you of upcoming events - if you are not on our email list, please add yourself so you don’t miss anything! If you send items to the newsletter editor by the last week of any month, we’ll make sure they get included in the next issue.

Speaking of sending in items for the newsletter...

All of our content is supplied by our amazing members... if you have anything to share for the newsletter, whether an article, a news item, event, update, correction, poem, essay, artwork, photo, field trip report, neat birding experience, letter, etc, please send it, along with any comments or suggestions, to the newsletter editor. We’d love to hear from you!

You may send items for inclusion in the newsletter at any time, but please send any timely items to arrive before the first of the month, so they can be included in the monthly email update.

Thanks for reading, and happy birding!

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About Eastern Sierra Audubon

Current Board Members


Main Calendar of Events

Calendar for September and October

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Alkali fly cases

Birds at Owens Lake (and Mono Lake) like to eat alkali fly pupae, larvae and adults.
Michael Prather examines the empty pupae cases that blow up on the shore in drifts.

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