Tuesday, December 23, 2008

December Bird Banding

It was a cloudy, cool day in Zuma Canyon. We were told the ticks were out.
We caught several interesting birds, most of which I have no (or bad) pictures of. Here are the few that are ok.

This is an Anna's Hummingbird. The first picture is blurry, but you can still see the beautiful colors on its gorget.
Clearly visible here are the growths around the hummer's left eye.
He had survived this long with them, so we could only release him and hope for the best. We do not actually band the hummingbirds. It is possible, but you have to have a special permit for it (and some very small tools). We take them back to the station and process them, meaning that we identify them and then age, sex and weigh them. Weighing them is kind of fun as you lay them on the scale on their backs and they don't put up a fight. They docilely stay there. They usually weigh a gram or so. All the other birds we put upside down in pill bottles to weigh (this keeps them from flying off).

Here is a female Nuttall's Woodpecker. She was aged as a hatch year bird (meaning she was born in the summer this year).
Her flight feathers had not molted yet as she was a hatch year bird, and they had been bleached through use/exposure to the sun.
Those feathers were much darker at the tips when she was born.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

November Bird Banding

We had another session this month. It was back to standard time, so I had to get up at 5:00 a.m. to make it out to the coast for our 6:34 a.m. start time. I actually was a little early.
My favorite bird yesterday:
We usually don't catch Western Scrub Jays as they are "too smart" (the Master Bander's words) to fly into a mist net. He said only the young ones are stupid enough to do it, and it only happens once. Alas, I aged this bird as an adult. Perhaps s/he (sex difficult to determine unless it's breeding season) was having an off day.

In spite of its large size and fierce appearance, it was very tame in the hand.
When I let it go, it gave a classic jay squawk and shat. Glad it didn't do that in my hand. Handling bird poop is definitely a side effect of banding, but the mostly small birds we handle make small effluvia. This is ... palatable. The jay is not a small bird.

We had another Oak Titmouse, which, again, endlessly abused the fingers of those who handled it. Wasn't me this time! Walter, the Master Bander, said that this bird's raised crest was the avian equivalent of the primate's raised middle finger.
Here's part of our setup; that's Walter on the left, with the canyon behind him.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Few Election Observations

This blog is and has been apolitical, but I feel compelled to speak today.
Yesterday I witnessed a few things I never have seen in Los Angeles:

- I had to wait in line an hour to vote. All very patiently & quietly waited their turn.
- I was out on the street around 8 p.m. PST when the city gave a collective yell. Barack Obama had just been named the winner, and our 44th president.
- I waited in line to get into a club were we could see Obama's speech, and the majority of the cars driving by were honking and there were people literally dancing in the streets.
- Later, on the way home, several corners were full of crowds of people yelling with joy.

A fine moment in U.S. history to be alive.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

November Bird Banding

Cloudy and cool conditions made for the most pleasant bird banding in Zuma yet. For once, it was 10 a.m. and I did not feel like a turkey roasting in an oven.

Bewick's Wren. Such a pretty little bird, and feisty, too. They like to complain at the indignity of being held by a mammal.
And, for all you people out there who appreciate color, I present the
Nuttall's Woodpecker.

Lastly, the Oak Titmouse. Mark and I recently saw a lot of these up in the Central Valley, so it was fun to see one up close. It turns out they are avid and successful biters.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Young Elk Looking for Its Herd

It sounds a little pathetic, no? We saw it at Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in CA.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Yosemite Vacation

Mark and I spent a few weeks in July in Yosemite National Park with our friends Amy & Rich and their son Jefrey. We set up base camp at White Wolf, and spent many a day hiking in the High Sierras. Mark and I then spent 3 days+2 nights backpacking in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River. We started at Tuolumne Meadows and ended by walking out to our campsite at White Wolf. The last two nights were spent at a cabin outside the park, It was great to have a shower, cook decadent meals and play some backgammon.
I opted for a photo album, but that's the backstory.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

September Bird Banding

It was a little chilly Saturday morning at 6:30 when I arrived at Zuma Canyon for bird banding. Fall is here. We were expecting many migrants, but only ended up with one, a Wilson's Warbler, on our last net run. Oh, wait. There was a female Black-headed Grosbeak, also.
Both of these bird I see in Yosemite during the summers. They were on their ways south for the winter.

We mostly had Wrentits and California Thrashers, an endemic California songbird - and a cool-looking bird if there ever was one. Look at that bill!

Wrentits are interesting because they are the only American representative of the Old World babbler family. When foreign birders come to the US, they try to see these birds as they are very unique. They skulk in the chaparral, and are more often heard than seen, but they are our most common bird netted. And, I managed to not take any photos of them! Next time .... They are very hard to take out of the net because they usually have a death grip on the net with their feet. You have to convince them to let it go.
I had a hummingbird. This time, I actually took it back to the station and processed it. I discovered it was an adult female Anna's Hummingbird. Her heart beats so fast that she felt like she was purring. Her bill was not flexible either (not like the one described last time), so they must harden up when they hit adulthood. No photos because I was too worried about her health. They tend to "go fast", so I don't dally when I process them.
It was an exhausting day for me. Some of the nets are a good distance, and it gets hot once the sun comes up. And, getting up at 5:15 .m. isn't easy for me, either. I am out of practice.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008

LA Bird Banding

I found a person who does bird banding in Los Angeles. It's in Zuma Canyon, on the coast, so I decided to join them yesterday. I'm a little out of practice at getting up so early, but I managed to drag myself out of bed at 5:00 a.m., and then drive the hour out to Zuma. I was met there by Walter Sakai, the master bander, and 5 other banders, including myself. There also was a Mom in attendance, who was observing. Here are a few highlights:

Common Yellowthroat. I've always found this name counterintuitive as this bird's appearance is anything but common. They are feisty, too.

One time I went to the net and there was a hummingbird caught in it. Any other time I've seen hummingbirds caught in nets, they have come out pretty easily. This one was quite entangled. It took me a little while to get it (her?) out and she was scolding me the whole time. I discovered just how flexible there bills are; when I had to pull the net over her head and bill, it curved nicely and allowed for an easier extraction. When I got her wings free, she would try to fly and I felt like I had a tiny beater in my fingers. I decided to let her go after I extracted her as 1) the first season (2006) I did Yosemite MAPS we released them at the net, 2) they are very small and need to eat constantly, and that net run we had gone out later than we should have so I was afraid she had been in there as long as 30 minutes 3) she was in the sun, which can be added stress for birds, and had been pretty entangled.

When I returned to the banding station Walter told me that they do process them and that I should have brought her back. Then, we would have been able to discern if it was an Allen's or a Rufous Hummingbird. Oh well, I don't regret giving her her immediate freedom. Walter also said that the birds' bills tend to be flexible when they are young, and become less so when they reach adulthood.

Yellow-Breasted Chat, our largest wood warbler. (This and the Common Yellowthroat are both wood warblers). Although, the Cornell site is saying that recent genetic data suggests that this isn't a wood warbler at all. So, the jury is out. Ah, science - changing its mind when faced with concrete evidence that what it has thought all along is incorrect. Crazy!

Last, the Swainson's Thrush. Fall migration has started! This bird breeds in the Northwest US during the spring/summer (among other places) and then heads to either Central or South America for the winter. I have never seen a Swainson's, but I heard their gorgeous, haunting song when I was in Arcata, CA last spring.

There were a lot of Black-hooded Parakeets in the canyon also. Thankfully none of them ended up in the nets (they tend to fly high). I wouldn't want to face one of those formidable bills! I'd be afraid of losing a finger.

Sunset Saturday night at 854 Hyperion Ave.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I can't get used to working every day at a "real" job that involves sitting at a desk.
I keep thinking about these things.



Marmot Noses

The High Sierra

Fast Rivers

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Woodpeckering: Part 03

Mark and I had a great time in Yosemite National Park with our friends Rich & Amy and their son Jefrey. (More on that later.) We were there until July 20th, at which time Mark dropped me off in Modesto at the bus/train station and he took off for Los Angeles. I waited four hours for my bus to Sacramento. It actually was a pleasant day spent reading and eating a delicious sandwich that I had packed for lunch. The bus finally arrived. I sat next to a gal who was chatty/friendly and she would often talk over me to another woman she seemed to know well. As a result, I overheard all of their conversation. It seemed they hadn't been home for awhile and that people were picking them up from the station in Sacramento. I let them borrow my phone to make calls because the bus was running late. There was a nervous energy about the woman I was sitting next to; she seemed excited and yet anxious about the day's events. Over the course of the two-hour ride, I slowly figured out that they had both just been released from prison in Chowchilla. Eventually, the woman next to me clearly spelled it out. She said, "You are sitting in-between two convicts. Well, ex-convicts." The woman next to me was in for seven months for, I think, a parole violation. Her original crime had been something violent. I never was clear on what exactly it was. She said she needs to lay off - then she made a gesture about sniffing something - and she'll be fine. The other woman was in for extortion, and it was her second strike. She had been in jail for many years. She had a stroke in prison, and had to use a walker to get around. She said that she is done, no more. Both of them said that.

Bob, who was picking me up, called me and told me that he had a flat tire, so was running a bit behind. Plus, it would change up our plans a little. We would have to get the tire fixed before we went on any bad dirt roads. As the bus arrived in Sacramento, I saw that Bob was there and I silently wished the women all the luck in the world as we went to our separate fates. Bob drove us to Lotus, where we stayed for the night at a campground. We had a delicious dinner, then went back to camp and had a beer on the banks of the South Fork of the American River. We saw birds, yes, but also two beavers. They were swimming around in the twilight, flopping their tails on the surface as they dove.

The next day we got up and drove to Auburn to have Bob's tire fixed. After that, we took off for our first fire - the Codfish. Bob had tried to check this the previous Thursday, but a road he needed to take was closed ... because there was another fire. Welcome to summer 2008 in California; everything is burning. Bob was expecting this to still be the case, and it was. So we made a left and wound our way through to Truckee and then into the Tahoe National Forest. We traveled some very rough dirt roads to the Rock Creek fire. There were no close campgrounds, and we had to drive back to Stampede Reservoir to pitch our tents for the evening. In spite of some very loud kids playing, I managed to drop off around 8:30. I was up at 4:45 a.m. to make the drive to the site. Rock Creek was all off trail. It started off innocently enough, but I was soon walking (well, stumbling) through bushes that were waist high. The surprise was that underneath all these bushes were a lot of downed trees. As I could not actually see the logs very well, if at all, it was rough going. There were a lot of birds out that morning, and I scored a few Black-backed Woodpeckers, also. We didn't have to do point counts anymore, so that made the whole process move along more quickly. I was glad we didn't have to do them because I couldn't hear too well as there was a loud wood chipper going almost the whole time I surveyed. They were obviously doing some logging in the area.

Check out those bushes; I know they look innocent, but they are several feet tall, and covering lots of logs.

You can hear a Fox Sparrow singing in this clip and see the dastardly shrubs. The microphone did not pick up the Black-backed piking, but I could hear it.

After Rock Creek we drove north 4 hours to the Boulder Complex fire, which was near Antelope Lake. I can't remember quite when, but at some point on the drive north we ran into a lot of smoke. (We later found out this was the Canyon Complex Fire. Fire crews were being staged out of Quincy.) We reconnoitered "our" fire by driving along the road (always nice when a road runs through a fire) that runs around Antelope Lake. We camped at Lone Rock Campground. The fire seemed to have just missed the campgrounds. A lot - rather, most of the area around that lake was scorched. We later figured out that the next fire we had to survey (the Moonlight) was all around the southern and western edge of the lake. The Boulder was on the northern and eastern shores. The next morning I got to survey walking the road.

Here you can easily see the road and hear many birds singing, among them the Western Wood-Pewee, Oregon Junco and Olive-sided Flycatcher. Not the best quality video (or videography!), but you get an idea of the areas I work in.

A road makes the going easy, plus there isn't a lot of traffic on a Wednesday at 5:30 a.m. I had ten Black-backed Woodpeckers! The sunrise was weird because of all the smoke. It didn't get warm until almost 10 a.m.
When I caught up to Bob, I found out his truck had died. So, we tried to push it and jump start it and that didn't work because we couldn't get it far enough up an incline to get the run we needed. We hung out until the next truck came by and we got a jump start.

We again spent the night at Lone Rock. At sunset, I went out to the lake and watched 3 beavers play around. There were a lot of Canada Geese there, too, eating grass and making some noise. It was very cool to see Violet-green Swallows skimming the surface of the lake to grab a drink of water.

The smoke was a little better on Thursday. My survey area in the Moonlight fire was again along a road, but this time it was the dirt/logging type. The blue lines mean those trees are going to be salvage logged. You can hear a Hairy Woodpecker piking towards then end.

This fire seemed like it must have burned very hot. Everything was incinerated; what soil was left was mineral soil. The Moonlight Fire was massive - there was no way we could survey even 10% of it, let alone the whole thing. So, we settled for doing as much as possible along a few logging roads.
Bob dropped me off and went farther into the fire. I actually ended up with even more birds than the day before - 13. At the time, I felt like the place was crawling with BBWO. I think a lot of them were juveniles, also, but I found it difficult to positively ID them. Both juveniles and males have yellow on their heads, but in different areas. Considering that these are birds that spend their lives on burned trees, and, therefore, tend to get blackened by the soot, it can be difficult to see where exactly the yellow is. The soot can obscure plumage.

The rest is a bit of a blur. We drove to Salmon Creek Campground in some national forest. Sierra Buttes were visible from the road that ran along the Bassett's fire, our next one. The Buttes were visible from the fire area, too. A lot of it was salvage logged.

This fire was off-trail and very steep. I needed to go west to stay in the most severe burn area, and that was straight uphill. Nevertheless, it ended up being one of those lovely mornings, in which the sun comes up and hits just right and the birds are everywhere and in the midst of ashy destruction there are these little bits of life reemerging. Natural magic.

In this movie, you can near a Black-backed Woodpecker piking. It also is making a semi-rattle noise that Bob and I were thinking might be a juvenile vocalization.

Here is where they were replanting trees. It's a nice idea, but leads to stands that are all the same tree and the same age - a monoculture.
I actually fell in the above area (also depicted in the first photo with the Buttes) because it was all downed trees and scrap branches from the logging. It was a mess, and very uneven going. And steep. This led to a resounding thunk as I hit the ground and scraped my arms up. I was almost finished, so persevered, made it to the road and walked to Bassett's Station, thinking about breakfast the whole time. I saw Bob's truck, so knew he must be around somewhere, so I decided to just go into the store/restaurant at the station and have some coffee and breakfast. And there was Bob, just finishing up his breakfast (he said he tried to wait, but couldn't make it) and reading the Bee.

Later that day we packed up and headed towards Auburn. Our last task was to try to check out the Codfish fire - again. It was a blazing hot ride on the 49, so Bob had the brilliant idea of stopping by the Yuba River for a swim. The South Fork of said river is the greatest swimming hole ever. The water level was so low that you could actually swim at the surface through tunnels of boulders. It was crystal clear and had large (at least 6-inch) speckled fish swimming around.

Once we got back to where we started, we found we could make the turn to the Codfish Fire. Then we made a few more turns down increasingly bad dirt roads until we were stopped by a deluge of signs that boasted of large dogs and guns. When we saw
Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again.
we decided that woodpeckers, while very lovely, were not worth our lives. Bob did some amazing reverse driving (the road was so narrow and steep there was no way to turn around) and we departed. My woodpecker adventures ended sooner than anticipated, and we made our way back to the airport in Sacramento.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Woodpeckering: Part 02

We woke up the next morning knowing it was going to be a driving day. Our goal was to get from the Cold Springs Campground in Mineral King to our next fire - the Vista - in the Sequoia National Forest\Monument. It was quite a long drive (Thank you, Rodney!), which took us, again, through the horrible air of the Central Valley. It was also very hot. We did a quick recon of the area and decided it would be easy enough to drive down a Forest Route to get close to the fire. After that, I would be hoofing it along a road and then going off-road. Rodney had all off-road. We bunked down at Troy Meadow Campground for the night, which seemed to be filled with OHV enthusiasts. Rodney and I went birding at sunset, and I was worried about getting beat up; we looked like geeks with our binoculars, and I am certainly no match for the all the testosterone that filled the campground that night. There was a very large trailer that carried two OHVs that had a stenciled "Weekend Warrior" label on the back.

I should probably give you a brief description of our procedure. We start at sunrise, so that's about 5:40 a.m. this time of year. We survey every 250 meters, which we count off in steps (67 of my steps make 50 meters, so I do the figuring from that). At every point we play the audio of the BBWO, which includes some drumming and some pik-ing and this fantastic snarl/rattle.

They seem to always flare their wings out when they snarl/rattle. We await their arrival for 5 minutes, and document it if they show up. At every other point, we do a passive point count. This means I stand there for 5 minutes and write down a 4-letter code for every bird I hear/see, and estimate its distance from me, in meters. If a lot is going on, this can be incredibly confusing, but it's really fun. We go until we run out of fire or we run out of time. We stop point counting at 9 a.m.; we stop surveying for BBWO at 10 a.m.

The Vista fire was fun to survey. I had a great look at a male Western Tanager, and it was full of woodpeckers. I had both Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, the Downys being unexpected at the elevation I was surveying (I think 7,500 ft.). I had no Black-Backed Woodpeckers (BBWO), but Rodney had them at 5 of his 6 points. And, he found a nest! He said it was pretty low - about 5 feet off the ground in a snag - and he could hear the babies inside the hole.

On the way back to the campground we decided to stop at the Bald Mountain Fire Lookout, which was on our way. The person who was working up there said you can see 100 miles in all directions. There was a large fire called the Piute that had started down near Lake Isabella, that we could easily see. It's on the right of this panorama.

We also could see an overhead view of the fire we had just surveyed, the Vista.

He told us how they thought it started: there was a raid to bust a marijuana growing operation (a persistent problem in that National Forest) and all the employees fled. They started a campfire to stay warm. They had to run and it was left unattended and started the wildfire.

Then it was back to Troy Meadow Campground, tear down camp and we were off, this time to near Mono Lake. The ride up the 395 was apocalyptic. There was obviously some kind of fire going on to the east, and a lot of smoke was collecting in the valley throughout almost the whole stretch. It didn't clear up until north of Bishop. We breathed a sigh of relief; we were worried we would be working in very smoky conditions at our next fire. We found a great little campsite at Lee Vining Creek, surrounded by Quaking Aspen and the rush of the creek, then made our way off to the Gas Station to stuff ourselves with food and beverage. Delicious Fish Tacos. Delicious.

The Crater Fire was off east 120, right near Mono Lake. It was a magical morning of birding with the gleam of Mono Lake to the north, the austerity of the surrounding blackened snags, the clear acidity of the blue sky, and the crisp temperatures of the early hours. Mountain Bluebirds, Brewer's and Vesper Sparrows and Violet-Green Swallows abounded. I got extremely lucky and also saw a Lewis's Woodpecker - a first for me. I heard a lot of Pinyon Jays, but was never close enough to the live trees bordering the burn area to see them. (Make sure you listen to their calls; they are really loud, like most jays!) The Black-Backed Woodpecker was also present. I kind of fell for the last guy that came to check me out. He flew in tentatively, but then became more and more curious and got very close. At one point, he was up a snag about 2 meters away from me, cocking his head and perusing me as if he couldn't quite figure it all out. He must have wondered how such a large, inelegant creature such as myself could be making his noise. And, from the ground of all places. I sat down and watched him for a while.

Rodney found woodpeckers in his section of the fire, also, so it was a successful day for both of us. We returned to the campground and packed up to go up Tioga Pass. The last two days we helped Dave DeSante, the director of the Institute for Bird Populations, collect data on his plots up near Yosemite. He has been studying these plots in the Hall Natural Area since the 1970s. This was a short drive - a few miles up the hill, and then a small stroll into the campsite at Sawmill Walk-in Campground. There was a stunning view of Mount Conness from the campground. We were immediately confronted with how many mosquitoes there were. If you were walking, it wasn't a problem. But, once you stopped, they descended in droves. We hid in our tents until Dave and Sarah Stock, a Yosemite wildlife biologist who was helping Dave, returned. Over dinner and mosquitoes that evening, we found out that we were doing the B grids of Dave's study site. Our task was to walk the grid (basically making a zigzag pattern as we went) and to find and record the location of every bird that was out there. Any other wildlife observations were also encouraged. Dave knew the area intimately, and had a mental map of where he was. We just had maps he had drawn with the cardinal directions and a compass. There were no GPS points, just landscape features you could look for ("Willow Wonderland", "Pyramid Meadow", "Tarn", etc.) and evenly spaced grid points. I like to know where I am off-trail, so I knew this would be a mental challenge. Most importantly, I wanted to record the birds at the proper grid point, and if I didn't know where I was, that was going to be difficult. Dave sent us off with a "You'll probably be lost a lot of the time", which actually made me feel better. "Good, I thought. He knows I'm confused already."

After several frustrating moments and much trial & error, I realized the only way I was going to be able to keep tabs on where I was, was by walking a line in a cardinal direction, counting off every single grid point (every 40 meters) and using the landscape features only as general guides. One person's Pyramid Meadow is another person's Triple Divide Meadow, I discovered. That finally worked. I set off with renewed vigor, only to have all my energy slowly sapped by the relentless yapping and sipping of the m%^&%^f!@#^* mosquitoes. Yes, I had on spray. No, I did not wear my net. I cannot bird with a net on. Mosquitoes are evil, evil creatures. I was a carbon dioxide-exhaling piece of meat out there.

So, after ripping a hole in the ass of my new fieldwork pants (same fate as last year's), getting the blood sucked out of me, and counting some birds, the day was over. I hid in my tent or wore my head net (affectionately known as the camping burqa) for the rest of the day.

My bites. They don't look as bad as I remembered. This was the day after I got home, though.
Rodney and I found out we had completed our duties with that day's surveying. So, we planned to get up the next morning and head into the park to do a short hike (my desire to climb Mt. Conness was met with "That will take all day."). Just inside the Tioga Pass entrance was a quick jaunt to Gaylor Lakes and the ruins of an old mining settlement. The place was crawling with insects - both mosquitoes and some kind of gnat. The gnats were in thick clouds all around Lower Gaylor Lake, and we saw Gray-Crowned Rosy Finches just snatching them out of the air as they stood on rocks. They barely had to move! The corn lilies were covered with the gnats. Our other good bird sighting was an American Pipit on the snow around Upper Gaylor Lake. I also saw some Ptarmigan poop, but no Ptarmigan.

Hike finished and more blood sacrificed on the altar of the Great Mosquito God, we took off for the airport in Oakland and back to LA for me.

Tomorrow Mark and I off are off to Yosemite for 10 days, then I go out for my final Woodpecker stint. I'll be back the end of July.

Happy Summer!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Woodpeckering: Part 01

Finally. Here I am. I have found that going back and forth between my regular life as a compositor, wife, swimmer and my summer life as a ornithological field worker, solitary person, hiker is difficult. When I come home there is lots to attend to (and work!), so I have not been posting. This is my attempt to break that habit.

First off, I have to confess that my camera doesn't work anymore. Rather, it doesn't work more than it does work, so my words (perhaps linked to others' photos) will have to suffice. I think this is another reason I have not been blogging - the visual images I bring home lead to a story; without those, I flounder.

Thursday the 26th, I flew up to Oakland, where I was picked up by Rodney Siegel, the biologist from IBP who roped me into this adventure. I have known Rodney since 2006, when I did my first birding study - looking for Great Gray Owls. Rodney was the man who trained me, and we have remained email buddies since. Last year when I worked on the WIFL (that stands for Willow Flycatcher) crew for IBP, Rodney joined us for a few weeks and we actually backpacked together for old times' sake. This is the second woodpecker expedition with Rodney; we went out June 03-09 also. We are looking for Black-Backed Woodpeckers (BBWO) in fire areas. These birds move into recent fires to take advantage of the outbreaks of wood-boring beetles that occur. We are doing this in National Forests all around the Sierra Nevada. Rodney took a random sample of relatively recent fires (I think within the past 8 years) for us to survey.
This time out we were making a huge loop. From Oakland we drove to Mineral King, in Sequoia National Park.
I have never seen such terrible air quality in the Central Valley. If you are not aware, there are hundreds of fires burning here in California, and a lot of it gets funneled into the Valley. Unfortunately, this was creeping upslope into SNP. The air quality there was rated "Unhealthful for All" at the rangers' station. And, we were about to backpack twenty-some miles roundtrip, up to elevations of 10,587 ft. Great.

The ride to the Cold Springs campground in SNP took us through from the valley through foothill and into Sierra Mixed Conifer regions. A gray fox ran across the road on our drive up. What a gorgeous creature. We spent the night car camping at the aforementioned Cold Springs. We discovered when we went to the ranger station that yellow-bellied marmots
are a problem in Mineral King. The current thinking, as related by a campground volunteer, is that it seems to be the lactating females who are drawn to nibble at our radiator hoses and other such delicacies under the hoods of cars. They think the animals are either getting some trace minerals from their snacks, or are getting high. Whatever the case, Rodney and I were a bit concerned about leaving the car unattended for a 36-hour stretch while we backpacked in over Farewell Gap to the National Forest outside the National Park. They recommended leaving the hood open; the rangers said that seemed to discourage them. ? OK. When we saw people who had the underneath of their cars wrapped in tarps or chicken wire, we were doubtful, but we didn't have a choice. We had no tarp or chicken wire and there wasn't any available.

We spent a relaxing night at the campground. Here's the river that ran through it:
We took a walk and came back to find a deer nibbling on & licking my tent (what's wrong with the animals in Mineral King anyway?)
One corner was covered in deer slobber. Bad deer.

Next day was up and out over the pass. I still can't figure out how long it was. The signs and maps all seem to say different things. Suffice it to say, it was somewhere between 10-14 miles one way, and it featured a 3000-ft. elevation gain (from 7,500 ft. to 10,587 ft.) and then a 1,500-ft. elevation loss. As it turns out, it is very difficult to carry a 35-lb. pack that far at that elevation with unhealthful air. I was coughing at the top - Farewell Gap - when we took a break for lunch. There was much more snow than in the picture I link to. We had to cross a small snowfield on the other side, as we entered the Golden Trout Wilderness, part of Inyo National Forest. I really dislike crossing snowfields; they seem to be inevitably on steep slopes and I am walking on melting snow and if I, say, slipped, well, it's going to be awhile before I stop. Scary. I don't look down and don't think about it too much. I find that gets me through. And, it was quite windy through the gap, but the wind was nothing compared to on the way back. That adds to the challenge of walking on the snowfield.

So, we made it over and to the survey site. It took about six hours. Exhausting hiking, but stunning scenery. We were above treeline and could see as far as the smoke would let us! This is a little closer to the amount of snow, but there was even more.

Rodney and I had a hard time finding a campsite because it was very steep around the study area. We finally decided to just plonk our tents down on a bare patch in between two creeks. We were desperate to go to sleep - we were both exhausted - but the site was completely exposed to the sun and we would have roasted in our tents. We were sitting and waiting for the sun to go down behind the mountains to the west. Inevitably, it did. When I got in my tent to settle down for the night, I realized I was filthy. I saw rivulets etched in the dirt on my arms. I was too tired to do anything about it.

After all this, there were no BBWO! The nerve. Rodney did see a black bear and a goshawk, though. I flushed a sooty grouse. She really let me know of her displeasure, by constantly clucking as I walked away.

After several kilometers of surveying, it was back to camp to break everything down. We left at 11 a.m., a little ahead of schedule. Rodney and I are good hiking partners, because I am better at the uphill and he is better at the downhill. So, I pull him up the mountain, and he pulls me down the other side. I was going as quickly as possible, because I could feel everything from the knee down hurting from the day before, and I knew that the sooner I finished, the better for us both. When we returned to the 10,587-ft. Gap, the wind was roaring through it. Small pebbles were hitting me as I turned around to check Rodney's progress across the snowfield. I actually had to grab the sign marking the pass because when the wind caught me crossways as I turned, it started to blow me over. I don't know how fast that is, but I would have to guess maybe 50 m.p.h. We made it back to Mineral King by 4 p.m. That was the hardest hike I have ever done, even harder than the Hetch Hetchy last year, mostly because of the elevation. The car was unscathed (Thank you, oh Great Marmot God) and we drove back to Cold Springs and collapsed. End of the first survey on our second trip, and we were wiped out and had no woodpeckers to show for it.

To be continued ...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Lame Excuses

Between a small vacation, malfunctioning camera, and then heading back to work directly after the first installment of looking for the woodpecker, I have gotten nothing posted.
The great news is, we actually found the Black-Backed Woodpecker. I actually found the Black-Backed Woodpecker. Several times. More this weekend.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Summer Soon

Field season is about the start again, and I am happy to report that I have another gig. I will be looking for Black-Backed Woodpeckers (BBWO) in the Sierra Nevada, California. It be a week here and there during June and July. We will be gathering pilot data for the Forest Service to develop a Sierra-wide BBWO monitoring project. I am again working with the fine folks at IBP, and we will be covering the Sierras from near the Oregon border down to Lake Isabella. It should be lots of fun and educational.
First things first, though - a week spent in Yosemite, helping IBP set up bird banding nets for MAPS. Stay tuned for reports, starting May 25th or so.