Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Black-backed Woodpecker Surveys 2009. Part 03

I left us at the lovely Lee Vining Canyon Campground. The next two days we would have the pleasure of staying there because we had two fires to survey in the area; we did not have to break down camp every day. What a relief.


Azusa was exclusively a Pinyon Pine fire, but it proved to be an interesting morning for me. Here's the pre-dawn light at Azusa, looking towards the Sierra Nevada.
And, in the opposite direction, towards Mono Lake.I witnessed a Green-tailed Towhee singing with a stick in his mouth (what a multi-tasker, I thought), and a Steller’s Jay raiding a Western Wood Peewee nest. I lost my impartiality, though. I ran straight up the hill and yelled at the jay. I don’t know if I hurt or helped the situation, but I saw the peewee return to her nest. Around point three, I heard some strange breathing. It sounded close. I looked around, and staring down a small hill right at me was an intensely curious coyote. It stayed the whole time (about seven minutes) and then followed me to my next point. It started to howl. This made it difficult to work. You can hear me rustling papers in this clip, because I was trying to carry on with my point count in spite of all the racket he was making. That’s also why I put the camera down; I needed both hands.
Then, Rodney radioed me and we decided to rendezvous. The fire was small, so we each only had about four points. When I returned to the road that would lead to the car I looked up the hill and saw the coyote. It had followed me down the arroyo to the road and continued to follow me the whole way back to the car. I think it hung around about 45 minutes. It had a strong presence, with intelligent eyes and a beautiful coat with a whitish patch towards its hindquarters. I was intrigued by our interaction.

Devils Postpile + Hot Creek
That afternoon we got to be tourists again because our next fire – Crater - was one we did last year. No need to scout. Rodney had never been to Devils Postpile National Monument, so we did that, as well as hiked to Rainbow Falls.

Minarets from the road to DPNM.

Devils Postpile.

Rainbow Falls.

We were discussing going to Hot Creek to perhaps have a dip (although we were taking our chances because last time I had been there it was closed to swimming), when Rodney looked at our Devil’s Postpile map, and pointed to a label at the Reds Meadow Campground - “Showers.” Hmmm … we were walking in that direction to a bus stop so why not check it out? As we approached the campground, I was mentally calculating how much I would pay for a shower. Much to our delight, we read this:

And, so, we helped ourselves to these:

It was stunning. The water was perfect. I could barely tear myself away. But we eventually did leave the showers. We caught the bus back to Mammoth, which was crowded with smelly Pacific Crest Trail hikers. Over the past several days, I had wondered, looking up at the cloud-covered Sierra Nevada, how the PCT hikers were faring. The whole bus ride back over to the Eastside I heard tales of fog and getting lost. We then went to Hot Creek (which is still closed because of increased seismic activity) and it started to cloud up and eventually rain.

Hot Creek.
We treated ourselves to the gas station/Whoa Nellie Deli for dinner. There was a lot of steak on my salad, but I was hungry so I pretty much ate it all. This proved to be a major tactical error, which would continue to haunt me for the next few days.

Next day dawned the first normal Sierra Nevada Day. It started off cool and got hot by the end of the survey. We did the Crater Fire, which Rodney and I had surveyed last year.

Crater Fire with Mono Lake in the background.
It’s a lovely site that still had plenty of BBWO. Rodney also found a nest in this snag.

Listen to the nestlings. At about five seconds you can hear one of the parents drum on a nearby Jeffrey Pine.

Me in Crater.

Hetch Hetchy
We decided to stop by Hetch Hetchy on our way out to our last fire, Kibbie, which we also had surveyed last year. I had never been to one part of Hetch Hetchy, and we had just enough time to squeeze the hike in. This was another long drive, though. We had to go over Tioga Pass and then through Yosemite, out Big Oak Flat and then in to Hetch Hetchy. We hiked over O'Shaughnessy Dam and out to Wapama Falls, which were running heavy because of all the recent rain.

The dam.

The reservoir.

Wapama Falls.

We came back out and then drove to Kibbie. We got to the trailhead parking lot in time to eat and throw our tents down. The mosquitoes were bad, which was an ominous foreshadowing for the next day.

We got up and hiked about a half hour before we started our surveys. My route only overlapped last year’s by one point. And, I actually surveyed more than the usual ten points to make that happen. I had completed the ten and was almost out of time. We usually stop 3 ½ hours after sunrise, which works out to be around 9:15 a.m. I knew I was near my first point from last year, though, and that’s where I had a woodpecker. So I forged ahead and was rewarded with a pair. The mosquitoes were incredibly annoying all morning.

Here's a meadow that was full or mosquitoes, and birds, though not a Black-backed Woodpecker.
Because of a bad night’s sleep, I was exhausted that morning. On top if that all, I had a meat hangover. Good thing it was the last survey before another break. When we finished up, we drove back to Rodney’s house in the Bay area. He very generously offered to let me stay the night, so I did. The next morning I was dropped off at the rental car place and was off on my own adventure for two days, until I was to meet up with Bob at the Fresno airport to begin my last tour.

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