Thursday, July 30, 2009

Black-backed Woodpecker Surveys 2009. Part 06

Back to looking for woodpeckers. Bob arrived early at the Fresno airport Monday morning June 22nd, and so did I, a shared trait that makes our work together agreeable.

This is what all my stuff looked like while waiting in the Hertz parking lot.
He warned me that the day – actually the week – would involve a lot of driving. Well, I had already driven over a thousand miles, so what were more?

We drove through the flat farmland of the Central Valley to Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon National Park. We were going to Cedar Grove to pick up Alan, a Park Flight intern from Mexico, who was going to observe Bob do the Breeding Bird Surveys (BBS). I was also along to help Bob with this. There were parts of Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks (SEKI) I had never been to in the summer and I relished the chance to spend time there. Once we got to Cedar Grove it took two hours to find Alan. When we found him we had to rush off to get the BBS paperwork, then figure out the route by driving it. To do this, we drove almost the whole way up to Mineral King and then back out to check the stopping points. The road to Mineral King is a twisting, sometimes disintegrating piece of asphalt that that climbs 3000 feet; you travel from dry scrub up through Sierra Mixed Conifer and Sequoia habitat. It’s 25 miles in 1 ½ hours. Once we drove the BBS route, we went almost the whole way back up the 25 miles to camp at Atwell Mills. It was dark by then. Alan slept on top of a sequoia stump. No sleeping bag, no tent. I was impressed. I slept at the base of one. I had forgotten how majestic sequoias are. You definitely feel you are in the presence of something great.

Giant Sequoia

The well-traveled route for Monday-Tuesday. A is the Fresno Airport, B is Cedar Grove. C is Mineral King (Atwell Mills is about 5 miles short of Mineral King). We went back and forth between B & C.

View Larger Map

Breeding Bird Survey
Tuesday morning we were up at 5 a.m. to start the BBS route. We were out of the car every half mile. I would take a GPS reading and notes on relevant geographical features that would help next year’s surveyor identify the point. For five minutes, Bob documented all the birds he heard or saw. Alan was there to see how it was all done, and to get practice identifying birds by ear. We did 50 points - 25 miles - which took us to 10:15 a.m. Highlights were hearing a Spotted Owl and a Rufous-crowned Sparrow. Then we had some lunch and returned to Cedar Grove, a 3 ½ hour drive. On the way, we scouted out the next day’s BBS route. That night we stayed in Alan’s National Park housing, with a roof over our heads. We all slept in the same room, with Bob and I on the floor. Alan chivalrously offered up his bed to me, but I declined. I didn’t want to put the man out of his own bed.

Next day we repeated the BBS routine. Though, we had to get up at 4 a.m. (instead of the 5 a.m. of the previous day) because we could not sleep close to our start point. The road we traveled steeply declined into Kings Canyon towards Cedar Grove (our stopping point).

Bob looking over Kings Canyon into the wilderness.

Often there was no shoulder - the road plunged down into the canyon on one side, and there was a rock wall on the other.

Hello, rock wall.
We had carefully noted where all the turnouts were when we scouted it the previous day. So, we shot for every half mile unless there was really no place to pull the truck over. I think this only happened twice; there were that many turnouts along the 25-mile route. Once we got close to the Kings River we often couldn’t hear any birds; the river was that loud.

Kings River

After a chilly morning, the sun finally almost getting to us.

Dead bat along the route.

Once we finished, Bob and I had to get back to Mineral King to camp because we were to leave the following morning on a backcountry trip to a fire. We left Cedar Grove at 10:30 a.m. and got to the Cold Springs Campground in Mineral King at 3:30. We stopped for lunch and at a grocery store, but the rest was all driving. I took a small nature hike and a bath in the Kaweah.

Sawtooth Peak when nature hiking.
We ended up with a sweet campsite, that had Red-breasted Sapsuckers, Wilson’s Warblers and Fox Sparrows singing in it.

View from campsite.
Bob slept on top of this rock on the right.

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