The big this week is that a Common Greenshank, an
extremely rare Asian counterpart to our Yellowlegs,
was found at the mouth of the Mad River in Humboldt County.
A frenzy of updates and inquiries has dominated the CalBird
traffic for the past 24 hours, with many people from all
over the state entertaining plans to make the long trip
up North this weekend. I'm one of those crazy people, but
my employer probably doesn't share my enthusiasm for birds
or my willingness to drop all projects for a last-minute
trip. Oh, well... If the bird appears to be comfortable
in its present location, I may find myself driving up to
Arcata for the second weekend in three weeks.
Last weekend I took a brief trip up to Humboldt to visit
a friend. We saw very few interesting birds, but did make
one discovery while driving on Hwy 101. We were near Redwood
State Park when we saw a large brown bird on the ground
by the side of the road. We stopped as close as we could,
but had already passed several hundred yards beyond the
animal. As we approached, we discovered with horror that
it was a freshly struck (and quite dead) Spotted Owl.
We were torn between sadness at seeing this endangerd bird
lifeless, but also excited to see it so close and with such
detail. We gathered up the beautifully preserved carcass
and after examining it for any leg bands or signs of foul
play, we placed it in the trunk of our car and drove back
home. The bird will be delivered to the Biology department
at Humboldt State University by my friend, who works with
the department, where it will be catalogued and hopefully
stuffed for others to see. We couldn't help joking about
how we would explain it to a police officer if we were pulled
over for speeding...
A weekend camping trip to Yosemite, my second for the summer,
was assembled for the purpose of finding the ellusive Gray-crowned
Rosy Finch. This bird, as one book states can be found
"among the cirques and ridges, alpine lakes and meadows,
sheer escarpments and eternal ice and snow (of the Sierras)."
It goes on to say that "no peak is too high, too rugged
or to exposed for Rosy Finches..." If ever a challenge existed
for a birder it seemed this was it. The gnawing realization
that two good friends had managed to locate this species
earlier in the season only fuelled to my desire to succeed
on this single-species mission.
Upon arriving at Saddlebag Lake, shortly beyond Tioga
Pass, my friend Jesse and I loaded up on granola bars and
snapple in preparation for our 6-mile hike at 10,000+ feet.
Our trail led us through alpine vegetation and breath-taking
scenery that challenged us to name a more beautiful setting.
Soon we observed, with some suprise, a Caspian Tern
foraging high above us over the lake, as well as California
Gull and Osprey. Apparently, we had some distance
to go before the the habitat achieved the required "rugged
and exposed" quality. Eventually though, we arrived in an
area of widely-spaced stunted trees, huge bolders of glacial
rock and nearby fields of icy snow that seemed other-worldly
and appropriate for the Rosy Finch. I began to remember
my hike down from the Jungfrau in Switzerland a few years
earlier, and I have to say this was no less impressive.
There was an overall romantic barreness to the plateau,
but lawn-sized patches of spring green grass lay between
the huge bolders and miniature wind-sculpted trees offered
some relief from the elements.
Then, almost as if summoned by our arrival, a medium-sized
songbird landed on the ground about 40' before us. The wings
appeared transluscent and its flight seemed similar to a
Bluebird's. In our binoculars the smooth tan plumage with
horn-colored bill and pinkish wing highlights made it an
easy task to identify: an immature Rosy-crowned Rosy
Finch! We observed the bird for some time as it foraged
for a few moments, unconcerned with our presence. When it
moved up hill we followed it and observed it for a few more
moments. As many as four such birds presented themselves
for identification and each time they remained for a moment
or two before scattering. A few repetitions of these events
gave us ample opportunity to scruitinize every feature of
the birds, but we found ourselves quitely longing to locate
a brilliant adult male.
We continued hiking for another half hour or so, steadily
climbing and discovering more beautiful scenery. Finally
we arrived at a flattened area where enormous white boulders
rested against eachother and formed a lumpy field of stone.
Between the stones were collections of delicate alpine flowers,
small pools and curious groupings of tiny rocks. There,
only a few feet from Jesse was a very dark bird, a Rosy
Finch! It was a textbook-perfect male with all the rosy
tones and gray head stripes you could possibly ask for.
We crept up on the bird, trying not to flush it. It seemed
occupied with feeding on tiny seeds and insects gathered
from between the stones or tiny plants. We were able to
get many satisfying looks at this stunning individual and
stayed with it while it moved as if on some personal feeding
schedule. Evenually, we lost the bird in the distance and
decided to leave ourselves. We felt we had succeeded in
our mission and returned to our campground exhausted and
ready to celebrate with a great steak dinner (the steaks
had been marinating for 48 hours in anticipation of this
Other interesting birds discovered on this trip, primarily
in the Tuolumne Meadow portion of Yosemit, were Spotted
Sandpiper, Clark's Nutcracker, ,
House Wren, Townsend's Solitaire, Hermit
Warbler, Nashville Warbler, MacGillivray's
Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Orange-crowned
Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler,
Chipping Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, Pine
Grosbeakand Cassin's Finch.