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Eastern Sierra Trip Report, June 2021

Aidan B

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Day One.

On Saturday morning, I left my house for a five day birding trip to the Eastern Sierras near Mono Lake. It took about five and a half hours to reach our destination, not counting the several birding stops along the way. I tried to bird from the car on the way there, and had several species from driving down the freeway which included a Clark's Nutcracker, a Canyon Wren, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk. 

My first stop was at a small reservoir called Bridgeport Reservoir. My aim here was to try and photograph Common Nighthawks, but I didn't get there at the best time of day, there's not that many Nighthawks out flying at 3:30 in the afternoon. even though I didn't see any nighthawks, I did see the only Willet, Wilson's Pharolopes, and Cinnamon Teal of the trip. Also present were several Caspian Terns and Yellow Warblers.


My next stop was one that I was pretty excited about. It was a very small dirt road that left the highway for several hundred feet before joining with it again, and was not even an ebird hotspot. Last year a pair of Gray Catbirds had taken up residence in the dense thickets along the road, and several days before my visit the male Catbird had returned and was singing on territory. I was expecting it to be hard to find, but the second I opened the car door, I could hear it singing away only feet from me. My first Lifer of the trip! It was a very uncooperative bird however, sulking low in the vegetation and only giving me brief looks. I did manage a few photos of it though.
Also present was a Black-chinned Hummingbird, a Violet-green Swallow,  and a few other things. 
From here, we continued on to the campsite over at Gull Lake, where we unpacked everything and got ready for the next day. By the time we finished this, there was very little daylight left so I only had a few minutes to really explore around the lake. It was nice to hear all the Yellow-headed Blackbirds singing, and I also got a neat photo of an Osprey.
I was surprised about the presence of Black-crowned Night-Herons, instead of coming out of a roost on the lake, they came down from way up high, presumably from one of the other nearby lakes.
After it got dark, I spent about thirty minutes listening for owls or nighthawks, but never succeeded in hearing any. https://ebird.org/checklist/S90091451
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Man, it's been a while since I've updated this!

Day 2

I woke up pretty early, at around 6:00 am, to head off on my first full day of birding for the trip. I started off the day with my first rarity of the trip, a Cordilleran Flycatcher singing from an aspen grove right next to the parking lot for the campground. I took a quick recording of the bird, and then we were off!



My first destination was a place called Joshua Flats, about a two hour drive to the southeast of were I was staying. Along the road on the way there, I saw my first Common Nighthawk of the trip, and lots of the typical roadside birds, such as Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Ravens. After about an one hour and twenty minutes of driving, it changed into the more desert habitat that I was looking for. The birds also changed,  Horned lark replaced the Red-winged Blackbirds and Black-throated Sparrows replaced the Ravens.

Finally, after two hours of driving, I reached Joshua Flats. I believe that I read that I read that Joshua Flats is the northernmost Joshua Tree forest in the world, and I came here to look for Scott's Oriole and Canyon Wren. Both of which would be lifers. Surprisingly, the very first bird I saw while driving in was my lifer Pinyon Jay, which is not to commonly reported at this location. I was happy to see it, especially after I came home as this was the only pinyon jay of the trip despite looking hard for them later on.
I have to say, desert birding is so much different than birding riparian as during the first fifteen minutes of hiking it was just dead, with not a single bird seen or heard. 
Than, I started to hear a distant bird singing. It was so distant I thought I was imagining it, but I still decided to track it down. It was my lifer Scott's Oriole! From there, I started to see and hear more birds, two more Scott's Orioles, some Ash-throated Flycatchers, a bunch of Black-throated Sparrows, And my lifer Cactus wren!
From here, I drove another hour back up in the direction that I came from to look for a Neotropic Cormorant, the first ever for Inyo county! However, I didn't anticipate the  blistering heat, and there was no way I was going to walk almost two miles in 100 degree weather with no shade, so I decided I would come back on another day when it was earlier.
From here, I headed up into the Glass Mountains to a certain location where Plumbeous Vireos and Virgina's Warblers can be found. This was a really nice place, and probably my favorite spot I visited the whole trip! I quickly started picking up birds here, first a Black-throated Gray Warbler, than several Warbling Vireos, than a Juniper Titmouse, than a Costa's, a Black-chinned, and several Calliope Hummingbirds. Than I heard a distinctive, Nashville Warbler like song that was clearly not a Nashville Warbler. It was my lifer Virginia's Warbler! Sadly, I could never get a visual on it despite trying to for several minutes. I quickly got distracted though, as I could hear a Solitary Vireo sing from the trail back along where I had already birded without seeing anything. So, I went to track it down. These Vireos sure were not very cooperative! It took me a long time to get a good look at one to confirm it was my lifer Plumbeous Vireo, and even more time to get a photo.
I had finally found a vireo in good light, and was just starting to approach it closer, when I realized that the empid that had been singing down the trail for the past fifteen minutes and I had been ignoring didn't sound like any of the usual species, so I listened a little closer, and then instantly forgot about the Vireo I had been trying to photograph. The flycatcher was a Least! I took so many recordings of that bird, and am not kidding when I say I took a minimum of 1500 photos as well! According to ebird, this was the fourth county record, although I'm sure there is a few records not on ebird. That bird was definitely the highlight of the whole trip, and my sixth lifer of the day!
From here,  I joined up with my family, where I birded around a ski resort for almost three hours for a total of six species. Definitely not a place I will ever go back to bird!
After all of this, I was about done birding for the day, and besides from a single Great-horned Owl at my campsite, there was nothing else new for the trip. It was a very good day, with a total of Six lifers! I can't remember the last time I did that!
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