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Eastern Sierra Nevada Trip


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Over this past weekend (left Friday morning, returned Monday evening), I went camping in the eastern Sierras and went birding in El Dorado, Alpine, Mono, and Inyo Counties.

My first stops were along HWY 50 passing through the mountains between Placerville and South Lake Tahoe. I was very lucky to find a pair of American Dippers at a random spot where the highway crossed over a river - it just looked like a good Dipper spot, and it delivered! Farther along HWY 50, higher in the mountains just south of Lake Tahoe, I explored the lodgepole pine and red fir forests around Lower Echo Lake. There were few birds around but I did find a couple Black-backed Woodpeckers by listening for their soft, flaky pecking.

The first night, I stayed in South Lake Tahoe, where there were lots of Clark's Nutcrackers, Steller's Jays, and Northern Flickers.



The following day, I got up fairly early and headed to Foothill Road in Alpine County, CA - very close to the Nevada border. There, I saw lots of Black-billed Magpies and got much better looks at Clark's Nutcrackers. After exploring that area, I drove south to the Mono Lake area in Mono County. My first stop was at a place called Goat Ranch Cutoff Road, where there was a flock of Pinyon Jays and a few Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays, as well as a couple Sagebrush Sparrows. My next stop was at a spot called Rancheria Gulch, where I finally found several Juniper Titmice.

That evening, I drove down to the Crowley Lake area, found a spot to camp, and went to bed around sunset in anticipation of an early morning.






The following morning, I got up more than an hour before sunrise, and drove then parked and hiked deep into the sagebrush near Crowley Lake. Finally, the dense sagebrush opened up into a vast grassy plain, where male Greater Sage-Grouse were strutting and displaying. I didn't want to disturb them, so I stayed fairly distant, but it was a pretty special experience - in the midst of a vast sagebrush valley, surrounded by massive, snow-capped peaks, early in the morning with no one else around, save the warbling of Sage Thrashers and Western Meadowlarks. By 8 AM, I was back at my car, and had seen the "Sage Trifecta" - Sagebrush Sparrow, Sage Thrasher, and Greater Sage-Grouse.




The next spot I checked was Twin Lakes up in the Mammoth Lakes area, where I searched unsuccessfully for Pine Grosbeaks. Eventually, I gave up on the grosbeaks and drove to Aspendell in Inyo County, a well known spot for Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches. I drove around the town for a little while, finding here and there a few houses with a bird feeder - then, finally, the motherlode, a house with numerous feeders out front, swarmed with Pine Siskins, a few Cassin's FInches and Lesser Goldfinches. And there, on the ground, beneath the feeders, a mat of calling Gray-crowned Rosy-finches, their gray crowns gaudily contrasting with their brown bodies and the pink accents on their wings and flanks.


After seeing the Rosy-finches, I began the long drive home, and stopped to sleep coming back through the mountains across HWY 50 (most of the roads through the mountains are closed, hence why I had to take the rather circuitous route on HWY 50). The next day - Monday - I had no specific target birds and took my time crossing the pastoral Sierran foothills and Central Valley, stopping at a few spots for Swainson's Hawks, Lawrence's Goldfinches, and huge colonies of Cliff Swallows.

All in all a good, though brief, trip and lots of cool interior west birds!

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