Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mano a Mono

Mono Lake Valley
 On a recommendation from our full-time network of friends, we stayed at the Mono Vista RV Park in Lee Vining. The park's relative distance to Yosemite's east entrance and Mono Lake wound up being ideal for us.
We spent part of our first afternoon on Thursday setting up and getting caught up on Internet business. Our Verizon signal was on again off again. We've found that when it's off, local public libraries usually have free WI-FI (note: just one more reason to support your local library!). Turned out we didn't have to actually be in the library. A signal was available 24/7 in the library parking lot.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent tracking down Mono (both "o's" are pronounced as long o's) lake at the Mono Lake Visitor Center. The staff proved to be extremely helpful - it helped that they were avid birders. We were showered with numerous birding info and options.
two wild and crazy guys
We returned to our site to discover new neighbors, a couple of fellows on a fishing vacation sans spouses. Seems we're always discovering new neighbors and these two were some wild and crazy guys. Most of our late afternoons were spent chatting over drinks or some mornings chatting over coffee.

The RV park offered a catered dinner - BBQ style food - brought in by a local caterer. $10 for a heaping plate plus beverage - what a deal. The peach on a grill topped with whipping cream was incredible. And hey, no dishes to wash!
Friday morning we joined a local bird hike at the County Park located of the north shore of Mono Lake. The highly alkaline lake produces brine shrimp and alkali flies by the tens of millions which in turn attract thousands of migrating Wilson's and Red-necked Phalaropes and Eared Grebes. The birds depend on Mono Lake where they're spend several weeks to bulk up their body fat reserves for their long migration flights from breeding grounds in the Arctic to their wintering grounds in South America. Not too many new annual birds on the field trip but thoroughly enjoyed conversing with fellow birders, some, who like us, had come from afar.

Cemetery Road views on the way to Bodie

Virginia Lakes
After the field trip we acted on a tip for finding Greater Sage Grouse and drove toward Bodie, a historical ghost town. We whiffed on the grouse but Tom managed to flush a roosting Common Poorwill - a life bird for Tom. The remaining three miles of road to Bodie were on a dusty gravel road crowded with tourists. We headed in another direction toward the popular fishing area, Virginia Lakes where there was an outside chance to find Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches reported coming to a feeder at the lake's lodge. Whiffed on the finches but the lodge served a tasty lunch.
As we skirted Mono Lake on our way back to the RV park we stopped at an access point at the lake. As we parked, Tom thought he recognized a woodpecker with white wing patches fly into a clump of trees directly in front of where we had parked. It turned out to be a male juvenile Williamson's Sapsucker, unusual (but not impossible) for this area. We had been searching high and low for a Williamson's ever since we hit the northwest and had all but given up on seeing one this year. But that's birding. We didn't find it when we expected to but instead found it when we least expected to see one.

black edging along the shore: alkali flies
We finished off Friday afternoon and evening with a trip to the east shore of Mono Lake where large deposits of tufa formations are to be seen. On our drive back in the dark we flushed several Common Nighthawks that were hawking insects in the shine of our truck headlights.

views of tufas
Saturday morning we headed out early to explore an area near Lake Crowley, another possible site for Greater Sage Grouse. Although it was perfect habitat, we were disappointed by not finding any but, we thoroughly enjoyed the sunrise hitting the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Also found lots of Sage Sparrows, Sage Thrashers, Brewer's Sparrows, and Green-tailed Towhees.

views of Sierra Madres
After a light breakfast at the RV we headed out again for some higher elevation birding. We'd heard reports that Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches had been spotted at Saddlebag Lake. The lake is at about 10,000 feet elevation where the finches like to hang out. We didn't feel our chances were all that great but hey, birds fly. Finally, our luck changed for finding a target bird and found a juvenile rosy-finch bathing in a puddle along the trail. Also snared some Rock Wrens, another annual FOY (first of year). The scenery was superb as well. And while it was a bit chilly we didn't complain much knowing we would soon be heading further south into much warmer climates.

views at Saddlebag Lake
Plotting our route with an eye to Arizona we realized we had some driving to do. Sunday morning we headed toward Yerba where we over-nighted at the Barstow Calico KOA 286 miles away. Our next stop was at Yuma, 330 miles away. We had hoped to spend a few days in Yuma to track down a few new annual birds but our stay at the Cactus Gardens RV was hot, hot, hot. 127-degrees in the shade and over 100 degrees in the RV during the day. Instead of birds we went ot the movies or shopping in air conditioned comfort. We nearly opted to spend our second night in a motel but toughed i tout - and also got out of town. Next stop: Tucson, another long pull of 245 miles but with more reasonable temperatures as a reward!

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