Monday, 24 September 2012

Yosemite Majesty

I could have gone with a movie title riff, such as O Lucky Bird Man, or Yosemite Bob, say.  But truly, Yosemite National Park in California was majestic in every sense of the word.  The mountains are a sight to behold.  Not that they are that high, compared to say, what I saw in Alaska, but you are so darn close to them.  You stand at the base of El Capitan and stare up to the top, where climbers are actually hanging from the wall camping overnight.  I don't seem so crazy anymore!

But I was there for the birds, even though I spent a lot of time gawking at the scenery and even more time driving.  A 15 mile drive can take 45 minutes at times, due to the slow speeds necessary to keep from driving off the side of a cliff.

The first day I drove up to Glacier Point, stopping along the way to look for Black Swifts, which were not present any of the three times I searched for them at the waterfall.  At the top of Glacier Point the views are indescribable, and even the photos I will share tomorrow can not replace actually being up there.  I spent a couple of hours wandering the paths looking for Sooty Grouse and Mountain Quail and though I heard the Quail a couple of times, I could not see them hiding in the scrub.  I did, after a hotdog lunch at the pavilion, find a family of Sooty Grouse who were happy to ignore me and let me take photos.

I searched a little more, birded a little more, stood at the base of El Capitan for a while just admiring those who hung from the cliff face, hundreds of feet above the ground.  By then it was getting late and I needed to get dinner and find a place for the night.  Though I didn't know where I was going to stay, I DID know where I was going to eat.  Edna, my birding pal from New Jersey, had told me to eat at the Mobile Station at the other end of the park.  Dinner at a gas station?  Edna promised it would be great and she didn't let me down.  Now, to be accurate, the restaurant is not in the gas station, but in the building next to it.  However, it provides well cooked and presented gourmet food in a very casual environment.  If it hasn't been, it should be on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

After I missed out on the Quail at Glacier Point, a ranger instructed me to come back early in the morning, saying that the Quail are all over the place before the sun gets high in the sky and tourists start tromping around.  After that they are well hidden, as I found out.  So I was up at 4:30 this morning, it takes an hour and half to drive there from outside the park, and was at that top of the mountain by 7:00am and wouldn't you know it, the Mountain Quail were basically right where I was told they'd be, enjoying their breakfast.  They scampered about as I took a lot of photos and then vanished as mysteriously as they had appeared.

Quails out of the way, I searched for more birds and was glad I did, as Glacier Point had one more bit of magic up it's sleeve, a White-headed Woodpecker high in a tree.  I got great looks at it, took some photos and even a video.  It was great.  And time to run.

I had a very long drive ahead of me if I was going to make it to Pinnacle National Monument, south of San Francisco in time to search for Yellow-billed Magpie and Lawrence's Goldfinch.

If it wasn't so late and I wasn't so tired and I didn't have to get up early to drive to San Francisco to bird with Eddie and Noreen in the morning, I would stretch this story out and amuse you for a few more paragraphs, building the suspense until you couldn't take it anymore.

Instead, I found the Magpies, flying back and forth between farmer's fields on the way to Pinnacle, and I don't think I found the Lawrence's Goldfinches, though I heard goldfinches and I saw some that might have been female Lawrence's.  I just wasn't sure enough to count them and there was no photograph to refer to.

I spent much of the afternoon fending off flies while walking around the campgrounds, also looking for the Lawrence's, but I did make up for missing that bird with the addition of three California specialties, my last three of the day, in order:

California Quail, California Thrasher and California Towhee.

How about that.  Viva California!

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