Grass, Lava, and Water
Monday, July 16, 2007: My first stop today after leaving the Mineral Lodge was some roadside birding at Lake Almador. I was crossing the causeway and just pulled off to the side and got out my scope. No lifer potential here, but it's always nice to see lots of waterfowl. I didn't stop at nearby Eagle Lake, but even a drive by was enough to spot a couple of additional birds.
I had originally planned a longer drive, but figured it would take too long. Instead I took SR-139 at Susanville. The country here is quite a bit different from that further west. It's drier, and the non-irrigated areas show it. Grass and sagebrush. In the hills, it reminded me of some of the area along the Ruby Road in Arizona. Grass, rocks, and scattered trees. Made me think it might have quail. I made a couple of random stops, turning up a family of Rock Wrens, but no quail. Finally, I spotted some quail shapes on the side of the road. But which ones? I turned around as soon as I could find a spot and went back. They were still there and a male had a long, vertical plume! Yes, they were the Mountain Quail I had been seeking! A whole covey of them. This was my first lifer since the pelagic trip.
A stop at the Willow Creek picnic area (Modoc National Forest) yielded got me some decent Steller's Jay photos and some young Western Wood-Pewees, together with a selection of other birds.
I took the turnoff toward Lava Beds National Monument. Before I got there, I spotted some more quail. This time they were California Quail. The monument itself was interesting. They have a lava-tube cave, Mushpot Cave, set up as an interpretive trail. It has lighted signs and permanent lights to guide you through it. There are numerous other caves you can explore.
Besides the cave, I also visited the Flennor Chimneys, which are several lava vents that put out an amazing flow of material. The Klamath area national wildlife refuges are next door to the monument and were next on the agenda.
The visitor's center had Belding's Ground-Squirrel at their feeders, but my real target was Tricolored Blackbirds. The women at the visitor's center marked three places on the map where flocks of them had recently been seen, in Tule Lake NWR, in Lower Klamath NWR, and just outside the refuges in Oregon.
I found my life Tricolored Blackbirds (a pair) mixed in with a group of Brewer's Blackbirds at Tule Lake. Although the male's epaulet was a bit ragged, it was clearly white, not yellow. The female lacked the warm tones that Red-winged Blackbirds have. There were also a lot of waterfowl there so I had plenty else to look at after getting my second lifer of the day.
I also drove the Lower Klamath auto route, but had no luck with the blackbird flocks. Then I tried the Oregon location on Merrill Pit Road. There was a whole flock of Tricoloreds there and they were vocal! I mostly couldn't see them because the vegetation was too tall, but they sometimes perched on a nearby phone line where I could scope them. A couple of hours ago I had never seen this bird, now I've seen it in two different states!
From there, it was only another hour and half to Crater Lake. Even though I got there at a reasonable time (6:45), there was no one available to check me in. They only had one person who could do it and she was on dinner break! Given that, I figured I should go eat too. They have a buffet-style restaurant at Mazama Village, so there shouldn't be a problem getting in, right?
Wrong! They have a system where you are seated, someone takes your drink order, and you can either eat from the buffet or order something. Unfortunately they didn't have adequate staff (maybe three people short) and had both many empty tables and a waiting list to get in! What can I say? It's Xanterra, so you should expect that sort of thing to happen occasionally.
After dinner and check-in I drove up to the lake to take some sunset photos. As I was driving back to Mazama (about 7 miles), I had to stop for a bull Elk crossing the road.
Mazama Cabins, Crater Lake NP, OR