Monday, June 23, 2008
Montane Adventures - Part II
Saturday morning was much like Friday morning, except that the Violet-green Swallows began calling at three-thirty instead of four-ten. As I lay there attempting to drift back to sleep, I heard a new voice. Who-who-who, whoooo-who! An owl! "Only" a Great Horned Owl, but I enjoyed lying there listening to it hoot. Another one answered back, and those two owls hooted back and forth the rest of the night. A Western Screech-Owl also called briefly from nearby.
My dad and I pried ourselves out of our sleeping bags at five-fifteen, enjoyed a quick breakfast, and then went out foraging for coffee. We quickly succeeded, and headed up to the trail head for the Devil's Slide Trail. The trail, starting from Humber Park a couple miles above Idyllwild, snakes up high into the mountains and even reaches Mt. San Jacinto (elevation 10,786 feet). That was too long of a hike for us, but we were determined to climb as high as possible on the trail. We started our ascent up the steep and rocky trail just as the sun was starting to peep over the high ridges. The trail is remarkably scenic. However, it is easy to get distracted from the scenery by the birds. We hadn't gone far before we began seeing higher-elevation species such as Yellow-rumped Warbler (looking very fine in alternate plumage), Red-breasted Sapsucker, and Brown Creeper.
Birds weren't the only animals out and about along the trail. Cliff Chipmunks and Western Gray Squirrels scampered over the rocks and scolded us from the tree branches as we passed by. This Cliff Chipmunk scurried up a log to check me out while I was trying to pish in some birds. I can't say I've ever pished in a chipmunk before...
As the temperature rose, lizards emerged from their lairs and basked on sunny rocks. There were quite a few similar to this one. My lizard identification skills leave something to be desired (if they even exist), and I'm not sure what it is. My best guess is Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus), but I am probably wrong. Thoughts?
After a long hike, we reached Saddle Junction, two and a half miles above the trail head. The idyllic pine forests and stunted vegetation here produced Pine Siskin, Cassin's Vireo, Dusky Flycatcher, Fox Sparrow, and Green-tailed Towhee. We decided to take a "quick look" up the Pacific Crest Trail toward the peak. We ended up hiking over a mile up the steep trail, hoping to find a Clark's Nutcracker or Williamson's Sapsucker. No luck. We had nary a sniff of a Clark's Nutcracker, and every sapsucker call note or drum I tracked down turned out to be a Red-breasted Sapsucker. The views, however, were spectacular. Lily Rock (pictured at the top of this post) loomed overhead when we began our hike, and now we were high above it.
After a pause for lunch, we began the descent back to the trail head. By now, the sun was high overhead and birds were not nearly as active. The walk down was much less strenuous than the hike up. I got lucky and spotted a Townsend's Solitaire, a gray bird that blended in well with the gray shadows of the sky-high pine trees. A state bird for me, and only the third I've ever seen (I've seen singles in Ontario and Michigan!).
We continued our way down, gulping gatorade and trying to stay in the shade as much as possible. We stared in horror at the crazy backpackers sweating their way up the trail, stooped under the weight of their enormous packs. We reached the trail head around 12:30 p.m., six hours after we started. It had taken us four hours to climb up and only two to come back down. It was roughly seven miles round trip. An awesome hike filled with amazing scenery and birds!
The rest of the afternoon we spent relaxing in the shade at our campsite. The Stellar's Jay was still hanging around, hoping for handouts, and he had brought some of his friends. We ended up with four Stellar's Jays squawking at us! As soon as I would toss a peanut, one would drop down, snatch the peanut, and go stash it somewhere. Repeat. Those jays certainly won't be going hungry any time soon.
Later in the afternoon, as it cooled down, I took a walk around the park. The large ponderosa pines sprinkled liberally throughout the park provide good habitat for species such as White-headed Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pygmy Nuthatch, and Dark-eyed Junco. A small riparian area lines the tiny trickle of a creek that runs through the park. Here I found Black-headed Grosbeaks, Spotted Towhees, and others. A couple of very inquisitive Dark-eyed Juncos were very curious about my pishing and flew in very close.
That evening, after a nice dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, we attempted to find Flammulated Owls around the parking lot at Humber Park near Idyllwild. It was in vain. The only night creatures we could find were the bats swooping around over the parking lot, the mosquitoes that whined in our ears, and the ants that crawled up our legs. It may take a while, but I will find a Flammulated Owl. Eventually.