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11-31 October 2002

Part 13:  Panoche Wildlife Area and Pinnacles National Monument

(Please note: the photos on this page were scanned from a printed Publisher document, as the original Publisher file was somehow corrupted...please excuse the lousy quality, but it's better than nothing!)

Covered three counties the next day by making a quick stop at Little Panoche Reservoir, then heading over to Pinnacles National Monument.  Panoche was good for adding a few water birds to the day list, and unlike the last time I was there with my friend Shar (who said, as I was filling out the registration form, "Is that a pheasant?" when said pheasant turned out to be a very tame Chukar...) I managed to get all the way down to the water level where there was some vegetation.  You have to park and walk in, and the trail takes you over the dam where you get a great overview of the lake: there were mostly Coots, but also several Ruddy Ducks, a Western Grebe, a couple of Pied-bills, a California Gull, an American Wigeon wheezing unseen somewhere, and even a Moorhen.  Down at the water level I was able to pick out a couple of young night herons, plus Marsh Wren, Yellowthroat, and Song Sparrow in the marsh-dickey-bird department.  A pipit flew past, and Butterbutts were all over.  Alas, no Chukar this time.


Little Panoche Reservoir from the dam and from lake level


Surrounding habitat is good for Chukar (just not this time...)

Headed over the picturesque Panoche Road to Highway 25, and took that south to the east entrance to Pinnacles (unfortunately it's one of those "you can't get there from here" scenarios and you have to zigzag quite a bit).  More rolling oak savannah was a treat (plus the magpies), and I don't think I've ever run across (and almost run over) so many flocks of California Quail in my life!  It seemed like every time I came around a curve there was another covey rushing to get out of the way!

The eastern part of Pinnacles has wonderful riparian habitat along Chalone and Bear Creeks, and I hiked three trails that went along them, the first being accessed from the aptly named "Chalone Creek Area".  Mule Deer (including a male with a nice rack) fed in the parking area along with the juncos, titmice, and Scrub Jays.  I took a little bit of the Old Pinnacles Trail that went along the dry creekbed, which is very wide at this point.  It was pretty quiet (except for a curious Bewick's Wren), but the scenery was gorgeous.



East entrance to Pinnacles National Monument and the start of the Old Pinnacles Trail at the Chalone Creek Area 


Waterless Chalone Creek, with a Mule Deer and Bewick's Wren sharing the trail

Headed up to the Visitor's Center after that, where I hiked a little of the Bear Gulch Trail.  This was a terrific little walk through the woods (reminded me a little of Madera Canyon in Arizona), the best bird being a female Varied Thrush!  This trail parallels the main road, and opens up periodically; at the resting spot near a little bridge had a very cooperative Wrentit come in, and on the way back both Golden-crowned and Sooty Fox Sparrows popped up and down from the trail to the bushes, along with the omnipresent juncos.



Bear Gulch Trail with Sooty Fox Sparrow

Last time I was here I had tried both the Condor Gulch Trail and the start of the Rim Trail, and both got scratched off my list as too much work so I took the leg of the Bear Gulch Trail that went from the end of the road back towards the Visitor's Center; it goes right through the picnic area, but fortunately no one else was there, so the place was actually quite birdy.  A California Thrasher fed and called pretty much in the open, and two "acorn trees" at the resting spot had lots of paisr of Acorn Woodpeckers conversing back and forth.  A Hutton's Vireo called in here as well.  This is also a great area to actually see a Canyon Wren, as twice the little bugger sat right up on a rock (while I was changing film, naturally), but I found out that they aren't quite as responsive to pishing as their cousins the Rock Wrens, unfortunately!  The Steller's Jays were only too eager to come out and have their pictures taken, though...


L-R:  Dark-eyed Junco; California Thrasher; Scrub Jay; Steller's Jay


Aptly -named Acorn Woodpecker near the Rim Trail   

I debated about taking the Brickmore Road over to the west side, but I saw that it was dirt and curvy, and might take awhile, so I opted to take 25 all the way down to King City Road and then up G15, also known as Metz Road.  Highway 25 was absolutely gorgeous (besides picking up a Prairie Falcon along the way), so I'm glad I took it, but time-wise it probably would have been just as fast to take the dirt road: I think it took me about an hour and a half just to get to the west entrance!  But this is certainly worth seeing, too, and in some ways is prettier than the east side: here you see the stupendous rock formations, even though the surrounding habitat is mostly chaparral with a few scattered oaks.

Heading south on highway 25

I had taken the High Peaks Trail last time (or at least part of it) so I decided to try the North Wilderness Trail this time, as all trails on this side start from the same parking lot.  Again, you have to go through the picnic area, but again it was empty, and the trail is nice and flat, taking you through scattered oaks.  The most interesting bird along this trail was a Hairy Woodpecker (we only get them in the high mountains back home), but a new trip bird, White-throated Swifts, chattered overhead as well, and a Flicker alternately waffled and cleahed behind me at the resting spot.


Western entrance and scenes heading in


More coming in


Pinnacles from the parking lot and the start of the Balconies Trail









 Along the North Wilderness Trail



I still had a little bit of time, so decided to hike the High Peaks Trail again, which went through more densely wooded area with huge boulders.  Last time I had a mess of Fox Sparrows, and while they weren't numerous this time, I still had a good look at a Sooty Fox who didn't think I could see him in the undergrowth; boy, they know how to crouch still and keep an eye on you!  The resting spot gave great views of the peaks, formed by volcanic activity along the San Andreas Fault I found out later.  Just for grins I think it would be fun to do a tour along the entire length of the Fault someday (and hope it doesn't decide to move while you're doing it)!


Say's Phoebe along the High Peaks Trail

The peaks are formed by volcanic activity along the San Andreas Fault!


Yet another Mule Deer and hikers enjoying the view 

Continue to Lake San Antonio

Go back to San Luis Reservoir

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