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Part 6: Cedar Pass

Hit the road pre-dawn again, and stopped at the entrance to the national forest, which happened to be right at Cedar Pass Campground as well.  The first new bird was a singing MacGillivray's Warbler!  Not wanting to disturb the campers I found a road that led out of the campground and emptied out near what looked like a huge storage building, but ironically this turned out to be a great stop, as a Dipper was singing a lovely song right behind it!  Got a glimpse of him bobbing before he spotted me and took off...

  A stop at the pass itself was glorious; got to see the MacGillivray's, plus a baby House Wren came to say hello.  A female hummer came right up to me that I thought was Calliope at first, but a look at the photos I got of the perched bird showed a tail longer than the wings, so I'm presuming a migrant Rufous.  I once again heard that Least Flycatcher-like call that I associate with Hammond's, so I don't know what to make of that (heard a bona fide Dusky at a later stop).  

      

Views along the pass

    

I presumed this was a Rufous Hummingbird because the tail appears to extend beyond the wings, but I’m willing to be talked into Calliope!   

Juvenile House Wren

  Found what I thought was the upper end of the Cedar Creek Trail, but it was actually the middle portion; it was a nice wide trail with several Warbling Vireos and Butterbutts, and again heard both forms of "Western" Flycatcher calls.  The road down to this section was quite birdy, however; had several Red-breasted Nuthatches, a Cassin's Vireo, Butterbutts, Western Tanagers, Green-tailed Towhees, and other things that didn't wanna come out.  Found the "real" Upper Cedar Creek Trail, which was a delightful interpretive trail that would have been fun to do had there been more than one person and two cars (park one at the bottom and hike one-way)!  But the scenery along this portion was gorgeous with open meadows, aspen, and firs; what I wasn’t prepared for were the mosquitoes!  Had a Mom Junco with a nose full of food for the chicks, and on the way back a Red-breasted Sapsucker sat out in the open on a distant dead tree; I was almost expecting only Red-naped on this side of the mountains, but I guess this is where we get our hybrids!

      

Middle portion of the Cedar Creek Trail and road to the ski park

                   

Ski park (obviously closed for the summer) and Upper Cedar Creek trailhead

       

More scenes...

            

Mom Junco with food at right

It looked like there was a decent road up to Stough Reservoir, so I checked that out (it was actually just a little pond), and again, there was a camper there, so I continued up the road.  A large raptor in a dead tree got my juices going at first, but it turned out just to be a Cooper's...  The road got a little too dicey for my taste, so I turned around at the top, but what a wonderful spot to stop!  You felt like you were on the top of the world with open scrub, scattered conifers, and a wonderful view!  I was watching a Kestrel through the scope and wasn't paying attention to the bird singing behind me; when I finally woke up my brain said, "Gray Flycatcher!" but by that time it shut up and I wanted to get a better listen to confirm it...  I think it was up here I heard the Dusky as well, along with an Olive-sided Flycatcher.

              

Past Stough Reservoir you climb the hill

    

Headed down the road, stopping periodically, and had yet another Red-breasted Sapsucker at a great spot with cottonwoods and willows!  Stopped at the lower Cedar Creek Trail, which was an old stage coach road evidently, and went along some wonderful creekside habitat with more Macs and Warbling Vireos.  You could see where there had been a big fire across the way as well.  A pair of White-headed Woodpeckers hitched up one tree, one with food for the kids.  Had a knockout Western Tanager as well.

      

Heading down the road to the Lower Cedar Creek Trail

                        

Western Wood Pewee along the trail

Road-birded down to Cedarville from there, picking up a Spotted Towhee for the day.  (I asked the group if the Spotted Towhees on this side of the mountains sing a more Drink your TEEE type song rather than the "raspberry" song ours in San Diego sing, as I never once heard the latter but periodically heard the former, which wasn't as complex as the Green-tailed Towhees.)  Headed over to the causeway, as that was recommended by a fellow Calbirder for shorebirds, and it turned out to be a good spot; picked up meadowlarks and a Sage Thrasher before actually hitting the lake, where the first thing to fly by was a flock of Long-billed Curlews!  At various stops along the causeway had both Ring-billed and California Gulls, Spotted Sandpiper, lots of Killdeer and Willets, and a single Avocet and ratty-looking Wilson's Phalarope.  Found where I was going to be spending the weekend (Surprise Valley Hot Springs, as it was the only place to turn around) and picked up Loggerhead Shrike for the day there.  Nearly beaned another Sage Thrasher on the way back to the causeway...

      

More scenes heading on...

       

You abruptly find yourself in Surprise Valley!

   

Cedarville

   

Middle Alkalai Lake from the causeway (Highway 299)

   

                               

California and Ring-billed Gulls like to hang out here (among other things), along with a Western Meadowlark (token land bird)

                                   

L-R:  two Willets, two male Wilson's Phalaropes, and an American Avocet

    

Desert habitat across from the spa

Headed back to town and then south to pick up Deep Creek Road up into the mountains again; this is a delightful, good gravel road that takes you to Pepperdine Campground and beyond to Alturas (actually joining up with the road I was on the day before).  It starts out in flat farmland where I picked up Magpie, Western Kingbird, Violet-green Swallows on a wire, Swainson's Hawk, and the urban finches for the day.  Getting into the woods you're driving along Greens Canyon for awhile (according to the map), and the scenery was just spectacular with the big rock formations!  Had a nice Red-tailed Hawk perched at eye level on a dead tree, along with a pair of Warbling Vireos giving him fits!  The woods were getting pretty quiet except for the ubiquitous chickadees, robins, Butterbutts, and tanagers, but a Hermit Thrush was serenading me at one stop.  At another stop where there was some streamside vegetation a female Calliope Hummingbird buzzed around (when she perched, she definitely had a teeny tiny tail!). 

      

Cemetery and grasslands at the start of Deep Creek Road

                       

Violet-green Swallow climbing into the National Forest

       

            

Scenes along the canyon with a Red-tailed Hawk

Once you cleared the summit the road opened up into some beautiful grassland, but I suspect some of this was due to the fires, as it looked as though it had been cleared years ago.  But there were some bona fide meadows; in fact, what may have been the birds of the day had one area staked out, about a half mile pass the turnoff to Dry Creek Basin: three territorial White-crowned Sparrows!  At first I didn't think Sibley showed them here in summer, so I was really wondering whether these birds were common knowledge!  (They were definitely the oriantha type...)  Later I had several Calbirders confirm that they did indeed breed, and a closer look at the book also confirmed that they just scootch into California!  Trying to pish them closer for a digiscoped shot also brought up a silent Brewer's Sparrow. Later the road passed through more open rocky areas with Mountain Bluebirds, a nice male Cassin's Finch, and Chipping Sparrow families.

  

Apparent burned area

               

Meadows like these had breeding White-crowned Sparrows of the Rocky Mountain race (left), which just makes it into California here!

   

More scenes of the high places...

   

   

   

Mountain Bluebirds love this stuff!

    

I eventually made it to Pepperdine Campground where I hiked the Summit Trail; it joined the road to the campground at about the ten minute mark, so it made for a nice loop.  The only new birds were some Coots and Ring-necked Ducks on the marshy pond below the road.

Summit Trail

  Decided to call it a day after that, but the road to Granger Pass looked like it was also a good road (and joined the main road later), so I decided to take that back.  Aside from a gorgeous view of Surprise Valley, I discovered the road wasn't as good as the map made it out to be, and the closer I got to Granger Canyon, the worse the road got!  (The nice man at the gas station in town confirmed that that road was closed for a long time following a massive washout years ago…) So I hitailed it outta there (especially since it was starting to sprinkle) and made my way back to the main road.  Jip and I were filthy by the time we got back to Cedarville, especially after getting stuck behind a utility truck for awhile who was raising so much dust you couldn't see!  He very nicely let me by, though...  Once past him picked up a whistling Townsend's Solitaire for the day.

                       

Dark morph Red-tailed Hawk and view of Surprise Valley from the Granger Pass Road

Had a nice dark morph Redtail in the flatlands before checking into the resort.  At first I was surprised by how small the room was, and they indeed had some bigger ones, so I made arrangement to move the next day, but it’s definitely an isolated place! Had fun perusing the "journal" in the room that they encourage you to write in; most everyone was there for a wedding anniversary or some romantic getaway! Not this little gray duck…

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