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Modoc County

Part 2: Southwest Modoc NF & Ash Creek Wildlife Area

Headed up Day Road the next morning upon recommendation from a fellow Calbirder, and although I dipped on the Oak Titmouse, I picked up several unique birds for the day, including Wrentit, Lark Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, and Acorn and Nuttall's Woodpecker.  Day was a cute little residential area (very rural) where a family of California Quail squabbled.  The road opened up into some wide open ranchland that was just beautiful!  There were lots of Redwings out here, and at the road's end were several Violet-green Swallows on a wire along with a token Barn!  On the way out a Great Blue Heron posed on a post.

Greatly enhanced shot of the farmland around Day (it was really quite dark still).  A fellow Calbirder wrote and said, "Hey!  That's our family's ranch house!"

From Day I took County Road 94 (Widow Valley Road) over the mountains toward Lookout, and was gratified to see that it was a good graded dirt road, albeit narrow.  What made me more nervous than being out in the boonies by myself (and after just having the transmission replaced on a 200K-old car, who knows what's next...) was the warning sign that said "Logging Trucks", and sure enough, a big ol' guy came barreling down the road while I was pulled over!  Thankfully he was the only one I encountered, but the woodlands were glorious (except where I came upon where they were doing the actual harvesting...).  Picked up several nice high-altitude birds in here, including Dusky and Olive-sided Flycatcher, White-headed Woodpecker, Townsend's Solitaire, Hermit Thrush, and Cassin's Vireos up the gazoo as they say.  I thought I heard a Hutton's Vireo doing its little monotonous song, but then saw where they're not even on the Modoc County checklist, so I erred on the side of caution since I didn't see it.  Had a nuthatch sweep eventually (White-breasted in Day, Red-breasted at the summit, and P-Nuts down the other side)!  Coming down towards Lookout the road opened up into more ranchland where I spotted a pair of Mountain Bluebirds, and while I was enjoying them the rancher's mob of horses decided to come to the fence to say hello!


Deep woods of Widow Valley Road (just watch out for the logging trucks!)


Idyllic open spaces with rancher’s friendly horses!


More scenes going down the road


New pines coming back after a burn...

Once through Lookout I found my way to Ash Creek Wildlife Area, and this was a whole different feel: open grasslands with a few sporadic ponds, where there were oodles of Meadowlarks, Horned Larks, and a few singing Vesper Sparrows, which was nice.  Driving in to the first parking lot (Pilot Butte) I passed a tiny grove of trees that only had a Mourning Dove, but on the way out there were suddenly three Sandhill Cranes!  One was banded, with a red band on his right leg and a blue and red band on his left.  County Road 87A bisects the area, so I drove down that, spotting a flock of Canada Geese sailing into a distant pond.  A scope look also revealed some Gadwalls and a White-faced Ibis.  There were a couple of creek crossings that yielded Rough-winged, Cliff, and Barn Swallows, Song Sparrows, and the only Rock Pigeons of the day (they were under the bridge), and at another access road there was a small pond with a Coot family, some Pied-billed Grebes, more Gadwall, and some Shovelers.  Another trail near the county line at South Elkins had an old barn with a (convenient) Barn Owl inside, and a nearby wetland with a single Forster's Tern and chattering magpies. What I forgot to mention in the trip report was a huge Badger lumbering along the trail!


Open sage habitat of Ash Creek Wildlife Area


Pair of Sandhill Cranes, the one bird banded


Lassen Volcano in the distance


These pretty Eight-spotted Skimmers were all over the various wetlands! 



County Road 87A


South Elkins Trail with barn

After that headed up highway 299 to Stone Coal Valley Road (County Road 85) and birded that, stopping every mile; it was getting pretty hot by then, but had more Mountain Bluebirds in the ranchlands, and once into the forests had several families of Chipping Sparrows and Juncos.  The road crossed a very narrow wooden bridge at one spot (in fact, they were working on it), but had a wonderful bubbling creek that looked great for Dippers but only had a Spotted Sandpiper.  Had what sounded like a family of Hairy Woodpeckers in here, and also a sapsucker of some kind doing its "harsh call", but since I have a hard time telling the two apart vocally, I let it go. Getting higher, the road was glorious, getting into what looked like "pinyon savannah" with volcanic boulders here and there, where Rock Wrens were singing at several spots, but Brewer's Blackbirds were the dominant species.  A Green-tailed Towhee sang at one spot, and also had a chattering Bullock's Oriole and whistling Black-headed Grosbeak.  Later on a Cassin's Finch did several characteristic calls, and at one shady spot a Mountain Quail scooted across the road!  A riparian area that looked great for MacGillivray's Warbler only had Lazuli Buntings.


Scenes along Stone Cole Road (and it gives you an idea of how great the major dirt roads are here)


Typical "pinyon sage" habitat


More scenes...


The Pit River where the road work was




Pit River, the headwaters for the Sacramento River according to one resident!


Ranching is big business here!


Much of Modoc National Forest has a lot of volcanic rock deposits; Rock Wrens and Mountain Bluebirds love this stuff!



After finishing up that I didn't have enough time to do the forest loop I wanted to do west of the Lookout-Hackamore Road, so I headed up to a spot mentioned in the old Brown Bin Book called Henski Wetland Area.  I was pretty beat but I managed one more short hike in there, and it is indeed a lovely wetland, although pretty quiet by then; the only water birds were a family of Pied-billed Grebes, and when the babies saw me, you never saw anything dive so fast!  A raptor way back in the woods was making a racket that had I been in southeast Arizona I would have called a Common Black Hawk, but not here!  Probably was a young Osprey, but who knows...  Picked up a singing House Wren for the day back at the car, when a van came wheeling in and the kid jumped out and opened the gate; I guess you can drive in!  I needed the walk, though...


Woodland trail at Henski Wildlife Area and the wetland itself


Mom Pied-billed Grebe and the kid, and scene on the way back to the car

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