Mary Beth Stowe's Website

Home Page    Trip Reports    Modoc Co. Index Page

Modoc County

Part 5: Jess Valley Area

Started out before the crack of dawn the next morning and started birding the Modoc NF east of Likely.  Barn Swallows were the first to be chattering before sunrise, and had Common Nighthawks beenting right away.  At a stream a couple of hummers chittered by; I was getting ready to assume Calliope when I thought I heard a "zee-chuppity"; since the stream was providing loud background noise I let it go altogether, since I wasn't sure... 

I was surprised at the amount of civilization in the so-called "wilderness area"!  Jess Valley had lots of blackbirds, but also "singing" Wilson's Snipe.  I headed up the side road to Mill Creek Falls where a large bird in a dead tree turned out to be a Bald Eagle!  Then I spotted seven more huge birds in a nearby tree and got all excited, but they turned out to be just TVs...  Nearly ran down a pair of California Quail heading into the woods...


Ranchland in Jess Valley


Bald Eagles were on the road heading up to Mill Creek Campground

The campground and trail at Mill Creek were beautiful, although the trail was a little strenuous (I never did make it to Clear Lake), but picked up "Western" Flycatcher in here easily.  But I'm confused: the county checklist doesn't even have Pacific-slope, although most of what I was hearing was a definite slur: tee-YEE! Sibley shows both "Westerns" in this area, so I'm wondering about that.  One Calbirder wrote me to say that he concurred: there’s been a lot of debate about whether both species do occur there; chances are they probably do. Another Calbirder wrote me some time later stating that genetic research was being done on the "Western" Flycatchers in this area, and they did find them to be genetically mixed, so who knows what the future of these birds will be (status-wise, that is)!  There were lots of Flickers, Pewees, Steller's Jays, Western Tanagers, chickadees, Juncos, and Red-breasted Nuthatches in the area, plus a few Brown Creepers.


Mill Creek Trail


Scenes along the trail with Dark-eyed Junco (right)


Mill Creek Campground

  I should have been able to keep going straight to Soup Spring according to the map, but I couldn't find any road at all that continued (except one that went through a "village" and had "Private Property" signs all over), so I backtracked to CR 5 and headed north.  At the first stop along the road pished in a singing Cassin's Vireo, but he wouldn't come out for a look... 


View of Jess Valley heading out with Mule Deer


Scene along CR 5

I shortly came upon another good road (40N24) that pointed toward Soup Spring, so I took that, and had what apparently is a significant bird for this area: a Pileated Woodpecker!  (Although I certainly would expect them in stuff like that, and a fellow Calbirder concurred that he had them every time he went camping at Soup Spring...)  I was about two miles up, shortly before the road makes a hard left.  I actually heard him twice, once again after I made that hard left.  Unfortunately I couldn't find him for a sight record, but that call is pretty distinctive.

  The trail at Soup Spring was more manageable, and had several Hermit Thrushes singing in here, as well as a Dusky Flycatcher doing his "male call".  Heard a sapsucker doing its "harsh call", but again I couldn't sight the bird, so he's remaining on the "???" list, since I can't tell one from the other with that particular call (although I’m strongly suspecting Williamson’s).  Warbling Vireos were new for the trip here, and Butterbutts were quite common as well.  Continued to road bird up to Pine Creek Basin, where the road going in had a few surprises, not the least of which was what I'm pretty sure was a Hammond's Flycatcher doing a partial song (I notice that's a "starred" bird on the checklist, too).  What convinced me was the Least Flycatcher-like tone to the song, without any high-pitched elements to it at all (like I would expect in a Dusky Flycatcher's).  He also did a little chatter that was consistent with what's on the recordings.  The bird was calling from an area of conifers that was near a more open area with some willow-like vegetation near a stream.  I also ran across a nest of baby woodpeckers that were making a racket, but Mom never came in while I waited, so they'll remain a mystery...  Pine Creek was a nice easy trail as well with Golden-crowned Kinglets and a Pine Siskin for the trip, and a creek that looked good for Dippers, but dipped on them...


Soup Spring Trail with young male Western Tanager at right


Scenes along the road to Pine Creek Campground and area where the suspected Hammond’s Flycatcher was calling...


Pine Creek

Continued to road bird all the way to the northern "exit", and had some good things here and there, even though it was quiet in spots.  Would catch a glimpse of a Nutcracker every once in awhile (heard their grating calls much more often), and at one spot a White-headed Woodpecker fed close to the ground fairly close to the car!  Heard a definite two-syllabled Cordilleran Flycatcher at one spot, and at another stop had a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers making a racket!  In the same spot was a Mountain Quail doing its little agitated call, and heard some funny noises that I thought might have been chicks, but upon closer inspection turned out to be a small flock of Cassin's Finches doing their little whistle!  At another quiet spot a miracle happened: I just happened to look up into a pine and saw a funny shape: there was a snoozing Common Nighthawk on a branch!   The odds of my spotting something like that with my eyes are next to zilch!  Townsend's Solitaires had been whistling here and there, and finally spotted one on a dead branch!


Scenes along CR 5 with White-headed Woodpecker


A miracle sighting was this Common Nighthawk along the road!

  Heading down the mountain you got some gorgeous views of the valley and what turned out to be Dorris Reservoir.  It was really getting quiet by this time, but a single Green-tailed Towhee broke the silence at one stop.  Closer to the NF border was open pinyon habitat, but it was real quiet by this time; with the exception of a calling Rock Wren on the lava boulders, I was relegated to simply enjoying the scenery!


Coming down the mountain...


"Pinyon/sage" habitat at right


The hummers loved these pink thistles!   

Headed on to the reservoir after that, and it wasn't at all what I expected; it actually had some nice edge habitat!  Many of the same birds I had seen the day before were there (Canada Geese, ibis, gulls, etc.), but a nice Clark's Grebe was good for the county.


Scenes around Dorris Reservoir



I had had it by then, so wheeled into town to try the AAA-recommended Italian place (it was great!), then iced up, gassed up, paid the motel bill, and crashed in anticipation of Cedar Pass et al the next day! 

Continue to Cedar Pass

Go back to Modoc NWR

Go to top