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Modoc County

Part 11: Modoc NF - Western Portion

I honestly didn't think the last day wandering around the national forest would be too exciting based on the trip the day before, but boy was I wrong!  I decided to explore some good dirt roads in the western part of the forest, so plotted out a route that night and headed pre-dawn the next morning to road 42N60, northwest of Canby.  Started the drive-a-mile bit about a half mile in, seeing as a truck was idling at the intersection, and finally heard what I felt comfortable calling a Pygmy Owl (as opposed to a squirrel or a solitaire...)!  More of those funky-sounding Gray Flycatchers were calling—gosh, they sound harsh!  I would love for someone who really knows these empids to do a thorough survey sometime on these back roads!  There's a part of me that still thinks I'm hearing Hammond's!

For the most part, this section of the forest reminded me more of our San Diego mountains (and in some cases the San Bernardinos), as the birdlife was similar: a lot of Spotted Towhees, Pygmy Nuthatches, and Steller's Jays compared to other parts of the NF, and in some cases particular birds (such as the Green-tailed Towhee) seemed to be missing altogether!  I had a lot of nighthawks along this particular stretch as well.  In between forests were patches of open sage/grassland and lava rocks with the expected Rock Wrens and Mountain Bluebirds.

 At county road 91 I crossed over onto what I thought was county road 56 (at least that was the plan), but I found myself on a road that was certainly passable compared to some roads I've taken my poor car on, but it wasn't the best: lots of soft dirt and portions that were very rocky, I assume to give the logging trucks some traction on the inclines.  And a good portion of that road did go through logging territory, but they had planted several pine trees that were at the stage of growth that almost made me expect a Kirtland's Warbler to pop up any moment (those who had visited the Jack Pine forests would know what I was talking about)!  The Chipping Sparrows and Juncos seemed to like this area, and in spots that were a little more "devastated" I ran into small "finch flocks" that, in addition to the Chippies and Juncos, often had Brewer's, Vesper, and Cassin's Finches thrown in!


Scenes along the road


Clodius Parnassian that got fried on Jip's dash...  (Note the waxy appearance of the abdomen:  that's actually secreted there by the male after mating to prevent other males from mating with her!)


Least Chipmunk near a plantation


  I then came upon a totally new habitat: what looked like high-altitude chaparral, and sure enough, a couple of Fox Sparrows song-battled!  I assumed it was the Fat-billed type, and thankfully one of them started its California Towhee-like teep to confirm it!  Another interesting sighting was a pair of Harriers cruising the area!


Chaparral area


Before long I came upon an intersection with several directional signs (which I was very glad to see), but according to said signs I was way off course!  I would never dare wander around a National Forest without their official National Forest map, but even with the map, you can obviously get turned around!  According to the signs I was south of Lava Campground when I thought I was well north of it, so I headed in that direction on a much better road!  At the turnoff I stopped to listen, heard tapping, and found a female Willy Sap looking for lunch; it was like seeing a whole new bird!  Found the campground and took a walk around the loop, with the best bird being a Cassin's Vireo that came in to investigate.


Area around Lava Camp that hosted a Cassin's Vireo!

Headed up towards Long Bell Station after that, and hadn't gone far before a dark woodpecker flew over; got enough of a bin look to confirm Lewis'!  That was totally unexpected and a special treat, although I did have them at Lava Beds years ago, which isn't too far away.  Nearby a Mountain Quail did its "flicker" call, and at another stop down the road, a familiar gurgling overhead revealed a female Purple Martin sailing past!  Also had a small flock of three Red Crossbills, an Olive-sided Flycatcher posing on a dead tree (and who took off just before I could digiscope him, naturally), and a lone Pygmy Nuthatch actually came down to investigate!

  The real CR 56 picks up at the guard station, so I took that back, and since it was mid-day I packed in the drive-a-mile bit and decided to reservoir-hop the rest of the day.  Passed through a lot more of that chaparral habitat, so had I found the right road, undoubtedly the Fox Sparrows would have been in there, too.  But once I got back out to CR 91 I pulled the map out and figured out where I had gone wrong: the map shows the original forest road I was on going straight, which it didn't, and I ended up on a logging road that transected private land on a diagonal (the map still showed it was a "good" dirt road—if they say so) that took me straight to that intersection south of Lava!  No wonder I was turned around!


County Road 56 and chaparral habitat that had an Olive-sided Flycatcher

Anyway, now that I knew where I was J I headed over to Duncan Reservoir.  I noticed that most of these "reservoirs" have a lot of wetland habitat around them, so they aren't like the barren-sided reservoirs I'm used to in southern California!  Here picked up a small flock of female-type Bufflehead and a Belted Kingfisher for the day.  Then headed to "Reservoir F", which was quite a bit larger but had a family of Pied-billed Grebes and a lone Violet-green Swallow flying around.


Duncan Reservoir


Reservoir "F"

  From there headed towards "Reservoir C", but was in for a lovely surprise: the main road (part of the "Back Country Discovery Trail") takes you through Fairchild Swamp, which was just like taking an auto tour through a wildlife refuge: there was marvelous wetland habitat on both sides of the road!  Unfortunately it was rather quiet, but did pick up Coots, White-faced Ibis, Canada Geese, Ring-billed Gulls, and Avocet for the day.  Rounding the corner was another surprise: a pair of Sandhill Cranes!  There were also these little "mountains" of what I assume are volcanic deposits, and yet another trip bird, a Canyon Wren, decided to call from one!


Fairchild Swamp and grassy wetland (Yellow Rail habitat??)



Sandhill Cranes (left) and White-faced Ibis (right)


"Lava mountains", home to Rock and Canyon Wrens

Once back into sage land I happened upon a real cowboy and his herd (along with the Border Collies), who was very amiable and sent me on through, as the herd was basically hogging the road—took awhile for them to scoot out of the way!  Just past that area was a little wetland called Joe Sweet Pond with more Buffleheads real close to the road.  Reservoir C was rather tiny and quiet, so headed on to the main drag I was on the day before and down to Big Sage Reservoir, which was kind of a disappointment: it's huge according to the map, but the access point is a little arm (that did look like our SoCal reservoirs), but I snuck down another road that was actually the dam, and had a great view of the rather scuzzy-looking Rattlesnake Creek and a Great Blue Heron for the day.


Cowboy with charges, and creek across from Joe Sweet Pond


Said pond with female Bufflehead


Reservoir "C" and cattle in the campground


Unimpressive Big Sage Reservoir, and more impressive-but-still-scuzzy-looking Rattlesnake Creek


We bid farewell to the national forest and head down the hill into Alturas.

Headed down to Alturas after that; there are still so many dirt roads I'd love to explore, but alas, I had to leave for San Diego the next day... L Woke up late enough to steal a donut and banana from the breakfast room (along with a huge group of bikers) and headed south on US395. This was all new territory, and once through Nevada (the construction through Reno was a little hairy, even on a Saturday), the drive was absolutely gorgeous through the Sierras! (Although I admit that Carson City is a cute little town…) Already I was planning the next county trip! Stopped in Lone Pine for the night, and had a wonderful ribeye at a restaurant called the Seasons that the kid at the motel desk recommended.

It was actually warm the next morning (guess a major heat wave hit the whole state), and headed south. After 100 miles it was time for gas, but still quite early, and the first station I found was closed but thankfully they left the pump running (probably to accommodate all-night drivers), so I was able to "feed Jip", but I myself was in desperate need of a potty, so I looked for the nearest side road going off into the boonies! Came to Johannesburg, and had another surprise: what I initially thought was someone’s chicken crossing the road was a Chukar! Found a side road and headed up, did what I had to do, then came back down, only to find several more! Then, going through town almost ran over a whole family!!


Chukar family near Johannesburg; for such a brightly colored bird they blend into the rocks rather well!


Made it to I-15 where it looked like a black fog bank was hanging over Cajon Pass, and it turned out to be worse than just fog: a downpour! Thankfully most folks were taking it easy and there weren’t many trucks, and there was enough of a break to stop in Corona for "brunch" at a Wendy’s that just barely opened (had a nice conversation with a kid who looked like he was part of a gang)! It was dreary all the way in to San Diego, and found out later (like a similar trip) that the rain was due to Tropical Storm Emily (or Evelyn—something with an "E"…)

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