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Modoc County

Part 8: North Warners

Ol' Jip got a workout the next day: we went up County Road 1 in the extreme northeastern corner of the county towards the Oregon border as planned, then came back to Fort Bidwell and went over the mountains via County Road 2 (Highgrade Road), then came down the western spine of the Warners via County Road 30 (Joseph Creek Road).  I wanted to start pre-dawn, and on the way through Fort Bidwell a Barn Owl flew across the road and landed in a tree, giving great looks!  I also narrowly missed nailing a deer on the way up...

  More than one person had mentioned to me that they thought that northeastern corner looked like good Yellow Rail habitat, so I was curious, and there were indeed what looked like large patches of wet grasslands with some tules thrown in here and there, but they were also on someone's ranch and filled with cows as well (although I had some nice Yellow-headed Blackbirds in with all the Redwings).  The first part of the road went through wonderful sage habitat with scattered pinyons, and again, I expected a Sage Grouse any minute, but nada; got a Lark Sparrow, Sage Thrasher, magpies, Scrub Jays, and a new county bird: three crows flying way overhead, cawing as they went!  I thought that was rather unusual seeing as all I had gotten here so far were Ravens...

  

Surprise Valley Road (aka CR 1)

   

The first part of the road was mostly sage with scattered pinyons

    

  Going through the aforementioned ranch was also productive: near the buildings a mob of swallows was gathering gravel off the road and lining the fence (Tree, Cliff, and Barn were all represented).  Also had the only Song Sparrow of the day, plus a Bobcat that actually stood still long enough for me to take his picture!  Down the road a Badger lumbered across, but Jackrabbits were the dominant mammal, along with a ground squirrel that I’m assuming is Belding’s according to the book (either that or Townsend’s), but neither description really fit the animal I had, nor did any of the photos I found on-line. The sage was filled with Brewer's and Vesper Sparrows (mostly the latter), and at one ranch home heard a sapsucker drumming (I'm assuming Red-breasted unless proven otherwise).  At the state line (and the only reason I knew I reached it was because the County Road sign changed) had a nice little creek with willow riparian habitat that unfortunately had a Yellow Warbler singing on the wrong side...

  

Over the hill is more ranchland

   

                       

This is considered potential Yellow Rail habitat by some!  Killdeer (right) is more likely, however...

               

Young swallows gather along the fenceline near one farm (L-R:  Cliff, Tree, Barn)

Token mammals...

      

Bobcat (left) and Belding's (?) Ground Squirrel

      

Oregon state line

  Headed back to Fort Bidwell and started up CR 2, with an adult Bald Eagle flying across the road as a good sign!  This was a fabulous, scenic road, that rose quickly and gave you a glorious view of the Valley, and shortly stupendous views of Mt Vida.  Green-tailed Towhees actually showed themselves here, and had more Brewer's and White-crowned Sparrows singing in the open pastures.  A large patch of flowers had a bunch of Rufous Hummers (I'm really surprised I haven't seen any Calliopes in this stuff), and I threw up my hands regarding the Empids; the more I listened to these things, the more I was convinced that everything I was hearing probably were Duskies after all, especially since Hammond's supposedly only migrate through here, if they show up at all (and they can sound awfully similar).  At one stop a small raptor that I initially thought was a Kestrel because of the voice was bombing a Redtail, but it turned out to be a Sharp-shinned Hawk!

      

Scenes going up Highgrade Road

   

Views of Surprise Valley ascending the road

       

   

   

   

  

Shy Golden-mantled Squirrel

       

Views from the Mt Vida Vista

    

Flowering meadow that the hummers loved!

  There are all sorts of warning signs going up the grade, and it does indeed get narrow and rocky (Jip made it fine, but someone with a standard passenger car might be biting his nails), but the habitat is beautiful: you're deep in the woods at this point, with Hermit Thrushes singing all around!  Shortly came upon two little lakes (Cave and Lily), both of which had their own Spotted Sandpipers (Lily was the prettiest by far).  By visiting Lily Lake I just missed the grader going up the opposite direction, so the ride down the mountain was smooth as silk!  At one stop I heard some Ospreys complaining (that was a county bird), but I thought the lakes I was at were way too small—turns out there was another lake (Snag) around the corner.

      

                                                                  Cave Lake                                                                        Lily Lake

 

"Huh?" Lake (not on the map…)

  After dumping out on US 395, I went south to pick up CR 30, as it looked like a nice romp through the national forest.  I was very glad I had the map as you shortly come to an intersection with no signs whatsoever!  But we just stayed on the main drag and eventually had some signs that reassured us!  It was also called the Back Country Discovery Trail (there are several of those within the national forest), and the road was in great shape.  It was getting rather quiet by that time, but it was still lovely: mostly conifers with the usual suspects, but down the road was a welcome (although very distant) trip bird: some Evening Grosbeaks!  More lovely vistas awaited us, and at one point I heard a helicopter, and at the overlook for what I assume was Scammon Reservoir, I saw it dip a bucket and fly off (later right over my head), and down the road I saw several CDF vehicles; turns out there were a couple of small fires burning back there (I didn't even see any smoke until I was almost all the way to 395 again)!  

  

Scenes along CR 30, along the western spine of the Warners

            

Left:  California Quail

       

       

We come to the pass near the turnoff to Buck Mountain, then get back into the big trees...

       

   

Scammon Reservoir, where a CDF helicopter was dipping water to fight a fire!

   

Coming back down into the ranchlands

    

Right:  Black-necked Stilt

Wheeled over Cedar Pass to go "home", and again crawled along the causeway to pad the list: this time added some Stilts, and the Willets and Avocets had evidently had a fight because they were on two separate islands...  The Snowy Plovers were holding their own little place, though!  At that point I only had two more to go before I hit 150 for the county, but that was before I decided to take Hammond’s off the list…

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