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Mt. Piños Field Trip: 18 June, 2011

June 21, 2011

About 90 minutes north of Santa Monica, just over the border into Kern County, lies Mt. Piños, rising 3300 ft. from Cuddy Valley Rd. to 8843 ft. In olden days when the road was maintained, it was easy to drive all the way to the top for a 360° chance to spot the California Condors that occasionally soared by. The last time we tried that, the road became impassable and we walk the final ½ mile. I suppose no one has seen a condor from this location in well over 15 years.

Mountain Whitethorn (Snowbush), Ceanothus cordulatus in bloom near "the triangle" ~5500 ft. (L.Johnson 6/11)

We birded the meeting area for a short while to let the upper slopes warm up. Birds were few, but we managed to find a friendly covey of California Quail, a Western Wood Pewee calling loudly and flycatching, the first of many families of Violet-green Swallows and both Western Scrub Jays (in the open scrub) and Steller’s Jays (in the forest). We searched for Brewer’s Sparrow, but it’s been at least 4 years since we’ve seen them at this location.

[Note added later] In researching the above photo, I ran across an interesting and useful website which has pictures, maps, records and other information on plants all over California. If you’re trying to figure out a plant,  try CalFlora. Here’s their write-up of the Mountain Whitethorn.

Ascending Mt. Piños, bird speciation changes. Scrub Jays disappear, Steller’s Jays become more common and, at the highest levels, Clark’s Nutcrackers loudly call. Crows are replaced by Ravens. House Finches disappear and Cassin’s Finches appear, often in company with Purple Finches, who utilize a middle range overlapping both House & Cassin’s. White-breasted Nuthatches – which can be found down close to sea level – are joined by the noisily peeping Pygmy Nuthatches who typically forage in family flocks, and the more solitary Red-breasted Nuthatches (a species absent from the nearby San Gabriel Mtns.). In the higher levels, it is possible (or at least used to be) to find Calliope Hummingbirds, feeding at the tiny flowers of current bushes and other low flowering plants. About 5-10% of the currents were in flower and hosting insects hordes, but no hummers.

Pygmy Nuthatch (L.Johnson 6/11)

Fox Sparrows and Green-tailed Towhees were foraging and loudly singing at McGill Campgound. I think these two birds are probably the most beautiful songsters in the entire US sparrow family, with rich, liquid and varied songs, subtly varied with each repetition. I think it extremely odd that they would live in such close proximity to one another, and can’t help wondering if there wasn’t some sort of mutual interspecies singing competition driving their evolution.

Flowers in sunlight (primarily lupine & wallflower) (L.Johnson 6/11)

We also found Violet-green Swallows bringing food to their nest in a small hole in a large pine tree; the sharper hearing among us could hear the young in the nest peeping. A female Purple Finch was busily building a nest in a needle-tuft at the end of a low limb; I wonder how it will do when strong winds blow. Band-tailed Pigeons passed back and forth but never stopped. Mountain Chickadees were gathering food among the needles and on the ground, as were both Purple & Cassin’s Finches. Western Bluebirds were feeding their young.

Male Cassin's Finch (L.Johnson 6/11)

At the end-of-the-road Iris Meadow area, we searched the current patches but found no Calliope’s, but the Fox Sparrows were very entertaining. White-headed Woodpeckers were carrying food. We intended to picnic by the meadow, but – judging by the drumming – a Native American Powwow was taking place, and several people didn’t think they could handle the thumping. We picnicked down at Mt. Piños Campground, then vainly searched one more location for Calliope’s, and left for home.

The weather was great, the birds are busy, the flowers are coming into bloom – Telegraph Weed, Indian Paintbrush and various lupines, among others, were everywhere – and the campgrounds were nearly empty. It’s a great place to camp and clear nights are great for star gazing & satellite spotting. Call the local ranger station for information at 661-245-3731; camping reservations are 877-444-6777, but frankly, the campgrounds were so empty you could probably just show up and get a site.  [Chuck Almdale]

Snow Plant (L Johnson 6/11) Put cursor over picture for additional information

Mt. Pinos ranger district website.

Mt. Piños Field Trip


18 June, 2011


California Quail


Band-tailed Pigeon


Mourning Dove


Black-chinned Hummingbird


Acorn Woodpecker


White-headed Woodpecker


Northern Flicker


Western Wood-Pewee


Steller’s Jay


Western Scrub-Jay


American Crow


Common Raven


Violet-green Swallow


Mountain Chickadee


Red-breasted Nuthatch


White-breasted Nuthatch


Pygmy Nuthatch


Western Bluebird


American Robin


European Starling


Yellow-rumped Warbler


Green-tailed Towhee


Spotted Towhee


Chipping Sparrow


Fox Sparrow


Dark-eyed Junco


Purple Finch


Cassin’s Finch


House Finch


Total Species


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