Birding Trip in California’s Eastern Sierras

July 11, 2015 at 9:16 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) (, )

Birders in the cathedral of evergreens in the Eastern Sierras

Birders in the cathedral of evergreens in the Eastern Sierras

I generally like birding and hiking alone, since I am distracted by every flower, bug, lizard, and bird. That irritates anyone who has an agenda of actually hiking at a reasonable pace.  But occasionally I like to “bird” with others who are good at spotting and identifying them, and it’s great to be with like-minded folk.  So I signed up for a 4-day trip to California’s Eastern Sierras through Sea and Sage Audubon, led by Bob Barnes and John Schmitt.

Long-eared owl showing off its long ears

Long-eared owl showing off its long “ears”

I saw many “life” birds, including a family of long-eared owls at a Ridgecrest cemetery, and just enjoyed doing my part to find and ID birds – some of which were lifers for others, too.

Long-eared owls with

Long-eared owls with “ears” flattened

Matter of fact, one woman was actually overcome with emotion when she saw her first pileated woodpecker in the conifer forest.  It’s a great moment to see someone “get” a bird they’ve always wanted to see.

Burrowing owls, Ridgecrest

Burrowing owls, Ridgecrest

People who “bird” a familiar area will know where certain species nest or forage, so it is like getting an insider’s peek into their birding territory.  The burrowing owls were inside a fenced-off area with construction debris – apparently a great rodent habitat.

At Kern River Audubon Preserve

At Kern River Audubon Preserve

Of course, birders know to begin their day early – sometimes at dawn – when the songsters are most active.

I think this was identified as a lesser goldfinch nest that had fallen on the ground

I think this was identified as a lesser goldfinch nest that had fallen on the ground

We began at the Kern River Audubon Preserve, a large tract of cottonwood and conifer-studded riparian land that was a magnet for many species.  Feeders helped attract lesser goldfinches, bullock’s orioles, and several hummingbird species.  A male Bell’s vireo – the only one found in Kern County – sang his distinctive rattly song in vain, as there was apparently no female to take him up on his offer to start a family.

Bell's Vireo

Bell’s Vireo

We put a couple hundred miles on our vehicles traveling to prime birding spots.

Western tanager male, with bugs for his babies

Western tanager male, with bugs for his babies

The variety of habitats gave us 132 species for the trip.

Mojave green rattlesnake

Mojave green rattlesnake

And one rattlesnake.  Thank goodness the birder spotted it before she stepped on it.  She kept her wits and calmly announced, “Anyone want to see a rattlesnake?”  We all ran – toward it!  Of course we did.  This one is the most venomous of all the rattlers as it has both a neurotoxin and a hemotoxin.  Coral snakes have a neurotoxin; rattlers generally have a hemotoxin.  You see below how well camouflaged it was.

IMG_4586-copy-2We all had a great time and enjoyed each other’s company.  Steve is a world traveler, seeking out birds in remote areas, and created some amazing photos.  Check out his Flickr site – you’ll see many of the same poses!  (I am insanely jealous of his quizzical long-eared owl, however.  And the vermillion flycatcher I did NOT get because I forgot to bring the extra battery.)  I learned to hang out near him because he could find and zero in on the best angles with amazing speed!  (Gotta get me that Canon Mark whatever.)  Read also has a Flickr gallery of birds, flowers, and us!

Rufous hummingbird female or juve

Rufous hummingbird female or juve

I kept my Nikon D600 in the car as many of these birds were too far away to really make all those megapixels worthwhile.  The 400mm lens has trouble focusing on tiny objects, so I used the Canon SX-50 which has a 1200mm reach.  Even so, most of these are cropped.

Red-wing blackbird and turkey vultures in a field of chicory.

Red-wing blackbird and turkey vultures in a field of chicory.

Red-wing blackbird in rushes

Red-wing blackbird in rushes

Our guide John Schmitt is a world-renowned bird artist, with illustrations in National Geographic’s 6th edition – and likely previous ones, too.  I wish I had thought to bring my 1999 3rd edition for him to autograph.

John Schmidt shows us his original watercolors created for National Geographic's field guide

John Schmitt shows us his original watercolors created for National Geographic’s field guide

Well, I’ll let the photographs tell the rest of the story (in two parts since there are so many)

Robin's nest decorated with lichen

Robin’s nest decorated with lichen

With John Schmidt at Lake Isabella

With John Schmitt at Lake Isabella

Nashville Warbler with rusty top

Nashville Warbler with rusty top

Nashville warbler with rusty top fluffed up

Nashville warbler with rusty top fluffed up

Chipping sparrow at watering hole

Chipping sparrow at watering hole

Chipping sparrow

Chipping sparrow

Juvenile Bell's sparrow

Juvenile Bell’s sparrow

Lincoln's sparrow

Lincoln’s sparrow

Cassin's kingbird

Cassin’s kingbird

Western kingbird

Western kingbird

Feel free to reblog or share

Images taken with Canon SX-50

Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com

See these photos and more here

Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America

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Contact:  cindy at cindymcintyre.com

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5 Comments

  1. Everette Sikes said,

    Beautiful pictures as always!

  2. Jet Eliot said,

    Amazing bird finds here, Cindy. Thanks so much for bringing us along on your birding trip. Your photos are delightful, I especially like the coiled rattler close-up, the western tanager with bugs, both owl species (amazing!). And of course what a great find: Bell’s vireo and Nashville warbler.

  3. Cindy McIntyre said,

    The rattler is one of my faves, too, and who can resist the brilliant color combination of the western tanager – another fave of mine. Of course owls are definite highlights! It really pays to go with folks familiar with birds of their stomping grounds!

  4. lynne jeffries said,

    Cindy you are truly a gifted artist! Thank you so much for sharing your pictures of our birding adventure. Hope our trails intersect again sometime. Take care of yourself.

  5. mbkircus said,

    I’m SOO jealous. Beautiful pics. Miss getting to go birding with you.

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