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2017-07-07 and 09 Lower Rock Creek

Townsend's Solitaire

Friday morning (7/7) I chased (but missed) my friend Steve Brad’s Indigo Bunting. He’d been visiting the region in the weeks prior to my departure. I’m reasonably certain I was in the correct location, but the bird was not cooperating. There were other birds to entertain me here (American Robin, Lesser Goldfinch, Lawrence’s Goldfinch, Rock Wren, Spotted Towhee, Warbling Vireo, Western Tanager, Western Wood-Pewee). I enjoyed the location, next to a fast moving creek with tall pines and willows along the bottom of the steep valley. The west slope of the canyon seemed to have been burned in the recent past, but the east side still had many large trees up slope.

Before I planned to drop in on friends in June Lake, I drove down to Bishop to shop for groceries when I was done with the morning’s birds. I’d forgotten to stop there on my way north. The road past the creek (Lower Rock Creek) was the old route that was bypassed when the US-395 was built. I’d eyeballed the canyon numerous times in the past as I drove the 395 north and always wanted to explore it. This was my opportunity. I discovered the road followed the creek down slope until the canyon closed to such a deep and narrow slot, it was necessary to navigate over the west ridge and wind with the road to Long Valley below.

Long Valley is a wide flat pastoral plain nestled at the foot of steep snow covered rocky peaks that seem to pose as guardians towering over the lush green pastures below. While this valley is within view from US-395, I was grateful for my earlier forgetfulness, as it gave me the excuse to navigate a new road and expose me to this new, more intimate variation of scenery.

Sunday morning (7/10) I chased once more, the Indigo Bunting my friend Steve had seen on Lower Rock Creek. I would try my luck with the bunting, and look into a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo that had recently been reported downstream . As soon as I reached the road that takes its name from the creek, I stopped frequently to investigate what birds I might scare up. I heard some interesting call notes and found a Lazuli Bunting. There were also some Bullock’s Orioles, Western Flycatchers and Western Wood Pewees. When I reached the turnout where the Indigo Bunting was reported, I heard Pinyon Jays.  As I walked in that direction, I got a good view of the Indigo Bunting, but I could not get a picture. I photographed the jays, and I found good opportunities to get Townsend’s Solitaire images.

When I was ready to move on, I drove towards the cuckoo location, but the site was unreachable, down in the steep canyon that the road bypassed. From the rim where I looked down, I saw I would not have been able to descend, even with rappelling gear and no equipment to carry. There was a bike trail at the bottom I might have used, but it was a long run uphill, and given how I’d seen riders flying down the trail, I’d be taking my life in my hands to navigate to the location. I decided to pass on the cuckoo.

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