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2017-07-15 Tioga Pass And “Common” Birds

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

June Lake, where I’ve been staying with friends, is a short drive to many great bird locations and abundant first rate scenery. Tioga Pass is the east gate to Yosemite National Park. It takes off from US-395 near Lee Vining less than 4.5 miles from north end of June Lakes Loop (CA-158). At its junction with US-395, the elevation is 6847 feet. From there it climbs slowly to the pass, reaching its apogee at 9,943 feet, making this the highest road to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains. While this pass is the highest, it is a gentle climb, averaging 4.6% with a maximum of 5%, compared to steeper, but slightly lower Sonora Pass, with its sections of 12% grade. My van traversed the Tioga summit without much strain. The same can not be said for its run over the more rugged Sonora Pass a few days prior.

At the crest of Tioga Pass, the traveller is greeted with a few small stone Park Service buildings. A kiosk in the center of the road often backs up a long line of vehicles, waiting for their fees to be collected. Tourism is booming in the park and that translates to a degradation in the serenity quotient. I had no intentions to cross over into the glorious Yosemite Valley. There were more than enough other tourists in Tuolumne Meadows where I found myself this morning.

I wasn’t sure what birds I would find in this place. I had hopes, but no expectations. When I found a relatively isolated pull out, I parked and scouted, looking and listening for birds. When I descended as far as seemed appropriate, I reversed my course and headed back toward the summit. I found a parking pull out near a wide pond along Dana Creek where there were thrushes foraging along its edges and I carried my camera gear into the nearby woods to meet the locals.

Such is my preferred method to hunt birds with my camera. I’ll find a quiet spot near some feature that attracts bird-life and sit on my folding stool, waiting and watching. I often tell people my style of birding is more akin to the Great Blue Heron than the Snowy Egret. The Snowy actively disturbs the peace, chasing prey from the hiding places they prefer, while the Heron finds a promising spot and patiently waits for its dinner to come by. If you sit and watch the river flow long enough, eventually world will come to you. This approach provides me with a quality experience in natural (hopefully) surroundings. If I meet birds, it is a bonus to an already enjoyable day.

“Rarity” seldom determines what birds interest me. The very word is loaded with subjectivity. Political committees like to hand down decisions determining the status of species in a given location or region. More than once I’ve been chastised for posting links to my little photo adventures, stating that my birds are not “rare” enough to warrant discussion within a group. Yet for each negative communication there are dozens of supportive comments offered.

I recognize there are varying levels of expertise within the birding “community”, and many of those with the most experience no longer have an interest it the common birds, but we are a varied community and not everyone has the same interest or level of understanding. In the words of the late Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?” Rather than keeping score about who’s seen what and which birds are special, I propose we focus more on community building. If more of us love nature, we’ll be more likely to protect it.

My encounters with my camera on this day were likely more of the “common” variety. In the gallery I’m sharing today are kestrels, thrushes, juncos, chickadees, nuthatches and a couple of mammals.

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