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2019-08-20 Tuesday On The Shores Of Mono Lake

By 2019-08-21 Wednesday, I knew my time on the road was near an end. I resolved to make it home by day’s end. I had a short but pleasant stay in June Lake with my friends Mark and Carmen, but there was no escaping the fact that I needed to get home and take care of my affairs there. After a long, indirect route, I finally arrived back in Poway by early evening.

California Gull - Larus californicus
Mono Lake hosts the 2nd largest breeding colony of California Gulls in the world. This image was captured during a 3 hour vigil at the Mono Lake shore north of Lee Vining California. Summers at Mono Lake, when the algae blooms occur in this super-salty water, Brine-flies (or Alkali Flies) feed on the algae. Millions of birds, as many as 80 species feed on the fat and protein rich flies.

Tuesday I explored the Mono Basin and I found two new access roads to Mono Lake’s southern shore. One was at Navy Beach, east of South Tufa. The other brought me to the shore at the mouth of Rush Creek. These roads in places, had very soft sand. I got through most of it in 2WD, but at Rush Creek I had to engage 4WD to keep from sinking too deep. With the recent work and Samurai driveline dramas of late, I was uncertain how it might behave. Even without the 4WD indicator on the dash, it worked perfectly, and I walked easily out of the sandy trap that caught me. It got put to a tougher test when driving out the single track trail, I encountered a full-size truck coming in on the road. I was able to back Sami out of the way, up and onto a super sandy open spot, letting the truck pass. Back on the hard-packed Test Station Road, I unlocked the hubs and disengaged the front drive. Test PASSED!

I left South Tufa and drove through Lee Vining for two more miles to a pullout picnic and parking area I’ve enjoyed visiting on earlier visits to the region. I walked to the shore and found birds I with whom I wanted to spend time. But the midday sun was a photographic challenge I did not want to battle. Instead I took the time to drive back to Lee Vining, get a bite to eat, and kill time. I returned later with the sun still high, and stayed for several hours until the sun dropped behind the mountain, finally fading the subjects before me into dimness.

The most dominant species everywhere I visited here was the California Gull. During the summer season, this is to be expected. As many as 65,000 gulls breed at Mono Lake; the second largest colony in the world. Three hundred other species have been recorded visiting this place on their migrations in spring and fall. On this visit I saw a few hatch-year Wilson’s Phalaropes near shore, Eared Grebes far from shore, and three species of Blackbirds (Brewer’s, Red-Winged, and Yellow-Headed). The birds I met at the lake were feasting on Brine Flies (or Alkali Flies). I also met a few raggedy, molting Brewer’s Sparrows and Green-Tailed Towhees haunting the surrounding sage on this visit.

I compare my favorite method for image collection to that of the Great Blue Heron. While the Snowy Egret dances in the shallows to chase prey out of hiding, the Great Blue Heron stays stationary, waiting for its prey to come into view where they are likely to become dinner. I’ve found my best successes often come while I sit on a low folding stool with my camera and tripod in a low stance. By making myself small and quiet, my ‘victims’ tend to accept my presence. My vigil this afternoon lasted from 3:30pm to 6:15pm. During that time I watched the birds coming and going, alternately loafing and feeding. I find it peaceful to observe them in their daily routines.

The sun drops over the tall mountains west of Mono Lake early at its western shoreline, and the light quickly changes from too bright to quite dim. Many of the images I collected this day suffered because of this. It did not prevent me from trying to pry usable images from the still beautiful scene, despite these conditions.

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