Sunrise over Lower Red Rock Lake

Sunrise over Lower Red Rock Lake
Sunrise over Lower Red Rock Lake

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Exploring West of the Refuge

Fellow volunteers who are avid birders told me of a wonderful trip they took on Hwy 20 west past some lakes and all the way to the coast.  I decided to do the trip but only got in part of it.  I think they must not have stopped every five minutes for pictures. One of the sights that really impressed them was a flock of common mergansers so big that they thought they were seeing a shoal - shallow water running over rocks.

The first thing I saw was the foothills to the coastal mountains as I started driving through them. Of course I was entranced and took lots of views of them.

I saw some animals moving around way back from the road.  With my binoculars, I could see they were a herd of tule elk.  When I got home and showed my pictures to a staff biologist, he said this elk (and others I saw) have hair loss syndrome which may cause them to get hypothermic and die this winter.

I stopped at the Cache Creek Natural area and took pictures of this spotted towhee and lots of gold-crowned sparrows. I also saw a California towhee but couldn't get its picture.

I finally got to lower Clear Lake and decided to go around the west side of it to get better pictures. But I was on the lower east side at first and came to a dead end.  I decided to go up the steep hill and come back to the main road by a different route.  Just as I got to the top of the hill and was going into a hairpin turn on a one lane highway, I saw quail, a deer and lesser goldfinches. Thankfully, there was no traffic as I struggled to get pictures off all the animals.

These are California quail.  I was amazed at the size of the pine cone.  I may be the cone of a Coulter pine. I didn't dare get out of my car to get this one but collected another one a few hundred yards down the road.

My next stop was at Clear Lake State Park.  I couldn't stay and visit since there is a $7.00 per day fee and I needed to start home.  I did get some quick looks at common mergansers and found the biggest congregation of pie-billed grebes I've ever seen.  I was confused by a flock of strange ducks until I realized they were grebes. Here is all I could get in my camera field of one group of perhaps 40.

After I left that park, I found a county park way on the northwest end of the lake on Soda Bay Road. It had many trees with the huge  infestations of mistletoe.

A little cove held a large flock of western Canada geese.

A comical acorn woodpecker was closely inspecting a dead branch where I had seen mallard ducks hanging out as I came in.  

I saw this view just as I was leaving the lake after driving back south and east on Hwy. 20  I think it was a slough.

Just as the sun went behind the mountains, I got another glimpse of the tule elk.

I had a great day exploring and still have lots more places along Hwy. 20. The place where my friends saw so many mergansers is on the next lake west.