My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

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.