From the Mountains, to the Prairies

I am currently in northwestern Ohio reveling in my first warbler migration and Magee Marsh experience. But, before I share those stories and photos, I want to briefly fill in the gap of how I arrived in Ohio from the Southern California deserts.

Actually, Ohio was the furthest thing from my mind as I drove north on the 395, excited for tall trees, mountain birds and, eventually, wildflowers. I made my way from Ojai to Lone Pine, birding along the way at Dirty Sox Springs (where I got my first-of-the-year Yellow-headed Blackbird), Diaz Lake, and Hogback Creek in the Alabama Hills. I woke up ready to target some high elevation species in the White Mountains and near Aspendell. The morning started off with a breathtaking sight – I pulled off the side of the road, just south of Big Pine, to watch this mesmerizing flock of ~200 or so American White Pelicans gracefully soaring, seemingly effortlessly, with the eastern slope Sierra Nevada looming in the background. They are making their journey northward, as am I.

American White Pelicans along the 395

In the White Mountains, I enjoyed views of the peaks of the Sierra Nevada and Juniper Titmouse, Pinyon Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay. After some time exploring, I headed back to the Sierras and up to the town of Aspendell, a small town at 9000′ that boasts wintering flocks of Rosy Finches – I picked up Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (at a feeder), Mountain Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco, and Cassin’s Finch. I wandered around Sabrina Lake, just up the road from Aspendell, it was quiet and cold and peaceful.

Juniper Titmouse
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
Sabrina Lake

Other highlights include distant Greater Sage-Grouse near Benton Crossing, and this roadside Red-shouldered Hawk eating a fish. I continued north along the eastern Sierra. Most of the passes were still closed, so I briefly popped into Nevada before heading west and eventually landing in Greenwood, CA.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Greenwood, CA, lies in the foothills of the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and I was fortunate to spend some time at “Skylark”, the peaceful and enchanting property that two good friends were generous enough to share. It was rainy and cold upon arrival and spring wildflowers were soaking up the water and showing off their blooms. I enjoyed a slow and meandering a walk around the property and smiled at Yellow Star Tulip (Calochortus monophyllus), Blue Dicks, and Sky Lupines. I had not planned on jumping back in the car so quickly, but then I received a report of a Marsh Sandpiper at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area and couldn’t pass up a chance to find this vagrant! Find him, I did, and he posed quite nicely next to a Greater Yellowlegs, making his identification quite easy. Marsh Sandpipers breed in the open grassy steppe and taiga wetlands from Eastern Europe to Central Asia, and winter in Africa and India. So, this bird was way out of range. It is considered extremely rare in the ABA area and most of the ~13 records of this bird come from the central and western Aleutians and the Pribilofs.

Yellow Star Tulip (Calochortus monophyllus)
Sky Lupine (Lupinus nanus)
Marsh Sandpiper! Yolo Bypass

One of my favorite side trips while in Greenwood was to the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve in Oroville. This elevated basalt mesa is known for its beautiful vistas, spring wildflowers, vernal pools, and waterfalls. Although we were a bit passed the prime wildflower bloom, it was still spectacular! I didn’t carry my “bird lens” with me, but we had some great birds along the trail – California Quail, Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbird, a beautiful male Lazuli Bunting, Ash-throated Flycatcher, an Oak Titmouse feeding young in a nest, Wilson’s Warbler, Lark Sparrow bathing in a pool, Western Meadowlark, Savannah Sparrow, and Western Meadowlark.

North Table Mountain Ecological Preserve
Yellow Mariposa Lily (Calochortus luteus)
Fairy Lanterns (Calochortus albus)
Purple Owl’s Clover (Castilleja exserta)

Shortly after this excursion, wanderlust began to set in again and I hatched a plan to head east in hopes of arriving in Ohio at the peak of migration. I packed up, drove through Truckee for the last of California, and ended in the vicinity of Elko, NV, ready to explore the Ruby Mountains in the morning. Lamoille Canyon and the Lamoille Glacier were beautiful and quiet and offered dramatic views. Thomas Canyon Campground was closed for the season, but I would definitely revisit this spot (and maybe find some Himalayan Snowcock next time!). Utah passed quickly, though I appreciated the drive through Bonneville Salt Flats and spend some time at Rockport State Park.

Lamoille Canyon 

Black-billed Magpie
American Robin collecting nesting material

I took some time making my way through Wyoming and wandered from the interstate as often as possible. Wyoming’s landscape is breathtakingly beautiful – big sky, sagebrush covered hills with wandering Pronhgorn, grasslands, and spectacular mountains, wetlands with noisy Yellow-headed Blackbirds and perched Bald Eagles. I explored Medicine Bow NF and Hutton Lake NWR and enjoyed every moment and every mile down dirt roads.

Wyoming Big Sky
Simpson’s Hedgehog Cactus (Pediocactus simpsonii)
Pronghorn were a common sight through Wyoming!

I visited two different impressive Audubon Centers in the tall grass prairie of Nebraska, Rowe Sanctuary and Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center and picked up some grassland and eastern species – Clay-colored Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, a lifer Orchard Oriole, Harris’s Sparrow (my 400th ABA bird), Grasshopper Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark. By this point, I was ready to get to my destination! I moved more quickly through Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, and finally stopping in Elmore, OH, a short distance from Magee Marsh Wildlife area, ready to explore!

If you’ve read this far, thanks for tolerating this rambling post. I am all caught-up and ready to share more on the migrant madness of NW Ohio!!!

5 thoughts on “From the Mountains, to the Prairies

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  1. Wow, some really beautiful landscape shots – thanks for sharing the scenery with us! Sounds like a great trip – have fun with the migration madness!

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