Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Lamoille Canyon 7/30--DUSKY GROUSE, LEWIS'S WOODPECKER, Lesser Goldfinch

Mountain Goat, Lamoille Canyon
The way up
Photo: Shari Zirlin
Thursday was by far the most strenuous day of the trip. We arose very early and went to the Ruby Mountains, where, starting at an elevation of 8800, we climbed 940 vertical feet and walked 2.2 miles uphill, along rocky paths and over shallow streams, in the hopes of finding Himalayan Snowcock, a species introduced for hunting in the early 60's which has established a breeding population among the scree of the canyon.  Despite many eyes scoping the slopes, we were unsuccessful. I knew it was unlikely we would sight one so I wasn't really disappointed and I figured I wasn't going to get too many more chances to hike along western mountain trails. While we were sitting around Lamoille Lake, scanning the cirque above the lake, Dave spotted the mountain goat above, which was a thrill for all. Earlier, we watched aerial combat involving a foolish Red-tailed Hawk attacking a Golden Eagle, so the walk was not a complete bust in terms of wild life. It gave us some perspective on the massive area in which we were trying to find the snowcocks when the Golden Eagle perched high up on the cirque and that massive raptor looked to be the size of a dove.
Lamoille Lake
Some of the group at Lamoille Lake
Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels were all over the rocks. 
Cassin's Finch

It took a little more than two hours to walk up and about an hour and a half to walk down. Gravity can be a bitch. Shari, who walks with a cane, did remarkably well. I had trepidations about her ability to make it up to the top, but she's in good shape and determined.

Photo: Shari Zirlin
After lunch we birded various camp grounds and side roads of the Canyon. We were riding in the lead car with Scott that day. He turned down a road where he thought some cabins would have hummingbird feeders. He slammed on the brakes when a DUSKY GROUSE emerged from the brush on the side. Scott got on the walkie-talkie and told the people in the vans behind us to get out of their cars very quietly and use ours as a blind. Soon an almost fully grown grouse emerged, then another, and another, until there were six following the mother up the road. When they finally noticed us, they dashed back into the undergrowth, one of them flying a bit and giving us a flash of wings. Finding the grouse was sheer luck--it was another of the birds I didn't really expect to find, so we all considered it a tremendous bonus.

One bird that I really wanted to see we found a little while later in yet another campground. While we were walking along a small creek, Scott called out LEWIS'S WOODPECKER and a crow-like woodpecker flew overhead. So I saw it, but I was really hoping for a better look than that. (By the way, that's "Lewis" of Lewis and Clark fame, again. Clark named it after Lewis and Lewis returned the courtesy with the nutcracker.) In the meantime there were a couple of Lesser Goldfinch, new for the trip, flitting around the tops of the tree, picking off spiderwebs to use for nesting material.

Back up in the parking lot we looked in the branches of a dead tree and were able to field guide looks at the Lewis's Woodpecker. There were actually two, perhaps three, flying around. They act more like flycatchers than woodpeckers, sallying forth to catch bugs, then returning to their perch.

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