Trip Report: The Eastern Sierra, May 2-6, 2024

Trip Report: The Eastern Sierra, May 2-6, 2024

Trip Leader/Guide: Steve Ellis

Trip Organizers: Dianne Benham, Hal Benham, Steve Ellis

Wow! What an amazing trip! PAS did it again! Although we’ve lost count of just how many times we’ve done this trip, we have done it several times—each one better than the last! This trip was no exception! We did hit a few hick-ups along the way, such as cars getting stuck in the sand, one member falling and needing first aid, a locked gate to the lek, a flat tire, and snow on the road where we didn’t expect it. However, as Tom and Jack pointed out, the end result was always positive. All obstacles were overcome and everyone agreed that it was an absolutely fabulous trip!

We had more participants than ever before, with 25 members joining in the fun. We tried to consolidate into as few cars as possible for the caravan, but in the end, were only able to narrow it down to nine cars. However, everyone was cooperative, friendly and helpful—so we made it work!

Steve E. planned birding stops along the way from San Diego to Lone Pine, so the first day, which is often just a driving day, was a birding day as well for many. Perhaps most memorable of the birding stops was Short Canyon, where some of us were able to see FIVE LeConte’s Thrashers and a Chukar flying across the road!

On our first full day of birding, we all got great looks at one of our target birds, the Sooty Grouse. One car, driven by Tzung Yang, made the trip up the mountain to Glacier Lodge three times, hoping for ever better looks at this incredible bird. Perseverance pays off, and Tzung shared his wonderful photo with us:

Other highlights of the trip included target birds such as the Bell’s Sparrow, Sagebrush Sparrow, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Green-tailed Towhee, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch and of course, the Greater Sage Grouse on the lek! At the end of the trip, we had seen an amazing total of 141 species!

We made the drive up to Aspendell where, this time, we were rewarded with life looks at the Gray-crowned Rosy Finch, among others.

The focal point of the Eastern Sierra trip has always been the pre-dawn trip to the lek, where we hope to see the male Greater Sage Grouse doing his mating dance to attract a female. He puffs out the air sacs on his chest and fans open his tail, creating quite a display. Often there is competition, with several strutting males for one, plain female. We were fully expecting this year to be the same experience as previous years, but this year we ran into an obstacle. The gate, which we had arranged to be opened for us, was locked. After waiting a bit to see if someone would come to open it, we gave up and walked the 1 ½ or 2- mile gravel road to the lek. It was a long walk, and we were terribly afraid that we would be too late to see the birds. But in the end, luck was with us and we got to see 42 Greater Sage Grouse on the Crowley Lek!

On our last day we headed north, to Mono Lake, and encountered snow on the roads that we had not anticipated. Every day was a great birding day, and snow or no snow, we were happy birders!

On our last day, at Mono Lake County Park, we got good looks at a Wilson’s snipe along the snow-covered boardwalk!

We had gorgeous scenery wherever we went.

EBird Trip Report:  https://ebird.org/tripreport/214432

I will include photos, in no particular order, of the birds, people, habitats and scenery on our wonderful birding tour!

Photos submitted are by Audrey Eisele, Tzung Yang, Linda Baade, Alison Hiers and Dianne Benham.

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