Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Harney County in May 2015

 I went on my annual trip to Harney county this year from May 27th to the 31st.  I have tried for the past 4 years to reach Ten Cent Meadows in the Pueblo Mountains.  One can access this area from three different watersheds:  Cottonwood Creek, Arizona Creek and Van Horn Creek.  My previous attempts were not successful for a variety of reasons, running out of time on the hikes, distractions from getting an early start and wrong directions.  I was determined to reach this area this year. I camped out at my chosen entry point , Arizona Creek.

It was mentioned to me that Cottonwood Creek shows as Little Cottonwood Creek on maps, I looked and sure enough it is Little Cottonwood Creek.  In any case, it is the creek right above Whitehorse Ranch Road.  When birders mention Cottonwood, they are talking about this creek.

Below is a map of my route.  This area is well worth exploring for the bird life.  The aspen groves were full of singing birds.

A picture of the early morning start.  Looking up Arizona Creek's canyon.  And the shadow of a birder with his hat!

Coming back through this area in the afternoon I saw on White-throated Swift.

You need an early start and an ample water supply to beat the heat.  The road might appear safe for cars, but not so, there are areas of very sharp rock.  I would not recommend exposing ones tires to that abuse.  If you get in trouble up there , you are in serious trouble.

This is the upper reaches of Little Cottonwood Creek.

Next to Yellow Warblers, the next most common warbler heard or seen was probably Orange-crowned.  MacGillivray's were a very close third.

Green-tailed Towhee's, Brewer's Sparrows, Rock Wrens, and Vesper Sparrows like this one were common.

After about 3 or so miles you get to your first aspen grove.  This is where it helps to have several sets of eyes and ears.  I was only able to cover a fraction of the area.  Dusky Flycatcher, Yellow Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, White-crowned Sparrow, and Song Sparrow ruled the woods. But who knows what I missed that was not singing. Fields on this day was very quiet compared to these woods.

The big, fun highlight was finding the Dark-eyed Junco up there.  It is about 3.8 miles into the hike when you get to another aspen grove in a small canyon.  Along the edges of the canyon in the Mountain Mahogany was the junco.  The Gray-headed subspecies is from the southern Rockies. Below is photo and video of a singing bird, Dark-eyed Junco subspecies "caniceps".

Here is the song of the junco.

View back towards the north up near the junco.  Long-eared Owls were in area, one was down by the entrance to creek, two others were up here.  Lewis's Woodpecker were in area.  Lots of fun birds.  An exciting hunt.

A few yards beyond last photo looking southwest into basin and Ten Cent Meadow.  It is the green area, I searched those Mountain Mahogany trees for Virginia's Warbler, gray Bushtits and House Wrens were everywhere.

Down the trail to the meadow I saw Horned Lark.  Vesper Sparrows flushed off nests, Sage Thrasher were singing.  Meadowlarks were around as well of course.

This is a Horned Lark from Steens Mtn two days later. I show you this to point out the very black tail of a lark.  Helpful if you are trying to find the odd bird in a large flock of long-black-tailed lark.

Reptile break: yellow legged lizard creature..

Great Basin Collared Lizard

After a long day in the Pueblo Mountains I hit Fields in the afternoon for a milkshake.  I found a Black-throated Blue Warbler in the oasis.  It was not being very helpful as to photos.  After a night at Little Cottonwood Creek I hit Fields again and was welcomed to the oasis by a singing Catbird.  I headed up to P-ranch to see the Least Flycatcher and din din at Frenchglen.  Best photo of Least is below:

While visiting HQ a few times, I tried to get photos of Black-chinned Hummingbird to prove they were indeed Black-chinned and not Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.  Black-chinned are supposed to have R3 longest, Ruby-throated have R4 longest.  R3 and R4 are the tail feathers as counted from the center.  You can see the very short R1 , a bit longer R2 , R3 with a bit of white etc out to R5 on this bird.  Also R4 and R5 are supposed to be more nipple shaped on Black-chinned than Ruby-throated.  Black-chinned tend to wag tail more than Ruby-throated while feeding.  Both molt in winter so all feathers should be grown out now. This bird wagged its tail, I suppose R5 looks nipple shaped, and R3 looks long but R4 is certainly not the longest looking feather.Top of head is not green enough for a Ruby.  So it is a Black-chinned. The red is a reflection from the feeder.

Wing shape is very important on hummingbirds.

The Archilochus ( Black-chinned and Ruby-throated) have narrow inner primaries. The Ruby-throated females and immatures are supposed to have a bit of a notch on the inner web of the inner primaries.  Black-chinned are supposed to be more blunt.  I think I can count down from P10, the longest primary tucked a bit under tail to P7, then an obvious step to a narrower P6.  And the tips of inner primaries look straight I guess, not  notch, not really rounded to me.  I am not sure, but I do not think I see P1 just tip of P2 under the secondaries?  Not easy!

So much for HQ,  next night I went to Jackman Park, could have stayed at Lily Lake or Fish Lake as well, I wanted to hike up the Steens Road to see if there were aspen up there or Rosy-Finch.  I had high hopes in these snow fields.  But every bare patch was full of Horned Lark fighting and chasing each other. 

White-crowned Sparrow "oriantha" were singing everywhere. If you have not seen the Gray-headed version of a junco or the "oriantha" version of a White-crowned, you have not seen these birds.  Well worth the effort.  Dark morning kept the bright red bill from being seen well. 

Song of the White-crowned Sparrow "oriantha".

Made it all the way to Kiger Gorge, I saw a swift/swallow type bird fly up over this edge when I got there, just a quick view from off to side. So not sure which, I scanned cliffs for swifts or raptors etc.  None seen.

I am not sure if this is Slate-colored Fox Sparrow or Thick-billed.  I saw a few Fox Sparrow up in Pueblos and on the Steens, all looked about like this one.

Same bird singing.  The chip note was very sharp, which I think is Thick-billed type of call.  But that difference was hard to detect in the high mountain air.

Spectrogram of song.

Last morning at HQ was a Tennessee Warbler, Tim and I plus others worked hard together to get a photo. Not sure how well he did, at least on this you can see the more obvious bright under-tail coverts of the bird. Warbling Vireos in same tree showed long tail and an even coloring below. Tennessee have the brightest white under the tail and a very short tail.  So it is easy to spot even if that is all you see.

A nice Swainson's Hawk was flying around HQ through-out the weekend.  Dark flight feathers and light coverts is an easy spot, just the opposite of a vulture.

Baby Ferruginous Hawks,

Thanks for the visit!


  1. Great photos of the Gray-headed Junco and the Thick-billed Song Sparrow. The vocal recordings are also nice references. Love the song of Mountain White-crowned Sparrows.

  2. Should have been Thick-billed Fox Sparrow, don't know where Song Sparrow came from.