Sept 11 - 14, 2016 - Sequoia National Park

I rented a car from the Burbank Airport on Sunday afternoon and drove up highway five to the Stony Creek Camp Ground in the Sequoia National Park.  Starting so late, I drove the last hour or two in the dark.  This is late in the season and some of the camp grounds are already shut down.   Dorst Campground near the Giant Forest was closed for the season.  Lodgepole Campground was open, but full on Sunday night.  I reserved a site there for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights.  Stony Campground was pleasant, with stars twinkling in a black sky, above the openings between giant conifers.  It was cold.  I was really glad that Mike had leant me a winter jacket.  Over the next few days, it got even colder.

In the morning, I was treated to this scene at a rest stop.  There are really three big and contiguous parks.  Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park function as nature preserves that cater to both animals and humans.  They contain many campgrounds and many well traveled hiking trails.  Bordering the two parks to the north and east is the Sequoia National Forest.

 

 Sept 12, Monday - The Giant Forest

After checking into Lodgepole Campground and setting up my tent, I spent the rest of the day tramping around the Giant Forest where I saw four of the world's five biggest trees.  Giant Sequoias are not the tallest trees, but they are the most massive.  Their trunks are really thick and stay thick for a long way up.   The redwoods are taller, reaching 379 feet.  Sequoias top off at 311 feet.  But although the redwoods weigh up to 1.6 million pounds, the thicker sequoias can weigh up to 2.7 million pounds.   Redwoods are found only along the Pacific coast, whereas the sequoias are only found on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at elevations between 5,000 and 7,000 feet above sea level.  

 

General Sherman Tree, the world's biggest living tree.  It is estimated that this tree is 2,200 years old.  Since the life span on this species is 3,200 years, this tree is just middle-aged.  

 

After joining a big group of tourists that tramped down from a parking lot to view the greatest behemoth tree, I wandered down a trail to spend the rest of the day among a splendid forest of majestic giants.  Fortunately, I had purchased a map at the Lodgepole Visitors Center or I could have easily gotten confused on the many crisscrossing trails.  Although I would have been content with seeing just the trees, I did have a target bird in mind - the White-headed Woodpecker.  That goal was quickly accomplished.  While I was photographing bluebirds and warblers, a woodpecker with a mostly white head showed up.  It head a little red on the top and white slashes on its sides.  This was my target bird.  A little farther down the trail, I saw another White-headed Woodpecker and spent a good while trying to get his picture.  The two other birds that got into the photos turned out to be even more interesting.  These were a Williamson's Sapsucker and a Red-breasted Sapsucker. These three woodpeckers are found only in the far west.  It was a special treat to see all three together.

 

White-headed Woodpecker, Sequoia National Park - 9/7/2016 

 

Williamson's Sapsucker, Sequoia National Park - 9/7/2016

 

 Red-breasted Sapsucker, Sequoia National Park - 9/7/2016

It is hard to get far enough away from the trees to get the whole tree in the shot.  I used my camera phone to get this picture of a few trees on the other side of a wide meadow.  It shows the distinctive rounded top of a sequoia.  Many of the oldest trees have the top snapped off by ferocious wind storms.  The topped off trees keep growing.  They just aren't as tall as some of the younger trees.

 

 

Sept 13, Tuesday - Muir Grove

Today was a day that I wished that I could write like Scott Weidensaul.  He would be able to find that words that would capture the magic found in Muir Grove.   It takes a little effort to get to the grove.  One-way is a three or four mile hike, depending on which trail head that you use.  On a day when Dorst Campground is closed for the winter (like this day), you need to park outside the campground and add another 3/4 mile walk to the trail head.  So that means, only people who really want to get to this special spot will go there. I saw one hiker on the way in and a group of two hikers on the way out.  It isn't more impressive than the Giant Forest.  It's more peaceful.  I've been reading a book that my brother-in-law, Tom Costello, gave me.   The book is "The Sacred Universe" by Thomas Berry.  It's about understanding our place in nature as part of nature and experiencing the presence of divinity in the world around us.  That is very easy to do in Muir Woods.    The center of the grove is twenty giants, although more are found down each trail.  It is very quiet.  The light filters down to the forest floor, bathes the tree trunks in a soft glow, and illuminates the forest just enough to let you know that it stretches on and on.  I felt that I was in a special place of safety.  The trees seemed aware of each other and tolerant of lesser beings, like myself.  The trees seem to grow close together.  I don't think that it is anthropomorphic to speculate that they enjoy passing the time in each other's company.  I thought, I would gladly live three thousand years, as long as I could do it with a friend. 

 

Muir Grove, Sequoia National Park - 9/13/2016

 

 Sept 13, Tuesday - Dorst Campground

This is one of the most popular campgrounds in the park, but it closed for the season on 9/6.  So I got to see what a campground in a national park looks like during the week just after all the people left.  I was the only human in the campground.  It was full of birds.  There were a lot of warblers, flycatchers, chickadees, woodpeckers, robins, sparrows, juncos and a few hawks.  Even though I was the only person present and clearly not a threat and these birds had not been hunted by humans in over 100 years, they acted like I was some kind of monster.  They warned each other that I was coming.  They hid from me when I was still 50 feet away.  I felt discriminated against.  It was a very bad case of species profiling and I was the loser. Still, it was a kind of migration fallout, where the birds were flocked up in a small area for a day.  I spent so much time looking at the birds in my 3/4 mile walk from the highway to the trail head at the back of the campground, that I almost decided to spend the whole day there.  I'm glad I didn't pass on Muir Grove.  I stopped again at the campground on the way out and saw flickers, brown creepers, and another hawk. 

Dark-eyed Junco, Oregon variety -- looks completely different from its eastern cousin that is all dark grey except for a shiny white belly.

 

Dusky Flycatcher (see below for why), Dorst Campground, Sequoia National Park - 9/13/2016

Flycatchers are really tough and this one looks to me like either a Hammond's, a Dusky, or a Gray.  The differences are so subtle that it is hard to tell them apart.  All three are found in the range where I was at, although the Gray is found more in an arid, brushy habitat.  Sibley's says that Hammond's is found usually high in tall conifers, while Dusky is found low in bushes or small trees.  I saw this guy low in a small pine tree, so that suggests Dusky. Both have narrow bills, but the Hammond's bill is supposed to be tiny.  I'm going with Dusky on the bill for the bird above.

 

Mountain Chickadee.  The field mark is the white stripe on his forehead. - SNP - 9/13/2016

 

Northern Flicker, Red-shafted.  Note the red malar stripe.  On the eastern flickers (Yellow-shafted), the stripe is black.

 

 

Sept 14, Wednesday morning - Little Baldy 

Monday night the temperature dropped to 38 degrees Fahrenheit.  On Tuesday night it dropped to 33 degrees.  The elevation of the campground was 7000 feet, so the cold was expected.  I was thoroughly layered with a very good sleeping bag, but I didn't have a sleeping pad.  So lying on the hard ground, I not only got stiff, but I also lost a lot of heat into the ground.  Fortunately, I had enough layers of clothes to not be dangerously cold.  I could have toughed it out for a third night, but the days were only warming up to the low fifties, so I wasn't getting any real relief.  I had read an online report that said there was good birding at a campground in the foothills, so I decided to cut my high sequoias adventure a day short and spend the last night where it was warmer.  On my last day in the mountains, I took a hike up an easy trail that topped off at 8,000 feet.  From the peak you have an unobstructed view east or west.  To the east, the Sierra Nevadas stretch out in seemingly endless layers.  I cannot imagine people finding there way on foot through this vast wilderness. 

The view to the east from Little Baldy

 

Sept 13, Wednesday Afternoon - Potwisha Campground

In the foothills, the elevation is only about 1000 feet, so it is a lot warmer.  In the high 70's.  I hiked up the trail recommended in the on-line post and was really disappointed.  Maybe in the spring there were birds here, but not in the fall.  The trail itself was not a good hike at all.  It was barely a path, almost not maintained, dangerously steep, and infested with biting flies.  I didn't have anything else to do, so I tried to hike it, but it wasn't any fun.  After a while, I retreated back to the little river at the trail head.  I sat in the shade and watched the water.  I was not inspired.

Strolling back to the campground to get my book, I saw some Acorn Woodpeckers clowning around.  I had seen them on a walk in Pasadena a week ago, but did not have my camera.  They were outside the Rose Bowl, flying around in some low trees.  These birds look like they are wearing a silly costume. Well, you can see for yourself.  One bird figured out how to use the campground drinking fountain.

Acorn Woodpecker, Potwisha Campground, Sequoia National Park - 9/14/2016

 

 

Acorn Woodpecker, Potwisha Campground, Sequoia National Park - 9/14/2016

 

On a hill behind the campground, there was a flock of little yellow birds making a lot of noise.  I thought that they were probably warblers, so I crept up the hill and sat in the bushes to see if they would venture out in the open.  Occasionally one or two would peek out for a few seconds.  It turned out to be worth the wait because there were two species in the tree and both of them were life birds for me.

 

Lawrence's Goldfinch - black face, grey head, yellow breast, greyish belly, white tail with black edging - SNP - 9/14/2016

 

Wilson's Warbler - all yellow underparts with a long, grey tail - SNP - 9/14/2016

 

Driving out of the park, I saw this Black Bear cub peeking through the grass.  His mom was right behind him.