Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Himalayan Snowcock

I left North Las Vegas about 6:30 yesterday morning to make the 400+ mile drive up to Lamoille Canyon which is about 20 miles south of Elko, NV. Most of the drive was on Hwy 93 which runs up the east side of the state. It was very beautiful for most of the way. At one point I came across a pony express historical site, thus the top photo.

I met a couple that I birded with back in May at Magee Marsh in Ohio. They moved to Carson City, NV in the past year, and when they heard I was going to make another try to see the himalayan snowcock, Rob and Ricki decided to join me in the effort. After a early dinner in Lamoille, we drove up into the canyon and got ourselves organized to hike up to Island Lake. For those who have been diligently following the blog, I tried to see the snowcock back in early July but totally struck out that time. Rob and I loaded up our backpacks to be prepared to spend the nite up at the lake. Ricki walked up with us, but opted to come back down and stay in town in a nice comfy bed. As we hiked up we had some rain and small hail even though the sun shown on us the entire way up.

We arrived at the lake about 6 PM and immediately walked up another 200 yards above the lake to begin looking and listening for the bird. A little after 7 we still had not seen it, so Ricki hiked down and we kept looking until almost dark. We set up our sleeping bags and were in for the nite by 9:30. Unlike my last visit here when the stars were out all nite, we had mostly overcast conditions and even some lite rain for about 30 minutes beginning at 3 AM.

We got up at 5 when it was just beginning to be lite. We grabbed our spotting scopes and hiked up the 200 yards to begin listening and looking for the bird. The snowcock has a variety of vocalizations. About 5:30 we heard to our southwest what is described as the bugle call of the snowcock--to me it sounded like the call of the common loon but less mournful sounding. Almost immediately we heard another bugle call to the northwest of us which was followed by a a different part of the snowcock's vocal repertoire that came from the SW location. This of course got us excited because we knew that there were snowcocks in the cirque.

We spent the next 2 hours scanning the 2 areas from which the calls came, but found only mountain goats. About 7:30 we heard from the NW position a 3rd form of the bird's call. We kept looking, but again to no avail, and to make things worse, it began to lightly rain. About 8:30 the rain was still falling, and it did not look like it was going to let up, so we walked back down to our campsite to pack up our gear. In the time it took to pack the rain stopped and we even had some blue sky overhead.

Not ready to give up on seeing a snowcock, we once again went up the mountainside to scope the cliffs. As I was walking up I flushed a bird that was either a mexican whip-poor-will, which would be surprising since they are not supposed to be that far north, or a common poor-will, but they are not normally at 10,000 ft elevation. The amount of white in the tail and the overall size and color suggested it was a whip.

At one point a golden eagle flew thru the cirque which we had been told often flushed snowcocks, but not this morning. After an hour of scoping, we then walked further up into the cirque in hopes of flushing some birds. After hearing no more calls, and not flushing any birds by walking around, we finally called it a day about 11 AM. The middle photo is of Island Lake, and the bottom photo is of the distant cliff face area that we scoped in our efforts to locate a snowcock.

The past 2 days added 25 more new birds for this week. Not seeing the snowcock was disappointing because this is a life bird for me, and is now the only bird on my life list that has only been heard as opposed to seen and heard. Nevertheless, it raised the YTD total for this big year to 666. Tonite I am near Sacramento, CA. Tomorrow I will be trying again to locate a lawrence's goldfinch on my way out to Bodega Bay where I will be doing a pelagic trip on Wednesday. Stay tuned!

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