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Map of San Jacinto mountains

The journey from Palm Springs by way of the fast Interstate highway, which even at 5:30 in the morning was very busy, to Lake Fulmor took about three quarters of an hour (half on the Interstate, and half on the winding roads ascending the mountain). I left Palm Springs in high temperatures, to reach much cooler and more temperate conditions at the small lake – it was quite cloudy, and around 60°. Stopping off at the Lake Fulmor parking spot, I had intended to look over the lake briefly for the presence of any water birds. It is a small lake surrounded by dense trees, which are quite mixed, probably containing an equal mix of conifers and deciduous species, and had no sign of birds on its surface, but this was compensated for by masses of birds in the trees and skies surrounding it. First and most obvious were copious Violet-green Swallows overhead, presumably attracted by the lake itself, and noisy Steller’s Jays, which are a race with an unmarked head, appearing dark brown in most lights (quite different from the birds of the interior). Also noticeable by call were Mountain Chickadees, and Hummingbirds, the latter of which seemed in the main to be Black-chinned, although an earlier individual had the appearance of an Allen’s or Rufous.

Mountain view

Steller's Jay

View from Black Mountain road

Steller's Jay

To the rear of the car park, the exposed branches of fairly distant trees held two pairs of Woodpeckers, which all proved to be Acorn, and, on a much closer branch, a singing Lesser Goldfinch. Nearer to the parked car again was the bundle of colour (!!!) that is Oak Titmouse, which was actually not to be spurned, since it was the first new bird of the day for me, and the only representative of its species subsequently seen on the trip. The birding during the short stop at the lake is excellent, and it additionally offers the not unacceptable and strong smell of pine cones, coupled with a much fresher atmosphere than the lower and hotter altitudes. Just as I was about to leave the parking spot, the first few drops of rain began to fall, although the rain held off as the morning progressed. This was the only rain of the fortnight.

Just under 2 miles up from the lake was a turn off to the left for Black Mountain road. This proved to be quite a well made dirt track, with short stretches of tarmac on some of the acute corners, presumably to prevent excess wear. It winds up the mountain for about 6 miles, to eventually reach the campground. More elevation was added with this track, but numerous stops were made on the ascent. First pause was about 1 mile up the track, with the window open listening for bird calls, where I came across my first “Oregon” Dark-eyed Juncos, which still emitted the characteristic “chip” call of its eastern counterparts. However, the look is quite different to that of “Slate-coloured”, mainly due to the pinkish brown tones of the body and wings, but sharing the dark grey (or almost black) head and pink bill. Also in the clearing were quite a few Woodpeckers, again all proving to be Acorn, and some Western Wood-pewees.

During the next part of the drive, and just over a rise in the track, a Coyote appeared directly in front of the car, and almost nonchalantly disappeared again into the woods.

I stopped again about 1˝ miles short of the campground, to the sound of more calling birds, at a reasonably open break in the trees, and this proved quite productive. First birds were Mountain Chickadees, and noisy Steller’s Jays, but 1 single calling White-breasted Nuthatch was followed by a group of 5 Pygmy Nuthatches in the adjacent tree. Yet another tree to the side held a family of 5 Western Bluebirds. The conifers at this elevation, of 5000 feet or so, were now beginning to dominate.

Mountain Chickadee

Pygmy Nuthatch

Mountain Chickadee

Pygmy Nuthatch

The slow and winding drive to the campground itself was ultimately very productive. The campground is spread over quite a large area, with parking slots and picnics dotted between very large, but not densely packed, pine trees. As soon as I emerged from the car, birds seemed to be everywhere, with White-headed Woodpecker one of the first seen, flying briefly overhead. It is truly a stunning bird, and one that was high on the wanted list. A bit of walking around the camp eventually turned up about half a dozen of these, with a group of very approachable birds chipping away at the same tree. Nuthatches and chickadees were abundant here – White-breasted Nuthatches seemed to be in singles, but Pygmy Nuthatches were present in large parties. Collections of both young and adult birds had congregated, with some trees containing up to a dozen birds. Mountain Chickadees were also common: very flighty, but again populating some trees with up to 10 birds. Dark-eyed Juncos were spread throughout the picnic tables early on, interspersed with Steller’s Jays – it was nice to be able to watch 2 familiar bird species from previous trips of new races. Also more evident earlier were Western Bluebirds, frequently seen, and probably representing one or two family groups. One unwelcome presence at these altitudes were mosquitoes, not in their masses, but presenting a bit of a nuisance until the appearance of the “Off” bug spray. The general area seems to contain more campgrounds, and an overlook, which means that a lot of time can be spent here.

Campground

White-headed Woodpecker

Campground area

White-headed Woodpecker

Meadow

Meadow opposite Buckthorn Camp

A little further up the mountain, just after the small community of Pine Cove, which apparently is the highest elevation of the road, is a small open meadow, bordered on the one side by woodland, and on the other Foster Lake Road, which is a line of spread out housing within more trees. On the opposite side of the mountain road is Buckthorn Camp. The main reason for this stop was the outside possibility of Lawrence’s Goldfinch. Despite none being seen (some American Goldfinches were around) the area was once more excellent for birding. Some of the houses had quite thoughtfully erected feeders for my arrival, the mixed feeders seeming to produce the best birds. Most common on these were Black-headed Grosbeaks and House Finches, with one or two Purple Finches among them, as well as Steller’s Jays and a single Band-tailed Pigeon. There was a regular traffic of birds across the clearing, usually with the feeders as the destination. In addition to the species mentioned, American Robins, which seem to prefer higher altitude in the west, were a regular sighting. In the centre of the meadow was a nest box mounted on a short pole, and a pair of Western Bluebirds had taken up residence in this, with what sounded like quite a well grown family within. On the opposite side of the meadow to the housing, the first Spotted Towhee of the trip called out in the open briefly. Back to the car again, and a single Dark-eyed Junco was hopping on the track only feet away.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Western Bluebird

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Western Bluebird

Western Scrub-jay

American Robin

Western Scrub-jay

American Robin

On the return journey down the mountain, a short stop was made in the Upper Sonoran zone, about half way between Pine Cove and Banning, to have a brief look for typical birds of this different habitat. Large pine trees had given way by this time to low deciduous bushes. Even in the 10-15 minutes available, quite different birds were seen as compared with the mountain birds of the earlier morning. Apart from the continuing presence of Mountain Chickadee, and following a couple of Western Scrub-jays, a Wrentit posed briefly at the top of a bush, and a Woodpecker I disturbed looked likely to be a Nuttall’s or Ladder-backed, but was not seen clearly enough for identification. 3 Phainopeplas were quite obvious, if not confiding, with 8 Band-tailed Pigeons on the telegraph wires.

Home

Paintings gallery

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Contact

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Content

Introduction

San Jacincto

Riverside

Morongo

Palm Springs

Species list

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