Settling into my Yosemite Valley home, signs of spring are everywhere: busy birds calling one another, lower elevation flower blooms, budding bushes and trees - all sprinkled with sporadic snowfall that peters out the closer we get to summer. Our friend Diana, She of the Grand Canyon, came to Yosemite for a business trip and stayed for a few days of fun. Speaking of fun, we were invited to go birding with resident naturalist Pete Devine of the Yosemite Association (soon to be the Yosemite Conservancy).
Every Monday and Thursday through May 24, 2010, you can accompany Pete on a two hour morning birding walk in Yosemite Valley. Meet at the Yosemite Art & Education Center at 8:00 AM and pay a $5.00 fee to have Pete guide you through the calls and flights of Yosemite's local birds. We walked through Yosemite Village and Cook's Meadow, sighting and hearing birds such as: Acorn Woodpecker, Black-Headed Grosbeak, Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Hairy Woodpecker (!), Song Sparrow, Mallard Duck, Yellow-Rumped Warbler and plenty of Steller's Jays, Chickadees, Robins and Red-Wing Blackbirds. Pete described the bird-filled trees in front of the visitor center "Chickadee City" and explained the difference between Chickadee chirps and their summer breeding song.
In the wetlands of Cook's Meadow, Pete enthusiastically spotted a Common Merganser diving duck on the Merced River, only momentarily distracted by flying Mallard Ducks overhead:
Diana, with a self-proclaimed indifference to birding, enjoyed the walk in the morning sunshine and Pete's engaging presentation about avian wildlife. She also learned that the state bird of her new home in Arizona is the Cactus Wren, though she was rather disappointed to know that state bird of her former Florida home, the Mockingbird, hardly represented the fascinating tropical birds to be found there. So we moved on to our next spring category: wildflowers.
We packed a picnic lunch to preface our next adventure on the Hite Cove Trail in the Sierra National Forest outside of YNP. With an elevation 2000 feet lower than Yosemite Valley, spring comes much earlier to the Merced River Canyon and the community of El Portal.
The Hite Cove trailhead is found on Highway 140 between El Portal and the historic site of Savage's Trading Post. Very popular in the spring, this trail is also very warm and sunny - the Merced River Canyon is some 1900 foot elevation. Traveling from Yosemite to El Portal at this time of year can often involve going from snow to sun. So Diana and I adjusted our layers for a picnic and hike in the sun. The trail parallels the South Fork of the Merced River a couple hundred feet above the water. Rock outcroppings covered with colorful lichens along the trail prompted Diana to say that if she were a kid she would bring her Barbie and pretend that she was a rockclimber:
Wishing we had worn our shorts, we stopped at two creeks crossing the trail on their way down to the river and considered dipping our toes. Instead we wrapped up our wildflower viewing and returned to the cooler Valley from the sunny river canyon. Later in the evening air we fired up our ceramic grill imported from Mexico and cooked Roadside Chicken over a wood fire and some hardwood charcoal:
We drank just enough wine to plan the next day's visit to the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoia trees. Perhaps the Bear Flag wine people should start advertising on this blog.
Yosemite Association Spring Bird Walk: Junk in the Trunk!
Hite Cove Trail in Spring: Junk in the Trunk!