Don and I got out early to drive to South Lake Tahoe and meet the TINS group for the Naturalist-led tour of the Angora Burn Area.  This locale abuts the west end of the town of South Lake Tahoe.  It is an area on the slope of Tahoe Mountain (just east of Fallen Leaf Lake), which was burned severely by a fire several years ago, and is just recovering.  The burned out trees and low-growing shrubs are a great ecosystem for woodpeckers, hummingbirds, flycatchers, warblers, and many others.  The lack of foliage on the dead trees made it easier to see perching birds, though the bright sunlight against black trunks made for challenging photographic lighting conditions.

We were a group of 8 plus the naturalist.  In the group we had the couple who is leading the pack of the TBY “leaderbird”, so we had present great expertise in spotting birds. (They had over180 species, while I had 74 at that point!)  Sarah the naturalist asked each of us what bird we hoped to see that day – I said the sooty grouse, as that had been advertised, and I didn’t really have any idea what one looked like or where to look for it. Well, rIght away on the walk we heard bird songs.  First some hummingbirds – rufous hummingbirds which I already had on my list.   Soon Lewis’s Woodpeckers were spotted – a beautiful woodpecker with pink on it – I had never seen one, and it’s supposed to be rare.  We spotted several including young ones.  Several American Kestrels were in evidence, apparently monitoring their babies as they were learning how to fly.  We saw some warblers in the low bushes, which I was unable to get a good shot of.  I should mention that I’m still breaking in my new Tamron 100-400mm zoom lens.  Since my other lens only went out to 300mm, this new one is harder to swing the lens up to quickly get it onto the bird’s location, once someone points out a bird.  Also, the camera settings needed to be a bit different than I was used to, for the lengthier lens, as somewhat less light can enter the lens and reach the camera sensor.  OK, so that’s my excuse for the very abstract Western Bluebird in Flight photo you will see below.

In addition to the Lewis’s Woodpeckers, we also saw both Downy Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers.  These two species are very similar, the main difference being the bill of the Hairy is a bit longer, almost the same width as the woodpecker’s head.  For both these species, the males have a bit of red on the head while the females are lacking that – just black and white.  The highlight of the day was the Sooty Grouse.  As I was lagging behind, Don was gesturing wildly to catch up.  Thank goodness I wasn’t too late.  The Sooty Grouse was shuffling awkwardly about in the lower branches of a pine tree. It seemed a bit confused, but not that alarmed at the 9 birders checking it out.  It looked rather like a wild turkey, but smaller and having short legs and not much tail.  A funny bird.  We also saw a number of sparrows, including Chipping Sparrows with the orangey head and a Fox Sparrow, which is a new TBY Bird for me.  All in all it was a fantastic TBY day; we saw a lot, and discovered a new trail that is barely on any hiking trail maps or websites that I can find!  We’ll definitely be visited this area again!

Today I added 6 species to my Tahoe Big Year list.

Don the Birder and Judy the Birder/Photographer

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