By Louis Tucker, L.A. Audubon Field Trip Leader

Western Tanager, Vol. 83 No. 4, March-April 2017

GreatGrayOwl LarrySansone

GreatGrayOwl LarrySansone

I’m humbly going to let you in on a little conceit.  A glimpse into my strange process of putting thoughts on paper; or, in this case cyberspace.  The very gracious editor of this online magazine, Linda Oberholtzer asked me about three weeks ago if I had anything written to contribute to the Western Tanager.  Well, I quite honestly had nothing.  Days go by, weeks go on and still nothing.  The deadline for the issue is February 15, and nothing is occuring to me.  Nothing is inspiring me.  I am an incredible procrastinator, which makes this problem much worse than it should be.  To make matters worse, if I lose focus, I can be distracted for days on end.  And, I was distracted.  

One of the things necessary in my life to help me focus is music.  Not just any music.  Classical music.  And, not just any classical music.  Vivaldi’s “Seasons” is nice, Beethoven symphonies can be fun, Chopin piano music can be transporting; but, those things are not my remedy.  It’s gotta be OPERA!  Strataspheric sopranos, raging tenors, bellowing baritones and rumbling basses — that’s what cures me from being distracted.  The heavier and darker the story — things of murder, suicide, illicit love trysts, duels: swordfights, pistols, even physical combat will keep me focused for hours on end.  And, the heroine soprano losing her mind, or swallowing poison — I am good to go.  Send in the operatic “big guns”: Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, W. A. Mozart, and Gioacchino Rossini for example.

Here comes the “onion”.  Shortly after the writing request was made, my receiver on my magnificent stereo, broke down.  So, here is yet another “sidebar”.  Some 38 years ago, while I was on a national tour with the broadway show, Timbuktu, the show in which I had my first professional acting job on Broadway, I thought I would do some research and purchase components to put together a really good sounding stereo system.  Having grown up in and near NYC, and having the best concert halls and opera house at my disposal; and having gone to college in Boston, and being exposed to one of the best concert halls in the world, Symphony Hall, I have very critical ears.  So, the research not only involved reading critical stats about stereo components and also visiting listening rooms that sold top of the line equipment.  I did this with selected recordings I owned.  That proved invaluable, since the sales people will play for you music and recordings in which you are not familiar; but, they will dazzle you with with their idea of some exciting sonic burst.  And, you may be dazzled, but, the sound you are listening for is not what’s been put before you.  This search took almost the better part of a year.  And, I did end up with a system that sounds exactly like the sound I heard in Symphony Hall in Boston and the Metropolitan Opera in NYC.

I’m not going to throw around the brand names, mainly because this equipment is no longer being made.  Suffice it to say that the speakers were designed specifically in Boston by Deutsche Grammophon for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  And, the company that makes them didn’t have big success selling them on the commercial market.  Needless to say, they are no longer made, actually about two years after I purchased mine.  And, I got the receiver strong enough to be able to drive these speakers.  So, I’m in constant “musical heaven”.  (Relax, I’m getting there!)  The receiver is broken and must be repaired.  The nature and age of this unit means that I have to have an audio technician knowledgeable enough to make the repairs.  And, because the quality of this receiver is top notch, the technician advised me some twenty-five years ago to never get rid of this unit.  Equipment like this is no longer made, for a number of reasons — coupled with the fact that it’s expensive.  The “art” of repairing “vintage” equipment is rapidly shrinking.  And, people no longer listen to music the way we did many decades past.  The quality of equipment being made today, unless you want to pay “boat loads” of money is, quite truthfully, inferior.

So, where does that leave me?  I have to use my “walkman” with headphones.  Although now even the walkman is “ancient” technology, I had made many, many cassette tapes of selections from the operas I’ve collected to use in my gym workouts or driving in LA traffic.  And, this doesn’t necessarily produce the same effect as being “washed over” by the open concert sound  my stereo would give me, it will have to be my musical “stand-in”.  I still don’t have a topic to write about, and I’m three days away from a deadline.  Ugh!  Then, in the wee hours of “O dark thirty” Monday morning, before I try to get some sleep,  I’m flipping over to the current dates on my Audubon, and Sierra Club Engagement Calendars, and I’m also changing to the current date on my Audubon Birds page a day calendar, and I’m hit with a spectacular picture of a bird, which you will read about when you hopefully continue reading this.

Twenty-nine years ago, deep in the bowels of the San Fernando Valley, I lived in a house with two other actors.  We all came out here from NYC, not all at once, but, found each other and decided, because two of us had dogs, to live in a house in Van Nuys.  My roommate had just purchased a brand new SUV and wanted us all to join him on a “road trip”.  Places of interest were thrown out and we cheerfully agreed to go to Yosemite.  This park was number one on my “bucket list” and we did some fast shopping for food and beverage for a weekend of camping in Yosemite.

I don’t remember much about the trip up to the park.  But once through the south entrance at Mariposa Grove, I can’t contain my excitement.  While there is still great light we make our way up to Glacier Point and get out and walk around.  And, I am overwhelmed at this lookout.  I have been in “wild” places before touring around the country; but, I have never been struck by the beauty of a place, as hard, as I was  by the beauty and magnificence of my first views of Yosemite.  Words really are inadequate to describe what’s happening to me emotionally, psychologically, and physically.  Looking out, from Glacier Point, at the valley, the magnificent peaks, Half Dome, the Merced River — I am completely overcome.  And, I’m sobbing — being struck with and by the beauty that is before me.  It also becomes a religious experience for me — and I thank God for this.  

There had been some controlled burns, over the summer, in the park, and walking around, a very busy pair of woodpeckers fly in.  This wasn’t necessarily going to be a “birding” trip; but, when it comes right at you . . . Fortunately, I never travel around without my binoculars.  And my roommates, although they are not birders, carry theirs as well.  We were observing a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers, a male and a female, foraging through the charred trees for grubs and insects.  They were doing this and communicating with each other in a very intense way — chattering and pecking and checking every inch of what ever part of the tree they were on.  Often times they were opposite each other, next to each other, exchanging positions in total cooperation with each other.  They thoroughly checked every inch of their burned “diner” before moving on to the next charred tree.  Watching their work was like watching a well choreographed dance.  It contained a special beauty and “artistry” specific to them.

Before we would lose well needed light, we decided to go up to Crane Flat and secure our camp site.  I think I had a hand in the choice of the camp site.  I wonder why? At this point, we are grateful for summer light night hours.  We arrive at the camp site with time to set up the tents and get a quick bite to eat before the onslought of dusk and darkness.  I casually mention that there should be a great bird over at Crane Flat Meadow and would any of my friends like to go over with me to check it out.  “Great bird” — really?  I’m talking about an owl; not just any owl — but an owl of the northern woods and meadows in northern hemispheres  around the world.  So, good meadow ettiquette is to walk on the very outside edges of the meadow.  While doing this, it becomes apparent that we are in a “war zone” ruled by mosquitoes.  Growing up in the north east, this is something, in spring and summer months you get used to.  In Southern California, this isn’t such a big deal.  But, here, in Crane Flat, at this moment, it is time to break out the only weapon you have to fight this “buzz/bite” fest.  Deet!  Toxic as hell, but, you don’t put it on every day, so, you go with it.

In the northeastern outskirts of the meadow, we see people with tracking devices.  Scientists, biologists, researchers?  We slowly quietly walk up to them, as to not create too big a disturbance.  My heart is pounding with a bit of excitement.  We introduce ourselves and ask questions concerning whether we are in the right “neighborhood” for the owl.  And, the answer is much better than expected.  The owl is back!  Wait — what now?  We then get her story.  This female owl had set on a nest during the latter part of the winter.  Her partner was off foraging for food and never returned.  There was a bad snow storm during this time and when he didn’t return, she aborted the eggs.  She was very hungry and needed food and had to find it for herself.  She left the nest, the meadow those woods for months.  And was absent until this night.  The night we happened to come across biologists keeping track of her whereabouts.  We now just have to be patient.  By the way, it was later discovered that her partner was out foraging for food for her and was accidentally killed by a motorist as the owl was chasing down prey while flying across a road.

And after about a half hour, and buzzing/biting annoying mosquitos – Incoming – wait for it – she made her appearance.  The “Phantom of the north”, a “feathered ghost”, The Great Gray Owl.  She silently flew to a tall tree at the edge of the meadow.  An enormous ball of heavily patterned gray feathers perched on a bare branch of a conifer.  She was quite at home.  And like the other two north American owls of the Strix genus, she has facial discs which have dark rings and the discs seem to be two incomplete discs that meet in the center of the bird’s face.  At the center of the face surrounding the bill and separating the eyes are two light gray crescents mirroring each other as if back to back.  The eyes of this species are a different color than the two smaller Strix owls which have dark eyes.  It has  two of the most haunting almost piercing yellow eyes that  seem to be glaring out as it looked around.  This is a huge bird.  It looks intimidating and mysterious and would probably be the perfect bird for a ‘round the fire ghost story at a camp site.  We watched her for quite a while.  She even flew to a low tree stump, possibly seeing or hearing a rodent.  She flew up and came down in the meadow, but didn’t come up with anything.  We were in awe.  And we thanked the biologists for sharing their subject with us.  It was a wonderful scene.

As it was getting late, we went back to the camp site and had a little celebration with some chilled champagne, Perrier-Jouet anyone?  It might seem a little arrogant to think that we would hit the jackpot the first day in the park.  It certainly was serendipitous.  I have no recollection of getting any sleep our first night.  I don’t think I did.  I was much too excited.  There was a great sense of euphoria going around.  I also think that my friends caught a little of my birding bug.  At the crack of dawn, we set out on Tioga Pass Road headed toward Tuolumne Meadows.  Of course, we were making scenic stops along the way.  We went to White Wolf camp ground for a walk around, just soaking up the splendor of this wonderful place.  We were entertained by a Pileated Woodpecker and a gregarious flock of Pine Siskins.  Around the camp grounds in the woods, I kept hearing the calling of a Northern Goshawk, which I would have loved to have seen, but, it didn’t want to make its physical presence known.  It was loud enough to almost seem that it was right around us, but we had no luck with it.

Moving on, we made a stop at the look out at Olmsted Point, where you can look south and see Half Dome and parts of the Yosemite Valley.  The view you can get on a clear day here is astounding.  In a way you almost seem like you’re at the top of the world, although you’re only around 3000 or so feet high.  We are gaining altitude.  Olmsted Point is full of mischievous rodents — namely marmots.  Marmots are famous for getting under the car and start chewing away at the rubber hoses under the hood.  In a brand new SUV that has to be pretty tempting for the little buggers.  There are tales of hikers returning to their cars and driving away and their engines are overheating and they wonder why.  The chewed away rubber causing water and other fluids to drain out.  This is not anyone’s idea of fun so far away from any road assistance.  The marmots at this lookout are fairly tame, because people make the mistake of feeding them.  I don’t know if that’s a good trade off; feeding the marmots so they can’t  sabotage your car when your back is turned.

Onward and upward to Tuolumne.  When we arrived there, I was not prepared for the great expanse of this meadow.  The meadow seemed to also be the place for a lot of people.  As we were preparing our return to LA we didn’t have enough time for a big hike but we did stop to walk around a bit.  Along the trail, there was a coyote which was not disturbed by any of the people walking around.  He seemed not to care that there were people around at all.  He was looking for rodents, chasing ground squirrels and little chipmunks.  It just seemed that he just wanted to run around.  It was pretty funny, actually.  While he was running around, one Red Crossbill flew down from a tree on the side of the trail.  This surprised me, and I looked around for others.  It was just this one which hopped around on the ground for a while and then took off.  At this point I have three life birds from this trip: Black-backed Woodpecker, Great Gray Owl, and now Red Crossbill — a male.  I’m feeling pretty good about myself right now.

We continue to head out of the park toward the Tioga Pass gate.  But, we see another beautiful meadow, Dana Meadows, to be exact, as you can look up at Mount Dana, all some 13, 000 plus feet of it.  We get out of the car again and walk around.  There was something very peaceful and serene about this meadow.  I couldn’t put my finger on it whether it was one of the higher altitude parts of the park, or that it was so beautifully green  – and then I hear music.  Sweet music.  A stunning aria, sung with such perfection and full of joy.  Bird music.  A song, so light and ethereal, I had to follow this sound and find its source.  So, I walk as if hypnotized to the back of the meadow which is lightly peppered with conifers.  This area was not thickly wooded and the trees were not very close together at all.  I follow the sound up a slight incline and look around.  At the top of a conifer is I am assuming a male Pine Grosbeak.  He is incessantly singing, the russet variant of this species. A female is lower down in the tree, foraging through pine cones.  (There’s a surprise – and a fourth life bird for me).  The bodies are mostly gray, with a kind of dirty, dusty gold head and the wings are brownish, with white wing bars.  The Nat Geo book says that young males can have this russet color and the females have similar coloration.  Both the Nat Geo and the Sibley say that their song is short.  This song was not.  Nat Geo also suggests that there can be a musical warble.  This song was a celebration.  I just stood there watching and listening, transfixed.  What I heard was a serenade that sounded just magical.  And it was the perfect musical wave  good bye — ‘til next time, to end our time in Yosemite.

This was a great “road trip”.  In subsequent years I would lead a few Los Angeles Audubon trips to see the Great Gray Owl.  For a while, this was a no fail trip for people who wanted to see this bird.  A couple of times we even saw the parent birds at the nest, at the top of a high hollowed out stump about thirty feet up.  The top of the tree had broken off for some reason and the pair were gaurding their young owlets which were most probably several months old, by the size of them.  More recently the Great Grays have moved around in the park.  And, I understand that a number of them were seen out of the park altogether.  It also has been quite a while since I’ve been up to Yosemite.  I’m going to have to pay another visit soon.  I miss that majestic beauty.  This year could be a great year to go, since we’ve had some great episodes of needed rain falling on our parched earth out here.  Also, given our present political climate, we are probably going to have to fight hard to keep these wonderful wild and pristine places free from people and corporations who want to exploit these parks for financial gain.  I know I am probably “preaching to the choir” but we must protect these parks and the real inhabitants of them.  I would love for the next generations to go to Yosemite and possibly have the truly magical time that I had when I first visited.

PineGrosbeak JacobSpendelow

Pine Grosbeak | Image courtesy of Jacob Spendelow

I’m humbly going to let you in on a little conceit.  A glimpse into my strange process of putting thoughts on paper; or, in this case cyberspace.  The very gracious editor of this online magazine, Linda Oberholtzer asked me about three weeks ago if I had anything written to contribute to the Western Tanager.  Well, I quite honestly had nothing.  Days go by, weeks go on and still nothing.  The deadline for the issue is February 15, and nothing is occuring to me.  Nothing is inspiring me.  I am an incredible procrastinator, which makes this problem much worse than it should be.  To make matters worse, if I lose focus, I can be distracted for days on end.  And, I was distracted.   One of the things necessary in my life to help me focus is music.  Not just any music.  Classical music.  And, not just any classical music.  Vivaldi’s “Seasons” is nice, Beethoven symphonies can be fun, Chopin piano music can be transporting; but, those things are not my remedy.  It’s gotta be OPERA!  Strataspheric sopranos, raging tenors, bellowing baritones and rumbling basses — that’s what cures me from being distracted.  The heavier and darker the story — things of murder, suicide, illicit love trysts, duels: swordfights, pistols, even physical combat will keep me focused for hours on end.  And, the heroine soprano losing her mind, or swallowing poison — I am good to go.  Send in the operatic “big guns”: Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, W. A. Mozart, and Gioacchino Rossini for example. Here comes the “onion”.  Shortly after the writing request was made, my receiver on my magnificent stereo, broke down.  So, here is yet another “sidebar”.  Some 38 years ago, while I was on a national tour with the broadway show, Timbuktu, the show in which I had my first professional acting job on Broadway, I thought I would do some research and purchase components to put together a really good sounding stereo system.  Having grown up in and near NYC, and having the best concert halls and opera house at my disposal; and having gone to college in Boston, and being exposed to one of the best concert halls in the world, Symphony Hall, I have very critical ears.  So, the research not only involved reading critical stats about stereo components and also visiting listening rooms that sold top of the line equipment.  I did this with selected recordings I owned.  That proved invaluable, since the sales people will play for you music and recordings in which you are not familiar; but, they will dazzle you with with their idea of some exciting sonic burst.  And, you may be dazzled, but, the sound you are listening for is not what’s been put before you.  This search took almost the better part of a year.  And, I did end up with a system that sounds exactly like the sound I heard in Symphony Hall in Boston and the Metropolitan Opera in NYC. I’m not going to throw around the brand names, mainly because this equipment is no longer being made.  Suffice it to say that the speakers were designed specifically in Boston by Deutsche Grammophon for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  And, the company that makes them didn’t have big success selling them on the commercial market.  Needless to say, they are no longer made, actually about two years after I purchased mine.  And, I got the receiver strong enough to be able to drive these speakers.  So, I’m in constant “musical heaven”.  (Relax, I’m getting there!)  The receiver is broken and must be repaired.  The nature and age of this unit means that I have to have an audio technician knowledgeable enough to make the repairs.  And, because the quality of this receiver is top notch, the technician advised me some twenty-five years ago to never get rid of this unit.  Equipment like this is no longer made, for a number of reasons — coupled with the fact that it’s expensive.  The “art” of repairing “vintage” equipment is rapidly shrinking.  And, people no longer listen to music the way we did many decades past.  The quality of equipment being made today, unless you want to pay “boat loads” of money is, quite truthfully, inferior. So, where does that leave me?  I have to use my “walkman” with headphones.  Although now even the walkman is “ancient” technology, I had made many, many cassette tapes of selections from the operas I’ve collected to use in my gym workouts or driving in LA traffic.  And, this doesn’t necessarily produce the same effect as being “washed over” by the open concert sound  my stereo would give me, it will have to be my musical “stand-in”.  I still don’t have a topic to write about, and I’m three days away from a deadline.  Ugh!  Then, in the wee hours of “O dark thirty” Monday morning, before I try to get some sleep,  I’m flipping over to the current dates on my Audubon, and Sierra Club Engagement Calendars, and I’m also changing to the current date on my Audubon Birds page a day calendar, and I’m hit with a spectacular picture of a bird, which you will read about when you hopefully continue reading this. Twenty-nine years ago, deep in the bowels of the San Fernando Valley, I lived in a house with two other actors.  We all came out here from NYC, not all at once, but, found each other and decided, because two of us had dogs, to live in a house in Van Nuys.  My roommate had just purchased a brand new SUV and wanted us all to join him on a “road trip”.  Places of interest were thrown out and we cheerfully agreed to go to Yosemite.  This park was number one on my “bucket list” and we did some fast shopping for food and beverage for a weekend of camping in Yosemite. I don’t remember much about the trip up to the park.  But once through the south entrance at Mariposa Grove, I can’t contain my excitement.  While there is still great light we make our way up to Glacier Point and get out and walk around.  And, I am overwhelmed at this lookout.  I have been in “wild” places before touring around the country; but, I have never been struck by the beauty of a place, as hard, as I was  by the beauty and magnificence of my first views of Yosemite.  Words really are inadequate to describe what’s happening to me emotionally, psychologically, and physically.  Looking out, from Glacier Point, at the valley, the magnificent peaks, Half Dome, the Merced River — I am completely overcome.  And, I’m sobbing — being struck with and by the beauty that is before me.  It also becomes a religious experience for me — and I thank God for this.   There had been some controlled burns, over the summer, in the park, and walking around, a very busy pair of woodpeckers fly in.  This wasn’t necessarily going to be a “birding” trip; but, when it comes right at you . . . Fortunately, I never travel around without my binoculars.  And my roommates, although they are not birders, carry theirs as well.  We were observing a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers, a male and a female, foraging through the charred trees for grubs and insects.  They were doing this and communicating with each other in a very intense way — chattering and pecking and checking every inch of what ever part of the tree they were on.  Often times they were opposite each other, next to each other, exchanging positions in total cooperation with each other.  They thoroughly checked every inch of their burned “diner” before moving on to the next charred tree.  Watching their work was like watching a well choreographed dance.  It contained a special beauty and “artistry” specific to them. Before we would lose well needed light, we decided to go up to Crane Flat and secure our camp site.  I think I had a hand in the choice of the camp site.  I wonder why? At this point, we are grateful for summer light night hours.  We arrive at the camp site with time to set up the tents and get a quick bite to eat before the onslought of dusk and darkness.  I casually mention that there should be a great bird over at Crane Flat Meadow and would any of my friends like to go over with me to check it out.  “Great bird” — really?  I’m talking about an owl; not just any owl — but an owl of the northern woods and meadows in northern hemispheres  around the world.  So, good meadow ettiquette is to walk on the very outside edges of the meadow.  While doing this, it becomes apparent that we are in a “war zone” ruled by mosquitoes.  Growing up in the north east, this is something, in spring and summer months you get used to.  In Southern California, this isn’t such a big deal.  But, here, in Crane Flat, at this moment, it is time to break out the only weapon you have to fight this “buzz/bite” fest.  Deet!  Toxic as hell, but, you don’t put it on every day, so, you go with it. In the northeastern outskirts of the meadow, we see people with tracking devices.  Scientists, biologists, researchers?  We slowly quietly walk up to them, as to not create too big a disturbance.  My heart is pounding with a bit of excitement.  We introduce ourselves and ask questions concerning whether we are in the right “neighborhood” for the owl.  And, the answer is much better than expected.  The owl is back!  Wait — what now?  We then get her story.  This female owl had set on a nest during the latter part of the winter.  Her partner was off foraging for food and never returned.  There was a bad snow storm during this time and when he didn’t return, she aborted the eggs.  She was very hungry and needed food and had to find it for herself.  She left the nest, the meadow those woods for months.  And was absent until this night.  The night we happened to come across biologists keeping track of her whereabouts.  We now just have to be patient.  By the way, it was later discovered that her partner was out foraging for food for her and was accidentally killed by a motorist as the owl was chasing down prey while flying across a road. And after about a half hour, and buzzing/biting annoying mosquitos – Incoming – wait for it – she made her appearance.  The “Phantom of the north”, a “feathered ghost”, The Great Gray Owl.  She silently flew to a tall tree at the edge of the meadow.  An enormous ball of heavily patterned gray feathers perched on a bare branch of a conifer.  She was quite at home.  And like the other two north American owls of the Strix genus, she has facial discs which have dark rings and the discs seem to be two incomplete discs that meet in the center of the bird’s face.  At the center of the face surrounding the bill and separating the eyes are two light gray crescents mirroring each other as if back to back.  The eyes of this species are a different color than the two smaller Strix owls which have dark eyes.  It has  two of the most haunting almost piercing yellow eyes that  seem to be glaring out as it looked around.  This is a huge bird.  It looks intimidating and mysterious and would probably be the perfect bird for a ‘round the fire ghost story at a camp site.  We watched her for quite a while.  She even flew to a low tree stump, possibly seeing or hearing a rodent.  She flew up and came down in the meadow, but didn’t come up with anything.  We were in awe.  And we thanked the biologists for sharing their subject with us.  It was a wonderful scene. As it was getting late, we went back to the camp site and had a little celebration with some chilled champagne, Perrier-Jouet anyone?  It might seem a little arrogant to think that we would hit the jackpot the first day in the park.  It certainly was serendipitous.  I have no recollection of getting any sleep our first night.  I don’t think I did.  I was much too excited.  There was a great sense of euphoria going around.  I also think that my friends caught a little of my birding bug.  At the crack of dawn, we set out on Tioga Pass Road headed toward Tuolumne Meadows.  Of course, we were making scenic stops along the way.  We went to White Wolf camp ground for a walk around, just soaking up the splendor of this wonderful place.  We were entertained by a Pileated Woodpecker and a gregarious flock of Pine Siskins.  Around the camp grounds in the woods, I kept hearing the calling of a Northern Goshawk, which I would have loved to have seen, but, it didn’t want to make its physical presence known.  It was loud enough to almost seem that it was right around us, but we had no luck with it. Moving on, we made a stop at the look out at Olmsted Point, where you can look south and see Half Dome and parts of the Yosemite Valley.  The view you can get on a clear day here is astounding.  In a way you almost seem like you’re at the top of the world, although you’re only around 3000 or so feet high.  We are gaining altitude.  Olmsted Point is full of mischievous rodents — namely marmots.  Marmots are famous for getting under the car and start chewing away at the rubber hoses under the hood.  In a brand new SUV that has to be pretty tempting for the little buggers.  There are tales of hikers returning to their cars and driving away and their engines are overheating and they wonder why.  The chewed away rubber causing water and other fluids to drain out.  This is not anyone’s idea of fun so far away from any road assistance.  The marmots at this lookout are fairly tame, because people make the mistake of feeding them.  I don’t know if that’s a good trade off; feeding the marmots so they can’t  sabotage your car when your back is turned. Onward and upward to Tuolumne.  When we arrived there, I was not prepared for the great expanse of this meadow.  The meadow seemed to also be the place for a lot of people.  As we were preparing our return to LA we didn’t have enough time for a big hike but we did stop to walk around a bit.  Along the trail, there was a coyote which was not disturbed by any of the people walking around.  He seemed not to care that there were people around at all.  He was looking for rodents, chasing ground squirrels and little chipmunks.  It just seemed that he just wanted to run around.  It was pretty funny, actually.  While he was running around, one Red Crossbill flew down from a tree on the side of the trail.  This surprised me, and I looked around for others.  It was just this one which hopped around on the ground for a while and then took off.  At this point I have three life birds from this trip: Black-backed Woodpecker, Great Gray Owl, and now Red Crossbill — a male.  I’m feeling pretty good about myself right now. We continue to head out of the park toward the Tioga Pass gate.  But, we see another beautiful meadow, Dana Meadows, to be exact, as you can look up at Mount Dana, all some 13, 000 plus feet of it.  We get out of the car again and walk around.  There was something very peaceful and serene about this meadow.  I couldn’t put my finger on it whether it was one of the higher altitude parts of the park, or that it was so beautifully green  – and then I hear music.  Sweet music.  A stunning aria, sung with such perfection and full of joy.  Bird music.  A song, so light and ethereal, I had to follow this sound and find its source.  So, I walk as if hypnotized to the back of the meadow which is lightly peppered with conifers.  This area was not thickly wooded and the trees were not very close together at all.  I follow the sound up a slight incline and look around.  At the top of a conifer is I am assuming a male Pine Grosbeak.  He is incessantly singing, the russet variant of this species. A female is lower down in the tree, foraging through pine cones.  (There’s a surprise – and a fourth life bird for me).  The bodies are mostly gray, with a kind of dirty, dusty gold head and the wings are brownish, with white wing bars.  The Nat Geo book says that young males can have this russet color and the females have similar coloration.  Both the Nat Geo and the Sibley say that their song is short.  This song was not.  Nat Geo also suggests that there can be a musical warble.  This song was a celebration.  I just stood there watching and listening, transfixed.  What I heard was a serenade that sounded just magical.  And it was the perfect musical wave  good bye — ‘til next time, to end our time in Yosemite. This was a great “road trip”.  In subsequent years I would lead a few Los Angeles Audubon trips to see the Great Gray Owl.  For a while, this was a no fail trip for people who wanted to see this bird.  A couple of times we even saw the parent birds at the nest, at the top of a high hollowed out stump about thirty feet up.  The top of the tree had broken off for some reason and the pair were gaurding their young owlets which were most probably several months old, by the size of them.  More recently the Great Grays have moved around in the park.  And, I understand that a number of them were seen out of the park altogether.  It also has been quite a while since I’ve been up to Yosemite.  I’m going to have to pay another visit soon.  I miss that majestic beauty.  This year could be a great year to go, since we’ve had some great episodes of needed rain falling on our parched earth out here.  Also, given our present political climate, we are probably going to have to fight hard to keep these wonderful wild and pristine places free from people and corporations who want to exploit these parks for financial gain.  I know I am probably “preaching to the choir” but we must protect these parks and the real inhabitants of them.  I would love for the next generations to go to Yosemite and possibly have the truly magical time that I had when I first visited.

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