Call of the wild
The season of bird watching has sprung in Hope Valley – better late than never.
The strange weather in April and May caused a bit of a hiccup in the migratory patterns of the birds that use the east-to-west flyway that runs over Pickett’s Junction, naturalist Chuck Campbell said Wednesday.
“(The weather) affects them very much. All last week we had all kinds of birds stacked up waiting to come here,” said Campbell, who for a decade has taken bird watchers out to Hope Valley. He grew up noticing birds on his ranch outside San Luis Obispo.
“I can remember 10,000 cranes flying over and condors landing,” he said.
Years later, he’s still invigorated by the activity.
“When I drive up here, I never know what kind of people I’m going to get,” he said. “That’s what makes it fun.”
The Gardnerville man took a handful of enthusiastic bird watchers who gathered at the Highway 88 resort to see what species have appeared in numbers along the Hope Valley Wildlife Area path that was once the old Highway 89.
Campbell prefers to go bird watching in the spring because once the summer arrives, so do the crowds.
“I really enjoy it because when it gets warmer you have the people hiking and biking and fishing. In the spring, there aren’t any people,” he said of the continuously growing hobby.
Carrying backpacks and clutching binoculars on Wednesday, the group stood in silence to listen. About half of birds are spotted through the sense of hearing and the other half are seen.
When these feathered friends call out like the mountain chickadee with its signature “cheeseburger” in the spring, some people respond – prompting debate in the birding community, Campbell said.
“This is one of the big arguments. They have these screechers (noisemakers). I think they’re traumatic to birds,” he said on the trail.
In the first five minutes of the walk, Campbell’s group viewed and heard a range of birds – including western bluebirds, common mergansers, a wood duck, Clark’s nutcracker, American dipper, brown-headed cowbird and a bald eagle.
Les Lahr of Sacramento nearly lost his hat when he saw it, leaping into its line of sight as the eagle flew overhead.
“Lookee there. Oh my heavens. This is worth the trip already,” Lahr said.
“Good eye,” Campbell acknowledged.
As the group proceeded up the path, Campbell pointed out the birds’ territories change in just a matter of 100 feet. He said he’s noticed different species every year, but some types remain consistent – especially robins, a common bird that signals spring.
This spring, Ann Jeffries of South Lake Tahoe wanted to work on her life list of birds, looking for nuthatches – which are commonly spotted at the Pope Marsh.
The area is one of a handful of prime spots for basin bird watching, with the list rounded out by Baldwin Beach, Taylor Creek and Cove East near the Tahoe Keys Marina where two resident ospreys have been spotted dive-bombing the channels near the marina. He specifically noted that eagles and osprey have become more habituated to people.
Campbell said the bird life surrounding the Lake Tahoe Basin will undoubtedly change – and conceivably decline -as the human population grows on both sides of the hill.
“I’m sure there would be some change, but birds are very adaptable,” Campbell said.
Still, birding can be challenging in the basin.
“Anything in mountains is tough because you’ve got to hunt,” Campbell said.
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