Sunday, March 8, 2015

Lava Beds National Monument: Winter Wings Festival Weekend, Day 2

Day 2 of our trip to Klamath Falls actually took us out of the state and down to California for the day. When we reviewed the possible field trips for the Winter Wings Festival, there was one to Lava Beds National Monument, but we were going to miss it due to its timing. But luckily we had ourselves an open day on Saturday of the festival that would allow us to explore the area on our own. Other than the birds and possibility of new mammals, we were especially intrigued by the petroglyphs (rock art carvings) that are there. 

California Ground Squirrel
View of Tule Lake - an oasis in the desert

We expected another lovely day due to the unseasonably warm weather. The hour-long drive from Klamath Falls to the Lava Beds area started out as a mostly foggy one, but once we got there, it was beautifully clear. I’m still amazed how quickly we can go from one habitat to another. We went from a verdant, mixed forest area to dry rocky desert. We, especially Nick, have found that the desert is now one of our favorite habitats. After our very short pass through Phoenix, AZ last year during our cross-country road trip, we fell in love with this dry, seemingly barren landscape that is in fact full of life! 

Dewy spiderwebs in the desert

Desert plant

Colorful lichen on the rocks

As we drove into the Lava Beds area, we first pulled over to check out why another car had pulled over and brought out a long lens pointing toward the hillside. I then spotted not just one, but three coyotes! And not only that, they had their eyes set on a large Mule Deer doe who was well aware of their presence. She stood still for a while before casually walking away. I guessed that knowing the deer spotted them, the coyotes must have figured they did not have a chance to surprise her and bring her down.

Just a couple of coyotes.

Mule Deer on the upper left and two of the three coyotes on the bottom right.

Driving toward our first stop, we could hear lots of Western Meadowlarks singing. Nick then suddenly stopped quickly as he spotted a very close Horned Lark off the side of the road perched on top of a rock. It also sang its morning song while posing very nicely for us. This was one of those really soul-satisfying looks at a bird, especially since the only other time we had seen one was at a very far distance in a farm field in Georgia, and we dipped on finding them in the Salem area. 

Western Meadowlark

Horned Lark

Horned Lark giving us a stare down and showing his "horns"

Horned Lark singing!

Our first major stop in this desert scene was Captain Jacks Stronghold. This area was a key area of the defense of the Modoc people during the Modoc War. Walking through the trails, one can imagine the fighting that occurred there with plenty of nooks and crannies to hide and jump out of for surprise attacks. 

Captain Jacks Stronghold

Mt. Shasta

Instead of hiding Native Americans, we instead found some cool desert birds, including 2 very vocal Rock Wrens and a sneaky little Canyon Wren, which was a lifer! The Canyon Wren was hanging out quite close to the Rock Wren, but he never did stay out long enough for us to gaze upon him. 

Rock Wren

Rock Wren singing

Nick checking out the Rock Wren in the distance

Next stop was Petroglyph Point. When we turned on the short road to take us to this rock art cliff, we were greeted by 50 or so Belding’s Ground Squirrels darting around and squeaking what may have been alarm calls. When considering all of the ones we couldn’t see, there had to have been 100+ just in this colony. Some let us take their photos using our car as a moving blind. Most were scared into their burrows. Others lingered in curiosity but stayed close to a hole that they could quickly jump into for safety if needed. They were quite endearing, I must say (as you can tell by all of these photos we took of them). I can only imagine that they make fine meals for the raptors that make this place their home.

Partly in a burrow just in case… 

That little face!

Those little hands!

Once we got to Petroglyph Point, we stopped to eat our lunch in the car before checking out the carvings. But we quickly dropped everything as Nick spotted our lifer Prairie Falcon! And then came another! This was likely a mating pair as they stayed mostly close together, and this is a known nesting spot for them. We got some incredible views of these awesome raptors. They put on quite a show for us, and allowed for one of my most prized photos ever!

Captures the stealth and speed of these awesome Prairie Falcons

The cliff clearly marked by where these Prairie Falcons have nested before

While we were here, another Rock Wren and Canyon Wren made an appearance. I finally got to take at least some quick snapshots of the Canyon Wren with his lovely rufous and gray patterns. And Nick got some really cool macro shots of some neat bugs.

Canyon Wren!

Canyon Wren!

Small Milkweed Bug - looks like an African mask!

A weevil of some sort

Oh yes, and we did get to check out the really cool 4500 year old petroglyphs. Some were not that old, and some were not done by the Modoc people at all but by Japanese internment camp prisoners that were stationed here at some point. It's really incredible to see these carvings and to think of items that they look like today, like robots, viruses, and even a martini glass. 

I spy a bug and a robot and some pizzas

Protected petroglyphs

It's a real darn shame that this barbed wire must be put up to keep our additional vandalism next to these 4500 year old carvings. Really people?!?! (to the people who vandalized)

Totally looks like a virus!

It's five o'clock somewhere!

We spent so much time admiring these fantastic birds and petroglyphs that we didn’t leave too much time to explore some of the lava tubes and caves that the Lava Beds National Monument is known for. We picked up a map and headed out to find an “easy cave” as we are not too keen on crawling our way through tight spaces <shutter>, but once we found out there was a rocky trench where Pika are supposed to be, we knew exactly where we were going. 

Swallow nests lining a ledge of the petroglyph cliff

I have been obsessed with the Pikas ever since watching them on David Attenborough’s Life of Mammals. And now that we are in reach of finding them in the Pacific Northwest, I am driven to find one. We stopped to check out the trench and within a couple of minutes, Nick spotted a flash of a Pika, but he quickly jumped into a crevice, where I saw a fuzzy little ball hop in the shadows out of sight. I definitely did not get a good look at him, so we waited and waited for him to pop out again. We waited over an hour, but alas, he did not reappear. Le sigh. I could have waited longer, but we had to head back to Klamath Falls in time to see the keynote speaker for the Winter Wings Festival – Richard Crossley.

Lava rocks

A view of the dark lava rocks set in the desert. I don't think this quite captures how desolate these huge black areas of lava rock really appeared. 

I had to settle for a Pika finger puppet until I can have a good look at a real one in the wild!

Yes, that’s THE Richard Crossly of The Crossley Guides. You can tell that he really is an expert birder and super passionate about learning and teaching about birds birding. He gave a very funny, witty, and inspiring talk that really encouraged us to strive even more to become great birders. This was a great way to end our spectacular day of birding the Lava Beds area – pumped and ready to get out there and learn more!

Hipster Birders with Richard Crossley


  1. Those petroglyphs are pretty sweet. Not tandem soaring Prairie Falcons sweet, but pretty sweet.

    1. Haha. Indeed, the petroglyphs are pretty sweet. But those Prairie Falcons are something else!

  2. I love pikas too!! I once saw one in Canada and tried to imitate that cute sound they make. It went crazy squeeking numerous times in a row. It certainly shut me up. What have I said? Again GORGEOUS pictures! I especially love the stealth rock wren and the canyon wren! I should really get some good binoculars.

    1. Thanks! Oh how fun about the Pika! I'm sure he was not pleased with you. Yes, binoculars are definitely a good investment. You can see so much detail and you get to spot birds that are farther away. I even like to watch the birds that come to our feeder with our binoculars!

  3. Beautiful photos -- Mt. Shasta looks so majestic in the desert. Congratulations on all the lifers. The petroglyphs are fascinating, and it's such a shame people have to add their own to the 4,500 year-old ones.

    1. Thanks! Yes, Mt. Shasta was quite a beautiful site in the desert. It's a much more pleasant juxtaposition than the old and new petroglyphs. =)