Friday, December 18, 2015

The Cute, the Grand, and the Beggy: Crater Lake, Part 2

Crater Lake is among the most scenic spots in Oregon, the views from every square inch of it were spectacular. Besides the waterfall where we found numerous butterfly puddle parties, we made an effort to see the Phantom Ship, and then hiked a trail along the Pinnacles - volcanic vents where the release of hot gases hardened the igneous rock, after which the surrounding softer minerals eroded much more quickly, leaving only the vents.

"The Phantom Ship"

"The Pinnacles"

Also at the Pinnacles Overlook, Maureen and I both thought we glimpsed a Pine Grosbeak, but it was gone in a flash, and we were both left wondering, "wait, was that…?" But when we eventually list Pine Grosbeak, we want to make damn sure, and this certainly wasn't the sighting for that.

The next day, July 4, we decided the hike the Watchman Trail, a 0.8 mile trail to an old fire lookout. We expected birds, but instead got great looks at some much desired mammals. On the drive to the trail, Maureen spied a Yellow-bellied Marmot quite far off, sunning on a boulder. Neat, but hopefully we could do better. The hillside along the trail was strewn with rocks of all sizes, piled up in places, and creating perfect marmot habitat. We'd barely left the parking lot when we noticed the huge ground squirrel directly below us, only 20 feet down. From the looks of it, he was sharpening his teeth by scraping them against the rocks.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Sharpening those chompers

Of course, this wasn't only perfect habitat for marmots. The top of our mammal wishlist up to that point had been the diminutive and adorable Pika. We were so determined to see one that we had a field trip booked for the following week just to get us out to a prime spot in the Columbia River gorge. You can imagine our delight, then, when we were able to find our lifer Pika all on our own, collecting wildflowers for turning into hay for the winter.

Pika with its bouquet of wildflowers

At the top of the hill, at the lookout, we had a Rock Wren pose against the deep blue of the lake. On the hike back down the Clark's Nutcrackers started getting boisterous. Our campsite brochure specifically warned against feeding Nutcrackers, so I had high hopes that they'd gang up on us at some point (thus living up to their "camp robber" reputation), and give us good looks. Unfortunately, they were better heard than seen at camp. But we did manage to see one up close at a random parking lot around the lake that morning. Yes, the Nutcracker in the photo is eating people food, and no, it didn't come from us.

Rock Wren

Clark's Nutcracker

After noon, we stopped at the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden, hoping to see huge numbers of butterflies, like we had a day earlier. Even though gardens here had an entire half-mile loop bordered on either side with wildflowers, it wasn't nearly as active as the falls had been. Even so, we got our lifer Clodius Parnassian right off the bat. A beautiful black and white moth called a Sierra Pericopid also made a new Lep for the trip.

Clodius Parnassian

Western White

Fritillary sp.

Sierra Pericopid

A couple of Gray Jays who must be used to getting fed stopped just above the trail, expectantly, and I'm afraid we rather disappointed them. With so many thousands of flowers in bloom, the Rufous Hummingbirds needed no handouts, and paid no attention to us as they lapped up nectar beside the trail.

Gray Jay

Rufous Hummingbird

Black Petaltail

For all the time we spend outdoors, we've never seen a bear in the wild. Every campsite had it's own bear locker, and signs stressed that there ARE bears in the campground. Well, it seems we missed out on a prime opportunity, but a curious Black-tailed Deer did pass through our site while we ate lunch that afternoon. Crater Lake: come for the birds, stay for the mammals.

Black-tailed Deer

Golden-mantled Squirrel


  1. Ahhh the pika with a bouquet!!!! You have officially convinced me to get my butt to Crater Lake next summer.

    1. You won't regret the trek. It's one of my favorite places in Oregon so far, and I can't wait to get back!

  2. Crater Lake is one of my all time favorite spots in North America!
    Nice work with the birds too. I have never encountered more accommodating Nutcrackers than in that area, and of course that was in the pre-camera days.


    1. I remember you recommending it earlier in the year, and it still exceeded every expectation. Glad to see Butler's Birds dusting off the keyboard again!

  3. It looks you you and Maureen had a terrific time at Crater Lake. The "Phantom Ship" is amazing and I can't get over how cute the Pika is! Happy birding you two in 2016!

    1. It's such an amazing place, and I highly recommend going if you even have the chance! The Pika melted our hearts exactly like we knew it would, and completely lived up to its reputation as the cutest mammal in North America. Happy birding to you, too!