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Howard L. Ferguson
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Suddenly, there I was in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, just having witnessed that marvelously varied spectacle of songbird migration in the Smoky Mountains. Upon first arrival to Tuolumne, I was somewhat discouraged — no formal birdwalks had been scheduled for the summer interpretive program! I immediately organized a formal Sunday morning birdwalk.
To my surprise, and to that of many others, an exciting total of 67 species (Table I) was observed this summer in the immediate Tuolumne area (from Pothole Dome east to the vicinity around Tuolumne Meadows Lodge). The average number of species seen per 2½ hour birdwalk was 17, with a high of 21 species and a low of 12 species.
Of these 67 species, 34 species were determined to have actually nested in the Tuolumne area (actual nest or nesting behavior observed). There were 16 species which were observed throughout the summer but no actual nests were found nor nesting activities noted.
In addition to the common species observed, a number of rare or unusual birds were seen this summer (Gaines 77). These were the following:
|Cinnamon Teal||Western Meadowlark|
|Belted Kingfisher||Evening Grosbeak|
|Acorn Woodpecker||Lesser Goldfinch|
|Western Kingbird||Fox Sparrow|
The explanation of bird distribution has been a matter confounding ornithologists and orniphiles for centuries. This summer was preceded by almost two years of severe drought — only 35% of the average precipitation. It is possible to speculate that the unusual bird species observed this summer may have been vertically pushed up the Sierra by the birds in the lower elevations (i.e. birds needed larger territories ‘to obtain their usual amount of water).
Another alternative or possible additional explanation for the unusual bird distribution may have been the two consecutive mild winters which preceded this past summer. Insect population numbers may have been well above average, offering high protein diets to birds passing through the area. The Tuolumne area was literally smothered by lodgepole needleminer moths during late July and early August. In fact, the Acorn Woodpecker and the Western Kingbird were both seen insect-hawking in areas thick with lodgepole needleminer moths.
One problem, however, is that not enough data has been collected in the Tuolumne area to determine if a significant species change has occurred over the years. However, while researching this paper, I came across a 1936 bird list (Comings and Lunt) of the Tuolumne area submitted to Dr. Carl Sharsmith. Dr. Sharsmith stated that he was fairly confident of the authors’ accuracy in observation. This list allows us to make at least a rough species comparison of this past summer, 1977, with the summer of 1936. Fifty-three species were observed in the Tuolumne area by Ms. Comings and Mr. Lunt. Forty of these species were observed both in the summer of 1936 and the summer of 1977. The following species were seen only in 1936:
|Common Nighthawk||Winter Warbler|
|Black Swift||Pygmy Nuthatch|
|Western Flycatcher||Warbling Vireo|
|Least Flycatcher||Townsends Warbler|
|Olive-sided Flycatcher||Golden Eagle|
Twenty-five species were observed in 1977 that were not recorded in 1936 (refer to Table I).
Whatever the factors affecting bird distribution in the area, the available bird lists show that Tuolumne Meadows offer many exciting and highly rewarding birding moments with rare and unusual species to be seen. In addition, within a one hour radius at least 25 other species can be added to the Tuolumne list (e.g. White Pelican, Cormorants, Terns, Avocets). So, come join me birding in Tuolumne this summer!
Gaines, David. Birds of the Yosemite Sierra. A distributional survey. California Syllabus, Oakland, CA. 153 pp., 1977.
Comings, Jane A. and James C. Lunt. A Tuolumne Meadows Bird List. Yosemite Research Library, 4 pp., 1936.
|N - Determined to be nesting in the Tuolumne area|
|? - Birds observed all summer, Hut no actual nests observed|
|77 - Birds only observed in the summer of 1977 and not recorded in the summer of 1936|
|Eared Grebe 77||White-breasted Nuthatch ?|
|Mallard 77||Red-breasted Nuthatch N 77|
|Cinnamon Teal||Brown Creeper N|
|Goshawk ?||Dipper N 77|
|Sharp-shinned Hawk ?||Rock Wren ? 77|
|Red-tailed Hawk ?||Robin N|
|Kestrel ?||Hermit Thrush N|
|Prairie Falcon ? 77||Mountain Bluebird N|
|Osprey ? 77||Townsend’s Solitaire N 77|
|Killdeer N||Golden-crowned Kinglet ?|
|Spotted Sandpiper N||Ruby-crowned Kinglet ?|
|California Gull||Orange-crowned Warbler|
|Mourning Dove 77||Yellow-rumped Warbler N|
|Great-horned Owl ? 77||Hermit Warbler|
|Rufous Hummingbird N||MacGillivray’s Warbler|
|Calliope Hummingbird N||Wilson’s Warbler N|
|Belted Kingfisher ? 77||Red-wing Blackbird N|
|Common Flicker N||Western Meadowlark 77|
|White-headed Woodpecker N 77||Brewer’s Blackbird N|
|Acorn Woodpecker 77||Brown-headed Cowbird N|
|Red-breasted Sapsucker N||Western Tanager|
|Williamson Sapsucker N||Western Kingbird 77|
|Hairy Woodpecker N||Evening Grosbeak 77|
|Black-backed Three-toed ? 77||Pine Grosbeak N|
|Hammonds Flycatcher N 77||Cassin’s Finch N|
|Dusty Flycatcher N 77||Pine Siskin N|
|Western Wood-peewee N 77||Lesser Goldfinch 77|
|Violet-green Swallow N||Red Crossbill|
|Tree Swallow N 77||Junco N|
|Rough-winged Swallow ? 77||White-crowned Sparrow N|
|Steller’s Jay N||Fox Sparrow|
|Raven ? 77||Savannah 77|
|Clark’s Nutcracker ?||Chipping Sparrow N|
|Mountain Chickadee N|
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