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Yosemite Nature Notes 47(3) (1978)


Mark Gatewood

[click to enlarge]

Wawona has long been neglected by park visitors, who see it as little more than a brief stop on the way to somewhere else. Even birders have largely ignored Wawona, leaving few records of sightings. After by-passing Wawona many times in my own travels, I stopped there in June, 1977, and spent the summer working at the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. In the months to follow I took the opportunity to bird extensively in the Wawona area and found it a lively and fascinating place. What impressed me most was the wide variety of habitats available to the birder; on any morning I could visit one or more of the following habitats:

Wawona Meadow — this is the best birding site in the area, in terms of variety of species. The meadow is lush and damp, and willow-lined watercourses provide variety in plant cover. An impressive white fir forest borders the meadow on the west, giving the best of several worlds. Characteristic birds include yellow warblers, red-wing blackbirds, lesser goldfinches and song sparrows. August brought ash-throated and willow flycatchers.

Ponderosa pine/incense-cedar/California black oak woodland — the Alder Creek Trail off North Wawona Road gives good birding in a dry, open forest habitat. Bushtits, acorn woodpeckers, red-and-white-breasted nuthatches and black-throated gray warblers range through this area. In openings of manzanita and Ceanothus, wrentits, scrub jays and California thrashers occur.

South Fork of the Merced River — this rocky, tumbling river was a watering place for many species through the summer and was home to the kingfishers and dippers. The South Fork enjoyed brief ornithological fame during the latter part of June, when Wawona District Naturalist Bill Dengler spotted a harlequin duck near the covered bridge.

Wawona Hotel and golf course — the hotel buildings furnish nesting sites for barn swallows, and the irrigated, manicured lawn and golf course appeal to robins, Brewer’s blackbirds and chipping sparrows.


From 11 June until 15 September, 1977, I spent approximately fifty hours birding in the Wawona area. I was usually accompanied by my wife and one or more members of the History Center and Mariposa Grove interpretive staff. We made an average of two trips each week, dividing our time among the four habitat areas described above. Trips were made between 6:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.

The weather during this period was remarkably constant. Virtually every day dawned clear and cool, and warmed by 10:00 a.m. This list, with remarks on frequency of occurrence for each species, is just a first step towards determining the resident/transient status for the birds of the Wawona area. I hope it will serve as a basis for future work by myself and other birders.

GREAT BLUE HERON — one sighting along the South Fork on 14 September.
TURKEY VULTURE — one sighting in early July over the History Center.
RED-TAILED HAWK — one sighting in early July over Chilnualna Falls.
MARSH HAWK — in Wawona Meadow, mid-August.
CALIFORNIA QUAIL — one sighting in September on west edge of Wawona Meadow.
MOUNTAIN QUAIL — seen in June, lower Alder Creek Trail.
AMERICAN COOT — seen once on South Fork, July.
MOURNING DOVE — present all summer.
GREAT-HORNED OWL — heard all summer; seen once in Tent City.
COMMON NIGHTHAWK — sighted once in June, once in August.
VAUX’S SWIFT — seen in large flock in August.
BLACK SWIFT — seen once in June, once in August, over Wawona Meadow.
BELTED KINGFISHER — present all summer on South Fork.
COMMON FLICKER — present all summer.
PILEATED WOODPECKER — present all summer in fir forest west of Wawona Meadow; made two appearances in Tent City.
ACORN WOODPECKER — present all summer on lower Alder Creek Trail.
YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER — occurred occasionally through the summer.
HAIRY WOODPECKER — occasional.
WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER — two sightings for the summer.
WESTERN KINGBIRD — appeared in Wawona Meadow in mid-August; possibly a fall vagrant wandering up in elevation.
ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER — seen once in August, Wawona Meadow. Possibly another fall vagrant.
BLACK PHOEBE — seen occasionally along South Fork and in willows in Wawona Meadow.
WESTERN WOOD PEWEE — this must be the most numerous and most vocal summer bird in the area. Present from 11 June through 30 August; less vocal after mid-August.
OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER — numerous and vocal from 11 June through mid-August.
VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW — one sighting over Wawona Meadow in mid-August. Possible migrant flock.
ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW — one sighting in June.
BARN SWALLOW — seen mostly in early August; nested under eaves and porches at Wawona Hotel (must have had interesting consequences for guests dining on the veranda.)
STELLER’S JAY — present all summer; counted fifteen feeding on chicken feed thrown out for chickens in History Center.
SCRUB JAY — occasional sighting in scrub manzanita/ceanothus thickets on Alder Creek Trail.
COMMON RAVEN — occasional.
MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE — common but sporadic on Alder Creek Trail and in fir forest.
PLAIN TITMOUSE — one sighting on lower Alder Creek Trail.
COMMON BUSHTIT — very sporadic; three sightings on Lower Alder Creek Trail. In flocks of 8-12, loosely associated with mountain chickadees.
WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH — very occasional in black oaks and on dead snags on lower Alder Creek Trail.
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH — very common and vocal on Lower Alder Creek Trail and on Meadow edge.
BROWN CREEPER — sighted individuals all summer; never seem to associate.
WRENTIT — in Ceanothus thickets on Alder Creek Trail; more often heard than seen.
DIPPER — occasional on South Fork.
LONG-BILLED MARSH WREN — two sightings in Wawona Meadow in late August. Migrant or late vagrant.
ROCK WREN — one sighting, Alder Creek Trail.
CALIFORNIA THRASHER — one sighting, early June, Alder Creek Trail.
AMERICAN ROBIN — present all summer.
HERMIT THRUSH — one sighting in mid-August. Probable migrant.
WESTERN BLUEBIRD — sporadically common, usually over golf course and meadow.
TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE — one sighting at top of Chilnualna Falls.
GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET — one sighting in early August.
SOLITARY VIREO — sighted once in early June on Alder Creek Trail, once in late August on edge of Wawona Meadow.
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER — seen only in early summer on Alder Creek Trail and on Wawona Meadow edge.
NASHVILLE WARBLER — one sighting in June on Alder Creek Trail.
YELLOW WARBLER — seen and heard all summer in willows, Wawona Meadow.
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER — seen occasionally in early summer, then flocks of immatures in Wawona Meadow on 14 September. Must be migrants.
BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER — seen in oaks on Alder Creek Trail in early summer and on Wawona Meadow edge in September.
HERMIT WARBLER — one sighting in firs on 14 September; must be migrating down.
MacGILLIVRAY’S WARBLER — seen occasionally throughout the summer in willows and meadow edge.
RED-WING BLACKBIRD — seen in Wawona Meadow in June; apparently breeding. By early August, only females and immatures were seen.
BREWER’S BLACKBIRD — abundant in corrals, lawns and on golf course.
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD — very occasional.
WESTERN TANAGER — occasional throughout the summer.
BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK — common nesting species; seen all summer. Last recorded 30 August.
LAZULI BUNTING — sighted twice in Wawona Meadow, August. Probable breeding species as male and female were seen in both sightings.
EVENING GROSBEAK — seen or heard daily from 19 July til end of observation period. Immatures present in first sighting; I doubt that they nest here.
CASSIN’S FINCH — sighted once in early summer in Wawona Meadow.
LESSER GOLDFINCH — commonly seen in Wawona Meadow from mid-July through mid-August.
GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE — seen once on 14 September in Wawona Meadow.
RUFOUS-SIDED TOWHEE — fairly common in willows in Wawona Meadow.
LARK SPARROW — sighted once on 15 September in dry east edge of Wawona Meadow.
DARK-EYED JUNCO — common nesting species along lower Alder Creek Trail.
CHIPPING SPARROW — seen occasionally throughout the summer. Must have nested on drier east side of Wawona Meadow
SONG SPARROW — very common nesting bird in willows in Wawona Meadow Seen all through the observation period.

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