Birding Lassen in the… snow? July 5, 2012Posted by GGAS in Birding
By Dan Murphy
As we’ve done for the past 35 years or so, my wife Joan and I recently led a group of birders on the annual Golden Gate Audubon trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Never been there? You don’t have to join our trip to enjoy this incredibly unique spot. The beauty of Manzanita Lake in the morning is out of this world. Add to that a landscape painted with lakes and streams, meadows and volcanic flats, waterfalls and mountains, volcanoes and glacial remnants, and you’ve got Lassen.
Each year seems to present unique challenges. Some years it’s a lingering winter. Other years it’s the pleasure of overcoming the effects of a bit too much wine. And then there is the challenge of recovering from the self-inflicted treatment deemed necessary to get an ant out of one’s ear. Or the forest fire that seasoned the clear mountain air a few years ago.
Now there is one thing we’ve counted on through all the years of the Lassen trip — the weather. We’ve never had rain. We’ve had it the day before the trip. We’ve had it the day after the trip. But we’ve never had so much as a drop dampen us during the trip. And snow? We had it the day after the trip once, but never during the trip.
So it’s safe to say this is a fair weather trip. (Well, except for the year the temperature soared to 112° and everyone bailed out of the Saturday excursion to the Fall River Valley and Burney Falls. And some folks found the morning chill was a deterrent to birding at 6:30 a.m. the times it froze at Manzanita Lake.)
This year, 25 of us gathered for the big event. It was really promising because Joan and I spotted a Ferruginous Hawk on Glenburn Road while scouting on Thursday. How could it not be a great trip after that?
On Friday, we were up early for a walk around Manzanita Lake in the brisk morning air. Someone said we had 35 species, which is as good as we’ve ever done. Our midday hike was to Paradise Meadow. There was a bit of wind and some overcast, so I wore my light cotton shirt – no need for a jacket, was there? We tried birding Hat Lake, but the wind blew us out of there, so we headed for the 1.4 miles of trial that would take us up 700 feet to Paradise Meadow. Did I mention it’s never rained or snowed during this trip?
The wind kept the birds from singing, or at least it kept us from hearing them, so we were able to move at a brisk pace. We made it up to the cascades where we were entertained by a Dipper. Question of the year: How can they walk on the edge of a rock with a torrent of water passing under, around and sometimes over them? They don’t have suction cups on their toes. What allows them to walk through a torrent as if they were on dry ground?
As we watched Hat Creek tear through the cascades, someone mentioned it was raining. How could that be? It doesn’t rain on the Lassen trip. But wait…the rain wasn’t liquid. It was little tiny bits of snow. We decided to press onward and upward, because we didn’t want to quit a quarter mile from the meadow, and after all, in the words of Dr. Seuss, “it’s a great day for up.”
Ten minutes later we were at the meadow. Oh how beautiful, but it looked like TV back when it was black and white and we had all that static stuff on some channels. We were in “the blizzard of ’12”. It was snow and it wasn’t falling. It was slicing through the air along with the most wonderful gusts of wind you’ve ever seen. Humph? It doesn’t snow on the Lassen trip, so how could this be?
We lasted at Paradise Meadow for two minutes before heading back to slightly lower ground that was protected a little from the weather. The only bird that showed itself was the Dipper, and apparently they don’t care about anything weather-related. The huddled mass of birders scarfed down lunch and returned down the trail. I went back up to the meadow and found our hardiest member nestled in the hollow of a tree, as happy as could be. She had a delightful and leisurely lunch as “the blizzard of ’12” blew around her.
We eventually got back to Hat Lake and the cars. My blue cotton overshirt was a bit wet, but a light jacket was comfortable enough for a replacement. I wouldn’t want to be warm enough to feel my extremities. We drove part way through the park, but near the summit actually encountered a moment of white-out, so headed back to camp. Our tent had blown over, but no harm done. We boiled up some water for hot chocolate and sat around on our damp chairs while a Pileated Woodpecker visited the adjoining campsite.
How could this not be a great trip? In the end we did manage to count 106 species, including birds people saw on their own and ones we spotted while scouting. We did well on raptors and poorly with the woodpeckers, but all in all it was a great trip.
And just in case you’re wondering… we’ve never had a volcanic eruption during the Lassen trip.Tags: American Dipper, birding, birding trips, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Lassen Volcanic National Park.