We were en route to Craters of the Moon National Monument, the place I've wanted to go since I was a child, and along the way we saw several flocks of what we figured out were Sage Grouse on the sides of the road! I never got pictures because they moved so fast, but we had another lifer! At COTM, the ranger told me they were probably females hanging out on the side of the road. How he knew that, I don't know.
Anyway, as the sun rose and the day began but before we got to park entrance, we came across this little oasis:
I spent about an hour at this place then got back in the car, and we made our way to COTM. I've been dreaming of this place since I was in fourth grade, wanting to be an astronaut and hearing about how the astronauts trained for the moon at COTM. I don't know how moon-like the landscape was, but it was definitely other-worldly.
After stopping at the visitor center and getting all kinds of doo-dads and a Kaufman's field guide!, we started exploring the park:
Me at the sign
flows of chunky aa lava
fields of ropy pahoehoe lava
a Limber Pine, of which there were many here. Note that in the background you can see the mountains and prairies that surround this giant field of lava.
The divide is sudden and rather disorienting.
a collapsed lava bubble
tall lava spikes
We then walked the Devil's Orchard Nature Trail looking for birds. It was probably around 9am at this time, so there was some good bird activity and I got some cool lifers!
Clark's Nutcracker on some lava formations - these
guys were everywhere, and they were very noisy!
a cute little chippy
not a lifer - but a nice pic of Say's Phoebe, which were also everywhere
Then I saw my first mystery bird:
and I don't think it's a flycatcher because of the streaky-spotty on the sides of the breast. I thought it might be a female Say's Phoebe, but none of the photos online look like this. Again I need help!
After this relatively easy trail, we headed for the giant Inferno Cone, the only place in the park where you're supposed to walk right on the features:
By now, the sun was well up and the heat was coming on. It was then that we decided to hike the Tree Molds trail. Wish I'd noticed this sign BEFORE we started:
Notice that it says it's ONE MILE just to get to the first set of tree molds! I didn't see this sign until AFTER I almost died of heat stroke, though. Of course. Still, we saw lots of birds and formations:
a lava bomb! spewed from who knows where,
but it was probably three or four feet in diameter!
a mold of a tree that imprinted itself on the lava during the flows
a hole where a tree was standing when the lava flowed
I mentioned there were lots of birds, and there were; however, I was either too hot and dying to get good photos or the birds were too fast for me. However, I noted a strange chickadee with a mask that turned out to be a Mountain Chickadee! All my pics of him, though, are just a bunch of leaves and branches. Hmph.
I also saw this bird:
I thought it was a bad photo of the Sage Thrasher I know I saw, but now I'm not sure what the heck it is. But I do know I saw the Sage Thrasher -- lifer!
Also seen but not photographed: Mountain Bluebird (lifer! no photo yet but just you wait!), Rock Wren (lifer again! terrible photos, but again - later photos will justify), and Sage Sparrow (lifer!). Meanwhile, I had to stop at one point to wait for the blood to stop pounding in my ears. I never stopped sweating, so I know I wasn't in real danger of overheating, but it was HOT! Still, I survived, so now I'm convinced I could hang with Bear Grylls OR Dave and Cody of Dual Survival. No problem.
I highly recommend to anyone going out west that you stop here. There are great birds, great scenery, and the risk of death -- what more could you ask for?
Next up: The Grand Tetons!