Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day

A good day, I hope, to declare a new blog?

S and I went to see the fireworks over the Bridgeport Reservoir tonight, parking behind the airport among the throngs of other cars (robust pickups, playing country music). The booms of the display echoed off the rampart-ish Bodie Hills, and the showers of flares and embers, like fireflies from various distances, were spectacular in the darkness over the still-glowing, many-angled horizon of the High Sierra.

Oddly enough, the show reminded me of an eruption I’d seen—caused, actually—earlier in the day, on my run. Adding a few miles on to a nice loop around Conway Ranch, I hit the jeep trail that diverges from E. Mono Lake Drive into the sagebrush along Mono City. It was around 11 am, not spectacularly hot, but with a flat, harsh light.

Suddenly, birds began exploding from the bushes on either side of the sandy road: a couple towhees, a sparrow, a meadowlark, and many pinyon jays—a whole flock. The jays didn’t lift off all at once, but one at a time, as I flushed them from the umbrellas under which they’d perched, one individual to a bush. Each lifted off in flurry of blue and gray feathers with a characteristic nasal call.

I stirred up about twenty jays over two-hundred meters of road, and they burst in every direction, with something like the whistling-thump of a launched firework. Then they all headed north, toward Highway 167, gathering in a flock like blue embers pulled by the wind toward the pinyon pine hillsides.

As their name suggests, they’re pine seed specialists. In fact, they apparently don’t have feathers covering their nostrils, unlike other jays, because they’d get gunked up with pinesap as they reached into a cone. Like other jays, however (notably, the Clark’s nutcracker), they have an incredible spatial memory which gives them the ability to store thousand of seeds and retrieve them, even under the Mono Basin’s occassional drifts of snow.

Pinyon jays are year round residents here, but should the Basin’s crop of pine fail, they would head, in mass, to a more productive, distant region. And that, as the Cornell Lab of O notes, “makes them one of the truly ‘irruptive’”—or patriotic?—“species of North American birds.”

12 mi, 84 min run; Conway Ranch-Hwy 167 Loop

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog, Neely. I look forward to following your adventures.

    What kind of towhees live there?