May brings the arrival of our Summer resident birds to the Bodie Hills. Late Spring and early Summer is the best time to get out and explore one of the lesser-known birding destinations in the Eastern Sierra. An incredible diversity of birds begins to arrive in late April and depart by mid-September. Year-round residents move up in elevation as the Spring progresses and snow melts. Part of this diversity is due to the variety of habitats the Bodie Hills offer. Targeting the habitats mentioned below in the Hills will help you find and identify avian fauna during your visit.
Perhaps the most iconic bird of Bodie Hills landscape is the Bi-State Sage Grouse, a distinct species living along the sagebrush belt of the California-Nevada border. The heart of the species’ range lies in the Bodie Hills. A year-round resident, the grouse survive on sagebrush leaves in the winter months. In the Spring after the snowmelt, male sage grouse travel to open areas with good visibility to strut for females in an extraordinary display known as “Lekking”.
Scientists estimate populations of the bird by visiting these leks each Spring and counting the numbers of males. Shortly after lekking ends, females build a nest deep in the cover of dense sagebrush. In the early Summer chicks hatch, and the females take their broods to the wet meadows scattered throughout the hills, to feed on nutrient-rich bugs. By Fall the birds mingle together in large coveys to avoid predation as snow arrives at the higher elevations.
Other sagebrush nesters such as Green-Tailed Towhee, Sage Thrasher, Sage Sparrow, and Brewer’s Sparrow sing from perches throughout the summer. The secretive Mountain Quail nests and feeds in the transitional zone of the sagebrush and aspen habitats.
Aspen groves represent another critical habitat type in the Bodie Hills for wildlife, including birds. House Wren, Warbling Vireo, Mountain Bluebird, Dusky Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, and Red-Naped Sapsucker are common nesters of the aspen groves found throughout the Hills. As cavity nesters, these birds require trees away from predators in order to breed in the Spring. Occasionally Cooper’s Hawk, Long-Eared Owls, and other raptors nest in the taller stands of aspen found in the multiple canyons intersecting the landscape. These islands of habitat occur in two types: those that run along streams and are fed by surface water; and more extensive groves predominately found on north-facing slopes where snowbanks keep the soil moist late into the year.
Look for Western Tanager, Pinyon Jay, Juniper Titmouse, Black-Throated Gray Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, Gray Vireo, Cassin’s Finch, and Clark’s Nutcracker in the vast stands of pine forest interspersed with juniper. This habitat is easily accessible off of main entrance routes to the Bodie Hills, including Cottonwood and Aurora Canyon Roads and Masonic Road.
A variety of springs found in natural depressions across the landscape provides wet areas that hold water well into the Summer months in wet years. American Avocet, White-Faced Ibis, Horned Lark, Savannah Sparrow, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, and multiple species of swallows use the lush shorelines and feed on vegetation. Later in the Summer, wildflowers emerge providing a burst of color.
Willows, cottonwood, and wild rose create a ribbon of habitat on the main creeks and seasonal tributaries in the Hills. Riparian specialties include Lazuli Bunting, Black-Headed Grosbeak, and McGillivray’s and Wilson’s Warblers.
The Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua offers a guided birding trip of the Bodie Hills each year on the third Saturday in June. Visit https://www.birdchautauqua.org/ to learn more.