Sunday, October 25, 2015

Cassin's Finch at Medicine Lake Highland, California's Largest Volcano

Our recent trip to the Cascades of Northern California yielded several "first" bird sightings, including the Pinyon Jay I noted a few days ago. After we left Lava Beds National Monument, we headed up the flank of Medicine Lake Highland. The Highland is a huge shield volcano, a basalt edifice with gentle slopes, but great width. MLH is actually the largest volcano in the state of California by volume. We weren't really expecting to see much in the way of bird life, as it was late September and birds are usually starting to migrate to lower elevations in preparation for winter. We actually saw quite a few, including the Hermit Thrush I posted on earlier.
We stopped for lunch along the shores of Medicine Lake itself. The lake occupies the caldera of the volcano, where the summit collapsed inwards after a series of voluminous eruptions. Normally the water would have sunk into the ground, but glaciers of the last ice age left large amounts of clay that sealed off the lake floor and keep water present year-round. It's a popular recreation area, with campgrounds and a few cabins, but no resort developments. It's a pretty quiet place on a Sunday afternoon. Sitting under some Lodgepole Pines, I saw a Cassin's Finch (Haemorhous cassinii) for the first time. They live in our region back home but mainly in the upland forests, and I haven't seen them there. It checked me out for a moment, long enough for a couple of pictures, and then moved on. So did we.

NOTE: If you are one of the literally dozens of people who've read this post, you might remember it being about a Purple Finch. Upon reflection and a revisit of the pictures, I decided it was a Cassin's Finch.

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