Monday, October 12, 2015

American Robins at Lava Beds National Monument

Lava Beds National Monument in the far northern reaches of California is a unique park for many reasons, biologically and geologically. And sometimes both. The park is "nothing more" than a vast field of geologically recent lava flows (I say "nothing more", because to a geologist like me, that's all the justification one needs to make a park out of it). The lava flows are honeycombed with lava tubes and craters, cinder cones and pressure ridges, and historical sites dating from the Modoc Indian Wars.
There's one thing the park doesn't have: water. Although the region is semiarid, it gets enough snow and rain to support growths of Ponderosa and Pinyon pines. But the water that falls on the surface quickly sinks into the joints and fractures that are pervasive in the basalt flows. There are no rivers, streams or lakes. That can make life difficult for the various animals that would normally inhabit these environments. One of those species are human beings. The Modoc people were able to utilize the waters of Tulelake at the north end of the monument. The lake is gone now, converted to agricultural fields, but park visitors can find water at faucets in the campground. It's pumped from a thousand-foot well. The water spills to the ground, and the local birds know all about it. They gather in the morning at the monument campground and take turns getting a drink. I didn't know this until I heard the caterwauling early in the morning while I was trying to sleep.
I got my camera and took a seat near the water faucets and saw a parade of birds, some of which were new to me. But not this one. The American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is one of the most familiar birds in North America. But that doesn't take away from their attractive appearance.
These birds were high up in the Cascades in September when I took these pictures, but they might be part of a migratory group that will arrive in the Great Valley in the next few weeks. Hundreds of them wintered in the mini-wilderness on our campus last year.

There were three more species waiting for water those mornings at Lava Beds. Look for the others in future posts.

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