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Natural Perspectives: This trip was for the birds

July 28, 2010|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray

Vic and I returned recently from a birding trip with his class from Irvine Valley College to the eastern Sierras. I've been sick ever since.

This summer, Vic offered optional transportation to his class of senior citizens. Because of the large number of students in the class, I took a driving test at the college so I could be one of the van drivers. But somewhere along our four-day trip, I caught some kind of "terminal tiredness" virus that has just wiped me out. I've been on the couch this week, sleeping, sleeping, sleeping. But I'm not quite dead yet, so let me regale you with tales of our travels.

The first day, we drove to the little mountain town of Mammoth Lakes. Mammoth is best known as a ski resort and is packed with people in winter. We visit in mid-summer to see mountain birds.

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The drive across the Mojave was hot. Really hot. Triple-digit hot. With the air conditioning in the van, we were fine. But when we stopped for meals and rest breaks, it was like stepping into a blast furnace. I have no idea how people lived in such areas before air conditioning.

We had a group dinner the first night at the Stove, a favorite little restaurant of ours in Mammoth. Vic rousted us out of bed at 4 a.m. the next morning, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. He said that there were birds to be seen. I said I didn't care. I'm a night person, more likely to see 4 a.m. from having not gone to bed yet. But getting up at 4? Oh, puh-lease. Vic promised it would be worth it. Some of us were doubtful. I guess you would have to define "worth it."

If we didn't get up that early, we wouldn't arrive at Mono Lake before sunrise. Frankly, that would have been fine with me. But Vic wanted us to have a chance at seeing lesser nighthawks. They go to bed at dawn and sleep all day. That's a lifestyle I can relate to. These long-winged birds catch night-flying insects on the wing, and are a sight to behold as they swoop and dive after their prey.

Our best chance of seeing and hearing nighthawks was to be at the closed visitor center before the sun peeped over the horizon. Like good little birders, we were there. The nighthawks weren't. I guess they didn't get the memo.

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