Sunday, May 3, 2015

Test Drive of the DeLorme inReach Explorer

Susan was out of town this weekend for a birding blitz in the Central Valley.  It gave me the opportunity on Saturday for a solo hike and to try out my new Delorme inReach Explorer satellite tracker/communicator.  This slick little device will allow text and SOS communication and real-time map plotting of our location while on the trail.  If you look at the top of this page and select the "Where we are" page tab, you can see my hike from Saturday (this will last until I track a new hike then that one will display).  The texting by satellite feature will come in real handy for staying in touch when traditional cell coverage isn't available.  And of course the SOS feature is something I hope we never have the occasion to use but could save a life someday...

Anyway, similar to a hike a couple weeks ago, I drove to the Chimney Creek Campground but this time hiked south on the PCT.  I had another motive for choosing this hike which was to reach the Sierra Crest at high elevation in Kern County.  This trail starts in Tulare County, but after 6.5 miles crosses the county line at an elevation of 7,000 feet.  This is the weekend where birders scour Kern County as part of the "America's Birdiest County" effort.  Kern has won this in the inland county category for many years.

Lamont Peak in the distance
I got to the campground early and poked around for a while with my big camera looking for birds to photograph.  What I really wanted was a Plumbeous Vireo which has bred there in years prior, but I had no luck locating one.  After an hour or so of that I put the camera away and grabbed the daypack. The trail leaves the campground skirting Lamont Meadow and climbing to a saddle on the east side near the top of Lamont Peak.  Birding along the way was very good with multiple Mountain Quail calling, several flushed from the trail in front of me.  Oak Titmice called from where else - the oaks in the lowest elevations. The pinyon pines had a singing Black-throated Gray warbler in what seemed like every few hundred yards of trail. Somewhere along the way I tested the communication feature of the new toy by texting Trail Angel extraordinaire Terri M. - and it worked great!  Terri texted me right back to let me know we had contact.  Very cool!

Even though it was painfully dry, the relatively decent winter rain storms in the area made for continuing excellent flowers.  If I knew anything about flower names, I would caption these photos...

The views from the crest were impressive, as I knew they would be.

Looking east: Indian Wells Valley from the crest
Looking west: Domeland Wilderness and the Kern Plateau
Jeffery Pines inside Kern County

Once in Kern County I found what I was looking for, a wonderful stand of Jeffery Pines, rare this far south on the Sierra Crest.  While the habitat was what I hope for, the bird diversity was minimal.  I heard a Northern Flicker call, and a Spotted Towhee was singing enthusiastically just below me.  I sat and had lunch for about half an hour but magical birds just didn't materialize.

Pacific Rattlesnake
It was getting late and I had things to do back in the valley, so I hustled down the trail.  I had thought earlier that it was snake season, but you're never really prepared for a big viper in the middle of the trail.  Hustling downhill on a nicely groomed trail, I startled this dude as much as he did me.  Thankfully my subconscious brain instantly knows what to do when a rattler starts buzzing and I screeched to a halt 20 feet or so before him.  After a few photos I backed way off to let him slither off the trail.  No such luck...  He told me it was his trail and if I wanted to continue I would have to go around.  The trouble was the trail was cut into the side of a steep hill and going around wasn't trivial.  I finally found a route below him and worked my way back to the trail.  He was still in the middle of the path giving me "the eye."

Overall it was a very enjoyable day with over 30 species seen and 14 miles hiked.

Bird lists:

Hiking track:

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