Thursday, March 24, 2016

Mill Creek - Sierra Newts!

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Bird Lists:

Mill Creek Canyon
Conifers at 5,800 feet elevation

Mill Creek Canyon
After two days indoors hiding from the wind and finishing resupply boxes, we were off to the Kern Canyon again with the intent to get a good training hike and see a special amphibian - the Sierra Newt. Mill Creek is well know as a great place to see this red salamander. The passage of a weather front made for a cold morning so when we got to the four creek crossings in the lower canyon we were not surprised there were no newts to be seen. We would have to wait for the return trip in the afternoon.

Mill Creek Canyon has historical roots as a pack trail from Kern Canyon up to Breckenridge Mountain. At some point in the past it was converted to multi-use with some of the trail re-routed to avoid erosion. Unfortunately not all of the trail has the gentle grade necessary to keep wheeled vehicles from creating erosion paths and some of it is in pretty rough shape. Clearly not as good at the trails we saw on the north side of Kern Canyon a couple weeks ago. It was a case of what can (and should) be done when designing trail for multi-use. But that is an argument for another day...

The trail leaves the old Kern Canyon Road near the Mill Creek bridge and gently contours for a couple of miles past several stream crossings before beginning the steep ascent toward Breckenridge. The flowers on this north facing slope were still in great shape. As we moved through the bottom grasslands we saw large stands of popcorn flower, owl's clover, and many others. It was steep as we climbed over 4,000 feet in elevation in just 7 miles. Passing through oak grasslands we reached the beginning of conifers at about 5,800 feet elevation. 

Birding was excellent all day. Spring is happening and the birds are announcing it. The resident Oak Titmice were singing constantly from what seemed like every tree. Orange-crowned Warblers are back as we heard many singing for a mate. And the House Wrens have returned in force, their staccato song accompanied us most of the way up the lower canyon. We had our first Blue-gray Gnatcatchers of the year with a pair foraging in a bush, the male singing his raspy song incessantly. We found one of the locally uncommon Hutton's Vireos as he gave his harsh song note and put us on his location. At the higher elevations we added Mountain Chickadee and Steller's Jay. Over 40 species for the day made for a pretty good outing this early in spring. 

Multi-use Trailhead

White Phacelia

Owl's Clover and Popcorn Flower

Large fields of grass and flowers

Mill Creek Canyon

Sream crossing

California Indian Pink

Owl's Clover and Goldfields

Upper Mill Creek Canyon

Historic Native American acorn grinding holes

Grinding holes


This is an open grazing area, so we had company at times

Canyon view

Yucca flowers are emerging

Large areas of substantial trail erosion

Up toward the top of Breckenridge

Hiking into the conifer zone

Large conifers above 5,800 feet elevation

A winter of decomposition has left this leaf "see-through"

View to the north. Using binoculars we could see the west side of Mount Whitney many miles away

Manzanita in full bloom

Goldfield and Cream Cups

Back down in the canyon bottom it was time to go Newt hunting! At the first downhill stream crossing Susan found one almost immediately. Then another, and another! The little red guys were active in the warm afternoon and we stayed a while to watch and photograph. Susan had seen them before but this was my first time. Very cool!

We finished up the last couple miles walking through gorgeous flowers in lovely afternoon light. 

1 comment:

  1. Another excellent adventure, thanks for taking the time to post it. The Newts were a real bonus, wow!!