Himalayan Snowcock above Island Lake, Ruby Mountains

I went to Elko, Nevada, on July 29th, 2010, determined to see a Himalayan Snowcock, which hopefully would be # 684 on my list of North American birds.  Upon our arrival late afternoon on the 29th my wife and I hiked the well-marked trail from the parking lot at the end of Lamoille Canyon to the near side of Island Lake.  This was not a good idea. 

Because it was late in the day, from the lakeside, there was neither sight nor sound of a Himalayan Snowcock.  The scenery, however, was breathtaking.  This is one of the nicest, most scenic mountain hiking trails I have ever trod.  The mountains, waterfalls, streams, mountain flowers, birds and little four-footed creatures were all lovely in their own special ways.  The sunset view descending the canyon was stunning.

The next morning, July 30th,  my wife and I hiked the trail again, but more slowly than the evening before.  It took us about an hour and a half from the parking lot to Island Lake.  Initially we experienced the same results as the evening before: no Snowcocks.   We began to wonder if we had arrived too late in the day, again.  It was then about 8:00 a.m. 

We decided to go up higher by hiking around the right side of the lake.  As we were doing this we met a returning birder who told us that he had seen and heard the Snowcocks that morning, high on the cirque above the lake.  We continued onward and upward, scrambling breathlessly over a couple of  ridges without trails, until we arrived at the edge of what we later learned from a couple of young local hikers is called the “Hanging Garden”.  We stopped at the edge of that “bog”, because it was too wet to cross.  We could at this point clearly hear Snowcocks calling high up on the cirque, in what seemed to be several different locations. 

We began the painstaking process of scanning my telescope across the upper reaches of the cirque from whence we believed the calls were concentrated.  Soon, to my great excitement,  a Snowcock came into view in my scope, and both I and my wife were able to observe it very well for several minutes as it slowly pecked its way along the thin and sparse line of vegetation on the steep slope above the blackish part of the vertical wall of the cirque.   My wife, the photographer, was able to see the Snowcock in the scope but she was not able to find it through her camera lens, so we did not get a picture.  We did spot a Mountain Goat, and she was barely able to photograph it.

I was informed that Black Rosy-finches (which would be a life bird) were nesting in the heights above Island Lake, but I was not fortunate enough to find any.  Nor did I spot a Calliope Hummingbird, the other potential life bird that has been seen occasionally in the Canyon.

We enjoyed our banana, cheese and bagel repaste back in the shade at the edge of the lake, birded the area a bit, and then hiked (slowly) back down to the parking area.  We were very happy to have seen our primary target, which can be found nowhere in North America but in the Ruby Mountains.  The Black Rosy-finches and Calliope Hummingbirds will wait for another day in another place. 

A word about the hike:  it is not terribly steep, but if you aren’t in good shape, take it slow.  We are (well, ok, I am) not very physically fit for a trek like this, but we managed to do it twice in two days with no permanent adverse consequences.  The hike to the lake is about 2 miles, and the extension that we took the second day is probably another half mile or so.  At about 10,000 feet, the air is noticeably thin and we needed to pause for breath every now and then on the way up.

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