Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Livin' is Easy

Our first controlled burn of the season brought a bit of smoke to the park's skies yesterday. Two hundred some acres northwest of Crane Flat, near the Merced Grove trailhead were ignited to add to the mosaic forest mix on the park's western boundary. While many don't care for it, some locals love to see and smell a bit of smoke in the air; it's a normal part of a Sierra summertime, just like snow is a regular element of winter here.
Witnesses observed a sharp-shinned Hawk take a songbird (possibly a redwing) at Bridalveil Meadow on Monday. Tiny baby California quails in El Portal can already take flight. There's still some Clarkia, Lotus and Lupinus in bloom in El Portal; buckeyes fade. Glow worms are alight in certain places there, too. The Valley's cow parsnip is tall and in bloom. The delicious smell of wester azalea is aloft in wet spots in the Valley. Also a-buzz in the Valley now are a terrific quantity of mosquitoes. Lots of standing water has favored their prosperity.

Friday, June 11, 2010

River Recession

After its annual peak a few days ago, the Merced is easing back towards its regular channel, though it's still far higher than usual, still covering some trails. Half Dome cables are being installed next week, quite a bit later than usual.
Yesterday ranger Bob Roney and I watched ravens, Steller's jays and western tanagers all active in the afternoon near where Eagle Creek reaches the Valley floor. Suddenly Bob spots a male mountain quail speeding along the open ground of the Valley floor. I've encountered more of these than usual in the Valley this spring, all near the foot of the walls. Have they been displaced to lower elevation by the heavy snows and the delayed melt higher up? Is it the burned acreage of last summer's fire in Big Meadow that has bumped them in this direction? Is it just us getting out more this spring? It's been nice to be surprised by their querulous "kwerp!?" now and then.
I'll be in other parks for the next couple weeks, so apologize for a temporary hiatus in postings to late June.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Lake Yosemite

The river peaked last night right at 7000 cfs at Pohono gauge, sending just a bit of water into the pullout at Wosky Pond on Northside Drive. The river has actually backed up under the road culverts here, too. The deck of Swinging Bridge didn't quite go under, but the bridge is closed as it is accumulating logs, and the bike trail over to Yosemite Lodge is underwater for its entirety. Cooks Meadow's loop trail is all wet, though the gray trex boardwalk across the upper meadow remains above the flow. The approaches to Superintendent's Bridge are washed over on both sides of the river. There is water just everywhere today, but the ebb has begun. Temps cool a bit and though the river is expected to top 'flood stage' tonight and tomorrow night, it won't be as high. It seems we saw 2010's spring melt high water mark last night.
Big white buckeye blossoms fully emerged in El Portal now. Creek dogwood still shows its very modest flowers in the Valley. Grosbeaks, vireos and tanagers are singing away.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Runoff Election

I don't know that I've ever actually observed so much snow and runoff in all my years here. The Tioga Road opened to cars this weekend and it is impressive to see how much snow lies deep in the high country still. (We could only bike as far as Olmsted Point last weekend.) Lots of skiers were at play near the pass. At the same time, the temperatures rose substantially: mid-60's in Tuolumne Meadows today, low 80's in Yosemite Valley. Considerable portions of the snowpack are melting suddenly and there is running water everywhere. I've never seen the Tioga Road so gushing wet with overflowing snowmelt - wow.
Tuolumne Meadows is perhaps 75% snow, 10% water, and the rest bare ground in sunny spots. Tenaya Lake is still 90% iced over, as is Siesta Lake. Even Gin Flat at just over 7000' is 90% snow-covered. Mist is gusting off of Cascade Falls in amounts just not seen in most years.
The Merced River just tapped 'flood stage' in the early hours today, before subsiding in the normal springtime diurnal cycling. Tonight and tomorrow night it should exceed the 'flood' definition in Yosemite Valley by the better part of a foot, then by just a little early Wednesday a.m., as it starts a late decline in volume. Again, the river is at triple the average flow for this date - exciting!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Overflowing with Mercy

The river swelled to over 5300 cfs at Pohono Bridge last night, more than double the average volume for this date. Our definition of 'flood stage' is about 6500 and it should almost reach that tonight. In the wee hours of Monday morning, it should extend about 700 cfs (=6-8 inches) over 'flood stage.' The boardwalk at Sentinel Meadow (Chapel Straight) went into the drink yesterday. Swinging Bridge is close to getting its deck wet. There's water in unusual places all over, making hiking around the Valley floor a fun challenge and full of discovery. Projections are that the high water will begin to subside after Monday morning's peak. Great time to be a duck (if you're done with nesting...)
There was an issue with an overflowing culvert yesterday, but Tioga Road is open all the way through this morning.
Yosemite Association and Yosemite Fund announced their merger with a big public ceremony at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center yesterday. Many details are still evolving, but the brand new Yosemite Conservancy will surely make good things happen for Yosemite.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

High Water and High Country

The river forecast calls for our Rio Merced to reach 'flood stage' on Saturday night and to hover near there for at least a few days. The diurnal cycling of the snowmelt runoff has the river in Yosemite Valley peak after midnight, then ebb lowest in early afternoon. We noticed this readily today, while watching a peewee flycatch: the trail near El Capitan Bridge was drying out from last night's peaking. At Devil's Elbow and near Middle Brother, the river owns the trailbed.
Tioga Road will open this Saturday morning; it's a good June to be a skier. Backpackers will find reasonable conditions by late July; until then there'll be lots of snow, wet trails and challenging stream crossings.
Mosquitos are biting in Yosemite Valley. Dogwoods starting to fade. More lupine in bloom. Special 3-hour tram tours have started this week, focusing on single subjects in depth: birds, geology, waterfalls, etc.

Happy Isles Specials

Lots of bird activity at the Happy Isles fen yesterday morning. This is the only place I know of where 2-3 Swainson's Thrushes have been seen in the park in several decades. I saw a thrush with a non-Hermit-like call note, but couldn't be more definitive than that. Mountain quail was another nice surprise there. MacGillivray's warblers singing in low alders in handily visible spots.
Michael Ross has two YA birding courses coming up next weekend, one of which will include Happy Isles, the other is going to the hotspot of Foresta.
No word officially on Tioga Road or Half Dome cables.
Our river has swollen again, to over 4400 cfs at Pohono; near tripling in volume over a week. Exciting!