Naturalist Journeys, LLC - Small Group Birding and Natural History Tours

Yosemite and Eastern Sierras
National Park Landscape Tours by Naturalist Journeys
September 26 – October 3, 2014

Guide: Greg Smith


Yosemite and Eastern Sierras - Sentinel DomeJoin the top-rated birding and wildlife tour company Naturalist Journeys this fall in California. With expert guide, Greg Smith, discover the spectacular scenery and wildlife of Yosemite National Park and California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains on a guided group tour that provides ample opportunity to hike, watch birds, enjoy photography, and more. Early fall brings color and fewer crowds. It is a great time to delve into the region’s iconic scenery: the mountain domes and escarpments, canyons, and lakes so spectacularly carved by glaciers.

Participants on our guided Yosemite and Eastern Sierra wildlife and nature tour learn while having fun. Marvel at the geology and wildlife of Mammoth Lakes, Mono Lake, and Yosemite National Park, while enjoying nice lodgings and local cuisine. This wildlife and nature tour is designed to capture a wide variety of habitats as we cross California’s magnificent Sierras.

Yosemite and Eastern Sierras - AspensSeptember brings some of finest fall color viewing in the American West during our Yosemite wildlife and nature tour. Autumn displays of golden aspen leaves quivering in the breeze mingle with pine forests and contrast with the stark granite mountain walls. Stream banks are lined with cottonwoods and willows, where a few lingering warblers and migratory songbirds may remain. The Mammoth Lakes area of the Eastern Sierras, with its massive peaks laced by water-carved rugged canyons, is best-viewed when fall color sets off its stunning features.

In the Sierras, with keen eyes of our guide and wildlife and nature tour participants, we should find species such as White-headed and Lewis’ woodpeckers, Mountain Quail, Sooty Grouse, Pine Grosbeaks, Mountain Chickadees, and both Western Scrub and Steller’s jays. At Mono Lake, we enjoy watching the spectacle of thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds feasting on brine shrimp while in nearby sagebrush we may glimpse the rare Greater Sage Grouse, Sage Thrashers and Brewer’s Sparrows.

We spend four days in Yosemite National Park, where we hike at varying elevations, from the alpine down to the valley floor. We marvel at famous geologic wonders. With luck we’ll find American Dippers, Common Mergansers, and Buffleheads along the river. We visit iconic waterfalls, and hike in forests keeping an eye out for Williamson’s Sapsucker, Lawrence’s Goldfinch, and Oak Titmice. We stop at numerous photo lookouts, and spend time above the tree line where we may find rosy-finches, Clark’s Nutcrackers, and migratory raptors.

Yosemite and Eastern Sierras - Mono Lake tufaMono Lake and its briny water are home to tens of thousands of waterfowl as they make their way south from the wildlife refuges we visit in the western part of Nevada. Eared Grebe, Northern Shoveler, and California Gull are mixed in with thousands of phalaropes and other shorebirds. In nearby areas, we can also see great flocks of North America’s heaviest bird, the American White Pelican, along with Sandhill Crane, Golden Eagle, and other species of raptors moving south for the winter. On the east side of California’s Sierras, we also find some Great Basin desert specialties, such as Chuckar and Juniper Titmice.

In summary, take time this fall to experience this iconic part of California; on this popular nature and wildlife tour, we plan to enjoy some great cuisine, fabulous scenery, historical sites, and charming lodgings along with the array of wildlife that call this part of California and Nevada their home. This top-rated wildlife and nature tour can stand alone as a great fall adventure, or can be combined with the California Coast tour immediately following.



Fri., Sept. 26, Arrival in Fresno, CA
Arrive today for our California wildlife and nature tour in Fresno, CA, at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport, serviced by most major airlines. Plan to arrive by 2PM so we can head out to one of the nearby wildlife areas to search for birds of California’s Great Central Valley. Yellow-billed Magpies, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Western Bluebirds are just a few of the species we should find. After checking into our first night’s lodging, we head out to a local bistro for our welcome dinner.
Accommodations at the Hampton Inn, Fresno (D)

Yosemite and Eastern Sierras - Giant SequoiaSat., Sept. 27 Yosemite National Park, Mariposa Giant Sequoias, Sentinel Dome & Glacier Point
This morning we drive into Yosemite National Park where we will hike in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. A hike among these trees is an experience not to be missed! This grove is on a par with those of Sequoia National Park, with some 500 massive trees. Two popular giants have names, the Grizzly Giant and the California Tunnel Tree; by hiking we can reach other unnamed giants.

Yosemite Valley is the finest example of the power of glaciation in North America. Half Dome is a peak that had its northern flank scoured to a depth of over 2700 feet. Different waterfalls cascade over both sides of the valley and a wonderful way to take in the entire vista is to hike to the top Sentinel Dome.

The top of Sentinel Dome provides a 360-degree view of Yosemite. To the west is the Merced River Valley, to the north Yosemite Falls, The east is all about Yosemite Valley, while the south is an extension of the Sierra Nevada. And if those cumulus clouds show up, this is probably the finest photographic site in the park!

Yosemite and Eastern Sierras - Tenaya LakeOne more stop, Glacier Point, before we head to our rooms at the historic Wawona Lodge is not to be outdone for dramatic views. The stunning display of Yosemite Valley proper gives us a preview of the depth, the waterfalls and what we will explore when we stay in the valley later this week. Nevada, Vernal, and Yosemite Falls are all in view from this one Vista Point-another spectacular site for capturing photographs of California’s first state park, later to become Yosemite National Park.

Nestled in the trees on the south side of Yosemite National Park is Wawona Lodge, one of the park lodges, with Victorian-style architecture, listed on the National Historic Register. Large meadows create the impression of a stately manor. After settling in, we enjoy a dinner at the historic Wawona Hotel’s dining room, known for its excellent cuisine.
Accommodations at the Wawona Hotel (B,L,D)

Sun., Sept. 28 Tioga Pass to Eastern Sierra
Yosemite and Eastern Sierras - Yellow-bellied MarmotsThis morning we leave Wawona and drive to the 8500-foot elevation meadow at Tuolumne, one of the most treasured places in Yosemite National Park. This alpine realm was first made famous through essays of John Muir. Our travel up through coniferous forest gives us many opportunities to stop and explore. Enjoy a leisurely hike as we look for Pine Grosbeak, Red Crossbill, and Cassin’s Finch
As we trek the edge of Tuolumne Meadow, Yellow-bellied Marmots can be seen in areas that provide a mix of rock and soil. Uphill, talus slopes provide the perfect refugia for Pika, small members of the rabbit family. Pint-sized haystacks of drying vegetation and their shrill whistle will alert us to their presence.

At this elevation, we explore areas above the tree line. The opportunity to see both Gray- and Black-crowned rosy finches increases with each step into the treeless granite. Both species are seen regularly, but finding where they are actually foraging requires some luck, and some walking. The other resident that makes itself readily seen is a loud and large corvid, the Clark’s Nutcracker.

Yosemite and Eastern Sierras - Methuselah tree in Schulman GroveFrom here, we continue to the Eastern Sierra, a land of colorful aspen and Mono Lake. We will stop often to photograph the splendid views as we drop 2000-feet in elevation.
Accommodations at Creekside Inn in Bishop (B,L)

Mon., Sept. 29 Bishop/Bristlecone Pines
Today is a day to visit some of the oldest trees on earth, the bristlecone pines of the White Mountains.

Bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva & aristata) grow in the White Mountains at elevations from 9,000 to over 11,000 feet. One of the oldest recorded living things on earth, this forest has trees well over 2,000 years old. The "Methuselah" tree in Schulman Grove is aged at more than 4,773 years old. These trees were young and growing during the Stone Age of Europe and the building of the pyramids in Egypt. It really is a challenge to walk among these living ancient ones and know that some of the individual trees we are looking at were thriving when humans were using stone axes.

The oldest trees grow on patches of white dolomite (the White Mountains), a calcareous, low nutrient soil. It is on this alkaline dolomite where you will find the relatively dense stands of bristlecone pine.

We visit two groves before heading back down to Bishop where you have the rest of the afternoon to explore the western town of Bishop. Dinner is at a favorite local restaurant.
Accommodations at the Bishop Creekside Inn (B,L,D)

Tues., Sept. 30 Mono Lake & Bodie State Historic Park
Today we head to the almost eerie and fascinating realm of Mono Lake by a back road today, stopping to watch birds on our way down to the north shore. A saline body of water with no outlet, Mono Lake is an ideal habitat for brine flies and brine shrimp – species that fuel the food chain. Great numbers of Wilson’s Phalaropes are on the lake, along with myriad other shorebirds and Eared Grebes, all taking advantage of this food source during migration. Thousands of California Gulls nested on Negit Island in the middle of the lake and now feed voraciously on the local invertebrates. Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, and Northern Harrier are all on predatory patrol.

Yosemite and Eastern Sierras - Mono Lane pano

We spend the remainder of the morning walking and exploring the lakeshore and tufa mounds and discovering the area’s other hidden geologic features. We will also spend a little time at the Mono Visitor Center to learn more about the area.

Yosemite and Eastern Sierras - Bodie State Historic ParkAfter lunch at an exceptional deli, we head to Bodie State Historic Park. This is the finest example of a ghost town in California. A gold mining boom town from the 1870's, the buildings are preserved in a state of "arrested decay". It’s a photographer’s delight, and birders can also enjoy seeing Chipping Sparrows, Mountain Bluebirds, and other species that frequent the town.

The drive back will take us to one of the side canyons in the Eastern Sierra that are filled with glowing yellow and orange quaking aspen. And, if the timing is right, we will stop at Mono Lake one more time to photograph the sunset's changing colors. Dinner is at your leisure tonight and you can choose from local restaurants.
Accommodations at Bishop Creekside Inn (B,L)

Yosemite and Eastern Sierras - Mono cabinWed., Oct. 1 Aspens & Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park
We start the morning off with a drive up to South Lake, one of the most photogenic sites along the Eastern Sierra. Valley walls are lined with yellow and orange aspens that are bisected with waterfalls and rocky outcroppings. Small lakes are lined with ribbons of color as we use the early morning light to photograph this steep canyon on the west side of Bishop.

We head back to our hotel, pick up our luggage stopping to watch birds on our way before heading north to explore June Lake Loop's four lakes: June, Gull, Silver and Grant Lakes, a photographer's dream. It is guide's choice for which viewpoints we will visit to take advantage of the best photographic opportunities as we head back through Yosemite and down into the valley.

Stops at Olmstead Point, and then Bridalveil Falls and El Capitan in the valley give us different perspectives of what we will explore tomorrow. Dinner works well at small tables tonight at the busy park restaurant, choose a time that works best for you.
Accommodations at The Yosemite Lodge (B,L)

Thurs., Oct. 2 Yosemite National Park
Today begins with a treat, breakfast at the famous Ahwahnee Hotel, one of the gems of the tradition of great lodges in our national parks. The beautiful dining room has splendid views and delicious food.

Yosemite and Eastern Sierras - Yosemite ValleyWe spend the day in the landscape that so inspired John Muir, the Sierra Nevada.
Driving around and above covers one-sixth of California; some of its finest areas are protected in the Yosemite, including the highest peak in the State, Mt. Whitney. Varied habitats at different elevations provide habitat for Yosemite’s more than 300 species of birds. We start the day taking short walks at the parks scenic highlights, and birding the oak-dotted Yosemite Valley floor. The thundering we hear draws us to the base of Yosemite Falls, a treat for all of our senses. These falls as so close to our rooms that at anytime you walk over and experience them in different lighting.

Yosemite and Eastern Sierras – National Park Landscape Toura by Naturalist JourneysDriving around and above the valley, we pass through a striking change in habitat: from maples bright with fall color to the jade green coniferous forest. White-breasted Nuthatch, both White-headed and Lewis’ woodpeckers, and Red-shouldered Hawk give way to the higher elevation species such as Red-breasted Nuthatch, Hairy Woodpecker, Townsend’s Solitaire, and American Kestrel as we climb the valley. We’re likely to get excellent views of Mountain Chickadee after hearing their plaintive calls.

Hikes today will include parts of the Valley loop trail. You will have part of the afternoon to explore Yosemite Village on your own. The Ansel Adams Gallery, Yosemite NP Visitor Center and other interpretive sites are for you to explore. Tonight we share our farewell dinner at the Village Mountain Room.
Accommodations at the Yosemite Lodge (B,L,D)

Yosemite and Eastern Sierras – National Park Landscape Toura by Naturalist Journeys - El CapitanFri., Oct. 3 Departures from Fresno or on to the California Coast guided nature and wildlife tour, a great pairing to see more of California!
After breakfast, those leaving will pack up and head for the airport. We plan to arrive at the airport by 10:30 for departures from Noon (or so) onwards.

Those continuing on the California Coast tour will have a bit of time at the hotel to catch up on laundry or relax before spending the rest of the day in travel, with the destination being Monterey on the spectacular California coast. En route, we will stop at the San José International Airport, serving Silicon Valley, to meet arriving participants. We keep our eyes out for White-tailed Kite and other raptors en route. (B)

Yosemite and Eastern Sierras - Steller's Jay


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Cost of the journey is $2490.00 per person, based on double occupancy from Fresno-Yosemite International Airport, CA (OYS). Single supplement (subject to availability) is $690.00. The tour cost includes: all accommodations; meals as stated in the itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner); group airport transfers; ground transportation; professional guide services; park, preserve, and other activity fees; and miscellaneous program expenses.

Tour price does not include: roundtrip airfare to and from Fresno, and items of a personal nature such as: laundry, porterage, telephone charges, or beverages from the bar. Please note that the cost of the journey is based on 6 participants; with a smaller group there may be a small group surcharge – typically $100-300.

Please arrive at the Fresno-Yosemite International Airport International Airport by 2:00PM on Sept. 26 for our drive to Lake Tahoe. Please plan to depart after NOON, from Fresno, CA on Oct. 3. If you wish to arrive early or stay on in the area, we can help you with hotel recommendations.

Moderate, a combination of birding, short to moderate hikes and sightseeing. Hikes range from 3-7 miles, and some involve a gain in elevation.

Naturalist Journeys, LLC is an equal opportunity service provider and committed to the goal of ensuring equal opportunity for all in employment and program delivery.

Steller's Jay, Peg Abbott; all other photos by Greg Smith.

Naturalist Journeys LLC, a top birding and nature tour company, offers specialty small group travel to many of the best nature destinations worldwide. Naturalist Journeys’ expert guides have decades of experience leading guided nature and birding tours as well as travel photography tours, all with a focus on responsible travel and eco-tourism. Naturalist Journeys also offer Utah hiking adventure tours and adventure travel in national parks and wildlife reserves ranging from in-depth Alaska wildlife tours to guided Texas and Florida birding tours. Costa Rica nature and birding tours are among our top-rated as are our Panama nature tours and African wildlife safari tours. Our many repeat clients enjoy dependable and diverse holidays on Galapagos nature tours, Arctic and Antarctica nature cruises, and birding and wildlife tours from Arizona to the Amazon and beyond.