Guest Post: Andrew Belt This Summer at Fish Springs NWR, UT

For two and a half months, I had been working at a relatively remote National Wildlife Refuge in Utah known as Fish Springs. Established in 1959, the refuge encompasses 10,000 acres of spring-fed wetlands but totals to nearly 18,000 acres. Being over three hours away from Salt Lake City, not too many people visit Fish Springs, but the birding opportunities there are remarkable.

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American Avocets

How remote is Fish Springs? The nearest town, Delta, is at least an hour and a half drive on gravel and dirt roads. During this time, I had gotten to know the refuge’s extraordinary beauty. Within the Great Basin Desert, this is an oasis for more than 298 species of birds as well other wildlife seen on the refuge. Therefore, the refuge requires extensive monitoring and careful planning to ensure that this continues to be a haven for wildlife.

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Black-crowned Night-Heron

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Common Nighthawk

As part of my internship, the majority of my time involved spraying noxious weeds (i.e., perennial pepperweed and spotted knapweed), but I had been occupied with fieldwork, too. Once a week, I conducted evening surveys, with the focus on snowy plovers. As an important stopover site, Fish Springs has one percent of the Pacific Coast western snowy plover population, which breed here annually. Besides snowy plovers, I also surveyed other resources of concern, including American Avocets, White-faced Ibises, Long-billed Curlews, American Bitterns, and Virginia Rails, whose numbers will help influence future management decisions.

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Clark’s Grebe

For the last three weeks of my time there, I had been conducting sub-aquatic vegetation (SAV) surveys as part of a larger study for 2015 involving eight other refuges. Along with two other people, we sampled a select number of sites within five different refuge units and analyzed the composition of those sites, such as canopy cover percentage, depth, and temperature. This data will also help with the habitat management plan for managing waterfowl and other migratory species that utilize those important food resources, such as sago pondweed, muskgrass, and widgeon grass.

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Snowy Plover

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Western Grebe

I enjoyed my time out there, but I missed being back home in Indiana. Now that I’m home, I miss the views of the sun rising and setting over the mountains and seeing every star in the night sky. Being in Utah gave me a great perspective on life, and I hope that these memories will last a lifetime.

Andrew Belt
School of Public and Environmental Affairs
Indiana University, 2015

abelt@umail.iu.edu

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An Oasis in the Bean Fields

Before I get to the Oasis, I’d like to ask you a few questions.

1. What is the ratio to finding decent shorebird habitat and the proximity of the nearest road or parking spot?

An extremely unofficial poll of 1 puts it at 92.3%.  And if I read IN-Bird correctly it appears that the best shorebird habitat at Goose Pond is always a one mile walk. No more. No less. Doesn’t matter which pond or season, it’s always a mile in and out. Through vegetation thick vegetation of course.

2. Why are the best looking shorebird spots always along the Interstate so that you don’t dare stop for fear of being rundown? 

You know of what I speak. You are traveling down Interstate XX (you fill in the Interstate numbers, 65 for me) and see this great looking flooded field and even at 70MPH+ you see a couple of hundred shorebirds but you don’t dare stop.  So you get off the next exit but there is never any access from the country roads.

3. So now you finally find a decent flooded field along a two-lane road. But there is no shoulder or parking spot. 

And the only turn-off is a mile away. In either direction.  And of course the road is so busy you don’t stop for even two seconds or you will get rear ended.

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See the water just left of the road a few hundred yards ahead? The road has no shoulders or anywhere to park? Yes, I identified some Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers in my 10 seconds of stopping on the road. East of Franklin 8/1/15

And that pretty well sums up my experience on shorebirding habitat in the Midwest.

But even with that being my track record I haven’t given up.  After all the rain in June and July I have spent most of my bird outings criss-crossing the rural landscape in hopes of finding a new shorebird spot.

So it was with great joy and excitement that I found an Oasis east of Whiteland. I could almost hear the music in my ears when I drove by, kind of like the movies where the heroes are lost in the desert and they only have enough energy left to climb one more sand dune and when they reach the top there is the Oasis.

The only difference is that I didn’t weep like our heroes always do.  Now if it ended up not containing shorebirds I might have wept. But luckily for you it did.

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The Oasis.

What I didn’t say and you can’t see is that there is a two-lane road between the Oasis and me. Big Trucks like to drive down it.  Even on Sunday morning. That is a negative. But this Oasis has a farm lane directly across which makes scoping easy. A bigger positive.

I haven’t seen anything rare at the Oasis but most of the usual shorebirds have been seen.  Just good to have another option.

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A Solitary Sandpiper trying to hide in the foliage. This wasn’t from the Oasis but from one of the my other wet spots before it dried up. Greenwood Retaining Ponds – 8/1/15

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I’m not sure that these Killdeer know which way they want to go. East of Whiteland – 8/15/15

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One of 30 or so Least Sandpipers at the Oasis. East of Whiteland 8/15/15

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If you look close you can see a Semipalmated Plover in the center of the photo that I missed on my first scan of the area. A different wet area – across from Franklin Township Park. 8/15/15

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A closer photo of the Semipalmated Plover showing it’s orange and black bill. Across from Franklin Township Park. 8/15/15

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Somewhat of a surprise, a Sora. I don’t usually see them in Johnson County and especially in August. Another wet area that I check regularly – Franklin High School 8/22/15

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The Oasis also had other species – Tree Swallows for one. It was odd to see them there unless they were migrating. I usually find them around ponds with snags. East of Whiteland 8/15/15

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A rare sight in Johnson County – a Great Egret. I guess I know a few more wet areas than I let on. Yet another wet area that dried up the first week of the month. South of Franklin – 8/1/15

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And Double-crested Cormorants are hard to come by in Johnson County away from the very small area that the White River cuts across the NW corner of the county. Atterbury FWA – 8/22/15

And I still need to tell the story about the how shorebirding can end you up in the hospital.

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Colorado National Monument – Again

Time to wrap up the Colorado trip.  This post and one more should do it.

After birding the Grand Junction area for 4 days I planned to spend the last full day in the area walking/hiking and see if I had actually learned some of the western birds without having to stop and think about it. I decided to head back to Colorado National Monument and hike up No Thoroughfare Canyon to the first waterfall. It would be one mile up a ravine/creek bed and take a few hours. Plus hopefully see a few birds on the way.

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The typical view hiking up No Thoroughfare Canyon. Colorado National Monument 6/24/15

The habitat wouldn’t vary much and it ended up not being real birdy, but I had a nice hike.

Gambel’s Quails were calling to start the day again. Along with Mourning Doves cooing. And for the fifth straight day I think Black-throated Sparrows were the first birds to come and check me out. Plus the rabbits were all over the place. (Unlike Rabbitt Valley)

Plumbeous Vireos were the most numerous bird going up the trail with a pair in about every cluster of Cottonwood trees. eBird even made me confirm the quantity – 8.

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Even better looks of Plumbeous Vireo than I had a few days before. Colorado National Monument 6/24/15

One of the neater things on the trail was a rock outcropping that must have had White-throated Swifts nesting. They were constantly flying in and out of the rocks. Perched at the base if the rocks were some juvenile Red-tailed Hawks that called the whole time I was walking by.

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What Colorado National Monument is known for – rock croppings. 6/24/15

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If you look close you can see 3 White-throated Swifts flying around the rocks. Colorado National Monument 6/24/15

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This photo is out of reach of my camera but I wanted pictures for the trip. Two Red-tailed Hawks that called the whole time. Colorado National Monument 6/24/15

A little farther past the outcropping I heard a distant caw. At first I thought it was Common Ravens since they had been flying around earlier. But the closer the noise got I could tell they were Pinyon Jays! After not getting good looks the day before I was hoping they would stay out in the open in the narrow ravine. Finally a group of three came down the side of the cliff and one actually stayed out in the open while the other two hid.

So I finally got good looks at a Pinyon Jay.

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A Pinyon Jay that actually stayed out in the open long enough for a photo and then good looks. Colorado National Monument 6/24/15

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Can you tell what this bird is on a ROCK?                     Right were it supposed to be.               Wait for it…… A Rock Wren.          Colorado National Monument 6/24/15

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Nothing like trying to ID an empid in a different setting. Pretty sure it was a Gray Flycatcher. It is awful gray. At least it stayed out in the open and even called once. Colorado National Monument 6/24/15

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Believe it or not only one of two Black-billed Magpies I saw on the trip. And not very good looks at that. Colorado National Monument 6/24/15

I finally reached the waterfall, which turned out not to be a waterfall in the dry season. But I ran into a park volunteer who said the next waterfall was about another mile.  I hadn’t planned going that far and hadn’t brought enough water. But he brought plenty of extra water in his backpack for people that went up the trail in sandals, no sunscreen, and with no water. So he gave me a bottle and I carried on. I really didn’t expect more birds but felt like hiking.

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The first waterfall. Not impressive in the dry season. Colorado National Monument 6/24/15

The walk to the second waterfall was about the same walk as to the first.  Except the ravine narrowed and there were even less birds as the day heated up.  But I ran into another hiker who said that his buddy was hiking in from the backside to meet him. This was also government land and was higher elevation.  I ran into him later and he never did meet up with his friend.  Listening to him I think the guy was lost.

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No clue what species of squirrel, but he looked to be in charge perched up on the rock. Colorado National Monument 6/24/15

 

The hike back down was uneventful.  It was late morning so I decided to try the higher elevation outside of the park. I am glad I did because I finally came across a Juniper Titmouse. A bird I really shouldn’t have missed on the trip.

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My one and only encounter with a Juniper Titmouse. And imagine, in a Juniper Tree. Not to knock it, but have you ever seen such a plain looking bird? No wonder it was called Plain Titmouse before it was split with the Oak Titmouse. Little Park Road, CO 6/24/15

With a rare storm approaching and not wanting to get caught up on the ridge, I called it a day.

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It doesn’t look ominous but that is a pretty good thunderstorm heading my way. Little Park Road, CO  6/24/15

 

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An August Dickcissel

Now a Dickcissel in August doesn’t sound that exciting for someone living in Central Indiana. But in North Central Illinois in August it can be hard to find.

As I recalled in a November 2013 post that in late July 2012 I decided to bird everyday in August 2012 and to see how many more birds I would see than my normal August birding. I knew from past experience that I would probably need to see Sedge Wren and Dickcissel the first week.

I started the month by birding the places that both species had been in July. Sedge Wrens were still holding on at the same spot at Matthiessen SP, but Dickcissel were notably silent at Matthiessen, a spot they were usually reliable year after year and had been in July.  So I checked a couple of other reliable spots. Same thing, quiet.  And it was like that for the rest of the month.  The Sedge Wrens though hung on until mid-August.

I am not sure what was different that year.  I was out every day in prime habitat.  And in previous years they would hang on until mid-August. Another one of those bird mysteries.

So now anytime I see a Dickcissel in August I always think back to the summer of 2012.

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A distant photo of a local Dickcissel this August. Greenwood Loop 8/9/15

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A much better photo of a female Dickcissel from Matthiessen SP IL. 6/19/10

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And a singing male – McCune Sand Prairie, Bureau County, IL 6/24/12

And a few more photos from Driftwood SWA a week ago.

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There were several Baltimore Orioles out early at Driftwood SWA. 8/8/15

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A Cedar Waxwing checking things out. I stood by this tree for a while and had several birds fly in to get their picture. One of them must have passed the word around. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15

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Eastern Kingbird. Same tree. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15

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Gray Catbird. Ditto.

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Probably the bird of the day. I first heard and then saw 3 Red-headed Woodpeckers including 2 juveniles. Including this one. This is only the second time I have seen Red-headed Woodpeckers at Driftwood. 8/8/15

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A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher playing peek-a-boo. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15

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And here is more typical view. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15

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A Brown Thrasher watching me but I don’t think he knows I see him. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15

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And one of those surreal moments when I’m just standing watching things and a Great Blue Heron lands in a tree about 20 feet away. I slowly walked away after a while and it didn’t fly away. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15

 

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Rabbit Valley CO should be named Lark Sparrow Valley CO

Birding Rabbit Valley was exciting in a different way than the previous Western Colorado habitats. I had never birded a strictly semi-arid environment so the birding would be different than the other days.

I left the motel at 5AM to be at Rabbit Valley by 5:30, a 25 minute drive almost to the Utah border, to listen for Common Poorwill and Common Nighthawk.  The area is a typical sagebrush area with sparse pinyon and junipers mixed in with the sagebrush. It was as quiet as previous days so I should have heard either species if they had been calling.  But no luck. The noise from I-70 could easily be heard, making the day a little different from other days with the constant backdrop of semis.  But it felt good being out early.

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A view to the east from the entrance of Rabbit Valley.

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Right after sunrise, the view to the Southwest. Not many birds calling.

At dawn around the north entrance there wasn’t much happening except Rock Wrens, Lark Sparrows, and Black-throated Sparrows. So I drove several miles along the north boundary road. Nothing. So I decided to tun around and head back.

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One of the few birds calling at dawn, a distant Rock Wren. Not on a rock though.

I finally saw a red finch that I hoped might be a Cassin’s Finch. I stopped to check it out and it turned out to be a House Finch and it’s flock.  But the stop proved very productive as I then heard several other birds.  I’m not sure if it was the geographic location, or that the day was finally getting into full swing, or my presence, but the few birds that were there started calling.   So I stayed and birded the area for several hours with good results.

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The valley should be called Lark Valley instead of Rabbit Valley. The Lark Sparrows greatly outnumbered the rabbits.

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I guess when there are few objects to perch on, you had better share with other species. Black-throated and Lark Sparrows.

The area had more Rock Wren and Black-throated Sparrows plus many more Lark Sparrows.  While watching these species I heard a raucous “caw” down the road.  Took me a minute but it dawned on me that it was Pinyon Jays heading my way.  One of the few birds I really wanted to see on the trip.  So I then proceeded to spend probably an hour chasing them around the dry, arid, sagebrush area.  They would fly from bush to bush, never giving good looks, and never coming out in the open except to fly.  But I did get a few looks and in the chase saw several other species.

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This is about as good of looks as I got of Pinyon Jays. Luckily that would change the next day.

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A Common Raven came to check out all the noise that the Pinyon Jays were making.

A Gray Vireo started calling from the top of a bush giving good looks.  Then Sagebrush Sparrow, Sage Thrasher, Say’s Phoebe, and an Ash-throated Flycatcher all appeared at one time or another. And the Lark Sparrows were still thick.

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Probably my favorite photo from the trip. This Ash-throated Flycatcher was perched nearby while I chased the jays.

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A few from one of the small hills I was going up and over following the Pinyon Jays.

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Another Lark Sparrow. I told you they were abundant.

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A Western Meadowlark was checking me out as I left the park.

Unlike the previous days I wasn’t at altitude and the day started to warm up quickly. And there was no wind.  Hindsight says I should have walked to Rabbit Canyon and spent the day birding in the shade of the canyon. But it would have been a good walk in the hot sun to get to the canyon since it wasn’t accessible by car, 4WD only.

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Here is a typical route back to Rabbit Valley. I don’t think the rental car would traverse it very well.

So I headed across to the Interstate to Brewster Ridge were Scott’s Orioles sometimes nest.

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This is the view from Rabbit Valley looking up at Brewster’s Ridge to the Northwest. You can see the road cut into the side of the hill on the right side of the photo.

The day was not “officially” hot and there wasn’t anything on Brewster’s Ridge except Black-throated Sparrows.  I got out and walked for a half hour and didn’t hear anything else.

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Now on top of Brewster’s Ridge. Not much here…

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If the reports of Scott’s Orioles nesting in these Junipers were true, which I doubted at the time, they would have to wait until another time.

I then stopped by a local lake that might have birds.  Nothing there. And lastly went by a local wetland that had Prairie Dogs.

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This guy really didn’t like me be there. He “barked” the whole time I was around.

I then called it an early day at 2PM to go back and catch up on my notes.

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Riding the High Country – Uncompahgre Plateau

As with many things in life the best things turn out much better than you think they will. After reading about the Uncompahgre (Un-com-pah-gray) Plateau in the Colorado County Birding Guide, I was a little apprehensive about going up on the plateau by myself. Especially in a car. Reading the guide made it sound like unless you were well prepared, you might not come back down off the plateau.  But far and away this turned out to be the best day of the trip.

In my case, and with apologies to Sam Peckinpah, Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, I spent the day Driving the High Country.

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The view from just outside Grand Junction. Up there, somewhere, is the plateau.

But the guide wasn’t entirely incorrect.  You can get by easily on a nice, dry day.  But you had better come prepared because there are no stores or facilities.  The drive is 50 miles of gravel road on government owned land.  On the day I saw zero other cars. None.  My rental was the only car on the plateau. Everyone else was in pickup trucks or SUV’s. And I bet I could count on three hands (less than 15) the total number of other vehicles I saw on the whole day.  So the plateau was mine to bird.

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This is a typical scene on top of the plateau. Just the gravel road and nature.

The plateau is situated SW of Grand Junction.  To get to the top you have to make several switchbacks up a gravel road going from 5000 to around 9500 feet.  Learning from my stop at Loveland Pass I stopped 3 times and birded each stop for 10-15 minutes on the way up. Each time I was a little dizzy but it soon faded.  I would walk slowly and bird and it seemed to work out.

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Looking back on the switchbacks from a higher point.

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The view back to the road I took to get plateau. And I’m not even half way up yet.

At one of the stops I saw a Black-throated Gray Warbler along the side of the road. My only other previous encounter was a fleeting glance several years ago in Oregon. So this was treat.

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A Black-throated Gray Warbler in the pines at the first stop up.

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There were numerous Chipping Sparrows at the mid-altitudes.

I also had my only encounter with Mountain Chickadees on the way up. I could immediately tell they weren’t Black-capped from their raspier call.  I also had a bird that I thought was a Western Tanager calling but never got a look.  So it will stay off the personal list.

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The Mountain Chickadees never were visible from the non-sun side of the road, hence the lousy photo.

And just like that I was at the top of the plateau and I could tell I was somewhere different. It was like going from Indiana to Northern Michigan or Minnesota.  The sun just didn’t seem right and the air felt different. The temperature was at least 20 degrees F less than the Grand Valley below (which still meant it was 80F in the afternoon). And it felt great.

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The entrance to the Uncompahgre Plateau had the usual warnings and maps.

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The view of the grasslands at the lower level of the plateau. I would continue to climb the rest of the day reaching 9500′.

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It must have been Mountain Bluebirds day to greet visitors at the entrance.

The Divide Road runs the center of the plateau and goes 40 miles before you can take a side road and descend back to the valley.  Here is a link to a short video on YouTube that a motorcycle rider made “A ride atop the Uncompahgre Plateau“.  So the plan was to bird the road for the day and get home late afternoon. With the great habitats I only made it 13 miles. I then had to turn around and come back the way I came.  But it was a great 13 miles of varied habitat.  From Alpine Meadows to Ponderosa Pines to Aspen Forests and everything in between.

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Another typical scene looking at the Divide Road.

So I spent the day traveling a little bit at a time, parking along side the road, and birding an area for a while. All the while trying to make sure I stopped at the different habitats.

Once I stopped to view the only map posted along the road.  While viewing the map my phone chimed I had a message.  That startled me in the quiet of the plateau. I had checked earlier and didn’t have service in this remote spot. But I had it there and 4 bars to boot! I never did figure out how I had service out there. I guess you can never get truly away.

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At a certain altitude Green-tailed Towhees were the most numerous bird. They could be heard calling all along the road.

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An American Kestrel hunting a mountain meadow.

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The snow capped mountains were always preset to the west.

Probably the best part of the day was the last stop. I parked the car by an Aspen Grove and hard a distant “caw caw”.  I knew I had heard it on the tapes I had listened too so I went into the grove to check it out. I saw a distant gray bird that kept moving. I figured it was the bird that was calling.  As I got further and further into the glade I saw a flycatcher  who actually stopped long enough for photos.

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A blurry photo of a Dusky Flycatcher sitting in an Aspen Glade.

And the other bird kept calling.  And then something rose up out of the tall grass and scarred the ##?? !! out of me. As I was walking quickly the other way it dawned on me that it was a fawn.  And then I about stepped on its sibling. I should have got a photo but I figured Mom was around and I didn’t want to meet her. And of course then the Caw Caw bird came out in the open. A Clark’s Nutcracker!  And the battery in the camera then went dead and the backup battery was in the car a few hundred feet away.  Oh well.

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The view of a distant Grand Junction on the way back down at the end of the day.

 

 

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High Water and Forest Damage – The Last Saturday of the IAS Summer Bird Count

My plan for the last Saturday in July, which was the last Saturday for the Indiana Audubon Summer Bird Count, was like the first weekend in June – visit as many habitats as possible. The difference as opposed to the first weekend in June was that the few birds that would be calling would probably be done by 10AM. And they were. So I was hoping for shorebirds to observe after 10.

I was out by 5AM in search of Eastern Screech-Owls but only found a pickup with a boat in the parking lot about 50 yards from my best spot at Atterbury FWA. With its motor running and lights on.  Why would someone be in a parking lot an hour and half before sunrise with a big boat by a pond that I wouldn’t even bother to canoe?  Who knows.

Anyway after missing the screech-owl I headed to the Great Horned Owl location and they began calling on cue about a half hour before sunrise.  But I missed Barred Owl again. I have only heard one this year as opposed to six by this time the last two years. Maybe I just need to get out more?

The next hour and half around Atterbury/Johnson County Park was productive. I observed not one but four Belted Kingfishers, a bird I had missed on the count so far.  It was also cool to watch Tree Swallows chase them around, a behavior I had never witnessed.

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One of two female Belted Kingfishers that was being chased by Tree Swallows. But I’m not sure who started the chase.

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A Common Grackle watching the chase around the trees.

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I’ll let you guess on the top bird way across the lake. Use the process of elimination of the tagged species at the end of the article for the answer.

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A female Rose-breasted Grosbeak that was in the same area as 3 males that kept flying around.

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One of the males landed long enough for a quick photo.

As others have noted swallows were gathering with a large group of Purple Martins at one of the small lakes at Atterbury. I was also glad to see a Spotted Sandpiper fly over since I had missed them because of the high water in the county.  And today the water was even higher. Driftwood SFA was the highest I have ever seen it, with no boats on the water when I checked.  The Big Blue River was also very high. And all the usual shorebirds spots were either flooded or so full of weeds that no shorebirds would land there.

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Purple Martins were numerous on the day, as were most swallows.

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A tree full of Purple Martins. They must be moving since I had never seen them in this location before.

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An Eastern Phoebe doing a 180 look. Not sure but I didn’t see anything in that direction.

Atterbury also showed the effects of the recent storms with trees down in many places. You could see were the DNR had cut many trees that had falling across the road. After Atterbury I headed to Laura Hare Preserve and the situation was even worse. If I hadn’t been to the preserve previously I’m not sure I could have picked up the trail in several spots. Trees were down everywhere and the trail was washed out in a couple of spots.  And the birding was slow as it approached the 10AM hour.

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Some of the damage at Laura Hare Preserve. You can’t even tell the trail veers to the left.

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One of the smaller trees that was laying across the path.

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And part of the trail was washed out by the lake.

I stopped by the south side of Atterbury and Johnson County Park on my way back from Laura Hare. While there I had all three raptors on the day – Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and Turkey Vulture – while sitting on a picnic table getting a drink and watching meadowlarks.  The JCP Bell’s Vireo was still calling and a Yellow-breasted Chat came out to see who was around.

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A Yellow-breasted Chat popped out to see who was in this far corner of the park.

So I ended the summer count with 88 species, the first time I hadn’t broke 100 in the three years I have participated. But I didn’t get to Laura Hare in early June and that is needed for 5 or so breeding warblers. Plus no shorebirds this year. Which usually is another 5 or so. And I missed a week going to Colorado and another week to cataract surgery. Cataract Surgery is something I should blog about but I’m waiting to see how it improves my birding. So far it has been great.

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The local Red-tailed Hawk sitting in the tree behind our condo. Its mate is usually there but not on this day.

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And the local Northern Mockingbird. Recently I have heard it calling as late as midnight and as early as 5AM. Does it ever sleep? Does it call in its sleep? Does it ever stop?

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And Now for Something Completely Different – Lake Birding in an Arid World

After wrapping up at Colorado National Monument I had the choice to either try for cooler (as in temperature) birds at elevation or spend the afternoon at the only large lake in the area. Since a breeze had picked up I figured it wouldn’t be so warm around the lake. I was kinda right.

It took about an hour to get to Fruitgrowers Reservoir outside Delta, CO.  I know I said I didn’t want to drive that much but not really many options if I was going to beat the heat. The lake tuned out to be good-sized with absolutely no people around.  None. Just like the morning it was quiet but in a different way.

Then I read a sign that explained why. There was to be no water contact by people – no swimming, no fishing, no boating.  The lake has a high level of phosphorous pollution and from reading on the internet it has for some time.  So why is safe for birds? I don’t know.

But even though it was polluted and it was quiet, there were birds. The lakes’ north end had a road that cut off the lake from a low area that was a large cattail marsh.  So I walked the road observing grebes, pelicans, and gulls to one side and blackbirds, coots, and herons on the other side.

The road had very little traffic and it made for a wonderful afternoon. Even in 100F temperature!

And it reminded me of when we lived in Illinois.  I have written how I would go to LaSalle Lake almost every summer afternoon and watch the gulls. Often in 90F or higher heat. So this brought back pleasant memories and reminded me how much I like the heat.

Seriously.

And just like those Sunday afternoons of searching through all the Ring-billed Gulls for Laughing Gulls or searching the Caspian Terns for a Royal and usually coming up short, I never could turn a Western Grebe into a Clark’s.

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Fruitgrowers Reservoir looking from the road over the lake.

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Looking SE at a group of American White Pelicans in the distance.

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The view to the north over the marsh area adjacent to the road.

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Western Grebe and family. How do they choose which young one gets to ride on Mom? First come? First serve?

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So I guess I did get a closer photo of a Black-chinned Hummingbird.

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I initially thought the 5 gulls hanging around were Ring-billed Gulls but after a closer I’m pretty sure they are California Gulls. I did not spend a lot of time studying them with all the other species around.

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I had the best views of my life of Yellow-headed Blackbirds. There were numerous male and females flying around. The males did not appreciated me and kept giving their strange call.

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Definitely the best looks of female Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

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More babies. There were a couple of American Coots around and this one came out with her red-headed young.

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And at the end of the road the American White Pelicans were feeding in a small pool surrounded by Great Blue Herons. I never did see any shorebirds even though there was good habitat.

And reaching the end of the road and being out for more than several hours in the heat it was time to head back.

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Colorado National Monument – Quiet, Very Quiet

 And I don’t mean a lack of birds.

You know one of the reasons I don’t particularly like urban birding is that there is always noise in the background. Always.  That is why I go to Atterbury FWA. Usually before 10AM the gun range isn’t open and the National Guard isn’t in full swing yet. So most times it is relatively quiet on a Saturday morning. I can actually hear the birds without the sound of man-made noise in the background.

But Colorado National Monument at dawn on a Sunday morning was quiet.  Real quiet. For someone who lives in Indianapolis and not that far from I-65, it was eerie quiet.

And the quiet was GREAT!

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Here is the view heading to Colorado National Monument from the south entrance at dawn. Not much happening…

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And the general area I would be birding in the early morning. There are more birds out there than what I initially thought.

At first all I could hear were Gambel’s Quail giving their “ka-KAA-ka” call. No cars. No people. No machines.  It was a great way to start the trip.

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After hearing Gambel’s Quails calling I finally spotted this male in a nearby bush.

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Here he is calling. You gotta dig the black topknot and the other vibrant colors.

I picked Colorado National Monument for the first day since it was close to Grand Junction and after driving 5 hours the day before I wanted to stay close to town. So as was to be the norm for the trip I was up by 5, made the days PB&J sandwiches, and was out the door to meet the dawn a little before 6. And the quiet.

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One of the first birds that checked me out was this Black-throated Sparrow. After Western Meadowlarks I think this might have been the most numerous species I saw in the trip. Check out the tail pattern.

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In for a closer look. He appears to be grumpy.

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The Ash-throated Flyctcher is similar to the Eastern Great Crested Flycatcher but the call wasn’t quite as similar as I thought it would be.

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Here’s a closer view of the area I was birding – mainly Juniper and scrub.

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The Western counterpart to the Ruby-throated Hummingbird – a male Black-chinned Hummingbird. This was about as close as they would get.

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The rabbits were even tamer than back home. Several times they ran right over my boots.

So here are some of the Western species I observed if not photographed for the first part of the morning – Ash-throated Flycatcher, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Black-throated Sparrow, Bushtit, Canyon Wren, Common Raven, Gambel’s Quail, Lesser Goldfinch, Say’s Phoebe, and Spotted Towhee.

I then decided to be SUPERMAN and make the climb into Ute Canyon figuring there would be a different variety of birds. It was already approaching 90F and clear.  A good day for a hike. And I only ended up seeing Plumbous Vireo and Virginia’s Warbler.

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This is a view of the trail down to Ute Canyon from an angle a little farther up the rim road. Can you see the switchbacks?

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I have outlined the switchbacks to show the trail I took down.

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And here is the view from the bottom of the canyon. Doesn’t look so bad from this angle. On the way up I walked 2 minutes and rested 2 minutes.  I finally got back up.

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The satellite view of Ute Canyon with the area I descended highlighted. Now if I would have seen this before I climbed down, would I have gone?

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The topographic map of the canyon. It’s only 400-500 feet down. It sure looked like more coming up…

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Remember in the spring when I posted about getting lucky? It was about a good photo I got of a Blue-headed Vireo that I was lucky to get. Here is the link – http://bushwhackingbirder.com/general/just-plain-lucky/ And as you can see I didn’t get a good photo of its western cousin – Plumbous Vireo. It was in a Cottonwood Tree at the bottom of the canyon.

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One of several lizards I saw on the trip. My daughter informs me this is probably a Six-lined Racerunner.

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The view of the east side of the canyon. A little steeper…

The rest of Colorado National Monument was quiet.  And this time I mean birds.  I took a few scenic photos and headed out around noon.

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A view of the Grand Valley taken from the top of Colorado National Monument.

It was time to head somewhere cooler to bird.

 

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Colorado – Loveland Pass- Beautiful but Forget it!

I am including this post for a couple of reasons.

1.  Unless you don’t have a problem with altitude, or have already adjusted to altitude, don’t attempt to stop and look for birds at 12,000 feet.  It is foolhardy since you will spend all your time adjusting to the altitude and not looking for birds.  Spend your time at that altitude taking in the scenery and get the heck back down to a lower altitude.

2. The odds of you finding birds – say a White-tailed Ptarmigan – is slim to none anyway.  So don’t make yourself sick unless you have adjusted to altitude.

So there you have my 45 minute stop at Loveland Pass – 11,990 feet above sea level.  On my trip from Denver to Grand Junction I thought I would stop, take an hour, and look for the White-tailed Ptarmigan that had been reported.

I had been told that drinking water would counter some of the effects of altitude.  So I had been drinking water all day.  Plus chewing gum which always helps lesson the effect of altitude change. But immediately getting out of the car I thought I was going to fall down. So I stood for a few minutes and held the car. A few minutes later I felt better and since I was there, I might as well take a short walk.  I made it a few feet and grabbed the back end of a sports car.  Luckily no alarms went off.  A few minutes later I could walk fairly normal, abet at a slow pace.

So I spent the rest of the time taken short walks, taking pictures, and listening to one distant bird. Then I figured it was time to get down off this mountain.

I would like to hear if you have had problems like this at altitude.

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Looking back north above the tree line.

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Not much growing up here for birds to eat.

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Except of course dandelions.

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On the trail leading to the summit, a White-tailed Ptarmigan had been reported the week before. I thought about trying for about 2 seconds.

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The only bird I heard or saw. Looks sort of like a Song Sparrow but didn’t sound like one. Ideas?

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And I couldn’t wait to get back down to I-70, shown in the distance. The famed Eisenhower Tunnel is just to the left.

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