Why Western Colorado?

First, I would like to start by saying I have a new respect for people who blog on a daily basis.  Especially ones that blog from vacation or trips.  After birding for 11-12 hours every day, I really didn’t feel like writing a post. I kept thinking I would head in early one day after lunch to write, but that didn’t happen. So I didn’t get around to posting as planned. But I kept good written and voice notes to write posts.

Why Western Colorado?

I have been asked this more than a couple of times. To understand just look at a map of the U.S.  Sibley has these types of maps in the front of his guides.  The U.S. is basically broken down into 3 major regions for birds.  The area east of the Rockies, the area between the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada’s/Cascades – The Great Basin, and west of the Sierra Nevada’s/Cascades – Pacific Coast.  Plus there are also the smaller areas of South Florida, South Texas, Southern Arizona, and Alaska.  And Northern Minnesota in the winter should probably added.

Birding Areas
As you can see that Grand Junction(marked with a star) sits on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. FreeWorldMaps.net

I live east of the Rockies and have birded Oregon and Southern California.  That left The Great Basin.  I could have gone to Salt Lake City, Flagstaff, or Las Vegas for example.  But I chose Grand Junction, Colorado, since I could fly from Indianapolis to Denver for $200, rent a car, and be in Grand Junction in 4 hours.  The air fare for any of the other destinations would have been more than the airfare and car from Denver.  Also the area has many state and federal lands of various altitudes which make for good birding.

Why the middle of June?

If you have been reading this blog you’ll remember I went to South Texas last June.  The reason for traveling mid-June is that I try to visit an area at the end of migration but before the local breeders are done calling.  By following that plan I can concentrate on the local breeders without the distraction of migrants. Plus it is usually less expensive in June than in July or August when the rates are usually much higher for “normal” vacationers.


I had two concerns about the trip.

First, the average high temperature in Grand Junction in mid-June is clear and almost 90F.  That didn’t worry me too much since I like dry heat.

Grand junction Weather Averages
Averages from the National Weather Service.

Second, the altitude.  Grand Junction is at 4600 feet and some of the areas I planned to bird were over 9000 feet.  Headaches and dizziness from altitude had me a lot more worried than the heat.

Otherwise I didn’t have any other concerns.  So with the chance to see approximately 40 new species and plenty of new habitat to explore, I headed west.

There are birds on the other side of the Rockies. Looking west from north of the Denver International Airport. 06/20/15

Next installment: First some birding east of the Rockies.

Almost Time For This Year’s Adventure

Wish I had more to write about, but I don’t.  Between sitting in a training class last week or driving to the training class, the creative juices weren’t flowing.

Plus what free time I have is going to learning the birds of Colorado. The western slope of the Rockies to be exact.  I fly out next weekend for 6 days around the Grand Junction area. I plan on trying to make a daily post but that might be a little to ambitious. At that time I’ll go into more detail how I picked that area to see birds of the U.S. “Great Basin”.

NO photos from this weekend.  Along with Mike and Karl we did the annual breeding census on the military side of Camp Atterbury. No cameras allowed on the military base, so no photos.  Karl had done the east side on Friday which is mostly grasslands and had a good count of 35 Henslow’s Sparrows. We did the forested west side and some how came up with the same number of Hooded Warblers, Ovenbirds, and American Redstarts – 17.  The count on the Hooded is the highest ever for this count. With the high temperatures the birds stopped calling early so we didn’t have as good of day as past years.  Oh well.

But here are a few photos from a week ago.

Eastern Phoebe calling insistently above a creek and of course close to a bridge. Atterbury FWA 6/06/15
One and only one guess as to this species. Getting a good look so I can compare it to an Ash-throated Flycatcher next week. Atterbury FWA 6/06/15 (Great Crested Flycatcher)
Same thing here. Taking a long look at an Eastern Towhee so I can compare to a Spotted Towhee next week in Colorado. Atterbury FWA 6/06/15
I heard numerous Yellow-breasted Chats on the day. Most were up and singing on territory. If you can call what they do singing. Atterbury FWA 6/06/15
Same guy as above.
HOSP  FHS 060715A
I always find House Sparrows away from man interesting. But of course they really aren’t away from man because she is standing on a man-made bluebird house. FHS 6/06/15
HOSP  FHS 060715B
And the male house Sparrow wasn’t too far away. FHS 6/06/15
SASP FHS 060615A
There were several male Savannah Sparrows giving me their chip note to keep away. And I wasn’t even that close. I did learn their chip note though, which is a softer one than a Song Sparrow. FHS 6/06/15
SASP FHS 060615
Same bird as above.
YEWA JCP 060615
A Yellow Warbler flew in and decided to take a quick bath. Johnson County Park 6/06/15
NRWS JC 060715
And is there any doubt that the Northern Rough-winged Swallow was the prototype for every movie alien? Look at those eyes. East of Franklin – Johnson County
MIKI 061910
Maybe movie producers used Mississippi Kites instead? Ferne Clyffe SP IL 6/19/10









Loss of Habitat – Vesper Sparrow

I ran the following photo as the front page photo to this blog a few weeks ago.  It is of a Vesper Sparrow that isn’t uncommon but not the easiest species to find in Johnson County.

Vesper Sparrow – Johnson County. 5/8/15

A couple of summers ago on the way to Atterbury FWA I heard it singing.  It was at this location for the rest of the summer. And it came back last year.  And then again earlier this year it was back.  I even went out of my way to count it on the IAS Big May Day Count.

So image my surprise when in late May I saw a sign advertising “2 Acre Lots for Sale” at the very spot the Vesper Sparrow calls home.

A Vesper Sparrow has been reliably found on these wires. I have blocked out the info on the signs but what it said was “2 Acre Lots for Sale”. Johnson County

It’s common for the fields of Indiana to be turned into large residential lots.  But in Illinois I never saw farm land turned into these large single home lots like I see all around Indianapolis and Johnson County.  In Illinois subdivisions of large homes were built but not one house per large tract of land like here. Just seems like a waste of a limited resource.

VESP TERR  052315A
Another view of the field that is going to be homes to people instead of Vesper Sparrows in the near future. Johnson County

Someday man is going to have to deal with land usage. But for now I guess land is seen like oil, an unlimited commodity.

Hopefully next year the Vesper Sparrow will find somewhere near by to nest. Maybe even the same area.  But one has to wonder.

What I Learned the Week of 5/25

Following are several things I learned (or had known, forgot, and learned again) the week of May 25. Hopefully you will learn a few things also.

1. Early Saturday morning I saw a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  I couldn’t tell if she was carrying anything like nesting material. It seemed late in the season to see a Grosbeak, especially a female.  Then later on the day I saw three males.  So did I really know S&D (status and distribution) on Rose-breasted Grosbeaks?  My recollection was that I might see one or two during the summer. But was I mixing up all the years I lived in Illinois?

RBGR Range
The black square are the borders of Johnson County. More or less. Source: xeno-canto

So I checked.  Johnson County is on the southern edge of Rose-breasted Grosbeak’s breeding range which means they will be seen by a few people in Central and Southern Indiana during the breeding season. I have seem a few the last couple of years but the sightings were early June and late July.  So I will keep frequenting the area to see if I can get proof of breeding.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing at Atterbury FWA. 5/30/15
Same bird as above photo.

2.  I came across two male Willow Flycatchers calling.  I wondered if I could use them to track back to a nest?

Nope. According to The Birds of North America Online and I quote “Female selects site, collects nest material, and builds nest while male perches nearby.”

I’m sure there is a joke there describing female-male human relations but I will let it pass.  I will look for a nest the old fashioned way.  Get lucky.

Male Willow Flycatcher. Atterbury FWA 5/30/15


3. Keeping on the nesting topic I learned that both Eastern Towhees and Field Sparrows start the breeding season building their nests on the ground.  The later in the breeding season it gets they tend to build nests higher and higher in bushes.  First starting in lower bush branches and then lastly slightly higher branches.

I watched this Field Sparrow for a length of time but it never did heard back to a nest area. Atterbury FWA 5/30/15

4. Put a pair of dry socks and shoes in the trunk if you are going to walk in high wet grass all morning.

5. I learned that Wood Thrushes do sing out in the open. I don’t think I have ever seen a Wood Thrush singing in the open for any length of time.  Let alone at the top of a taller tree. This guy was singing for at least 20 minutes.  But he never did get out in the sun for a better picture.

Wood Thrush singing from the top of a dead tree. Atterbury FWA 5/30/15


6. In the really “too much information”, The Birds of North America Online has a small section devoted to preening which I have always passed over. But Saturday I had the opportunity to watch a Common Yellowthroat preening and wanted to know what they had to say.

“Preens at all times of day. Normally scratches head with foot over wing, but may (rarely) scratch under wing.”

And I was glad to see that this Common Yellowthroat was normal on his scratching.

If you click on the photo and enlarge, you can see the Common Yellowthroat is using over the foot over wing movement to scratch. Atterbury FWA 5/30/15