10000 Foot Turkey Vulture

After running the Western Colorado Douglas Pass BBS route, I headed over to scout the Baxter Pass BBS I planned to run later in the week. The road to the starting point was bad and would be impassable with rain. In May, I had noticed the Uncompahgre Plateau route was vacant so I immediately notified the national and state coordinators saying I would like to run it instead. It all worked out and two days later I found myself up on the Uncompahgre for the second time in four days.  Which lead to the second biggest surprise of the trip, a 10000 Foot Turkey Vulture.

A 10000 Foot Turkey Vulture.
The Baxter Pass Road. I can’t even imagine what it would be like with rain.

The decision to run the Uncompahgre BBS route was a good move since I was familiar with the road and no scouting would be necessary. Plus the great scenery. 

A panoramic view looking west. Mostly Alpine meadows and glades.

As I’ve written in the past the plateau is a high, mountain plateau with an average elevation of 9500 feet. While the temperature in the Valley was 95F, on the plateau they were 75F.

Previously on the plateau the cell service had been spotty. But as I went further along Divide Road it improved, to the point I had no problems.

Halfway through the 25-mile run I found out why cell service was good.
There was just a hint of snow at this elevation.
On a BBS route you record the number of passing vehicles. I had 4 on the day. The same two construction trucks going out and coming back. Otherwise I was alone in the Aspen Glades.
Not exactly true, I had deer, cattle, and birds keeping me company.

So I’m not sure why Turkey Vultures at elevation were a surprise. I know there are Andean Condors at 15,000 feet. Maybe it was the lack of birds in general.

10000 foot Turkey Vulture.
Since I couldn’t linger running the BBS route, on the way back I took the time to watch the Turkey Vultures catching updrafts.

Golden Eagle Still Nemesis

What determine a nemesis bird is probably different for different birders. Most commonly it’s a bird that has been chased several times and missed. In my case though the term nemesis bird means putting myself in the right habitat at the right time and not seeing the bird. And that’s the case with Golden Eagle still nemesis.

I have put myself in the right habitat for different species several times and have had good luck seeing those birds. But not so for the Golden Eagle.

And my recent trip Colorado is no exception. Sort of.

Running the Douglas Pass BBS route north of Grand Junction looked perfect for seeing a Golden Eagle. Even the old BBS route map from the 1980s had Golden Eagle lair written at one stop. So I was quite hopeful I’d finally see one.

Just below Douglas Pass I saw a distant, large raptor flying up onto the mountainside. The bird landed on the wrong side of a tree which restricted visibility. At that distance and vantage point I wasn’t sure if it was an immature Red-tailed Hawk or a larger bird. I wrote down hawk sp.

The unknown raptor landed in the grove of trees below the pass.

The route continued to switch back up the mountain and I got close to where I’d seen the bird. And soon I started hearing the call of a Golden Eagle. But the call was coming from an area outside my visibility.

The BBS route demanded I keep moving. I decided after completing the route I’d stop in the vicinity of the calling eagle and scan the skies.

Upon completing the Douglas Pass BBS route I went back to a pull-off not far below the pass’s summit. This road makes a sharp turn making it a blind turn from both directions.

The view of the pull-off used to scan for the Golden Eagle. A Mountain Bluebird kept me company.
A closer view of the Mountain Bluebird using the dead tree to fly out for insects.
And Pine Siskins would land at my feet to add a little gravel to their diet.

From my vantage point I noticed a gas truck coming up and another gas truck coming down the pass. I’m thinking it would be interesting if they’d meet right at the turn where I was located. I assumed the drivers made this turn every day so there shouldn’t be a problem.

Looking down from the pull-off at a gas truck making its way up the switch back road.
The road coming down from the summit.
The immediate view coming up to the summit.
The best photo of the turn without falling off the pull-out. The eagle came flying over left of center.

Watching the skies but also keeping an eye on the gasoline trucks, I see they are going to meet at almost the same time at the turn. And I mean at the same time.

So of course right when the trucks meet at the turn the battery in my camera dies, and a Golden Eagle flies over with its wings positioned for a steep dive.

I got a glimpse of the brown and tan on the bird since it isn’t 50 feet away. By the time I get my binoculars on the bird and change the camera battery, the Golden Eagles is now probably a mile out over the valley and moving away fast. The only photos are of the Golden Eagle flying away.

The black blur left of center is the Golden Eagle flying away.

I sat and scanned for another hour without a hint of the bird. With the poor look the Golden Eagle will remain my nemesis bird.

Golden Eagle Still Nemesis
At least the scenery was beautiful.

And if you’re wondering, the truck drivers were pros and didn’t even come close to each other. They knew exactly when to slow down to make the turn.

Butterflying Leading to a Black-billed Cuckoo

After spending Saturday at Goose Pond I needed time Sunday morning finishing the IAS Spring Field Notes and submitting my BBS route data. Learning butterflies has been slow going since I haven’t spent nearly enough time to become proficient. So the plan was to spend Sunday afternoon working on butterfly ID’s at the local park. This became Butterflying Leading to a Black-billed Cuckoo.

Sunday afternoon about 3:30 found me walking the gravel road in the afternoon heat. The Butterflies of Indiana Field Guide states one of the best spots to observe butterflies is gravel roads. And even though it was slow the gravel road gave up a few butterfly photos.

The other big surprise on the day, an American Snout. Note the length of the long, pointed palps.

Getting closer to the “South Woods” I hear a distant cuckoo calling from the woods. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo had been calling from the “Central Woods” immediately upon arriving. I wasn’t paying attention to the second one as I continued on trying to ID a bright yellow butterfly. The cuckoo keeps calling for several minutes. And it dawned on me.

It’s a Black-billed Cuckoo calling in the distance.

It’s definitely a Black-billed Cuckoo by the soft “coo-coo-coo” call. Continuing to chase butterflies the cuckoo continues to call as they do in the afternoon heat.

One of the few photos I have of a Black-billed Cuckoo. In the rain from May 2016.

Checking my records this is the first Black-billed Cuckoo I’ve observed outside of May or September. I know they breed in the lower Midwest but I’ve never encountered one in the middle of the summer.

These are the reported Indiana eBird sightings for Black-billed Cuckoos over the last 10 years. And there aren’t many.

The bird was calling from deep in the woods so the opportunity to see it didn’t arise. I’m not sure I was aware Black-billed Cuckoos call in the heat of the afternoon like Yellow-billed Cuckoos. But it would make sense if they have the same habit habits.

On the other hand I’m not out often in the mid-afternoon heat so maybe I’ve been missing them. Butterflying brought me out.

It was a good encounter to hear a rather uncommon species. And like the end of the Long-billed Curlew a few days ago, you’ll never know what’s out there unless you look.

A Clouded Sulphur on the edge of the road. I cropped the photo to remove the trash from the photo.
Butterflying leading to a Black-billed Cuckoo
A Common Roadside Skipper was the last species of the day.

Goose Pond Annual July 4th Visit

Though others make numerous trips to Goose Pond readers know I prefer to bird closer to home. So I look forward to Mike and I’s Goose Pond annual July 4th visit. It’s usually my only chance to see or hear species like Least Bittern, Marsh Wren, Least Tern, Black-necked Stilts, and Common Gallinule. Except this year due to scheduling conflicts we couldn’t go until Saturday July 8.

Photos of the trip will be sparse since my Nikon P900 is out for repair and I had to revert back to my old Panasonic DZ35.

Friday night the National Weather Service issued a Dense Fog Advisory until 9AM Saturday. Two years ago the fog was so bad we didn’t see any birds until almost 10AM. But driving down the fog was spotty so I was feeling better about it.

Our first stop was the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron spot where the fog wasn’t bad. Two herons were feeding out in the fields which made photos tough. But seeing this species was a treat since I don’t see it annually.

And this is as good as it gets with the fog and my old camera. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron feeding in the tall grass.

We moved on to Main Pool East in search of shorebirds before the sun’s angle made observing them a problem. Water levels were just right at the end of the old road and we observed Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, Killdeer, and Black-necked Stilts. Since I’m not around them often I kept thinking I was hearing a Common Gallinule’s whiny call in the reeds. And eventually one appeared.

One of several Lesser Yellowlegs seen on the day.

On to Main Pool West South Bridge where we saw three distant Least Terns flying. Not much else at this location due the water being high at Goose Pond.

In fact I thought the water levels made it the least favorable of my five July trips.

We ran into the Timmons brothers who said GP4 had Least Bitterns, one of Mike’s target birds. Upon arriving we heard numerous Common Gallinules and ended up seeing several young.

A mother Common Gallinule and her young. I’ll be glad when my P900 camera is back.

 

But to see a Least Bittern one has to be patient. While waiting we heard a couple of Marsh Wren calling but of course we didn’t see this nearly impossible visual species. Eventually I saw a Least Bittern flying from reed bed to reed bed being chased by a Red-winged Blackbird.

Things were slowing down and Mike had to be back early afternoon. So we headed back to Indy after successfully seeing the sought out species.

Totally Unsuspected Long-billed Curlew

Let me set the scene. Wrapping up birding Rabbit Valley I now had the challenge of where to bird in the late-morning 90 degree heat. I’d decided to check Brewster’s Ridge on the Utah border where Scott’s Oriole, a more southwestern species, had been reported. But instead I encountered a totally unsuspected Long-billed Curlew.

Brewster’s Ridge as seen from Rabbit Valley.
The view of the arid plateau goes on and on…

Brewster’s Ridge is a high, very dry plateau which I’d visited on a previous trip. Even though I knew early morning would’ve been better for finding singing orioles, I thought I might get lucky anyway. So I drove slowly through the arid land listening for birds in the sparse Pinyon-Juniper woodlands. With very little wind the trailing dust from the gravel roads hung behind the car. But the windows were open as I continued to listen for singing birds.

And I did encounter a few.

Loggerhead Shrikes were plentiful in this environment.
My daughter liked the “do” on this Ash-throated Flycatcher.

But not much else was happening on the plateau in the noonday heat. After a half hour I spotted a large bird in a small tree. I figured it was the Red-tailed Hawk I’d seen circling a few minutes earlier.

A Red-tailed Hawk kept me company on the plateau seeing as there wasn’t anything else moving.

But the bird was the wrong shade of brown for a Red-tailed Hawk. Since it was a large bird the thought of a Golden Eagle did cross my mind.

Then suddenly the bird turned into two birds. One went to the ground and the other flew into a nearby tree.

Totally Unsuspected Long-billed Curlew
An out of focus photo I took in my haste to catch the Long-billed Curlewgliding.

From the bill and call the species was obvious.

A Totally Unsuspected Long-billed Curlew!

I was in complete amazement that a shorebird, especially a large shorebird, might be nesting and breeding in such an arid environment. And unless I was completely missing it there was no water for miles.

The presumed male landed in a nearby tree and kept me entertained with his constant calling.

The male, I assume, stayed in the tree calling while the female continued on the ground feeding. I’m thinking they were a pair so I didn’t linger around long in case they were nesting in the area. But in the short time I watched I got good looks and video of the both birds.

The presumed female feeding in the tall grass.

Now I often beat myself up for not reading my field guides in enough detail. But in this case I didn’t feel so bad. I at least knew Long-billed Curlew were in the area. And I assumed they’d be around the few bodies of waters or small man-made reservoirs. And reading my field guide after the encounter it states to look around the prairie potholes. There were no potholes or water anywhere.

So yes, they were totally unexpected Long-billed Curlew and another case of “you never know what you’ll find unless you look.”

At a later date I’ll post more photos and videos of the curlews.

And yes I whiffed on the Scott’s Orioles.