Western Colorado June 17 High Country Birds

Before I head out on another short trip I thought I’d post about Western Colorado June 17 High Country Birds. This post should have been written two month ago but finding the time in the summer is tough. Between birding, learning butterflies, and work I never seem to wrap up Colorado. And I still have a story or two.

Before I discovered the problem with trying to run the Baxter Pass BBS and ended up doing the Uncompahgre BBS, I had already spent a day on the Uncompahgre Plateau. This in reflection turned out to be a good thing since, even though I didn’t mean it to be, it was a good scouting trip.

One of the main goals of the trip was to put to bed some of the local birds, both visually and photographically, I had missed on previous trips. And I luckily took care of several of them early on the first day.

I was hoping for a decent photo of a Black-headed Grosbeak on the trip. Mission accomplished at the second stop.
Same stop, other side of the road. A male Western Tanager singing and moving through the trees. I’m sure I’d heard one in Oregon years ago and previously in Colorado, but it didn’t go onto the life list until this guy.
And back across the road again. I really wanted a good view of a Scrub-Jay. This Roodhouse’s variety was quite obliging.
Down the road I noticed this sign. I had known the Telephone Trail was the spot for owls, and now I knew where to go. This is a few miles from the start of the BBS route. So next year up at 3AM for owls!

The rest of the day I had a few other stops that will get their own posts, but here are a few more photos to wrap this one up.

A Brewer’s Blackbird teed up nicely. Of course I thought it was a Common Grackle at first. And maybe second… It might have taken eBird to finally make me decide.
Yes, the branch is in the way, but I like how the Green-tailed Towhee’s colors shine in the morning light.
Western Colorado June 17 High Country Birds
And lastly a Dusky Flycatcher that was nesting nearby. I heard it calling, got a photo, and watched it take food back to the nest. I don’t usually get that lucky.

The Paradox of Hot Spot

In the past few weeks I have seen more birders than any time since we moved to Indiana. And this includes Big May Days and Christmas Bird Counts. The reason is I encountered the Eagle Creek Sunday Group one weekend and went on Don Gorney’s Fort Harrison State Park Sunday morning walk the next weekend. And it was fun to be among all the birders. So much so I’ll continue to go occasionally. But seeing the birders at those locations once again brings up The Paradox of Hot Spot.

Does a “Hot Spot” that theoretically increases ones odds of seeing more species outweigh birding lesser birded areas to increase bird data? Because the way we are headed is getting repeated data from certain “Hot Spots” like Eagle Creek.

But as most things the truth probably is in the middle.

Mike and I visited Eagle Creek’s Marina for the second time this month in hopes of seeing warblers. And we did along, with several other birders. This is still strange since I rarely encounter birders at my usual spots.

A Blackpoll Warbler sitting up nicely enjoying the view.
If not for the twig this would have been a good photo of a Cape May Warbler.

And later in the morning we birded the north end and saw a nice variety of shorebirds. Plus encountered several other birders.

This is an ID photo of a Baird’s Sandpiper.
And one of two Stilt Sandpipers working the mud flat.
Paradox of Hot Spot
Would this be the same young Laughing Gull I found a few weeks ago?

In the past I have birded areas where I go the entire day and not encountered birders. (Bushwhacking) And probably not as many species. But I always feel good at the end of the day finding my own birds and adding to the overall data.

But not many people do this type of birding. Most are lured by The Pull to a “Hot Spot” to see birds. So as much as eBird is expanding citizen science data, in my opinion it also promotes birding at certain “Hot Spots” only. Which to me is a paradox.

So how to overcome this? Not sure since it’s probably been happening since birding started. Data from repeatable surveys like the Breeding Bird Survey will still be used for future conservation efforts. Maybe eBird could include something like a repeatable, timed route. But like I have posted before people won’t do those since they are lured by The Pull to a Hot Spot.

Going forward I’ll hopefully be able to split my time between “Hot Spots”, since I need to do more Social Birding, and my less birded areas. We’ll see.

Eastern Screech-Owl Birding Observation

As I posted back in early August, from time to time I think of something I should write down as a Birding Rule. So I started out with the first Bob’s Birding Rules. Soon after I had another encounter I wanted to document but for a variety of reasons was prevented from writing the post until now. And it wasn’t really a Birding Rule, so I’m going to start a list of observations. So here is an Eastern Screech-Owl Birding Observation.

Eastern Screech-Owl Birding Observation – The Owl is Closer than you think.

And I mean lot closer.

Periodically in the non-breeding season (breeding season is mid-March – early May) I check a few places to see if Eastern Screech-Owls are present. My procedure is to go out an hour before sunrise on a windless day. (And in my opinion Eastern Screech-Owls are more crepuscular than noted, but that’s a different story.) I play a recording for about two minutes and wait.

Inevitably I will hear the soft trill of one or two calling nearby after missing these silent creatures fly in.

Eastern Screech-Owl Birding Observation
A poor photo but one showing an Easter Screech-Owl is close, maybe 4-5 feet. Trilling softly.

And here is where I make my mistake.

In the morning twilight I can usually make out their silhouette and even see a few features. IF I CAN FIND THEM. The problem is I’m looking 20 or 30 feet away in trees when they are only 3-4 feet away on the closest branch trilling very, very softly. I only figure it out when I move and they fly off screeching.

So how do I ensure I don’t make the same mistake again?

The night before I go owling I make breakfast and lunch for the next day. And since I have to get up and go early instead of waiting and enjoying coffee, I review a checklist of what to take the next morning. I lay it all out and I’ll be ready to go.

I’m going to add to the start and end of the checklist – “Remember owls will be closer than you think!”

And another thing I’ll add is the odds are there will be a Barred Owl nearby watching the action. Always is.

Of Horned Larks and Warbling Vireos

There are certain species you group together and others that never cross your mind in the same thought. And I can’t say I thought of Horned Larks and Warbling Vireos together until this past summer.

After 20 miles of the 25 mile route of the Uncompahgre BBS route in western Colorado I could tell things were slowing down. At an elevation of 9500 feet there wasn’t much habitat left except for the occasional Alpine Glade. I wasn’t seeing many species and the few I encountered were calling less and less.

Except for Warbling Vireos.

I think every Alpine Glade had one or two calling.

This is an Indiana Warbling Vireo. I didn’t have time on the Uncompahgre BBS to get a photo.

And then it dawned on me things weren’t all that different from running the BBS routes in Central Indiana. The further away I got from the trees and water of the Big Blue River on the Shelbyville BBS and went further east into the agriculture lands birding slowed down dramatically.

Except for Horned Larks.

It seemed every stop past 20 miles had a few calling or landing on the road. And not much else.

And these aren’t Indiana Horned Larks. The Connecticut coast at Christmas.

I find it eerie how two things totally unrelated make you recall the memory of one another. There’s nothing even similar about the habitat or the birds to tie the two experiences together. Just the lack of birds.

Not many birds in this environment, just Warbling Vireos from distant Alpine Glades.

The start of the BBS route had numerous birds calling and flying by. Exciting. But I didn’t think “Oh, this reminds me of the start of the Shelbyville BBS”.  Or any other experience.

Horned Larks and Warbling Vireos
And nothing in the Indiana corn fields besides the occasional Horned Lark.

I think what it comes down to is at the start of both routes I was living in the excitement of the present.

And it must have been the slow birding at the end of each route that let my mind wander to other times and tie the two experiences together.

Eagle Creek Laughing Gull, American Avocets, Horned Grebe

As regular readers know I don’t rush to post the same day. I usually take my time and write the story. Then add a few photos. But after two uncommon and one early species I’ll make an exception. So on with Sunday’s morning Eagle Creek Laughing Gull, American Avocets, Horned Eared Grebe.

Update – Don Gorney and Aidan Rominger refound the Horned Grebe this afternoon and identified as a Eared Grebe. A closer look at my photos and I have to agree. Thanks for taking the time to double check.

Laughing Gull

The plan for Mike and I was to bird the Marina area of Eagle Creek Sunday morning. As usual we stopped by Rick’s Cafe Boatyard for a quick scan of the southern part of the reservoir. We saw the expected Osprey and Double-crested Cormorants and were about ready to leave when I noticed an odd gull not very far out. The bird’s bill seemed to dark and droopy for a Ring-billed. Spike S. was also present and thought the tail seemed long for a Ring-billed. Upon pulling out the scope it was definitely a young Laughing Gull.

Eagle Creek Laughing Gull, American Avocets, Horned Grebe
A cropped photo which I think shows the Laughing Gull’s drooped bill.
The best photo I could get in the morning light.

American Avocets

With warblers hopefully waiting we moved on to the Marina. The leaders of the Sunday morning walk were there early and we were looking for warblers when Becky, I think, first called out American Avocets flying over. A straightforward ID being black and white with long bills and legs.

We watched them go north looking for a place to land. Not finding anything they came back by us heading south. They did the same south to north pattern three times and never put down but allowing us great looks. The last view had them flying south.

American Avocets heading north up Eagle Creek Reservoir.
The Avocets came closer on their second pass by to the south.

Horned Grebe

A little later while scanning the water I found an early Horned Grebe. Now maybe the first two we can associate with Hurricane Harvey, but the Horned Grebe I don’t think so.

On first look I thought it was a Pied-billed Grebe but the throat was white. A run back to the car for the spotting scope and one look confirmed it as a Horned Grebe.

A cropped photo of the distant Horned Grebe.
The complete and cropped photo of the Horned Grebe.

And as seen on this eBird Date Range chart Horned Grebe’s aren’t expected until October.

So, all in all a good morning finding an uncommon gull and early grebe, plus seeing avocets. I even picked up a few new warblers for the year.

And hopefully I didn’t make too many errors in writing this quickly.

August 2017 Highlight

Though I encountered several surprises during my Marion County August 2017 List, one bird stands out as August 2017 Highlight.

But first a few of the surprises.

A Blue Grosbeak we encountered on both trips to Southwestway Park.
The Purple Martins flying over Eagle Creek Reservoir.
And the Summer Tanager at Southwestway Park.

August 2017 Highlight – Red-shouldered Hawk Bathing

But the biggest surprise was watching a Red-shouldered Hawk bathing at Eagle Creek.

I encountered the hawk on the trail north of the Handicapped Road. I just happened to catch a glimpse when it moved on a sunlit perch by a creek. At first I thought it was hunting but it jumped into the water and proceeded to take a bath. Then it flew back up on the sunlit perch and dried off. Then it jumped back in the water. I watched this behavior for 15 minutes while it repeated the cycle three times during the time I watched.

I first spotted the Red-shouldered Hawk sitting in the sun.
It wasn’t long before it headed down into the water. You can see it in the small pool of water in the photo’s center.
Then back onto the perch for sun.
And back down into the water.
August 2017 Highlight
And back up.

Checking a couple of sources on-line this seems to be the typical bathing habits of hawks. Deep in the woods, shallow stream, and low perch to dry. The reason I don’t think I have encountered this behavior before is hawk’s preference of bathing in a deep glade.

Eventually I moved on and made the loop around the trail. I checked on my way back but the hawk had moved on. But another one of those rare nature encounters which keeps you going out week after week.