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

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

 

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.

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.

 

 

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.

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 – https://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.

 

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.

First, Birding Colorado East of the Rockies

The plan for the week wasn’t unique – bird the main habitats of the area.  But before I headed to Grand Junction I had a day to spend east of Denver.

I had taken a 5:30 AM flight out of Indianapolis that had me birding by 7:30 AM Mounain Time Saturday. The plan for the day was to bird the perimeter road of the airport looking for owls and hawks, then drive east of out into the country for hawks, and then back to a state park reservoir.  Wrap it up by 1 PM and then the 4-5 hour drive to Grand Junction.

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I turned onto Airport Rd. and immediately encountered a wet spot with an American Avocet. What a great way to start the trip!
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It know it has to do with the habitats I picked, but this is the first of what seemed to be the most encountered bird of the trip –  Western Meadowlark.
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After seeing numerous roadkill and thinking they were rabbits, I encountered a Prairie Dog colony. I guess they weren’t rabbits on the road after all…
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Knowing there were Prairie Dogs in the area, I scanned for Burrowing Owls. I found this little guy gazing at the Rockies in the distance.
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This group was watching me from just across the road. I would probably have missed them if the previous one hadn’t been up where I could see him. It is hard to realize just how small they are until you see them.
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A closer photo of the group. They didn’t move much the whole time I was there. Nor did I hear any calls. But the Prairie Dogs were vocal the whole time. I am not sure what they are watching to my left? Or would they just not return my gaze?
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Here is the view from the opposite side of the Burrowing Owl area. Pretty desolate.
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The first of many Western Kingbirds. On several previous trips they had been a possibility but I had never seen one. So it was good to finally get to watch them. Very similar acting to Eastern Kingbirds.
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Not a good photo but something I hadn’t thought I would encounter on the High Plains. While scanning for hawks a Bald Eagle came flying over. I am no where near water so I am not sure where it is coming or going.
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Now this is what I was looking for when I saw the eagle. My one and only Swainson’s Hawk of the trip. I got good looks at it before I remembered to take this photo, which is cropped.
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A little farther down the road I encountered this Northern Harrier hunting over an irrigated field. Now I don’t know if I hadn’t paid that close of attention to the status and distribution charts, but I wasn’t expecting a harrier in this location. Checking later, they are a year-round species in Colorado.
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The area 40 miles east of Denver where I was looking for hawks and Lark Buntings. This went on for miles. I did get good looks at a Grasshopper Sparrow and Loggerhead Shrike, but not much else.
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After the desolate area, I headed to Barr State Park NE of Denver. There were numerous Western Grebes on the reservoir water, often coming right up to the edge. There were also American White Pelicans in the distance.
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In several areas I birded Eurasian Collared-Doves were as numerous as Mourning Doves.
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Not a western specialty, but I couldn’t resist adding this photo.  An Eastern Kingbird had built a nest that wasn’t more than 3 feet off the trail around the lake.
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And now one of the birds I probably most wanted to see on the trip, a Bullock’s Oriole. This first year male gave the best views while he constantly flew around. The adult males wouldn’t come out for photos. I was struck with how much more orange the Bullock’s have then the Baltimore Oriole.
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Another obliging Western Kingbird, though he wouldn’t come out of the shadows.
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And with that I headed west. Next installment – a stop at the highest point traveling west on I-70.

 

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.

Concerns

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.

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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.

Lowes Parking Lot – McAllen, TX 6/24/14

I still have a few photos from our Texas trip in June 2014.  In particular I thought I would share a few photos from an evening outing to a Lowes parking lot.

If you follow this blog you know I’m not into chasing.  But we were already staying in McAllen and one of the few reliable spots to see a Green Parakeet in the U.S. is on the north side of McAllen. So I thought I had better go take a look. Even though it felt like chasing.

The time of day to see them is at dusk when they come to roost.  In fact, here is how the location is located on an eBird map –

McAllen- Parakeet roost (10th Str. b/w Violet & Dove)

So after dinner one evening my wife, daughter, and I headed to north McAllen.  We found out that 10th Str. b/w Violet & Dove is close to a Lowes parking lot. So we parked and waited.  It wasn’t long before they came.

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As you can tell it is dusk. The parakeets came flying in groups of 5 – 10. McAllen, TX 6/24/14
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Hard to get good photos with the setting sun and the birds on high wires. McAllen, TX 6/24/14
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A couple of Parakeets kept checking us out to see what we were up to. I figured city birds would be used to people by now. McAllen, TX 6/24/14

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The Lowes was in a shopping plaza that had a couple of fountains. The parakeets enjoyed the chance for a drink since the area was in the midst of a long dry spell. McAllen, TX 6/24/14

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I lightened the next two photos to show how green the Green Parakeets really are. McAllen, TX 6/24/14
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One other point – these are not small birds. They were bigger than what I expected.

While watching the parakeets a couple of local people stopped by and talked about them. They said we should be there in the winter when there were many more. One lady pointed at all the telephone wires and said they would be full.  She said the noise from the chatter was unbelievable.  That would explain the reported 800 reported at this location on eBird. (We saw 50) It would also explain her saying she liked the parakeets but wished they would move elsewhere!