Western Colorado Butterflies June 2017

Work still consists of Saturdays and long days so only one bird outing last month. At least next weekend I’ll spend the day birding on the Johnson County Christmas Bird Count. The long days also mean I don’t have time to write before work which was my usual practice. So I continue to use my free time to catch up on photos from last summer’s Western Colorado trip. And I finally found time to identify (as best I could) the Western Colorado Butterflies June 2017 I encountered one afternoon on a high meadow.

The view SE from Divide Road on the Uncompahgre Plateau, Mesa County, CO..
Next to an Aspen Glade was the meadow where I spent the afternoon photographing butterflies.

I think I saw more butterflies than I photographed but I didn’t take notes. Following are the ones I did photograph and think I’ve identified correctly. A couple of these I have already posted about.

A Checkered White – note the dark bar on the forewing.
I’m going with Common Checkered-Skipper on this overexposed photo. The size and markings fit pretty well.
Painted Ladies were the most numerous species on the day.
This Variegated Fritillary took some time to ID. I kept trying to turn it into a Checkerspot. The black-rimmed orange cell spot on the forewing finalized the call. I need to learn to ID in the field and write the photo number in my note.
Another photo I should probably send to a butterfly identify website. I have tentatively identified this as a Sagebrush Checkerspot but that’s a tentative ID.
Later in the week I was birding along the Colorado River and noticed this Silver-spotted Skipper perched on a branch. (Is “perch” the correct term for butterflies? Still lots to learn.)
Western Colorado Butterflies June 2017
This is the same Silver-spotted Skipper as the previous photo.

This will probably be the last post on the 2017 Western Colorado trip. I don’t think I can get any more mileage out my photos!

Motionless Colorado Squirrel

October might go down as the first month since October 2012 that I don’t put a checklist in eBird. Which means I haven’t done any birding. Someone quit at work which lead to a cascade of organizational changes so I’ve been covering 2-3 different positions which means long hours and weekends. At least until everyone is up and running marginally. The good news is it should be wrapped up by November 1 and I’ll be in a new position. Well really it is my old position which I liked but means no travel. So I should have more rest and be ready to go out on weekends. And blogging regularly. But I thought I’d take a few minutes to show a motionless Colorado Squirrel.

On the last day of my June Western Colorado trip I was walking up Devil’s Canyon when I noticed a squirrel on top of a tree. And I mean the very top. And it stayed there for the 10 minutes or so I watched.

I have no idea what it was doing. It never moved or made a sound. And there wasn’t anywhere around that was higher ground. So was it trying to get away from something?

As you can see the squirrel was on the highest branch. Maybe it was waiting for a dragonfly to come by for breakfast?
There it is in the center of the photo on the top of the tree. Why?

Couple of Western Colorado Wrens

One of the main species I wanted to see on my Western Colorado trip in June was a Canyon Wren. Most field guides state the wren is more often heard than seen and this had been the case on my previous trips. I had heard Canyon Wrens numerous times but one never presented itself in the open. So when one popped out of the rocks the first day of the trip I took the opportunity to observe it. Along with a Rock Wren I present a Couple of Western Colorado Wrens.

Canyon Wren

On the way to the Uncompahgre Plateau Colorado State Route 141 winds through the canyons cut out by East Creek. There are several pull-offs which give the opportunity to see different species. And a Canyon Wren was calling at my first stop.

“What’s going on out here?” The Canyon Wren must have heard me pishing for vireos in the trees along the creek.

 

“OK, it looks safe. I’ll come out for a few minutes.”

 

I’m not sure what its eating but anytime a wren shows its colorful tail it makes the day.
And one last look before it jumped down into the crevices.

Another one of those encounters when I didn’t know to watch or take photos. Luckily the Canyon Wren stayed out long enough because even though I heard several more I didn’t see one again on the trip.

Rock Wren

Now Rock Wrens are more inviting and I haven’t had a problem viewing them. But I’m amazed at where they turn up. On the Douglas Pass BBS run one turned up at the top of the pass, right on the edge of the rocks. Was it gawking at the scenery with the rest of us?

And when I hiked up Devil’s Canyon there was another one out on a ledge.

Here’s a view of the canyon. I’ll end up on the left side.
Up into the canyon. I’m going to end up about halfway on the right ridge where the trail ends. No access to the very top.
A view away from the top looking back on the Grand Valley.
A closer view of one of the unbelievable rock formations.
I finally saw the Rock Wren after hearing it sing for a few minutes. It was located on the rock cropping in the center of the square. I didn’t bother to crop my head shadow out!
There he is sitting on the edge of the rock.
He was sitting and singing like he had no problems.
Western Colorado Wrens
A final photo to show the zoom capabilities of the Nikon P900. And like the Canyon Wren check out the tail.

With the temperatures already well into the 90’s by mid-morning it was time to head back down the trail.

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.

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.

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.

Fruitgrowers Reservoir Semi-Arid Water

The flight arrived late-morning, as opposed to the usual one into Denver and the day spent driving to Grand Junction. This forced the problem of where to bird in the afternoon heat? The choices were either the cooler higher elevations or water birds which didn’t care about the heat. Since I’d be going to higher elevations later in the week the water birds won out. But where? The state parks would be full of weekend visitors. This left Fruitgrowers Reservoir semi-arid water.

The advantage of Fruitgrowers Reservoir is no people. None. As I reported two years ago the lake is off-limits do to phosphorous pollution concerns. Plus this would probably be my only chance to see certain water species this year.

That left me to enjoy the water birds on the warm Sunday afternoon.

Fruitgrowers Reservoir Semi-Arid Water
The breeze off Fruitgrowers Reservoir semi-arid water felt good in the mid-90’s heat.
A look to the north showing the semi-arid environment except immediately around the reservoir.
I know it’s not unique to the west but I wanted to show this Killdeer. Is the white material along the shore the phosphorous pollution?
Also not unique but I liked this photo of  a Double-crested Cormorant taking a fish off to eat. A nearby nest?
Every time I looked it seemed one of the local American White Pelican flock was getting up and flying short distances around the lake.
A couple slowly drifted by while I was scanning the lake. The knob is showing on the right hand bird.
Cinnamon Teal were present at two locations on the trip.The female never appeared from the reeds for a photo.
Western Kingbirds were prevalent in all the lower elevations.
As were Black-chinned Hummingbirds. This guy must have liked sitting in the afternoon heat as he never moved.
Another futile effort to turn one of the 40 or so Western Grebes into Clark’s Grebes.
A Willet way out in the grass. eBird has flagged me twice in the last couple of months, both times for Willets. The first time in Marion County, IN in May and this time in Delta County, CO.
Yellow-headed Blackbirds were the stars of the day constantly flying from the reeds to the nearby pasture land. Both sexes kept up a steady flight.
Can you spot the female Yellow-headed Blackbird in the reeds?
I didn’t realize White-faced Ibis were much smaller than Great Blue Herons. I’ll come back to the Ibis on a later post.

Western Colorado Next Installment

I was going to jump right to the most interesting thing from my Western Colorado next installment. But I figured I should start with an overview as I have on previous trips.

As I posted in December I’ve decided my birding travels should matter if possible. Not just a list of birds I see one time and move on. So I decided and have now successfully run two BBS routes in Western Colorado. The reason I decided on Western Colorado, particularly the Grand Junction area, is it will allow me to annually be among Great Basin birds. I still need a west coast spot.

On to the recap, in no particular order.

I decided to fly direct to hopefully free up more time for birding. Not sure it actually worked out so well with the hassle of flying. There isn’t a direct flight from Indianapolis so I elected to fly through Dallas. I have flown many times but never through Dallas. And hopefully I won’t have to again. Not sure if it was Dallas Airport’s or American Airlines problem but the connecting flight had the gate switched 4 times. And remind me never to fly on a Friday.

Western Colorado Next Installment
The Dallas/Fort Worth Airport has four terminals. I had to take the tram from the one in the photo. Almost didn’t make it on the return flight.

One other thing about flying into Grand Junction is the plane has to come in through the high mountains into the Grand Valley.  This means a quick mile drop through the higher plateaus and mountains. And of course when the temperature is 95° out there’s a lot of hot wind. This made the landing and takeoff bumpy. But most people acted as if it’s normal coming into the Valley. The planes were smaller but modern jets. I just think they were lighter so the wind made the bouncing rougher. Otherwise the flight was smooth.

I’ll need to work out the birding and driving thing for next year. Not sure saving the extra $200 flying into Denver and driving compensates for the hassle of flying.

The Grand Valley from Horsethief Canyon. I think planes have to come in from the north to avoid the wind shear from the plateaus.

Maybe related to flying in direct but I didn’t actuate to the altitude as well this trip. It may have had something  to do with birding a full day around Denver and driving over the Rockies. It wasn’t bad but each morning I woke up with a headache. I had to take a couple ibuprofen and drink a lot of water. But it didn’t stop me from birding. Maybe it had something to do with my allergies?

A view of the state road to get to the turn up to the Uncompahgre Plateau. If my head wasn’t spinning then… And I’m only half way up.

Once again no problems with Alamo as a rental car provider. In and out in a few minutes each time.

A view of the car rental – Hyundai Sonata – which will play a part in a later blog.

The motel was family owned and well run. The chains were all over-priced for a big country music festival the following weekend. The motel turned out to very nice with no problems. It was on the old main road and in the style from the 1960’s. The kind where you can park right in front of your room. So now I’ll look for a hotel where I can carry my stuff out to the car with minimal walking and no hassle with elevators.

The weather was warmer than expected. Temperatures at night in the low 60’s and day time highs in the mid 90’s. As seen below it’s about 10 degrees warmer than average. But it didn’t affect birding because it was cooler longer in the morning. There was some moisture moving from the Southwest which caused afternoon showers at the higher elevation. But clear skies birding in the morning.

I also checked out two new spots that will play prominently on future birding trips.

Otherwise a lot of car birding which I hate. That’ll change next time.

Just long days birding and early to bed due to the time zone change.

Ending the post with an American White Pelican lazily gliding across the sky. Fruitgrowers Reservoir 6/4/17

Western Colorado Final Thoughts – Dec16

It’s been four months since my December Colorado trip. And I’ll be going again in two months to run two BBS Routes. Even though I have enough photos for a few more posts it’s time to wrap it up and present my Western Colorado final thoughts.

Like other trips I’ll do a final post on thoughts from the trip. And like those reports these are in no order.

A Western-Screech Owl keeps a watchful eye at Grand Junction Wildlife Area.
  1. Early December is probably not the best time to go birding in Western Colorado if you’re after a large species count. But since I wanted to check out the BBS routes and I had the time, I went. Plus, as I have stated it is going to be one of three areas I hope to come to know and bird repeatedly.
  2. Next time I’m flying direct. For an extra $200 I can fly direct into Grand Junction and pick up an extra day of birding.  On future summer trips I might fly into Denver and bird my way across the state. But on winter trips I’ll fly direct and not have to fight the mountain passes.

    Bald Eagle couple in the distance. I have closer photos of the pair but I like the backdrop of this photo.
  3. The drive back to Denver was rough. As stated above I’ll forgo looking for birds on the way not to worry about the drive. I have driven in the worst Midwest snowstorms but never at 10,000 feet with trucks going up and down on the mountain passes. Not again.

    This was taken on the drive to Grand Junction before the snow started falling. Add 10″ of snow, zero visibility, and you have the picture of the drive back.
  4. This was my first time flying on Frontier and had no problems on either flight. The only catch are limited flights from Indianapolis to Denver. And Alamo Rent-A-Car was good for the second straight trip. Will use both again without hesitation.

    Nothing fancy. Basic motel and white Altima rental car.
  5. The next non-June trip will be timed to coincide with migration of raptors and before the snow comes to the mountains. There is a good movement of raptors along the west edge of the Rockies I’d like to see.
  6. For you listers, I saw 62 species on the trip of which 23 were new Colorado species and 5 life birds. In June I’ll probably spend some time looking for rarer species up in the mountains.

    I saw a pair of Pinyon Jays, one of my favorite Colorado birds.
  7. I proved I like to bird one area and get to know it versus traveling all day from spot to spot. And flying direct will add another day of birding the area.
  8. Still no Golden Eagle. But I’m sure one will fly by eventually.

    One of the most numerous species were White-crowned Sparrows.
  9. The zoom feature of the Nikon P900 camera proved I don’t need to lug along a spotting scope. For distant views it worked well to ID species.
  10. I saw other wildlife outside of birds. Rabbits, a lone fox, and a deer couple which scared the @(*%& out of me.
    Can you spot the rabbit? Not sure how I spotted it camouflaged in the grass.
    A view of a distant Red Fox south of the dam at Highline SP.

    The male deer first raised up out of the grass at about 20 feet. Was more than a little scary.
  11. Weather was great for December outside of the mountain passes on the drive back. Lows in teens, highs in the 40’s. Very light snow
  12. Accomplished the main goal of checking out Douglas Pass for the June Breeding Bird Survey trip. It should be interesting running the survey from the start in scrub land and working my way over a mountain pass.
  13. As I stated in a couple of previous posts I need to learn status and distribution for the area better. The number of Ruby-crowned Kinglets still surprises me.
  14. And as always every hour had highlights but the American Dipper was probably the best since it was totally unexpected.

    Western Colorado Final Thoughts
    Goodbye to Western Colorado until June.