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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the temperatures already well into the 90’s by mid-morning it was time to head back down the trail.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Once again no problems with Alamo as a rental car provider. In and out in a few minutes each time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
Still no Golden Eagle. But I’m sure one will fly by eventually.
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.
I saw other wildlife outside of birds. Rabbits, a lone fox, and a deer couple which scared the @(*%& out of me.
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
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.
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.
And as always every hour had highlights but the American Dipper was probably the best since it was totally unexpected.