Black-billed Magpie Mobbing

While doing a “hawk watch” along the Colorado River on December’s trip I had the opportunity to watch another group of corvids harassing a larger bird. In this case it was a group of Black-billed Magpie mobbing a Red-tailed Hawk.

Before I relate the story it seems I keep running into this kind of action. Back in February I posted the story about a Great Horned Owl being mobbed by a flock of American Crows at Johnson County Park. And in early January I saw a group of Blue Jays harassing and chasing a Red-Shoulder Hawk in Geist Reservoir in Marion County.

Now I haven’t been out in the field much lately. So am I just stumbling upon corvids acting like this or does it happen more than I know? I really can’t answer the question but it appears to happen frequently.

Colorado Black-billed Magpie Mobbing

While scanning for raptors along the Colorado River north of Grand Junction I noticed one, then two, then several Black-billed Magpies flying to a distant tree line. Now this seemed odd since I had only seen and heard one or two in the previous hour. In fact I had noted earlier in the trip I heard many more magpies than I saw. Which struck me as acting like a Blue Jay. Not wanting to be seen unless the need arose.

It didn’t take long to figure out what was happening. The magpies were gathering in one tree. Which meant there was something present they could harass.

How many Black-billed Magpies can you spot in this photo? And the Red-tailed Hawk?
Circled in red are the ten magpies I counted though I know there are at least 5-10 more. The hawk is circled in green.
Black-billed Magpie Mobbing
The Red-tailed Hawk finally had enough and flew off.
But only a little further down the tree line before it stopped and the process started again.

Eventually the dark morph Red-tailed Hawk I had seen earlier appeared and the two flew off together. And the magpies must have lost interest since they did not pursue.

Female Northern Harrier – Colorado Day 4 Afternoon

Luckily for once extra time at work coincides with the winter Birding Doldrums. I did get out for a few hours last weekend but not much was happening except there are now four Red-tailed Hawks in the neighborhood. So I’ll continue with my December Colorado trip discussing Day 4’s afternoon with the highlight being a female Northern Harrier.

After birding Connected Lakes State Park all morning, the goal was to drive the short distance to Walker State Wildlife Area and scan for Raptors. Probably not the ideal location to scan but I didn’t feel like driving. And there werer eBird reports of raptors flying along the nearby Colorado River.

From what I read it appears birders out west take Black-billed Magpies for granted like we take American Crows for granted in the Midwest. That’s a shame since the magpie is such a beautiful bird, especially in flight.
Sandhill Cranes winter in the Grand Valley so there were flocks overhead each day.
This group was a little lower flying south up the river.
I heard waterfowl to the north but had only seen a few groups of Canada Geese flying until something put all the waterfowl up. Then I realized the full extent of their numbers.

I never did see what made the waterfowl fly. But a few minutes later I got a glimpse of a distant bird flying up river. The bird was large and dark. Even at that distance it didn’t have the feel of a Bald Eagle. The wings weren’t “planky” enough. The elusive Golden Eagle?

Not one afraid to show a bad photo, this was my desperate attempt to capture a distant bird which might have been a Golden Eagle. Not the blob in the tree but way out there, somewhere.
Two bad photos back to back. This was my only photo of a Red-tailed Hawk Dark Morph circling the area during the afternoon.

Female Northern Harrier

The highlight of the afternoon was watching a female Northern Harrier who spent the afternoon slowly cruising the nearby corn field.
female Northern Harrier
She would go up one side of the corn field and down the other, occasionally dropping down hunting something.
Finally she caught her meal which I assume was a mouse.

Douglas Pass – The Real Reason

The real reason for the December trip to the Grand Junction area of Colorado was to check out my June BBS (Breeding Bird Survey) routes. As I have previously posted the BBS routes are the main source to determine bird distribution in the U.S. and is one of the main factors if a bird is on or off an endangered list.

Besides the two BBS routes I run in Indiana I will now run two in western Colorado north of Grand Junction. Before I volunteered I wanted to make sure the area habitat was not strictly scrub. From the previous surveys I was sure they weren’t but I wanted to confirm. Thus the real reason for the trip.

Real Reason
Both Baxter Pass and Douglas Pass routes are similar. Their 24.5-mile route both start in scrub land and go over mountain passes (the squiggly part of the route lines). I-80 is the white line and the gray line down the left is the Utah border. Taken from the BBS web page.

I ended up at Highline Lake SP around noon and headed to the nearby starting point of the nearer Douglas Pass route. I wasn’t going to bird the route as much travel it to get a general feel of the landscape.

The early morning view from Loma. The BBS route starts 12 miles north of town and winds up and over Douglas Pass, the snow-covered mountain due north.
The route starts in scrub land which was void of birds except the occasional Common Raven.
After a few miles the route starts paralleling East Salt Creek that had numerous Cottonwoods. I’m assuming along the creek is where most of the birds will be in June. This is the view looking back south towards Loma.
The view looking south from Douglas Pass. The road up consists of several switchbacks which will make it interesting where I pull off in June since I couldn’t with the snow on the ground.
The view north from the pass. When I left the Grand Valley it was 40F. It was 15F and strong winds here. Brrr…
Why are there always Common Ravens where there aren’t any other birds? I circled one of the three flying over the pass.
Now I don’t think this Black-billed Magpie brought down this deer but it was sure acting like it.
These two got into a nice argument over the deer before being joined by several other magpies. I bet they fed on this for a week. Or until the state got it off the road.
A final view as I headed down the pass.

The route was what I hoped it would be – scrub to creek side to mountain. I don’t think I’ll have any problem seeing/hearing the norm of 60+ species for this count.

Bring on June!

Goldeneye – No Question

I have seen numerous Common Goldeneye over the years but never a Barrow’s Goldeneye. During my first year of birding one of my three life chases was for a female Barrow’s Goldeneye. She was hanging with a group of female Common Goldeneye on the Illinois River at Peoria. I easily found the Goldeneyes and spent an hour in the freezing weather but never could turn one of the Common’s into a Barrow.

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Barrow’s Goldeneye at Silverthorne Sewage Ponds. 12/3/16

There had been discussion on the Illinois listserv if one was a Barrow’s or not with the prevailing wisdom the bill was yellow enough for a Barrow’s. I have since seen this argument numerous times as people try to turn a Common into a Barrow’s. Especially in Illinois where a Barrow’s does occasionally turn up in a flock of Common.

Well let me say after spending a couple of minutes at the Silverthorne Sewage Ponds there isn’t an argument on Goldeneye differences. 

Colorado County Birding states the Silverthorne Sewage Ponds are a reliable spot to see Barrow’s Goldeneye in the winter. Since it is only two miles off I-70 I thought I’d stop and see for myself if there is a case for arguing about the species.

It was cold, windy, and snowing in the mountains when I stopped. Luckily the ponds are right on the main drag since I wanted to keep moving and get back down to lower altitude.

Immediately upon exiting the car I saw a group of Barrow’s and immediately recognized them. Not even close to the markings on a Common Goldeneye. I know I was close but the difference was easily apparent. The crescent on the male Barrow’s looks nothing like the round spot on the Common. And the all yellow bill of female didn’t hint at the Common’s mostly black bill.

A zoomed shot of Barrow’s Goldeneye showing the large crescent of the male and all yellow bill of the female. 12/3/16
A few weeks later and I’m on the Connecticut coast looking at a distant raft of Common Goldeneye. Even at this distance there is no doubt they are Common. 12/26/16

 

Other species at the Siverthorne Sewage ponds included American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and Gadwall . You can’t tell from the photo but the weather was deteriorating quickly. 12/3/16
The only non-waterfowl species at Silverthorne was a Black-billed Magpie, a species I would see at every stop. 12/3/16
I made one more stop on the day at the Gypsum Ponds where a flock of Black-billed Magpies flew over heading to the hills for the evening. 12/3/16

Then off to Grand Junction to start the real trip.

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