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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Then off to Grand Junction to start the real trip.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With a rare storm approaching and not wanting to get caught up on the ridge, I called it a day.