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.

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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.

Mountain Bluebird – Weekend Highlight

As I stated last week I was going to take an out-of-state trip. The destination was again Western Colorado. The reasons for going to Western Colorado are somewhat long and will make up the topic of the next blog. I got home late last night early this morning after a long day getting through the snow at Vail Pass. I’ll stay with Mountain Bluebird as the Weekend Highlight since I already had this 90% done but I did encounter a contender on my one stop across Colorado yesterday.

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I had several photos of Mountain Bluebirds I enjoyed with this being my favorite. Colorado River State Park-Fruita Section 12/4/16

While birding the Colorado River State Park-Fruita Section Sunday afternoon I encountered a small group of Mountain Bluebirds that turned out to be a larger group of 50 individuals. Along with American Robins, European Starlings, and House Finches they were feeding on berries adjacent to the Colorado River. They would fly back and forth from the berry trees to nearby trees or even to trees across the river.

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I first noticed a small group sitting in a nearby tree.
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They would often stop on one of the park signs before flying on to the berry tree.
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And here is the berry tree though you can’t see them inside eating away. Can someone confirm this is a Russian Olive?
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Sometimes they would fly back to a fence and eat them in the afternoon sun.
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When finished eating they would fly to a nearby lake for a drink to wash it down.
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Then back to a nearby tree to digest their food before starting the routine over.
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But all the while one or two would locate to a high limb scanning for local hawks. Something I learned was the darkness of the Mountain Bluebird’s primaries.
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With the mountains to the west blocking the sun and losing daylight fast, it was time to end another mild, sunny day.

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.