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.

Northern Harrier – Weekend Highlight

After a couple of weekends of lousy photo weather I finally have a few photos to pick a highlight. Not saying there are any good photos but at least I have photos to build a story. Especially one about a Northern Harrier.

One of Bob’s Birding Rules (I need to post them) is to turn around and go home when it’s foggy. I should’ve listened to myself and waited until the fog lifted. But I don’t know if it was the crappy weather we’ve been having or traveling for work, but as soon as it was light I was out the door Saturday morning. I knew traveling to the retention ponds the odds of seeing wasn’t good.

Arriving a little before sunrise there wasn’t much fog. But as the day brightened the fog started to build. This really didn’t matter since there wasn’t any waterfowl on the ponds except for a couple of distant Northern Shovelers.

With the warm weather I think the birds thought it was spring. Species I usually don’t hear until March, like meadowlarks, were calling. So I walked the near side of the tree line and listened.

Here’s a photo of an American Tree Sparrow to show how foggy it was a little after sunrise.

The other side of the tree line where the meadowlarks were calling is the large grass area. I decided to make a quick stop and get a meadowlark count (a minimum of 10 counted) or a photo.

Several of the Eastern Meadowlarks were close to the road allowing foggy photos.

There are two Eastern Meadowlarks in this photo taken from no more than 50 feet.
The more vocal of the two who sang constantly while I was there.
The other one didn’t like I was so close and flew. I’m posting this photo to show the density of the fog.

Then out of the fog came a raptor.

This is the view to the north in the general direction of the meadowlark photos. The visibility has to be less than 100 feet.
Northern Harrier
At first I thought it was the local Red-tailed Hawk. But it didn’t take long from its hunting motion to know it was a Northern Harrier. My first for the local area.
And just like that the Northern Harrier was gone into the fog. Did I really see it? Was it a ghost?

I don’t like getting glimpses of birds. Especially ones I don’t see so often. Luckily I saw several Northern Harriers in Colorado so I didn’t feel so bad.

The other odd thing for a January day was a flock of Sandhill Cranes landing near the local park. Odd it’s January and they landed locally. All the rain?

A distant photo of the Sandhill Cranes circling to land (I think) in a nearby field.

 

I’m trying to enlarge a portion of the photo to show the cranes but it didn’t work so well.

Denver Airport Road – Colorado 1st Stop

The plan was pretty basic. Early flight into Denver, bird Denver Airport Road, and then check out a few areas close to I-70 on the four-hour drive to Grand Junction. Most of these stops would be to see birds I probably wouldn’t see in Western Colorado.

The day’s first would be Airport Rd. at Denver International Airport. Number 1 on the map. Map “Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.”

The adventure started uneventfully out of Indianapolis. But 30 minutes in the plane took a big dip.

The kind similar to where your car hits a big bump and your stomach ends up in your chest.

Nothing flew to the ceiling but the seat belt sign came on quick and the flight attendants sat right down. And this was the way it was for an hour. Up and down and left and right. The pilot came on and regretfully reported all west bound flights were scrambling to find a smooth altitude. First time in a long time I saw flight attendants handing out barf bags. I kept my mind off of it by listening to bird calls!

Finally about a half hour out it leveled off and we made a smooth landing in the fog.

Fog?? What the @x$#??

You can see the fog behind the plane with the bluebird. I think I see orange on the throat so will list it as an Eastern Bluebird.

Fog had not been forecast and could put a damper on the beginning of the trip. So I took my time in the terminal and eventually headed out hoping as the sun rose it would burn off the fog. And the fog did slowly lift and by the time I arrived at the first stop it was pretty well gone.

The first stop like my last trip was the Airport Road around Denver International Airport. The target last time was Burrowing Owl and this time it was Ferruginous Hawk. I had spent quite a bit of time the last couple of months watching our local Red-tailed Hawks so I would hopefully be able to quickly tell the difference. From what I read this habitat, arid treeless grassland, would be good for Ferruginous Hawks. A quick check of eBird showed a few had been seen in the area.

On the way to Airport Road I kept seeing huge flocks of Canada Geese circling over. I didn’t pay much attention to them since hawks were my goal.

Luckily the main road was detoured a mile west and north. After making the jog west, then north, I was headed back east when I saw a hawk sitting on a piece of irrigation equipment. My first thought was Red-tailed Hawk since I had already seen one a little further back.

At this point the studying paid off.

I could tell the hawk was “larger” than a Red-tailed and the way it was sitting on the antenna was “different”. Pulling off the road and getting a better look, be it slightly into the sun, and I could see it was a Ferruginous Hawk.

A little bit larger, no belly band, and a white tail – Ferruginous Hawk. Denver Airport Rd.

The hawk let me look for a minute and flew back to additional equipment. The upper wing was a different shade of brown and when it swooped up the whitish tail was prominent. Definitely not a Red-tailed Hawk.

I might be imagining this but the Ferruginous Hawk seems “bigger”. Denver Airport Rd.

Getting back to the car I noticed the hawk had flown off. I proceed to get off the detour and on to the less traveled country roads slowly scouring the landscape. It wasn’t long before I see a large bird sitting in a field, another trait of Ferruginous Hawks.

Not the sharpest photo but I had read where unlike other hawks Ferruginous Hawks hunt by sitting in fields. I was glad to spot one. Denver Airport Rd.

I watched it preen for several minutes. It didn’t appear to be hunting, just preening. But it probably didn’t pick that spot at random and I just didn’t see it go after breakfast.

By watching it preen I could see the difference in the brown compared to a Red-tailed Hawk. And the tail was white. Denver Airport Rd.

A further down the road I spot Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, and American Kestrel all hunting the area, with most too far away for photos.

A Northern Harrier came close to the road hunting along a ditch. Denver Airport Road

I spoke to a couple of photographers that pointed out some additional distant raptors. One said there was a dead Rough-legged Hawk up the road though I didn’t go check it out.

While talking to the photographers a Ferruginous Hawk flew past. By the time I got the camera up it is almost past. The difference from a Red-tailed Hawk is becoming more noticeable.

The white tail and primary wing panel are distinctive even at this distance. Denver Airport Road
Same field marks can be seen on this long distance photo. Denver Airport Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

After spending much longer than my allotted hour it’s time to move on.

Denver Airport Road
Even this close to a major city and airport the landscape is forlorn. Denver Airport Road

But what of the Canada Geese?

More on that in my next post.

A Benton County Saturday

After returning from London I took my daughter to Lafayette Saturday morning and the nhad to pick her up in the afternoon. So I took the opportunity to bird a couple of spots in Benton County.

But first let me say it was COLD. According to National Weather Service the temperature at 10AM was 31F with winds out of the NW at 22mph with gusts of 28mph making the Wind Chill 18F. This wasn’t good since I had planned to search for shorebirds in the rain-soaked fields. But they were frozen.

The first stop was a quick one for WESTERN MEADOWLARKS. Immediately upon rolling down the car window I heard and then saw numerous VESPER SPARROWS on the road.

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A Vesper Sparrow eating grit in the road close to the car. Rural Benton County 3/9/16

While watching the sparrows I heard a Western Meadowlark calling. Only a couple of meadowlarks flew in the cold, so I’m not sure if I saw an Eastern or Western. But I definitely heard a Western calling.

I then headed to Pine Creek Gamebird Habitat. I didn’t know what to expect with this being my first time there. And it didn’t take long to realize I would be facing the freezing wind to view the shorebirds. But that same cold weather helped by freezing the entire water area everywhere but the water closest to the road. Forcing the shorebirds closer.

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Number 3 parking area is at the top of the bluff to the right (south) of the road. Walking across the road one can view the water looking to the north. Pine Creek 3/9/16

There were numerous GREATER AND LESSER YELLOWLEGS, plus a few PECTORAL SANDPIPERS. And with the water frozen that was the extent of the birds.

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Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs working along the edge of the frozen water. Pine Creek 3/9/16

I then walked the south trail into the sun to thaw my frozen face. A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD was flying about as where a flock of AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS.

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An American Tree Sparrow  that was part of a flock I initially thought were Field Sparrows. Pine Creek 3/9/16

I then headed to the west trail along the shallow bluff which would keep the wind out of my face. I could then walk back with the wind.  The walk was productive since it was now afternoon and the water was beginning to melt.

Over a one hundred BLUE-WINGED TEAL flew in along with NORTHERN SHOVELERS, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, a lone HOODED MERGANSER, and MALLARDS.

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The closest of the one hundred Blue-winged Teal, but still a distance away. Pine Creek 3/9/16

A RED-TAIL HAWK, AMERICAN KESTREL, and TURKEY VULTURES flew by. It was a very enjoyable walk.

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The local Red-tailed Hawk kept circling overhead, sometimes coming quite close. Pine Creek 3/9/16

I then saw a group of shorebirds land in the grass a little further to the north. My first thought was WILSON’S SNIPE since they like moist, grassy areas but I couldn’t be sure. So I took my time heading that way to see if I could get a glimpse.

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The shorebirds landed at the far left of the photo by the bushes. I slowly started in that direction. Pine Creek 3/9/16

I noticed a hawk flying low behind the tree line heading straight for the presumed snipe. It came in unexpectedly and almost got them. They immediately flew giving me the chance to ID them.

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It all happened so fast this is the best I could do for the Northern Harrier looking for lunch. Pine Creek 3/9/16
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I did catch the Wilson’s Snipe flying away, which helped to definitely ID them. Pine Creek 3/9/16

I’m glad I waited around trying to ID the snipe since I got to see the harrier attack plus more waterfowl kept flying in.

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One of the Wilson’s Snipe landed a little closer to me. Still not a good photo but enough to ID it. Pine Creek 3/9/16

My thoughts from my first visit to the area? Good area for shorebirds and waterfowl with easy viewing and trails for walking. Right up my alley.

If someone knew of a good passerine site in the county, you could probably build a very good county list just visiting those two areas.

The Doldrums

I’m afraid The Doldrums have arrived.  You know the time between January 1 and that day when you have seen all the winter birds you are going to see. Oh, you might pick up one new species here and there, but in all actuality you are now going to wait until mid-March when the first calling Brown Thrasher or the flight of a Tree Swallow over a partially frozen pond signals the start of spring migration.

But until then I’m afraid it might be feeder watching time.

The official date for The Doldrums varies. On one of those very cold, snowy, frozen years it can be as early as January 1.  The kind of year where you go out and see all the local birds on New Year’s Day. And with everything already headed south, you aren’t going to see anything new for a while.

The Doldrums officially hit me last week weekend.  I spent the day with Don and Doug looking for new species in a couple of areas.  It was cold and windy.  The water for the most part was froze over.  The birds weren’t calling or flying. The only real action was at a feeder east of Goose Pond.  We heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch in some pines but that was it.

So what do The Doldrums look like?

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Not much happening at all. Goose Pond FWA 1/23/16
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Or here either. Owen-Putnam SF, IN 1/23/16
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Oh wait. There was one bird flying. A Northern Harrier crosses our path. 1/23/16

Being as it was slow I got very few photos.  And since I have a degree in teaching history (never used if you want to know) I’ll explain The Doldrums.

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The Doldrums or Intertropical Convergence Zone move from season to season influenced by the larger land masses in the Northern Hemisphere.

I most often hear people reference The Doldrums in relation to feeling depressed. As in “I feel I’m in The Doldrums since I haven’t seen a new bird in weeks”.  But The Doldrums really reference a zone around the equator where the wind might not blow for weeks.  And in the days of sailing ships this could be the kiss of death.

Doldrums

We now recognize The Doldrums are really parts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone. From Wikipedia – “a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. The Doldrums are also noted for calm periods when the winds disappear altogether, trapping sail-powered boats for periods of days or weeks.”

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There were some Wild Turkeys out and about though. Photo through windshield. Goose Pond Area – 1/23/16

So do The Doldrums also hit in the mid-June to late July period? For some, but not me. First I usually take a bird trip in mid-June.  And I’m a hot weather person and enjoy checking out things in the summer. Plus we have the two-month IAS Summer Count which always adds extra incentive to be out in the hot weather.

So for now:

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Trying out my “new” camera on American Goldfinch at the backyard feeder. It’s the camera I still use. LaSalle County Illinois – 1/2/10

But probably not.

 

 

The Only Way to Describe It

Surreal.

From Dictionary.com – surreal – “having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of dream; unreal; fantastic:”

And that is the only way I can describe the scene when 100,000+ SNOW GEESE are flying overhead honking. And that doesn’t do it justice. You must see it yourself to really comprehend the scene.

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No way to describe the scene that lasted off and on all morning. Thousands and thousands of Snow Geese. Gibson Lake – 1/2/16

And this was the way it went all morning when I accompanied Don Gorney last Saturday on my first trip to Gibson County. While looking for other various specialties there was always the awareness of the Snow Geese flying in the distance.

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That isn’t a cloud in the background but thousands of Snow Geese. Gibson County – 1/2/16

I hadn’t seen this many Snow Geese since I went on chase #3 for a Little Gull at Carlyle Lake in Southern Illinois. That day there was the same constant swirling of Snow Geese until they settled on the lake. It is too bad that there isn’t access to Gibson Lake so we could see the vast amount of waterfowl that must be present.

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I know I have used this photo before but it still just amazes me. Those are rafts of Snow Geese. The photo is taken from a mile away so how many geese are there? A million? Carlyle Lake IL 1/28/12

And Snow Geese weren’t the only birds in large flocks. Though I didn’t get a picture (how can you get one that does the scene justice?)  on the day we saw huge flocks of blackbirds – mainly COMMON GRACKLES. It would probably take someone with a video camera to record the long line of blackbirds and then try to get a count. I swear one of the flocks was a couple of miles long.

Early in the day we stopped by the town of Francisco to see if there were EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES next to the grain elevator like every small town.  And of course there were.

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One of 15 Eurasian Collared-Doves that were present. Of course sometimes the sun isn’t cooperative when trying to take a photo. Francisco, IN 1/2/16

On the day we saw several impressive birds starting with the lingering GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE. Don had already spent time with it in December and I had spent considerable time with them last summer in Colorado, so we didn’t linger at the sight.

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Green-tailed Towhee on the ground. I didn’t grab my camera when getting out of the car.  So the photo credit is goes to Don Gorney. Gibson Lake Area 1/2/16
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Another photo showing the bright rufous cap in the morning sun. Don’s main goal is to get a good photo ID and not an award-winning photo. But  I think they are still good photos. Photo by Don Gorney. Gibson Lake Area 1/2/16

Hoping for waterfowl we moved on to Tern Bar Slough. There was little variety and numbers are still low. Hopefully the current cold snap will send some south. Moving on we encountered both endangered RUSTY BLACKBIRDS and RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS in the same woods. Which was good to see.

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Since it is close to the road a Bald Eagle’s nest that I have seen on several web sites. Gibson Lake area – 1/2/16

We then spent a considerable amount of time watching the Snow Geese while Don picked a few ROSS’S GEESE out of the swirling flock. A few groups of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE also flew by at a higher elevation.

In the afternoon we headed to Somerville Mine in the eastern part of the county to search for raptors.  They were numerous with many RED-TAILED HAWKS, NORTHERN HARRIERS, and more limited numbers of ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS and AMERICAN KESTRELS.

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One of several Northern Harriers we saw on the day. None of the raptors really came close to our area. Somerville Mine – 1/2/16

We also went into Warrick County in search of Northern Shrikes and MERLINS.  We missed on the Shrikes but found a few Merlins.

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I always expect Merlins to be larger. They aren’t hard to spot but they just aren’t a big bird. Warrick County – 1/2/16

We extended the day a little and went back to Somerville Mine area to catch the initial flights of SHORT-EARED OWLS at dusk.

From my first trip to the area I can see why Gibson County always does well on counts. The varied habitat is great for a wide variety of species.

 

 

 

 

 

 

First, Birding Colorado East of the Rockies

The plan for the week wasn’t unique – bird the main habitats of the area.  But before I headed to Grand Junction I had a day to spend east of Denver.

I had taken a 5:30 AM flight out of Indianapolis that had me birding by 7:30 AM Mounain Time Saturday. The plan for the day was to bird the perimeter road of the airport looking for owls and hawks, then drive east of out into the country for hawks, and then back to a state park reservoir.  Wrap it up by 1 PM and then the 4-5 hour drive to Grand Junction.

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I turned onto Airport Rd. and immediately encountered a wet spot with an American Avocet. What a great way to start the trip!
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It know it has to do with the habitats I picked, but this is the first of what seemed to be the most encountered bird of the trip –  Western Meadowlark.
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After seeing numerous roadkill and thinking they were rabbits, I encountered a Prairie Dog colony. I guess they weren’t rabbits on the road after all…
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Knowing there were Prairie Dogs in the area, I scanned for Burrowing Owls. I found this little guy gazing at the Rockies in the distance.
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This group was watching me from just across the road. I would probably have missed them if the previous one hadn’t been up where I could see him. It is hard to realize just how small they are until you see them.
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A closer photo of the group. They didn’t move much the whole time I was there. Nor did I hear any calls. But the Prairie Dogs were vocal the whole time. I am not sure what they are watching to my left? Or would they just not return my gaze?
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Here is the view from the opposite side of the Burrowing Owl area. Pretty desolate.
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The first of many Western Kingbirds. On several previous trips they had been a possibility but I had never seen one. So it was good to finally get to watch them. Very similar acting to Eastern Kingbirds.
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Not a good photo but something I hadn’t thought I would encounter on the High Plains. While scanning for hawks a Bald Eagle came flying over. I am no where near water so I am not sure where it is coming or going.
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Now this is what I was looking for when I saw the eagle. My one and only Swainson’s Hawk of the trip. I got good looks at it before I remembered to take this photo, which is cropped.
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A little farther down the road I encountered this Northern Harrier hunting over an irrigated field. Now I don’t know if I hadn’t paid that close of attention to the status and distribution charts, but I wasn’t expecting a harrier in this location. Checking later, they are a year-round species in Colorado.
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The area 40 miles east of Denver where I was looking for hawks and Lark Buntings. This went on for miles. I did get good looks at a Grasshopper Sparrow and Loggerhead Shrike, but not much else.
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After the desolate area, I headed to Barr State Park NE of Denver. There were numerous Western Grebes on the reservoir water, often coming right up to the edge. There were also American White Pelicans in the distance.
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In several areas I birded Eurasian Collared-Doves were as numerous as Mourning Doves.
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Not a western specialty, but I couldn’t resist adding this photo.  An Eastern Kingbird had built a nest that wasn’t more than 3 feet off the trail around the lake.
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And now one of the birds I probably most wanted to see on the trip, a Bullock’s Oriole. This first year male gave the best views while he constantly flew around. The adult males wouldn’t come out for photos. I was struck with how much more orange the Bullock’s have then the Baltimore Oriole.
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Another obliging Western Kingbird, though he wouldn’t come out of the shadows.
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And with that I headed west. Next installment – a stop at the highest point traveling west on I-70.