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?
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.
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.
Then out of the fog came a raptor.
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?
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 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$#??
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After spending much longer than my allotted hour it’s time to move on.
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.
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.
There were numerous GREATER AND LESSER YELLOWLEGS, plus a few PECTORAL SANDPIPERS. And with the water frozen that was the extent of the birds.
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.
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.
A RED-TAIL HAWK, AMERICAN KESTREL, and TURKEY VULTURES flew by. It was a very enjoyable walk.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
From Dictionary.com – surreal – “havingthedisorienting,hallucinatoryqualityofa 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We also went into Warrick County in search of Northern Shrikes and MERLINS. We missed on the Shrikes but found a few Merlins.
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.
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.