Fruitgrowers Reservoir Semi-Arid Water

The flight arrived late-morning, as opposed to the usual one into Denver and the day spent driving to Grand Junction. This forced the problem of where to bird in the afternoon heat? The choices were either the cooler higher elevations or water birds which didn’t care about the heat. Since I’d be going to higher elevations later in the week the water birds won out. But where? The state parks would be full of weekend visitors. This left Fruitgrowers Reservoir semi-arid water.

The advantage of Fruitgrowers Reservoir is no people. None. As I reported two years ago the lake is off-limits do to phosphorous pollution concerns. Plus this would probably be my only chance to see certain water species this year.

That left me to enjoy the water birds on the warm Sunday afternoon.

Fruitgrowers Reservoir Semi-Arid Water
The breeze off Fruitgrowers Reservoir semi-arid water felt good in the mid-90’s heat.
A look to the north showing the semi-arid environment except immediately around the reservoir.
I know it’s not unique to the west but I wanted to show this Killdeer. Is the white material along the shore the phosphorous pollution?
Also not unique but I liked this photo of  a Double-crested Cormorant taking a fish off to eat. A nearby nest?
Every time I looked it seemed one of the local American White Pelican flock was getting up and flying short distances around the lake.
A couple slowly drifted by while I was scanning the lake. The knob is showing on the right hand bird.
Cinnamon Teal were present at two locations on the trip.The female never appeared from the reeds for a photo.
Western Kingbirds were prevalent in all the lower elevations.
As were Black-chinned Hummingbirds. This guy must have liked sitting in the afternoon heat as he never moved.
Another futile effort to turn one of the 40 or so Western Grebes into Clark’s Grebes.
A Willet way out in the grass. eBird has flagged me twice in the last couple of months, both times for Willets. The first time in Marion County, IN in May and this time in Delta County, CO.
Yellow-headed Blackbirds were the stars of the day constantly flying from the reeds to the nearby pasture land. Both sexes kept up a steady flight.
Can you spot the female Yellow-headed Blackbird in the reeds?
I didn’t realize White-faced Ibis were much smaller than Great Blue Herons. I’ll come back to the Ibis on a later post.

Western Grebe – No Magic

After my last post on birders trying to turn Common Goldeneye to Barrow’s Goldeneye, you thought I would have learned. Nope. My first day in the Grand Junction area was spent wasting too much time trying to turn a Western Grebe into a Clark’s Grebe.

My first photo from the Grand Junction area. Looking west after the obligatory Starbucks stop. 12/4/16

The day started out exactly like I hoped. Clear and cold (17F). I was at Highline Lake State Park in under a half hour. It was as quiet as birding in winter in Midwest. The difference though was no backdrop noise of cars or machinery like you hear in the Midwest.

The real reason I go to Grand Junction. The wide open scenery. The view north from the south end of Highline Lake.

I was one of the few people at the park besides the rangers. And the birding was slow but I didn’t mind as I walked the trails for a few hours.

What would a stocked lake be without a Bald Eagle? 12/4/16
Of course there were deer. They must be less numerous since the Park Ranger made a point of telling me where the deer were located. 12/4/16
Ruby-crowned Kinglet were numerous on the trip, which surprised me. I’m going to do a separate post on them at a later date. 12/4/16
I stumbled upon a Say’s Phoebe at the south end of the lake. From a distance I initially took it to be an American Robin. 12/4/16
And yes it wagged its tail like all good phoebes. 12/4/16
A group of eight Wilson’s Snipe were on the runoff stream below the dam. A hearty bunch in the cold. 12/4/16

And now about Clark’s, I mean, Western Grebe.

Western Grebe
I first encountered the Western Grebe when they were in the middle of the lake. With the crown looking like it might be above the eye, the one on the right looked possible for Clark’s Grebe. 12/4/16
So I spent more time than I should waiting for them to get closer. 12/4/16
I didn’t mind waiting because I could enjoy the western skyline. 12/4/16
Even at a distance this cropped photo shows the dark surrounding the eye on the first grebe. Obviously a Western Grebe. 12/4/16
I can’t work any magic on the other grebe. The dark area surrounds the eye, though it’s faint.  Western Grebe. It was fun waiting and watching though. 12/4/16

Next on to the real reason for the trip.

And Now for Something Completely Different – Lake Birding in an Arid World

After wrapping up at Colorado National Monument I had the choice to either try for cooler (as in temperature) birds at elevation or spend the afternoon at the only large lake in the area. Since a breeze had picked up I figured it wouldn’t be so warm around the lake. I was kinda right.

It took about an hour to get to Fruitgrowers Reservoir outside Delta, CO.  I know I said I didn’t want to drive that much but not really many options if I was going to beat the heat. The lake tuned out to be good-sized with absolutely no people around.  None. Just like the morning it was quiet but in a different way.

Then I read a sign that explained why. There was to be no water contact by people – no swimming, no fishing, no boating.  The lake has a high level of phosphorous pollution and from reading on the internet it has for some time.  So why is safe for birds? I don’t know.

But even though it was polluted and it was quiet, there were birds. The lakes’ north end had a road that cut off the lake from a low area that was a large cattail marsh.  So I walked the road observing grebes, pelicans, and gulls to one side and blackbirds, coots, and herons on the other side.

The road had very little traffic and it made for a wonderful afternoon. Even in 100F temperature!

And it reminded me of when we lived in Illinois.  I have written how I would go to LaSalle Lake almost every summer afternoon and watch the gulls. Often in 90F or higher heat. So this brought back pleasant memories and reminded me how much I like the heat.

Seriously.

And just like those Sunday afternoons of searching through all the Ring-billed Gulls for Laughing Gulls or searching the Caspian Terns for a Royal and usually coming up short, I never could turn a Western Grebe into a Clark’s.

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Fruitgrowers Reservoir looking from the road over the lake.
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Looking SE at a group of American White Pelicans in the distance.
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The view to the north over the marsh area adjacent to the road.
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Western Grebe and family. How do they choose which young one gets to ride on Mom? First come? First serve?
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So I guess I did get a closer photo of a Black-chinned Hummingbird.
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I initially thought the 5 gulls hanging around were Ring-billed Gulls but after a closer I’m pretty sure they are California Gulls. I did not spend a lot of time studying them with all the other species around.
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I had the best views of my life of Yellow-headed Blackbirds. There were numerous male and females flying around. The males did not appreciated me and kept giving their strange call.
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Definitely the best looks of female Yellow-headed Blackbirds.
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More babies. There were a couple of American Coots around and this one came out with her red-headed young.
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And at the end of the road the American White Pelicans were feeding in a small pool surrounded by Great Blue Herons. I never did see any shorebirds even though there was good habitat.

And reaching the end of the road and being out for more than several hours in the heat it was time to head back.

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.