Western Colorado Final Thoughts – Dec16

It’s been four months since my December Colorado trip. And I’ll be going again in two months to run two BBS Routes. Even though I have enough photos for a few more posts it’s time to wrap it up and present my Western Colorado final thoughts.

Like other trips I’ll do a final post on thoughts from the trip. And like those reports these are in no order.

A Western-Screech Owl keeps a watchful eye at Grand Junction Wildlife Area.
  1. Early December is probably not the best time to go birding in Western Colorado if you’re after a large species count. But since I wanted to check out the BBS routes and I had the time, I went. Plus, as I have stated it is going to be one of three areas I hope to come to know and bird repeatedly.
  2. Next time I’m flying direct. For an extra $200 I can fly direct into Grand Junction and pick up an extra day of birding.  On future summer trips I might fly into Denver and bird my way across the state. But on winter trips I’ll fly direct and not have to fight the mountain passes.

    Bald Eagle couple in the distance. I have closer photos of the pair but I like the backdrop of this photo.
  3. The drive back to Denver was rough. As stated above I’ll forgo looking for birds on the way not to worry about the drive. I have driven in the worst Midwest snowstorms but never at 10,000 feet with trucks going up and down on the mountain passes. Not again.

    This was taken on the drive to Grand Junction before the snow started falling. Add 10″ of snow, zero visibility, and you have the picture of the drive back.
  4. This was my first time flying on Frontier and had no problems on either flight. The only catch are limited flights from Indianapolis to Denver. And Alamo Rent-A-Car was good for the second straight trip. Will use both again without hesitation.

    Nothing fancy. Basic motel and white Altima rental car.
  5. The next non-June trip will be timed to coincide with migration of raptors and before the snow comes to the mountains. There is a good movement of raptors along the west edge of the Rockies I’d like to see.
  6. For you listers, I saw 62 species on the trip of which 23 were new Colorado species and 5 life birds. In June I’ll probably spend some time looking for rarer species up in the mountains.

    I saw a pair of Pinyon Jays, one of my favorite Colorado birds.
  7. I proved I like to bird one area and get to know it versus traveling all day from spot to spot. And flying direct will add another day of birding the area.
  8. Still no Golden Eagle. But I’m sure one will fly by eventually.

    One of the most numerous species were White-crowned Sparrows.
  9. The zoom feature of the Nikon P900 camera proved I don’t need to lug along a spotting scope. For distant views it worked well to ID species.
  10. I saw other wildlife outside of birds. Rabbits, a lone fox, and a deer couple which scared the @(*%& out of me.
    Can you spot the rabbit? Not sure how I spotted it camouflaged in the grass.
    A view of a distant Red Fox south of the dam at Highline SP.

    The male deer first raised up out of the grass at about 20 feet. Was more than a little scary.
  11. Weather was great for December outside of the mountain passes on the drive back. Lows in teens, highs in the 40’s. Very light snow
  12. Accomplished the main goal of checking out Douglas Pass for the June Breeding Bird Survey trip. It should be interesting running the survey from the start in scrub land and working my way over a mountain pass.
  13. As I stated in a couple of previous posts I need to learn status and distribution for the area better. The number of Ruby-crowned Kinglets still surprises me.
  14. And as always every hour had highlights but the American Dipper was probably the best since it was totally unexpected.

    Western Colorado Final Thoughts
    Goodbye to Western Colorado until June.

Northern Flicker Drumming – Colorado Day 3

The plan was to wrap up the December Colorado trip with one more blog. But after reviewing the photos from the final days I came up with several more posts. A couple travelogue type posts and a couple about things that caught my interest. Day 3’s morning was an enjoyable one in the field with a long walk at a state park. Strictly a travelogue day which means not any one highlight but many good views and observations. I’ll go with a Northern Flicker drumming to show my improving video talent. Ha!

Another cool day began at the James M. Robb part of the Colorado River State Park. Once again I had a park to myself.
The park appears to be a series of reclaimed gravel pits. A cold Great Blue Heron kept guard on the lake.
Even though I’m only a mile from Grand Junction the lone noise was a freight train. Plus, the view was great.
The park’s staff had left several dead trees, this one by a pond where an American Kestrel kept lookout. I think he was hunting sparrows in the brush alongside the pond.
Ruby-crowned Kinglets were prevalent on the trip, something I wasn’t expecting. (The Ruby is barely seen in the photo) I’m going to have a separate blog post concerning Ruby-crowned Kinglets in a few weeks.
Wood Ducks were at the park, also not expected. They’ll be featured in the Ruby-crowned Kinglet post.

There were numerous Dark-eyed Juncos but they too are getting a separate blog.

The call of the Spotted Towhee was perplexing until he popped out of the shadows. The call was much louder and grating than I remembered. Or was it the still morning’s air?

A White-crowned Sparrow Tree.
I’ve learned Song Sparrow’s coloring can vary greatly in the Midwest. This Colorado bird seems to be even redder than I remember at home.
Northern Flicker Drumming
As noted above the park’s staff had left many dead trees for birds, like this Northern Flicker.

Now the following isn’t a good video. I was playing around with the video and thought I had a focused video of a Northern Flicker drumming. Turns out there was a small branch in the way. But I had fun in the field watching and recording.

Turn up the volume to catch the Northern Flicker Drumming.

NOFL Drilling

I wrapped up the morning’s walk with a good mix of species – waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds. I encountered three separate Bewick’s Wrens but like any wren they didn’t come out long enough for a photo.

White-crowned Sparrow – 12 Days Late

The past weekend had one main and a couple of smaller goals. The main goal was to see once and for all if Atterbury FWA had EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILLS. The weather forecast for Saturday called for rain but Sunday was clear with a full moon. So I opted to check for whips and a couple of the minor goals on Sunday. That report will be in the next blog.

On Saturday I did one of the minor goals, check for forest species at Atterbury.

A Different Area in Atterbury

Believe it or not there are a couple of areas I have never explored at Atterbury. From Google Maps they appear similar to other areas so I haven’t explored them. But just in case they had something new I thought I had better check.

I got a late start Saturday because of the rain and I didn’t feel like bushwhacking a new area in the rain. Especially one with the potential for high grass. And as expected, it had most of the forest species which included a KENTUCKY WARBLER on territory.

TRAIL (2)
The path through the wet woods. Perfect for Bushwhacking.

I ended up at the marsh but no rails were calling. Cutting back through the grasslands there were numerous WILLOW FLYCATCHERS and YELLOW-BREASTED CHATS on territory, as there would be throughout the weekend.

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A Willow Flycatcher calling on the edge of the marsh.
YBCH (5)
A Yellow-breasted Chat checking me out from a small bush.

I found a pair of RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS which is a good since they are on the local endangered watch list.

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One of the two Red-headed Woodpeckers on a fallen dead tree. Thanks to the DNR for leaving it.

I came across a group of EASTERN KINGBIRDS out either feeding or playing, I couldn’t tell which. At one time I had 6 in my binocular’s field of view.

EAKI (14)
Can you see 4 Eastern Kingbirds? There was a Red-headed Woodpecker in the bush straight back but I don’t see it now.

Another numerous species were SWAINSON’S THRUSH calling from the brush.

SWTH (4)
One of the better views I’ve had lately of Swainson’s Thrush.

What Was to be the Weekend Highlight

Up to finding the COMMON GALLINULE the bird that was going to be the highlight of the weekend was a common species – a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW.

That’s right, a White-crowned Sparrow.

WCSP (1) White-crowned Sparrow
Almost the star of the weekend, a White-crowned Sparrow.

Why you may ask? Because it is 12 days later than my average departure date, including my data from Northern Illinois.

WCSP eBird
As noted on this eBird chart White-crowned Sparrows are virtually gone from Indiana after 5/22 and non-existent June – August.

I was walking along the road after watching the woodpeckers and kingbirds when it flew out on the road. It took me a minute to realize it was a White-crowned Sparrow since I thought they would have gone north by now. A second appeared but I didn’t get it in the photo.

A mid-afternoon discovery of a wooded area that had several warblers including a Cerulean Warbler concluded the day.

A Sad Story

I was really glad to see Palm Warblers at a couple of different locations this past Sunday. Because if I hadn’t seen them it would have led to one of those birding dilemmas.

PAWA C
A Palm Warblers I pished in and remained sitting up in the sunlight. Greenwood Retaining Ponds 10/18/15

I have missed several of the migratory species this year and missing Palm Warblers would have just added insult to injury.  Palm Warblers are usually one of the last warblers to move through so I held out hope that I would see them. Otherwise I would have been forced to list one from a sad story.

I’m just enough of a lister that I like to see my state’s year list just high enough that I have done the minimum amount of birding through the year.  And since I switched jobs earlier this year and living in the Eastern Time Zone, I don’t seem to be in the field anywhere near enough. That hopefully will change as I adapt to the job.

PAWA A
The first Palm Warbler of the day. Meijer Retaining Pond 10/18/15
PAWA
Same bird showing that Palm Warblers are constantly pumping their tails. Meijer Retaining Pond 10/18/15

Heading into this past weekend I had seen a Palm Warbler.  But I really didn’t want to add it to the list.  Maybe if I had ended the year one short of my goal I might have begrudgingly added it.

The Sad Story

One of my co-workers and I were sitting outside eating lunch in early October. It’s one of those typical brick patios with outdoor tables that manufacturing facilities seem to have. The patio area is open to the east with the south and west walls part of the factory and the north wall is windows for the inside lunch area.  Shrubs and small trees are spattered about.

There is a flock of House Sparrows that live in the area and they are constantly flying into the area to get crumbs off the ground.  They’ll zoom in from the south parking lot one or two at a time. They usually are moving fast and head into a bush and then to the ground for food.

So when a small bird zoomed by without any halting motion of going into the bush I knew it was something different. Definitely not a House Sparrow. Even my non-birding co-worker started to comment “What was that?” And then the

THUD

I knew right away that the bird was dead.  There was no way going that speed it could have survived the impact.

It was a Palm Warbler that didn’t survive the impact. Not much else to say…

But the problem from a listing perspective was that I saw it alive before it hit the window. And I really didn’t want to count it and did the eBird gods need to know that there was a Palm Warbler in Shelby County?  No.

So I didn’t count it and hoped I would encounter some later so I wouldn’t have to resort to counting it. Which luckily I don’t have too after this past weekend.

PAWA B
Hopefully this guy will avoid windows and keep moving south. Greenwood Retaining Ponds 10/18/15
WCSP
Bonus photo of a White-crowned Sparrow that popped up to see what all that pishing noise was about. Greenwood Retaining Ponds 10/18/15

An Easy Weekend

With the weekend being sandwiched between weeks of traveling for work, last Saturday I looked forward to an easy morning of walking and enjoying the outdoors.  Since sparrows should be moving through and since hunting isn’t allowed there, I headed to my favorite sparrow spot – Johnson County Park.

Trail JCP
Walking the paths on a beautiful Saturday morning. Johnson County Park 10/10/15

Basically I took my time and enjoyed the birds, the changing trees, and the easy walk. I didn’t see any uncommon sparrows but I did see most of the expected fall sparrows. The closest I had to an uncommon sparrow was a Chipping Sparrow that wanted to be a Clay-colored Sparrow for several minutes.  It was always back-lit so I never could get a photo.

EABL EAPH JCP A
One of those times that the birds actually sat in a tree together for more than few seconds. I don’t know if they were talking but both the Eastern Phoebe and Eastern Bluebird were calling while sitting in the tree.  JCP 10/10/15
WCSP JCP B
A Swamp Sparrow really didn’t seem to be in any hurry to move on. He gave good looks including the one I used in the blog header photo. JCP 10/10/15

WCSP JCP A SWSP JCP

WCSP JCP
A little further down the path a White-crowned Sparrow sat somewhat out in the open. JCP 10/10/15
NOMO JCP
Come on now. Why do Northern Mockingbirds always seem to think they can’t be seen? JCP 10/10/15

I ended up seeing Eastern Towhee, Chipping, Field, White-crowned, White-throated, Song, and Swamp Sparrows on the day.

An easy blog post for an easy day of birding.

And now a few photos from earlier in the month from the area by my place.

NOFL MC
Not a good photo but I really liked the brightness of the yellow shafts showing on this Northern Flicker. South Indianapolis 10/11/15
GBHE MC
Who says a big bird can’t use its colors for camouflage? If this Great Blue Heron hadn’t called I would have walked right by it. South Indianapolis, Early October 2015

Yummy – Taraxacum!

Last Sunday I happened to stumble upon a flock of sparrows working their way through the brush of a local stream.  I knew they were up ahead because I heard the songs of both White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows. When I came around the bend there was a mad scramble from the grass back into the brush telling me there was a good number of sparrows.

I tried to observe as many of the sparrows as I could. It paid off with a good view of a Lincoln’s Sparrow back a few feet in the brush.  Even though I haven’t seen very many Lincoln’s Sparrows it was obvious with it’s smaller size than a Song Sparrow, plainer face, and buffy breast with thin stripes.

I watched the White-throated Sparrows fly out of the brush to feed on the grass and then fly back in.  I finally decided to try to photograph one since they were all showing some of the brightest colors I have seen.

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Here is the White-throated Sparrow I ended up getting a chance to photograph. It flew out from a bush to feed in the grass. Franklin HS 05/03/15
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Next it is looking around to see if the coast is clear to make its move. Franklin HS 05/03/15
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And finally it springs up and takes a bite of the Taraxacum, commonly known as dandelion. (didn’t know that until today)  Franklin HS 05/03/15
WTSP - dandelion
I cropped the last photo to show how the White-throated stretched up to take a bite. Franklin HS 05/03/15

I have watched American Goldfinch eat dandelions but never sparrows.

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An American Goldfinch watched the sparrows eating before it joined in. Franklin HS 05/03/15

Wondering About Horned Larks

This is short post to on a couple of things.

1. Even when the weather stinks, the snow is deep, and I can’t do birding by foot without a lot of hassle, there are still birds to be found.  In this case Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and Snow Buntings along the roads of Johnson County.  Actually hundreds of Horned Larks, a few Lapland Longspurs, and only one Snow Bunting.

The photos aren’t the best since the day was pretty dreary.

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A few of the hundreds of Horned Larks I saw on the day. This group flew over to a field and waited for cars to pass. Johnson County 02/22/14
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I posted this picture to show that it really isn’t so hard to pick out Lapland Longspurs at a glance. I used to have problems picking them out of a flock of Horned Larks but once I got used to the color difference, not so difficult. Horned Lark center, Lapland Longspur right. Johnson County 02/22/14
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An out of focus picture but still one that shows the differences in color patterns of a Lapland Longspur and Horned Lark. Johnson County 02/22/14

Plus some sparrows and friends along the plowed roads of Johnson County Park.

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American Tree Sparrow – Note the bi-colored bill. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
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White-crowned Sparrow. Compare head pattern with the next photo. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
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White-throated Sparrow – compare head pattern to previous White-crowned Sparrow. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
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Dark-eyed Junco – Johnson County Park 02/22/14
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A Fox Sparrow got in on the action. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
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OK, Mr. Robin, I will post a picture of you. He wouldn’t move to let me see the Fox Sparrow. He wanted all the attention. Johnson County Park 02/22/14

2. And I have wondered about the following for some time.

I’m not the guy that tracks up the most hours in the field, especially the past year. But I’ve put my share of hours in the field.  So where are Horned Larks in the summer? Sunday I must have seen 5 or 6 flocks of 150-200 Horned Larks along the road.  In the summer I  hear a few but might go weeks without seeing one. I know they are in the fields but besides one gravel road in Illinois that always had 10-20 I never see many in the summer. Just wondering?

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This Horned Lark posed nicely for a for photo. Where will it be hiding in July? Johnson County 02/22/14

 

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Back to Bushwhacking – Johnson County 1/31/15

In the last few months I have drifted away what I like to do most in birding – bird the local area. And I have come to miss the familiarity of the local haunts.

So with that I went back to Johnson County Saturday to bird the spots I have spent the majority of the last two years.

I arrived an hour and fifteen minutes before sunrise and immediately had an Eastern Screech-Owl at one of the usual spots. I don’t know if it is me but I it wasn’t very far away and I still couldn’t find it with a flashlight.  The other usual Eastern Screech-Owl spot was silent. As was the usual Barred Owl site. I’m not having much luck with Barred Owls this year.

There were numerous Red-tailed Hawks on territory including one dark juvenile that had me thinking Rough-legged.  The local crows started to harass it which prevented me from getting a decent photo.

The bulk of the day was spent at Johnson County Park since there were still many hunters at Atterbury FWA. I spent several hours walking looking for sparrows and bushwhacking through thickets checking for owl whitewash before the snow came.  I didn’t find any whitewash but in the past it has paid off several times.  I came across a couple of good sized flocks of sparrows with the first flock consisting of several White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows.

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White-crowned Sparrow JC Park 01/31/15
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Same bird as above looking dapper.

While standing in some small saplings observing the White-crowned Sparrows, three American Kestrels came screaming by chasing each other and almost hit me.  My guess is they were only two to three feet above my head.  They landed on a power line across the road, all three still calling at each other.  One then flew to a nearby tree and kept calling.  They all eventually moved on with the one still calling.

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Two of the three American Kestrels on wires, the other having moved on to a nearby tree. JC park 01/31/15
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The third Kestrel just to the north, and still calling. JC Park 01/31/15

I did manage to record one of the American Kestrels that kept calling.

Audio of the American Kestrel calling close to me. Turn up your volume to hear. ( A Downy Woodpecker and Carolina Chickadee thought they would get in their 2 cents also)

Before I came upon the second flock of sparrows I was walking through a grass field that had a section plowed.  I kept hearing what I thought were Horned Larks.  The spot looked good for Horned Larks but the area is surrounded by miles of woods, not farm land.  So I was puzzled.  I scanned the area several times but did not see any larks.

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Are there Horned larks out there? JC park 1/31/15

Moving on to the brushy area on the other side I came upon a flock of American Tree Sparrows.  So the question is does the song of a flock of Tree Sparrows sound like the tingled song of a Horned Larks at a distance?

A little later while watching the flock of sparrows I heard a Red-shouldered Hawk in the distance.  It then got near enough that I could see it in the thicket.  It was a Blue Jay imitating the Red-shouldered Hawk.  No, it was practicing imitating a Red-shouldered Hawk because the hawk was still calling off and on in the distance.

Audio of a Blue Jay practicing its imitation of a Blue Jay. If you listen hard enough you can hear the distant, real Red-shouldered Hawk at 10 seconds.

I didn’t find anything unusual at Johnson County Park but did hear a Killdeer, which in itself isn’t unusual but I hadn’t heard one since the first of the month,

I then stopped by Walmart/Lowes Pond in Franklin on the way home.  On the limited amount of open water there was a pair of Common Goldeneye to go with the Canada Geese, Mallards, and American Coots.

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Local birds at Lowes/Walmart pond. Franklin 01/31/15

It was a good day to be out and looking for the local birds.