Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Grouse Search in Northwestern Colorado

March 10th to 13th, 2008

Gary Weston, Bryan Ehlmann and I went out to look for early dates for the Chicken-like Birds (on their leks).

March 10th
It was snowing heavily on Loveland Pass and Guanella Pass is closed for until June, so we decided to skip a search for White-tailed Ptarmigan.

After catching looks at Rosy Finches in Summit County we continued north. No Rosy Finches were around Kremmling and our next stop was Windy Gap Reservoir (Grand). Fourteen male and 7 female Barrow's Goldeneyes were swimming around the reservoir (which had more open water than we expected).

Two Rough-legged Hawks stood on telephone poles as we passed through Arapahoe National Wildlife Refuge (Jackson).

We ended our birding day by watching 6 Greater Sage-Grouse dance around a private lek in Jackson County.

March 11th
It was snowing when we got up to drive over to the 20 Road Lek outside of Hayden (Routt). The lek was under 5-6 feet of snow. Fortunately, 2 Sharp-tailed Grouse braved the weather and found a small wind blown grassy spot on the west side of 20 Road (also called 27 Road on some maps).

We could not get up 80 Route to see if any grouse were moving about there. It appears that it may be weeks before that road opens this year.

We decided that the weather was too bad to drive hundreds of miles to Rifle and Grand Junction. Instead we drove north of Craig to checkout the Timberlake Lek. Ten+ Greater Sage-Grouse were displaying on the lek in spite of the heavy snow fall. It was slow going back to our motel in Craig.

March 12th
The weather was much better this morning. We took the long drive west of Maybell to the Oxbow Wildlife Area (Moffat). Four Pinyon Jays flew around the pines on the north side of Highway 318. Unfortunately our target birds (Sage Sparrows and Sage Thrashers) were not here yet.

The drive to Rifle and toward Grand Junction was uneventful. No Great-tailed Grackles or Peregrine Falcons flew about the Rifle Rest Stop today.

We could not find any Chukar at Cameo and headed up the Grand Mesa. When we arrived at the Powderhorn Ski Area, skies were partly cloudy. A Northern Pygmy-Owl answered our playback recordings. He was not seen, but called for 10 minutes from west of the upper parking area.

No American Three-toed Woodpeckers were found and within 30 minutes of our arrival, it started snowing quite rapidly. Conditions deteriorated quickly and we considered ourselves fortunate to creep back to Grand Junction.

March 13th
Predictions on the weather were not good. Our decision was not to continue to Gunnison and instead drive east to Denver. The trip over Vail Pass was not good and reinforced our earlier decision to return home.

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