Friday, May 16, 2008

Barr Lake and Adams County

May 15, 2008

The weather report of drizzle and cool temperatures were my favorite for birding and I headed to Barr Lake State Park (Adams County). Unfortunately, it did not rain in the morning; however birding was terrific anyway.

Around Civil Twilight I drove the DIA Owl Loop to see if the Short-eared Owl reported two weeks ago by Rebecca & Sue could be found. It was not. After sunrise I counted 11 Swainson's Hawks included one beautiful dark morph, 1 Ferruginous Hawk, and a pair Red-tailed Hawks. No Burrowing Owls were out yet and I headed over to Barr Lake.

Birds were plentiful. It took 1.5 hours just to see all the birds along the Niedrach Trail (mile marker 0.0/9.0 to 0.5). I was thinking that each spring a Baltimore Oriole shows up in late May, but it was a little early. Just about the same time I heard the unmistakable song of a male Baltimore Oriole. He was originally between the Visitor Center's footbridge and the Niedrach boardwalk. When I left him, he was fluttering about the trees in the boardwalk loop. There were at least a dozen male Bullock's Orioles and 2 females also.

As I headed southwest (away from the visitor's center) I noticed an adult Great Horned Owl. Another Great Horned Owl was also in the larger cottonwoods along the shore. They let me get pretty close which was a surprise. Then I discovered why as two rather large owlets were in the same tree. I put photos on the CoBus photo library.

Just south of there a pair of Spotted Sandpipers walk along the shore. What I thought was a third Spotted Sandpiper turned out to be a bobbing Northern Waterthrush. Nine Wood Ducks swam in the shallow waters in the Niedrach boardwalk loop. A male Blue Grosbeak sang at the southern end of the boardwalk.

As my walk continued northeast from the Visitor Center footbridge it become apparent that the Swainson's Thrush count was going to be high today. Between mile marker 9.0 and 8.0, it was 57 Swainson's Thrushes.

A couple of Warbling Vireos flew about the trees west of the footbridge. There appeared to be another at mm 8.8 (where the tree hangs over the trail). On closer inspection the bird turned out to be a Red-eyed Vireo! This group of trees is usually good for some migrants. Many Swainson's Thrushes, a Lincoln's Sparrow, a flock of Chipping Sparrows, 2 Green-tailed Towhees, a pair of Orchard Orioles and many loud Red-winged Blackbirds were between here and just south of the banding station.

While inspecting another group of 9 or 10 Swainson's Thrushes just south of the clearing (one lone tree in middle, at mm 8.4) I noticed a rather large thrush with a darker cheek than the Swainson's. The water level was high which pushed the shoreline close to the road/trail. This meant that the thrushes walking along the water's edge were quite close.

I was able to watch several of the thrushes including the Gray-cheeked Thrush closely and for as long as I wanted. It definitely showed a grayish cheek lacking the buffy color of a Swainson's Thrush. Body wise it showed a uniform brown gray color (while I am use to picking out contrasting colors on the upper parts to tail of a Hermit Thrush).

Continuing northward, I carefully watched the flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Yellow Warblers with an eye out for an uncommon one. A Blackpoll Warbler was observed at mm 8.2. Another pair of Orchard Orioles was here too. I did come across one Orange-crowned Warbler at mm 8.1.

I continued to the boat ramp at mm 7.6 and turned around. Returning southward, I would have missed a Peregrine Falcon in a tree at mm 7.8 except it decided to fly around. It eventually landed close to where it started.

Back at mm 8.0 I stopped to watch another group of 10-12 thrushes and again noticed a different looking bird. It also turned out to be a Gray-cheeked Thrush.

While watching these thrushes, it sunk into my head that the birds were in an uproar. Inspecting the trees, I found a Barn Owl. While deciding if it was a male or female (it was a female), it flew south and landed just south of the Pioneer Trailhead. When I went closer for another look, I noticed a second Barn Owl (which turned out to be a male). The male eventually flew south first to the banding station and when I left it was just south of the Niedrach trailhead.

Next I drove out of the park and went around to the west side. Here I hiked from mm 2.5 to mm 4.5 and back. A Blackpoll Warbler was at mm 2.8. Several Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Double-crested Cormorants, and American White Pelicans were added to my day list. A pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches and several White-breasted Nuthatches was also observed.

Finally after getting a late lunch at Wendy's north of I76, and a drive around the DIA Owl Loop, I returned and walked from mm 5.0 to 7.0 and back. In the trees behind the old rock building I found an American Redstart and several additional Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Below the dam I found my first Common Yellowthroat, several Great Blue Herons, and Snowy Egret and additional 9 Swainson's Thrushes. A Black-crowned Night-Heron also flew by. Eleven Burrowing Owls were counted along the Owl Loop today.

By then Gary Weston arrived and I met him back at the boat ramp at mm 7.5. We were able to relocate the Gray-cheeked Thrush just north of mm 8.0.

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