Saturday, July 19, 2008

Birding Clear Creek, Eagle and Garfield Counties

June 29, 2008

Gary Weston and I started on our trek west to conduct BBS counts in Clear Creek, Eagle, Garfield, and Mesa Counties. Bryan and Sue Ehlmann started out ahead of us by 2 weeks and we hoped to meet up in a week or two. They were suppose to add to these accounts but are hindered by staying in a cabin without electricity. Who knows when they will "wander" into a city?

We departed Denver at 2:00am and arrived an hour later at Montezuma, CO. I have been up the Saints John Trail and Hunkidori Trail many times. These trails lead west from Montezuma and are good cross country ski trails in winter and good owl habitats the rest of the year.

We first hiked the Saints John Trail to above tree line. The effort (and it is a nice elevation gain) was rewarded with hearing a Boreal Owl. I took GPS readings and if I can figure the GPS unit out, should be able to add the length of the hike later.

Our technique was to stop every 0.1 miles, play recordings of Boreal Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, and Northern Saw-whet Owl; then continue. Our hike was at least two miles, so only one owl cannot be considered much of a success.

When we returned to the junction of the Hunkidori Trail we turned northwest and walk about 1.5 miles up the trail. On this leg, both a Northern Pygmy-Owl and Northern Saw-whet Owl were found!

If the Northern Saw-whet Owl had not called briefly, we never would have located it. Once we narrowed down the tree, it still took 20 minutes to see the bird. The Northern Pygmy-Owl was out on a branch watching the creek and probably quite surprised when we walked up to it.

While our target birds were owls, we did keep track of the other birds encountered. Some of the species included Pine Grosbeak, Evening Grosbeak, Pine Siskin, Red Crossbill, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend's Solitaire, Hammond's Flycatcher, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, and Western Wood-pewee. American Three-toed Woodpeckers have been found in the past, none today.

Our trek was timed for a late afternoon 2 mile hike up Spruce Creek Trail (probably listed as Mohawk Lakes on most maps).

This trail is one of my favorite in Colorado. The trailhead to box canyon at the top is 4 miles. One can shorten the hike by 2.0 miles with a 4 wheel drive. 4 Wheel Drive is necessary and then I would not take a new vehicle. On one trip, I ripped a muffler off my year old Mustang.

The first 2 miles are through the spruce fir forest. Interesting, but rather old after hiking the trail many times (this was my 83rd trip up). At the upper parking area, one quickly goes uphill and above tree line. The trail passes Continental Lake, several Mohawk Lakes and follows the creek that runs between them.

Once at the upper Mohawk Lake the land levels off and continues for 3/4 mile to the west end of the box canyon. It's a fantastic view surrounded by Pacific Peak, Crystal Peak, and Mt Helen. All 13,000 foot mountains that fall short up to 200 feet of being 14,000 footers. Gary and I have climbed them all in the past and skipped that "thrill" on this trip.

Pacific Peak at last checking is only 6 feet short of a 14,000 foot mountain. It is also one of the most technical mountains that I have climbed in Colorado (my total is 54/14,000 footers and 82/13,000 or less). The experience of camping around upper Mohawk Lakes makes the effort well worth it.

Of course bird species are limited when up this high. We did confirm Brown-capped Rosy Finch nesting and headed back to our car. We caught a few hours sleep and were woke by a calling Northern Pygmy-Owl!

June 30, 2008

The road to Mt of the Holy Cross was on tap today. We dropped down to Breckenridge before sunrise and started up the Cross's road soon after.

Twice Dusky Grouse were found crossing the road. The second time it was a female with 2 young (nesting confirmed, Eagle County).

We counted and observed birds around the campgrounds and road circling the bottom of the mountain. The idea to climb Mt of the Holy Cross (again) was not entertained.

No surprises were found. We wrote detailed logs of bird activity and moved on. Anyone wanting daily bird counts and lists, just ask.

The highlight of the day for me was the many Broad-tailed Hummingbirds encountered. At least 2 Rufous Hummingbirds were also found. We didn't climb much above tree line which limited our chances of seeing a White-tailed Ptarmigan. No Rosy Finches were found.

We did have another highlight. For the first time I experienced the technique of tapping on a tree and having a Flammulated Owl pop out! I had always heard this was possible, but until today never had any success with the technique. Around the campgrounds we found Willow Flycatchers, Cordilleran Flycatcher, and at least one Dusky Flycatcher.

The second half of our birding day was spent around Homestake Creek where 2 Purple Martins were relocated. Sorry, I can not remember who first reported them here. Will lookup and add later, we would not have searched if it had not been for a previous report.

After dusk we managed to get a Northern Pygmy-Owl to call at Gold Camp.

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