Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Search for the Cactus Wren

April 19 to 23, 2010

April 19

Rich Stevens and I took off from Denver at 5:00 AM for Cottonwood Canyon in Baca County. A Minnesota tour group had reported a Cactus Wren on the western rim of the canyon.

On the 300+, mile trip down we found two Long-billed Curlews along Baca County Road 10 north of CR SS.

We didn't arrive at Cottonwood Canyon until 2:00 PM. We spent the next three hours walking below the western rim and the road toward Carrizo Mountain in search of the Cactus Wren. It was not seen or heard.

Birding was excellent in spite of our unsuccessful with the wren. Birds seen included Eastern Phoebes, Canyon Towhees, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Lewis's Woodpeckers, Rock Wrens, Great Horned Owls, Cooper's Hawk, Wild Turkeys and Spotted Towhees.

After sunset, Richard called in two Western Screech-Owls!

April 20

Early in the morning, we again searched unsuccessfully for the Cactus Wren. Richard wanted to visit several friends in Baca County and we left the canyon around 11:00 AM. Two Rufous-crowned Sparrows were called in with an IPOD recording played near the cattle guard about 1.7 miles southeast of the camping area.

At a private ranch, we saw two Orange-crowned Warblers, sparrows (Vesper, Chipping, White-crowned, Song, and a Field Sparrow), kingbirds (Western, Cassin's and Eastern) and a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.

The rancher had a neighbor who was seeing a small red bird. We hurried over and saw a singing male Vermilion Flycatcher. It had been in Furnish Canyon for at least three days!

Back at Cottonwood Canyon, we again heard Western Screech-Owls and a Common Poorwill calling after sunset.

April 21

We gave the Cactus Wren a rest this morning and camped last night at Picture Canyon. An hour before sunrise we walked the Upland Bird Management Area and were rewarded with a Short-eared Owl sighting. The owl hovered several minutes (videotaped) over the parking lot and then flew east.

We hiked about a mile east into the property hoping to find signs of Lesser Prairie-Chickens or plains Sharp-tailed Grouse. Both have been reported to be in the area but no tracks or sounds of birds were found.

Back at Picture Canyon, two Greater Roadrunners were on the rocky cliffs along the entrance road. A Northern Mockingbird and Rufous-crowned Sparrow were around the rocks south of the picnic area.

We walked down to the pictographs, which are sadly in disrepair. A male Northern Parula was found in the flowering trees near the spring. We continued south to Oklahoma and hopped the fence just to stand in the new state for a minute.

On the way back to our car, we heard a Curve-billed Thrasher calling from the rocky cliff near the gated cave, west of the pictograph area.

In the late afternoon, we visited another of Richard's friends that lives along the Cimarron River. He had seen a male Vermilion Flycatcher 4 days prior but not since. This ranch had a pair of Barred Owls attempt nesting 16 years ago.

While here, we received a phone call reporting a Black tailed Gnatcatcher sighting at Carrizo Creek Picnic Area. After about an hour and a half search miraculously the Gnatcatcher was found working its way south from public to private property. We managed two witness photos before it disappeared down the creek.

That night, we camped in Furnish Canyon after driving over to a spot where one can stand in three states at one time. It's marked by a metal circle off Baca County Road 7. A Western Screech-Owl called in the distance!

April 22

We headed up North this morning toward Lamar in Prowers County.

A pair of Mountain Plover was found along the west side of Highway 287 at 2.4 miles south of the Washington Work Center.

Another Mountain Plover, three Burrowing Owls and two Long-billed Curlews were in the field north of CR M at 0.3 miles west of Highway 287.

Two Buttes Reservoir was spectacular this morning. Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Brown Thrashers, Turkey Vultures, a Yellow Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler and Wild Turkeys were found. The highlights were a Black-and-white Warbler along the north side of the creek and a Palm Warbler below the cliff south of the "swimming hole".

Astonishingly I had cell phone service, which had been lacking most of our trip. We called in the Black tailed Gnatcatcher and received new information on the Cactus Wren. We turned around and headed back to Cottonwood Canyon.

This time we walked above the north rim from the western end of the canyon to where Carrizo Creek cuts through the cliff. We didn't find a Cactus Wren but were satisfied that a good attempt had been made.

A relaxing walk at sunset found the usual suspects. Again, we fell asleep to calling Western Screech-Owls and a Common Poorwill.

April 23

It was time to return to Denver as a snowstorm was predicted for late Friday and Saturday. After picking up Rufous-crowned Sparrows, Eastern Phoebes and Lewis's Woodpeckers for the day, we drove toward Lamar.

The day was windy and overcast. The woods behind Lamar Community College in Prowers County is always worth a look. We found a male Northern Cardinal, two Black-and-white Warblers, a male Red-bellied Woodpecker and a House Wren.

Checking in with Denver, we discovered that a Vermont birder had found shorebirds and a Little Blue Heron at Sheridan Lake in Kiowa County. We skipped the many reservoirs and good birding spots in southern Kiowa County and continued north to the small town of Sheridan Lake.

The lake behind the gas station has provided some good shorebird sightings over the years. Richard and I both got our Kiowa County Little Blue Heron thanks to visiting birder Andy Urquhrt and his sister Nori Howe!

We ended our birding trip with a stop at Bonny Reservoir and Hale Ponds. The usual Long-eared Owls, Eastern Screech-Owl and Red-bellied Woodpeckers were seen or heard at Hale Ponds. We didn't get a response to a Common Poorwill tape played at dusk.

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