Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Southern Bird Trip

January 13-17, 2011

Bryan Ehlmann

Thursday 13th

Richard Stevens and I commenced to make a short trip to southeast Colorado. It lasted longer than first planned. We made it to Rocky Ford in Otero County early in the morning.

The town is full of Eurasian Collared-Doves now. In 1996, birders flocked from all over Colorado to get a glimpse of just one. Hundreds now call constantly, which makes hearing other birds a little unmanageable.

We walked the area along Washington Avenue from Virginia Drive to Meloneer Drive then over to Cottonwood Lane. On the second loop, we found an Inca Dove while hiking the alley behind the church. The dove was in the yard four houses east of the church.

Later, we hiked Walnut Drive from 9th avenue to Industrial Drive. A White-winged Dove was perched on a telephone wire at Walnut and S. 1st Street.

Our next stop was at the "Purgatory Railroad Crossing" about two miles east of Las Animas. Nothing rare was found. Last trip Richard threw out seed and waited an hour for birds to show; this trip we didn't take the time.

Few birds were noticed when we scoped John Martin Reservoir in Bent County from the north end of the dam. We were not willing to hike west. At Hasty Campgrounds below the dam, we chanced upon a male Red-bellied Woodpecker but not much else.

We looked for owls at Upper Queens Reservoir in Kiowa County. Virtually no birds were found.

Friday 14th

Walking about Lamar Community College in Prowers County, this morning was very exciting. Our first bird was a Carolina Wren singing at the south end of the College woods! Our second bird was a male Northern Cardinal in the yard just south of the woods!

Farther north, a male Red-bellied Woodpecker rapidly worked a cottonwood tree. On the way back south, we found a flock of sparrows, which included a White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrows, Song Sparrows and Tree Sparrows.

The only birds at Fairmount Cemetery were a lone Great Horned Owl and some Pine Siskins.

Our next stop was the Mike Higbee Wildlife Area, which is a few miles east of Lamar. The area is covered with brush and has Clay Creek bordering its western side. Great habitat for sparrows!

A Harris's Sparrow was along Clay Creek at about 0.2 miles south of highway 50. We found several flocks of sparrows in the brush east of the parking lot. Again, a White-throated Sparrow was found among White-crowned Sparrows, Song Sparrows and Tree Sparrows.

We continued east to the Kansas border and the Holly Rest Stop. A Northern Bobwhite called from somewhere south of the parking lot. A Field Sparrow was seen along the old highway 50 road, which goes west from the Rest Stop parking lot.

Continuing South on Highway 89, we found several large flocks of Horned Larks. Dozens of Lapland Longspurs included. Raptors included Ferruginous Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks.

At Highway 116 (Two Buttes Road), we turned west and then north to Two Buttes Reservoir. We walked around here for 30 minutes seeking another Inca Dove, which have been recorded here on several occasions.

Highlights were a Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Brown Thrasher! Almost forgot, Richard found a Barn Owl hiding out in one of the crevices in the northern rocky cliff below the dam.

We reached Cottonwood Canyon in Baca County with a couple of hours of daylight remaining. Richard played a recording at 1.4 miles east of CR M & Carrizo Creek and two Rufous-crowned Sparrows jumped into the open!

We drove from there to the camping area at Carrizo Creek twice. On the second pass, we found our only Lewis's Woodpecker at 0.6 miles east of Carrizo Creek. Around the parking area and up the southern draw, Bewick's Wrens, a Canyon Wren and a male Ladder-backed Woodpecker were seen.

Just after dusk, Richard played another appropriate recording and two Western Screech-Owls called back.

Saturday 15th

We stayed on the night at a friend's ranch in Furnish Canyon. On this private ranch, Curve-billed Thrasher, Greater Roadrunner, Rufous-crowned Sparrows, Canyon Towhees, Chihuahuan Ravens and another Western Screech-Owl were highlights!

The rancher had seen a male Vermilion Flycatcher on January 2. This maybe the only Colorado December record for the species? Later I looked the records up. There are two December Vermilion Flycatcher records in Pueblo County. Three January records, two in Baca County and one in Las Animas County.

We checked in with another of Richard's friends in Baca County. He showed us two Barn Owls and a Western Screech-Owl. Reports of a Barred Owl could not be confirmed.

A hike at the Upland Bird Management Area did not find any gallinaceous birds. A Short-eared Owl hovered over Baca County Road M near CR 32.

As we continued west, Richard asked if I was up to another adventure. Of course, we drove through Raton, NM to the Lake Dorothey Wildlife Area, which is in Colorado. Richard has gps waypoints of Northern Pygmy-Owl and Northern Saw-whet Owls in the Wildlife Area. Tonight, a Northern Saw-whet Owl returned our call.

Our long night was not over. We searched for Spotted Owls in Fremont County. Alas, none was found.

Sunday 16th

Our day began late, as some sleep was necessitated. We drove to Gunnison and looked for the reported Gunnison Sage-Grouse up Ohio Road. Not finding any at the reported location, we broke out our snowshoes and hiked into the Miller Ranch Wildlife Area in Gunnison County.

We eventually found three Gunnison Sage-Grouse thanks to the heads up of a Missouri Birder whose name I cannot remember. The distance was reported as 0.5 miles. This is only partially correct. It was 0.5 miles from CR 7; however, our hike was about 13 miles round trip. We also heard a Three-toed Woodpecker during the hike.

Our original plan was to snowshoe up Slumgullion Pass in Hinsdale County, which depended upon access. Richard has made a similar trip a decade ago and found Boreal Owls at the Campgrounds up there. Very negative weather reports of several possible feet of snow for Gunnison changed our minds and we retreated to Canon City in Fremont County.

Monday 17th

Most of the morning was used to look for Northern Saw-whet Owls up the Shelf Road north of Canon City. Red Canyon Park and the BLM land to the north have been good for them in past years. We got an abbreviated reply to a recording at the BLM land.

Back in Canon City, we sought the many Williamson's Sapsuckers previously reported. If they were still around, they hid from us.

Weather reports continued to be impending disastrous which convinced us to return to Denver later tonight. We had another unsuccessful search for Spotted Owls, but did find a Northern Saw-whet Owl up Phantom Canyon Road. It was heard only near Oro Junta.

One final hike, we went owling at Beaver Creek Wildlife Area. After walking around for about 2 hours, we found/heard only a Northern Pygmy-Owl.

The report of a Tufted Duck in Longmont secured our decision to return to Denver. As I needed some sleep, Richard does not; he dropped me off and went to find the Tufted Duck. I was to follow with Sue and Rebecca, which did not happen as the duck, was not found.

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