Friday, February 4, 2011

Jefferson County Foothills

February 3, 2011

Richard Stevens:

Temperatures reached 23 degrees today. A warm spell, well after highs of 8 degrees and -1, today did feel warm. Fortunately, winds were mild where we birded. Snow started around noon and got heavier as the day progressed. By 4:00 pm, heavier snow and icy roads made our decision to skip the DIA Owl Loop easy to make. Visibility was reduced to a hundred yards or less north of the airport.

Bryan & Sue Ehlmann, Rebecca Kosten and I decided to search for the Northern Pygmy-Owl and American Three-toed Woodpeckers at Pine Valley Ranch Park (Jefferson County) early this morning. The hills sheltered the trails and made our hike quite pleasant.

Shortly after turning onto the Strawberry Jack Trail (from the Buck Gulch Trail, south of Pine Lake), Sue whispered "Northern Pygmy-Owl"! Sure enough, the little owl was perched 15 feet off the ground and keeping an eye on the draw that runs along the trail.

We watched for 15 minutes before it turned and flew to the south. Our hike continued east up the Strawberry Jack switchbacks. When we were 50 or 60 yards from the Parkview Trail the distinctive drumming of an American Three-toed Woodpecker was heard.

It still took another 20 minutes before the woodpecker was spotted. It was a Three-toed Woodpecker! It worked a few trees south (uphill) of the trail, crossed the path and continued north (downhill).

Along the trek we also saw a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers (hill south of Pine Lake), three species of nuthatches (Buck Gulch Trail) along with quite a few Dark-eyed Juncos.

A Downy Woodpecker flew around the willows at the west end of Pine Lake.

On the return to Denver, we drove by way of Foxton Road and Reynolds Park (Jefferson). The road parallels the South Platte River. When an American Dipper was spotted from our moving vehicle, we stopped briefly to watch it dive into the freezing water.

Weather was deteriorating and dampened our desire to hike up the Oxen Draw Trail to the triad intersection (with Raven's Roost and Eagle's View). It is a good location for Dusky Grouse and additional Three-toed Woodpeckers; however, it can be quite icy in winter.

The Oxen Draw was checked for additional Northern Pygmy-Owls; without success.

We passed Red Rocks Park (Jefferson) on the way home and of course were forced to stop. A couple of dozen Rosy Finches (surprisingly 3 species) were around the platform feeder behind the trading post.

The Golden-crowned Sparrow came out of the bushes and was shortly followed by the Harris's Sparrow and a White-throated Sparrow. Both White-throated Sparrows were not seen at the same time today. Within 30 minutes the Curve-billed Thrasher also appeared, covering all the uncommon birds that have been visiting for months now!

Snow continued to fall, driving in rush hour traffic plus icy roads, liked not so much. We headed for home.

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