Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Southern Trip for Owls

January 27-30, 2011

Richard Stevens:

Thursday 27th

Rebecca Kosten and I enjoyed one of those fantastic winter days in Colorado. Temperatures reached the high 40s, skies were clear and winds were calm.

We drove down to Colorado Springs (El Paso County) to enjoy one of our favorite restaurants and of course perhaps (for sure) get in some birding.

When we arrived at Fountain Creek Regional Park the Visitor's Center was closed for the day. I hoped to pick up a map, regretting that I probably had left 3 or 4 back at home. The sun was out, a beautiful day, blue sky in the foothills with snowcapped Pikes Peak hanging over us to the west.

As soon as we peeked around the back of the Visitor's Center, we saw the Harris's Sparrow eating seed on the large white rock below the feeders. A squirrel scared him twice, but he made several return visits.

We circled Rice's Ponds and made our way down to trail marker 18. When we arrived, we saw a Black-capped and Mountain Chickadee flittering about the cottonwoods on the west side of the trail. A White-breasted Nuthatch squawked as he (it was a male) loosely followed the chickadee pair.

Within seconds, the Pine Warbler also joined the group. We felt quite blessed to find the warbler in less than 3 minutes. Reports of searches for an hour, 2 hours, more seemed daunting. The warbler was just 10 feet above our heads. Now and then, the warbler would fly out to hawk an insect. Once it came within 5 feet of our heads!

Eventually the small troupe crossed to the east side of the trail and to the tops of taller cottonwoods. We could still see the Pine Warbler. However, if we had to locate it for the first time, it might have taken quite a while.

Next, we walked the north and east sides of the North Rice's Pond. Eventually a Winter Wren responded to a recording. It briefly came out of the cattails on the southern third of the pond.

As we continued back to the Visitor's Center, we stopped at the outlet stream to South Rice's Pond. I played a recording of a Virginia Rail and within 10 seconds, one came out of the cattails!

A Sora recording did not work as well. Well, there just are not as many of them that winter in Colorado. May none at this park?

After lunch, we decided to do some owling on what appeared to be a coming calm night. Spotted Owls are a real "prize" for any birder who can hear or see one in Colorado and we gave it a try in Fremont County. Unfortunately, without success.

On the way to our undisclosed search, we stopped at Brush Hollow Wildlife Area (Fremont). A flock of 12+ Pinyon Jays flew around the ridge on the east side of the reservoir.

A small flock of Bushtits fluttered about the Pinyon Junipers to the southwest of the west end of the dam. Two Juniper Titmice responding quickly to a recording played in the same area. We recorded our first Ladder-backed Woodpecker of 2011 from the taller cottonwoods below the dam.

Friday 28th

I birded on my own the rest of the week. My main quest was again "where do Northern Saw-whet Owls winter in Colorado?"

Stopping at the many locations in Canon City (Fremont) where Williamson's Sapsuckers had wandered last month, I could only locate one female at Centennial Park. Although not much time was spent on the venture.

I hiked around Red Canyon Park (Fremont) looking for signs of Northern Saw-whet Owls; without success. Over the years, I have taken many waypoints of Saw-whet sightings. Dozens have been recorded during nesting season in this park and the BLM Land to the north. I found none today. Of course, daylight probably did not help my quest. I figured getting a response to a recording was not likely.

After hearing of the Red-headed Woodpecker near the Wetmore Community Center, I detoured through there on my way to owling near San Isabel Lake tonight. It took about 20 minutes for the woodpecker to show up once I arrived.

Owling tonight was more successful than last night. I set up 3 "listening stations" and then drove to nearby Campgrounds while the stations were running. Eventually, I heard 2 Northern Saw-whet Owls and caught a third on tape.

Comments about owling: Owling is tremendous for those who like to hike around in the dark. When there is no wind like Friday night, the woods host many sounds. Finches, Siskins even a woodpecker now and then fill the air. On fortunate nights, owls call to each other. With a breeze, the trees creak in the wind.

Many nights one can hear animals breathing. Rutting season brings out elk and deer. Their breathing is quite different. Probably not as welcoming, one can hear the breathing of a passing bear. Am I ideating their footsteps on the ground or is it a wisp of imagination? Fortunately, they are not a problem on winter nights.

Saturday-Sunday, 29th & 30th

I spent these days on the "Bird Ranch" in Las Animas County. The few birds seen this time of year in Las Animas County were included in my counts: Juniper Titmice, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Canyon Towhee, Bewick's Wrens, 2 Lewis's Woodpeckers, and a Rufous-crowned Sparrow. I also came across one Long-eared Owl!

Nights were spent wandering around the county setting up and monitoring "listening stations". Saturday count was 2 Northern Saw-whet Owls (different locations) and 9 Western Screech-Owls (7 locations).

Sunday, impending inclement weather conditions convinced me to head back to Denver. As we now know, this was an excellent decision. Snow and cold Monday, freezing cold and snow Tuesday with lows predicted for Tuesday night to -35 degrees (wind chill).

On the way back home, I made another run at finding a Spotted Owl in Fremont County; without success. No response from the Northern Saw-whet Owl at Juno Oro either. I did get a brief response to a Northern Pygmy-Owl recording at Beaver Creek Wildlife Area.

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