Saturday, March 5, 2011

Aborted First Grouse Trip

March 1-4, 2011

Richard Stevens:

Bryan Ehlmann and I started out on an exploratory seven day grouse trip. Weather forced us to change plans. Much snow for the mountains, we turned around.

March 1

We started out in the afternoon to arrive at Lower Latham Reservoir (Weld County) about 30 minutes before sunrise. After driving around CR 50 and CR 51 searching for Short-eared Owls (without success) we parked at the oil rig area along CR 48 (south side of Lower Latham Reservoir).

Just after sunset, three Short-eared Owls were seen flying around the field southeast of the oil tanks. They were about 150 yards southeast.

Then we headed to Jackson County and Cameron Pass. I have been finding Boreal Owls much in the past month. Unfortunately, they are only heard. Sightings have been quite rare. Most were quite a distance from highway 14. One hundred plus inches of snow forces snowshoes to get back to their nesting sites.

This night we headed up hearing three Boreal Owls. Two near Cameron Pass' Summit and one just west of the upper Joe Wright parking area (Larimer).

March 2

Before sunrise, Bryan and I parked our car along Jackson County Road 26. About 10 minutes after sunrise, two Greater Sage-Grouse walked across the road. They walked over their lekking area. However, they never stopped or displayed. No signs of mating behavior occurred. Both birds were males.

We backtracked to the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge to see if any Greater Sage-Grouse were moving around there; none was. We did find many tracks near the Visitor's Center.

We would not have gone back to the Colorado State Forest Visitor's Center, but Bryan had left his prescription glasses. About 60 Rosy Finches (no Blacks) were among hundreds of birds (Pine Siskins, Mountain Chickadees and several Pine Grosbeaks) visiting the feeder.

On the way to Steamboat Springs, we stopped on Rabbit Ears Pass (Grand/Routt). A walk of about a mile either side of the county line found a small flock of 8 Red Crossbills, no White-winged Crossbills.

The female American Three-toed Woodpecker was again found along the road to the CDOT maintenance shed.

An exploratory side trip to the 80 route found that it was impossible to get up to the leks (too much snow). We may try to snowshoe back to the leks in a week or two. It would require about a 2.7 mile trip one way, not that far. However, it would have to be made in the dark to arrive at the leks before sunrise.

We are curious to see if the grouse, especially Sharp-tailed Grouse display when their leks are snow covered. I have seen the Greater Sage-Grouse along Jackson County Road 26 display on snow.

March 3

We found ourselves parked by the 20 Road Sharp-tailed Grouse Leks before sunrise. Just after sunrise, a Sharp-tailed Grouse landed on a fence post just 20 feet from our car (east side of 27 Road by the gate described by most "Sharp-tailed Grouse lek directions".

Later another Sharp-tailed Grouse flew from behind us to the western side of the road where the grouse usually display. We heard booming, but the birds were below the hill and could not be seen.

BTW, it is interesting that locals call it 20 Road leks. On all maps, the road is 27 Road?

It was too early in the year to go to Oxbow Wildlife Area (Moffat) where we usually find Sage Sparrows. From Craig, we continued down highway 13 to Rifle. A brief stop along the Yampa River did not find any Barrow's Goldeneyes.

At Rifle, we checked the Rest Stop for Great-tailed Grackles; without success. Then we continued into Grand Junction. Several hours were spent along the River Front Trail where a female Red-necked Phalarope was reported last week. Unfortunately, we were not able to relocate the bird. It was a fantastic find for February in Colorado. My early date for Red-necked Phalarope is 4/14.

We also burned two hours at Coal Canyon (Cameo) searching for Chukar; without success. They have been quite rare for the past two years. I hope that sightings will pick up in a month or so? I do have several additional locations to look this year. This trip as stated, we turned around due to weather. Areas to explore in the future.

About an hour before sunset, we headed up the Grand Mesa (Mesa County). No Northern Pygmy-Owls or American Three-toed Woodpeckers were found at Powderhorn Ski Area this trip.

After dark, we headed toward Spruce Grove Campgrounds. Unfortunately, it started to snow rapidly. We slid several times, decided that even if we got up to the Campgrounds, visibility would be too bad to see Boreal Owls anyway. Instead, we headed back to Grand Junction.

March 4

We woke up to a weather report for another 6-10 inches of snow to arrive. With Vail Pass to go over to get back to Denver, we decided to head for home.

Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park (Montrose) is covered in snow. The road is gated at the Visitor's Center. The best Dusky Grouse viewing is at the west end of the south rim drive, past the closed gate (no reason to go there yet). The idea to drive to Gunnison and probably not see Gunnison Sage-Grouse was not encouraging either.

A quick stop in Silverthorne at the Blue River Water Treatment Plant found 10 Barrow's Goldeneyes and a few Common Goldeneyes.

Loveland Pass was closed, so no Ptarmigan search. We returned to Denver

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