Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Another Grouse Trip

April 5 through 10, 2011

Richard Stevens:

April 5
Maryland bird guide Dennis Kirkwood, Volney Ford, Tom Congersky and I started a six day grouse trip around Colorado.

After looking for mountain species in Summit County, we drove up to Loveland Pass. The highway department had closed Interstate 70 for the day and we had to drive to Dillon by way of Fairplay. This added about 2 hours to our trip.

We did not find any White-tailed Ptarmigan in an exhaustive 3 hour search. Finally abandoning hope of seeing any Ptarmigan, we headed to Jackson County.

When we arrived at Jackson County Road 26, the road was quite muddy. Not wanting to attempt to drive up the road, the four of us walked about 0.5 miles in search of Greater Sage-Grouse. None was found; perhaps they saw us coming.

April 6
We started our day at the 20 Road Leks. Nine Sharp-tailed Grouse promptly flew into the lek around sunrise. In my appearance (of about 32+ visits), the Sharp-tailed Grouse do not come out until just before sunrise. In the evening, they do not come out most times until after it is too dark to see them.

After seeing the Sharp-tailed Grouse, I decided to try for Greater Sage-Grouse at the old Timberlake Lek on Moffat County Road 3 (instead of returning to Jackson CR 26). This turned out to be a lucky choice.

We arrived around 9:40 am and found 91 Greater Sage-Grouse within 20 yards of County Road 3 (between 1.0 and 1.5 miles west of Highway 13!

Next, we looked for the Tundra Swans reported the week before at the ponds along Ranney Street in Craig (near the Yampa River). They were not found. A wet young Bald Eagle stood in one of the trees (it was snowing).

Perch Pond along Highway 13 on the way to Meeker was void of birds. A drive along Rio Blanco County Road 15 did not find any Pinyon Jays (successful in past years).

Few birds moved around the Rifle Rest Stop (Garfield County).

We skipped Cameo because I have missed Chukar there on my last five visits and headed up the Grand Mesa (Mesa County).

We heard a Northern Pygmy-Owl west of the upper parking area. American Three-toed Woodpeckers could not be found.

With plenty of daylight remaining, we continued to Fruitgrower's Reservoir in Delta County. A few Tree Swallows and Cliff Swallows flew around Fruitgrower's Reservoir. The only shorebirds were Greater Yellowlegs. All three teal swam around the shallows north of the reservoir.

As we left Fruitgrower's Reservoir, we stopped at Evelyn Horn's home below the dam. One Lewis's Woodpecker was perched on a telephone pole two houses west of her home!

Back on the Grand Mesa, we watched Dark-eyed Juncos and Gray Jays grabbing seed at a platform feeder in front of the Grand Mesa Lodge. No White-winged Crossbills were flying around the Visitor's Center.

After dark, we stopped at the various pullovers along Highway 65 between the Visitor's Center and Spruce Grove Campgrounds. Two Boreal Owls were heard along the drive; however, none was enticed toward the road (they were quite far out into the woods).

April 7
Our day started with a drive around the subdivision just outside of the southern (eastern entrance) to the Colorado National Monument (Mesa County). Gambel's Quail number over 10 birds!

Few birds moved around the Colorado National Monument until we reached the Campgrounds. Here 30 Pinyon Jays were observed in the picnic area. White-throated Swifts flew off the Campgrounds overlook.

Leaving the Colorado National Monument at the northern (western) entrance, we drove to McInnes Wildlife Area (Mack exit) and spent several hours searching for Chukar; without success.

Half a dozen Juniper Titmouse and a Black-throated Sparrow were up the road where 3 Chukar had been seen the day before. This short road is just east of the first road heading over the hills to the south.

After lunch, we spent other 2 hours searching for Chukar up Escalante Canyon (Delta). Then another couple of hours at a Delta sight; without success.

We arrived at the Colorado National Monument (Montrose) with enough time to hike to the overlook at the western end of the south rim drive.

On the way to the west end, we found a Dusky Grouse along the south rim drive at 50 feet west of the Visitor's Center.

The hike to the overlook did not find a Northern Pygmy-Owl. However, I had forgotten to lock the car and had to hike back 600 yards to do so. This proved fortunate as a Northern Pygmy-Owl was heard just east of the parking area. Three Dusky Grouse walked out on the road and displayed. They did not attract any females.

The highlight of the trip was a Common Poorwill on the road out of the Park. It eventually flew across our headlights (perhaps 10 feet from the front of the car) giving us great looks!

April 8
Our birding day started at the Waunita Hot Springs Lek outside of Gunnison (Gunnison County). Twenty two Gunnison Sage-Grouse (about 1/3 females) visited the lek.

We then headed to Elkhart, Kansas to see Lesser Prairie-Chickens the next day.

A stop at Lake Cheraw (Otero) found a Baird's Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, 8 Snowy Plover and 4 American Avocets.

We stopped at the rail location on the north side of John Martin Reservoir (Bent). No Black Rails, Virginia Rails, Sora or American Bitterns reacted to our feeble imitations.

The Fort Lyons Easement had a fire several days before. At least another five fires (including someone barn being burnt down) were seen along Highway 50 between John Martin Reservoir and Lamar. Since then much of the area of John Martin Reservoir has succumbed to fires.

Neenoshe Reservoir, Upper Queens Reservoir, Lower Queens Reservoir and Jet Lake had few birds. We continued to Kansas.

April 9
Twenty Lesser Prairie-Chickens danced at the Elkhart leks. Vesper Sparrows seemed to be everywhere. However, no Cassin's Sparrows could be found (they usually are not found until the end of April).

We then had to rush north for a meeting at the Greater Prairie-Chicken Leks north of Wray (Yuma). Here we watched 30+ Greater Prairie-Chickens.

April 10
The night was spent in Greeley and our first stop was the field southeast of Highway 85 and Weld County Road 114. We walked in the rain toward the windmill to the southeast. The hike only lasted to about 1/3 of the way when a Chestnut-collared Longspur in breeding plumage flew up from the wet grasses. Half a dozen times, it flew up and performed its mating flight, fluttering back to the ground while singing. No females were found.

As we rushed to my favorite Mountain Plover loop, we saw a Golden Eagle, Loggerhead Shrike, American Kestrels, and Red-tailed Hawks.

As we drove along the dirt track road leading north from Weld County Roads 94 and 63, two Mountain Plover and many McCown's Longspurs were observed. Another Mountain Plover was found in the new burn area along CR 96.

We skipped further exploration and decided give Loveland Pass another try. This turned out not a good decision. When we arrived at Highway 70 and Highway 9, it was snowing rapidly.

I skidded off the road three times on the way up to Loveland Pass' summit (wondering the whole time how the drive back down was going to be like). It was not fun. Upon arrival at the top, we found visibility to be almost zero; there was not chance of seeing a Ptarmigan.

On the way to the airport, we took the northern route off I76. The Great Horned Owl and her two white fluffy young stood on the nest along I76.

A few Great-tailed Grackles were around the Picadilly Tree Nursery feedlot. Winds were measured at 28 mph with gusts to 36. No Burrowing Owls or Ferruginous Hawks were out along the DIA Owl Loop.

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