Saturday, December 31, 2011

Last Search for White-tailed Ptarmigan 2011

December 31, 2011

Richard Stevens:

The last day of 2011, it was difficult to comprehend that this was the final day of the year. The year went by too rapidly. I enjoyed a fantastic birding year. Highlights included achieving 400+ species in Colorado for the third time, visiting some new birding areas, a lifebird, meeting new people, some birders, and making many new friends.

Yesterday, I received a telephone call from someone claiming to be a current movie star. He was staying in Vail and wanted to see a White-tailed Ptarmigan. I said sure, we can meet somewhere in Dillon where he would not feel harassed and a location was set. I would bring a friend if that were okay?

I called Bryan Ehlmann and told him the story. If nothing else (hoax or not) we would try and "pin down" some White-tailed Ptarmigan for several birders arriving the next days, Sunday and Monday.

The telephone call turned out not to be a joke. Fortuitously, people can put on a bunch of winter clothes and not be recognized if so desired. Our guests said that they had seen the movie "Big Year" and became interested in the hobby.

It was fortunate that winds in the mountains were much less than down in Denver. I measured 23 mph, gusts to 37 mph near DIA (Denver International Airport) when I left home.

Bryan and I showed them some Rosy Finches (3 species), Pine Grosbeaks, Evening Grosbeaks, Mountain Chickadees, Pine Siskins, 3 species of nuthatches, and a few other mountain birds. Then we stopped briefly at the Blue River Water Treatment Plant and found 20+ Barrow's Goldeneyes.

Next, our troupe headed to Loveland Pass (Clear Creek). Luck was with us. It took less than twenty minutes to discover two White-tailed Ptarmigan hunkered under an evergreen tree (from the first pullover on the west side of highway 6. Thanks to the birds for making us look like we knew what we were doing. I did point out that much luck is involved and my Ptarmigan searches have at times turned into nightmares. I did not want to mislead our invitees into thinking bird searches were always this easy.

They expressed their gratitude; we said goodbye.

Bryan and I made a brief run up highway 119 into Gilpin County. Unfortunately, no owls were found at previous successful GPS waypoints. We did have a Northern Goshawk fly across the highway. A target bird for birders arriving tomorrow; unlikely a chance it can be relocated.

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