Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Colorado Eastern Plains Trip

November 12-17, 2012

Richard Stevens:

November 12

Bryan Ehlmann and I head to the Eastern Plains today.  Target birds included Common Redpolls, "Ammodramus sparrows" and late migrating birds.

We stopped in Bennett (Adams County) attempting to relocate the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker we found several times last month; without success.

A stop in Byers (Arapahoe) did not relocate two Common Redpolls reported Elam Avenue.

Flagler Reservoir was disappointing.  No target birds or owls were found.  Consolation prizes included a Swamp Sparrow below the dam and a Harris's Sparrow with many American Tree Sparrows at the northeast corner.

The weather was fantastic.  Highs in the 60 degrees and little wind.  We camped at Karval Wildlife Area (Lincoln).

November 13

We rose early to look for Short-eared Owls flying over Karval Reservoir Wildlife Area (Lincoln).  While we did not find any Short-eared Owls, after sunrise we found a Long-eared Owl (almost as good a sighting for Lincoln County).

Many sparrows flew about; however, none was uncommon.

At Kinney Lake Wildlife Area (Lincoln), we relocated the Common Redpolls reported a few days earlier by Mark Peterson.  A Northern Shrike was nearby, hope it does not get the redpolls.

Several flocks of Horned Larks and longspurs were encountered along the drive back north.  The best flock of 110 birds included majority Lapland, a dozen McCown's and at least one or two Chestnut-collared Longspurs!  This in itself was quite a highlight of our trip.

An hour of daylight (valuable with the shortening days) driving around Burlington (Kit Carson) looking for feeders and uncommon birds (including eighth and Rose, a good location for uncommon birds in the past).  A few Great-tailed Grackles were at the park north of I70 and southeast of the McDonald's Restaurant. 

Another hour was used up at Fairview Cemetery at the north end of Burlington.  Again, nothing uncommon was found.  A flock of 10+ Yellow-rumped Warblers kept our attention for a little while.  There were plenty of Eurasian Collared-Doves around town.

As we drove north, we detoured into Kansas to visit a friend (he went to high school with my parents).  In the last month, he had seen an eastern Fox Sparrow and Varied Thrush.  Eastern Screech-Owls nest on his ranch.  We found nothing uncommon and headed to Bonny Reservoir (Yuma) just before sunset (hoping to see a wandering Greater Prairie-Chicken; without success).

An Eastern Screech-Owl responded to our recordings as we set up camp.

November 14

The weather continued to be superb with temperatures in the 60s and mild winds.  Most of our morning and early afternoon was spent in the Bonny Reservoir & Hale Pond area.

We started about 2 hours before sunrise and walked along the Republican River from Hwy 385 to the old Foster's Grove Campgrounds.  We located 3 Eastern Screech-Owls before sunrise.

A male Northern Cardinal wandered around the western end of the Campgrounds.  A group (flock?) of Wild Turkeys crossed CR 3 and walked toward the ranger's office.

No Long-eared Owls were found throughout the day (Foster's Grove windbreak or the windbreak along the road that runs along the southern border of the old now dried up lake).

We did run into a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers on the southern road.  The Fox Sparrow found last month was not relocated.  We got a brief look at a possible Harris's Sparrow at the Wagon Wheel Picnic area (too short to confirm).

The old Wagon Wheel Campgrounds was quiet.  Best bird was a Red-naped Sapsucker.  Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers had been found last month; this was definitely a Red-naped.  American Goldfinches were in winter plumage (basic). 

The lack of water in this once thriving lake is sad.  Does not help the bird count either.

Another pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers worked the trees on the west side of the eastern Hale Ponds.  No Winter Wrens or interesting birds were found when we walked from Hale Ponds to the Kansas border.

A walk around the "camping area" at CR 4 & LL.5 found a Harris's Sparrow about 80 yards east of the intersection.

We searched for Northern Saw-whet Owls at the windbreak below the Bonny dam; without finding any today.

The highlight of the day came when we searched for Common Redpolls around the buildings below the dam.  A first year male Purple Finch flew around with American Goldfinches, House Finches and Horned Larks.

On our way to Wray (Yuma), we stopped at two friend's ranches north of Joes (Yuma).  One had visits from 4 Common Redpolls from November 9th to 11th.  They did not show today.

My other friend had a nice list of uncommon birds recorded last summer (Prairie Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Pine Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Northern Cardinal, Vermilion Flycatcher, Harris's Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Winter Wren, possible Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Greater Prairie-Chickens).  Unfortunately all long gone before August (I should have visited earlier, plan to next year).

Stops at 3 WIAs along Hwy 59 (between CR 32 & 35) did not find any uncommon birds.  Our search for Greater Prairie-Chickens at two active spring leks south of Yuma (Yuma County) was not successful.

November 15

Today Bryan and I drove the county roads just along the eastern Colorado border, from Bonny Reservoir to Wray.  Properties visited included 6 'WIA" along Highway 36.

No Sprague's Pipits or "Ammodramus" sparrows were found.  Interesting birds included:
WIA 16-QQ: Field Sparrow
WIA 10-PP: White-throated Sparrow
WIA 33-LL: Field Sparrow (2)

The highlight however was a fall plumage Bay-breasted Warbler at a windbreak along the Arickaree River (Yuma).  It was the only warbler found all day (but quite a nice one).

The last few hours of daylight were spent at Sand Draw Wildlife Area (Yuma).  A Harris's Sparrow was along County Road CC.  Two Common Redpolls were found at the eastern side of the Wildlife Area (along the Republican River which is not wide here).

Misses: Eastern Screech-Owls and Swamp Sparrows have been found on the property in past years.

November 16

Our birding day started just before sunrise at the Wray Fishing Unit and Stalker Pond.  Misses: Eastern Screech-Owls and the resident Barn Owl.  No sign of the resident Northern Cardinals either.

While counting the number of American Robins (191) at Stalker Pond we found a Varied Thrush among them.  American Goldfinches were the next most common bird at 79.

Our plans changed while showing two Nebraska birders the Varied Thrush.  They saw Common Redpolls at Beecher Island yesterday.  That was our next stop.  Sure enough, two Common Redpolls were along the Arickaree River (does not look much like a creek).  A Say's Phoebe seemed out of place here (time of year).

Afterwards, we turned back north and visited 9 of the 16 WIAs north of Yuma (Yuma County).
Again no Sprague's Pipit or "Ammodramus" sparrows.  Highlights:

WIA 47-N: Common Redpoll (2)
WIA 48-M: White-throated Sparrow
WIA 55-K: Brown Thrasher
Near CR 55-K: Eastern Screech-Owl (responded to our recording while we tried to find sparrows)
WIA 56-J: Harris's Sparrow
WIA 57-H: Field Sparrow (2)

November 17

Bryan and I enjoyed a nice evening in Wray.  For a change, we did not get up before sunrise.  It was our last day on the eastern plains and we checked up on several friends in Wray and the surrounding county.

Our first stop was back at Stalker Pond.  Again, the Varied Thrush was found among 100+ American Robins.  We watched the Varied Thrush accompany many of the robins as they flew toward the Wray Fishing Unit.  The Fishing Unit resident Barn Owl did not make an appearance nor was the Varied Thrush relocated.

Visiting birding friends is always a pleasure and usually quite productive.  Between two yards in Wray, we observed 3 male and 2 female Northern Cardinals.  At what I call private yard # 1 (they had a nesting eastern Fox Sparrow pair this summer) we relocated a first year eastern Fox Sparrow!

At private yard # 4, we were alerted to a Varied Thrush that had been seen for three days in a row.  Our sighting today was day 4 (no relation to yard #; yards are not numbered by importance, but as I made new friends over the years).

Two flocks of Common Redpolls were eventually found in Yuma County.  One (6 birds) was on Bob Bledsoe's property (CR PP, south of CR 45).  Another flock of 11+ birds near the Republican River near CR KK 5.

Unfortunately, time was limited and we headed north to Holyoke (Phillips).  A friend told us about a pair of Common Redpolls and a Purple Finch.  They did not show in the 30 minutes allotted for our search.

Quick searches at the Holyoke City Park and Cemetery did not find any uncommon birds.  Haxtun City Park was quiet also.

Frenchman Creek Wildlife Area (Phillips) was a must stop for sparrow searching.  We were rewarded with sightings of an eastern Fox Sparrow and 2 White-throated Sparrows!

Time was running out on us as we hit just 5 of 11 WIAs south of highway 6 (between Holyoke and Haxtun).

One Field Sparrow and one White-throated Sparrow were just about all uncommon found.  No Common Redpolls were encountered in Phillips County.  I hope that we can return after Thanksgiving and hit a few additional WIAs.

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