Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ptarmigan & Northern Pygmy-Owl Search, Clear Creek to Douglas Counties

November 24, 2012

Richard Stevens:

I returned to Guanella Pass (Clear Creek County) with three Georgia birders today.  The weather was fair with temperatures in the high 40s and mild winds (16+ mph is mild for up there). 

This was after a brief trip into Summit County for Rosy Finches and mountain birds.  We relocated the Barrow's Goldeneyes on Lake Dillon and the Angler Mountain Ranch Pond.  The Lake Dillon Surf Scoter was not relocated.  We also found a pair of Barrow's Goldeneyes on the Blue River Water Treatment Plant.

Guanella Pass is a beautiful Colorado location.  Trying to forget the many hours, I have missed White-tailed Ptarmigan, that can be a problem.  Someday, I will have to add those hours up (not today).

Four of us searched over three hours on the southeast hills.  Then we dropped down the 603 trail to the flats and walked over to the lake (not named as far as I can find out).  Finally, we found a pair of White-tailed Ptarmigan sitting on a small patch of snow deep in the willows along the east side of the lake.

Heading back toward Denver by way of Grant, we stopped at the closure gate and listened for American Three-toed Woodpeckers.  A favorite spot in past year, none was found today.

Once on highway 285, we detoured the six miles over to Pine Valley Ranch Park (Jefferson).  Hoping we did not have to make the whole six mile loop to find a Three-toed Woodpecker, we took Buck Gulch Trail toward the Skipper Trail.  A female Three-toed Woodpecker was eventually found calling 20 yards east of the Buck Gulch Trail and 200 yards south of the Park Boundary sign (one of Merlynn Brown's favorite spots to find them)!

We split into two groups (limited to two radios) and took separate routes back to the parking area.  Our target bird was an elusive Northern Pygmy-Owl.  While most of the previous successful locations were examined, no owls were found.

We then drove up and down Pine Road (Harold Holt's favorite "Northern Pygmy-Owl drive") without finding a Pygmy Owl. 

The other three birders were game, what the heck, now completely dark, we drove the Platte River Road to Deckers, then highway 67 past Cheesman Reservoir (now in Douglas County) and back to toward Denver. 

The detour route along Sugar Creek Road finally ended our torment.  Well, mine, seven unsuccessful hours of searching and dozens of stops, we finally found a Northern Pygmy-Owl (at about 1.2 miles south of hwy 67). 

 It was a superb night out, with mild temperatures and little wind.  Still, seven hours is a long time to search and miss a bird. 

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