Friday, March 15, 2013

First Gallinaceous Bird Trip of 2013

March 1-13, 2013

Richard Stevens:

March 1, 2013

Bryan Ehlmann and I started on our first gallinaceous bird trip of 2013. 

We detoured through Gunbarrel (Boulder County) and found eight Bohemian Waxwings along White Rock Circle, east of Spine Road.

Then we connected with Interstate 25 and drove north to Highway 14.  Another detour east on Highway 14 took us past the North Weld County Landfill.  Bring a scope because unless the gulls are in the field south of Hwy 14, they are quite difficult to identify when flying over the private landfill.  We did manage to pick out an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Nothing interesting was at Crow Valley Campground (Weld) and we decided to return south to Lower Latham Reservoir (Weld) and wait for the Short-eared Owls to come out.  Shortly after sunset, two Short-eared Owls flew over the cattails along the north side of Weld County Road 48.

We pressed our luck and drove south to CR 46.  Looking north, we found a second pair flying over the field.  We do not believe it was the same pair that had disappeared at the northeast corner of Lower Latham Reservoir.

March 2, 2013

Our course was reversed again and we headed up Highway 14 to Cameron Pass.  A stop at the upper parking area for Joe Wright Reservoir (Larimer) found a Boreal Owl calling.  Surprisingly, there was little wind tonight.  Many birds were calling from the fir trees.

A stop at the Cameron Pass Summit (Jackson) found another Boreal Owl calling (about 0.1 miles west of the restroom pullover).

We caught a few hours of sleep and drove to Jackson County Road 26 about an hour before sunrise.  CR 26b was quite muddy.  Instead of taking a chance of being stuck in the mud, we walked CR 26b from CR 26 to the oil Tank. 

No Greater Sage-Grouse were observed.  On the return trip, several Greater Sage-Grouse were heard just over the hill to the north of the road (about 500 yards from CR 26).

We drove to Steamboat Springs (Routt) and found two Sharp-tailed Grouse on private property.  Two dozen Common Redpolls were along Hillside Parkway.

On the return trip to Gould, several stops were made.  No American Three-toed Woodpeckers were found today along the side road to the maintenance equipment shed for Rabbit Ears Pass (Grand).

We walked about a mile either direction of the side road in search of Crossbills (specifically White-winged Crossbills), which were also not found.

We ended our birding day early with a visit to the Colorado State Forest Visitor's Center (Jackson).  About fifty-two Rosy Finches were behind the building (60 percent Gray-crowned, no Black, the rest of course Brown-capped).

It was another beautiful day.  Instead of predicted snowstorms we ran into mild temperatures and for the North Park area, mild winds (8-10 mph).

March 3, 2013

Bryan and I visited the 20 Road Leks (Routt) outside of Hayden just before sunrise.  There is little need to arrive earlier.  20 Road (27 Road on maps) is quite busy; any grouse coming to display have never been observed wary of traffic (cars, trucks or people).

Note: I also recommend visiting this lek in the morning.  In my experience (about 10-12 trips in the afternoon), the Sharp-tailed Grouse do not come to the lek until it is too dark to see them.

It was snowing lightly at our arrival.  About 20 minutes after sunrise, two Sharp-tailed Grouse flew from the east side of 20 Road to the hills just west of the road.  They did not put on a display, however, did look around (perhaps for a female?).

Afterwards, we explored the 80 Route to see the condition of the road in order to get to the leks along it.  As expected, snow drifts over the road (at the 2nd cattle guard for those familiar) were high enough to prevent driving farther north.

Parts of 80 Route do not experience direct sunlight until way into May.  This prevents exploration of the road and leks most Springs until May.  We may try and walk down the road next trip. 

While Greater Sage-Grouse often are heard from the 2nd cattle guard, the two or three visible leks I am aware of, are two miles down the road.  The Sharp-tailed Grouse display about another 0.5 miles north at the Jimmy Dunn State Trust Lands (round trip of at least five miles on rolling hills with snow drifts, really not as bad as it sounds).

If one arrives at the 2nd cattle guard before sunrise, I suggest driving down another 10 yards and turning around (when possible).  A pair of Dusky Grouse have come out around the cattle guard several times each of the last five years.

A Northern Saw-whet Owl has been heard the past two years another 80-100 yards south of the cattle guard.

The rest of our birding day was spent driving around Craig (Moffat) looking for birds.   We did find six+ Bohemian Waxwings along South Ranney Street, just south of the Yampa River (just south of Loudy Simpson Park).

March 4, 2013

Today we woke up to a snowstorm.  Instead of sitting in the motel all day, we slowly drove north on Highway 13 to the leks near the Wyoming border.

In heavy falling snow, we found six Greater Sage-Grouse displaying on the Timberlake Lek (off CR 3).  Winds were 10-12 mph, gusts to 19 mph.  The temperature was only 22 degrees at 0800.

The thirty-six mile trip from Craig was quite interesting on icy and snowy roads.  The return trip was timing and energy consuming.

Eventually our birding day was cut short for some needed rest.

March 5, 2013

To explore new territory, Bryan and I decided to drive to Brown's Park National Monument (Moffat) today.  We started late to allow time for yesterday's snow to melt off the roads.

Oxbow Wildlife Area (Moffat) was passed on the drive up, of course, we stopped.  There was not Sage Sparrow or Sage Thrasher activity.  Several Pinyon Jays were heard somewhere north of Highway 318.  They were not observed.

At the National Monument we drove down to the Green River.  As expected, two Trumpeter Swans were swimming not far from the parking area.

After taking in some of the history of the National Wildlife Refuge, we followed directions give to us by a ranger and checked several BLM lands.

At one stop along Moffat 10N Road, we found two Greater Sage-Grouse wandering yards off the road.

March 6, 2013

It was time to get serious again (about our gallinaceous bird searches) and we headed south to Rifle.  A quick stop at the Yampa River (and highway 13) found a dozen or so Barrow's Goldeneyes swimming on the river.

Unfortunately, the Tundra Swans reported a few days earlier were not to be found.

Nothing was on Perch Pond (Moffat) and our next stop was the Rifle Rest Stop (Garfield).  A pair of Great-tailed Grackles was west of the Visitor's Center (always a good place to pick them up).

We did not expect much to be down Coal Canyon (at Cameo, Mesa County).  Our target bird was a Chukar.  I have not enjoyed the best success in finding them the past three or four years.

However, today was a lucky day.  At the second pipe gate (after many stops), we walked over the hill to the north.  Just over the hill, Bryan pointed out a Chukar (they are not extinct).  Birders who have been on my trips the past few years, they know what a pain it has been to find one.

A Golden Eagle flew over the old power plant at the entrance to Coal Canyon.  We stopped to see if one was on the nest (cliff to east) and then continued to Mesa, CO (on the Grand Mesa).

No Common Redpolls were found around this small town (it was late in the day).  At Powderhorn Ski Area, we missed Common Redpolls and Three-toed Woodpeckers.  Our consolation was a Northern Pygmy-Owl who called at the southeast corner of the property.

The next couple of hours were spent stopping at the various pullovers south of Spruce Grove Campgrounds; our target bird was a Boreal Owl.

Eventually, we heard two Boreal Owls within five miles of the Campgrounds!

March 7, 2013

Another late start after getting to the motel early in the morning,   Bryan and I have been in the Colorado National Monument (Mesa) many times.  There was no need for us to drive the 26+ miles. 

We did drive around the subdivision just outside of the eastern entrance.  It is a good place to find Gambel's Quail (and we found a dozen or so).

No Black-throated Sparrows were calling at the entrance (were not expected at this early day).

We did walk the Devil's Kitchen trail down to the dry creek.  If the Black-chinned Sparrows are returning again this year, they had not yet (were not expected).

For other birds found in the Colorado National Monument, search previous Colorado National Monument Trips in this Blog.

The rest of our day was spent visiting various Locations/stops exploring for later trips.  It is a few weeks early for most.

No Black Phoebes, Chukar, Bluebirds, or Sage Sparrow was found in Escalante Canyon (Delta).

The highlight was the resident Western Screech-Owl on G50 Road (Delta)!

Fruitgrower's Reservoir (Delta) was slow.  No shorebirds yet, we missed Lewis's Woodpeckers on the way out (at Evelyn Horn's home below the dam).

We arrived at Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park (Montrose) about two hours before sunset.  The road is closed at the Visitor's Center.  They only plow the road to the Visitor's Center.  I believe the western end of the South Rim Drive is another 14 miles to the west.  Unfortunate, as that is the best location for Dusky Grouse and Northern Pygmy-Owls.

Twenty-eight mile round trip, I have not gotten the hankering to try that adventure yet (hopefully, never will).

A pair of Clark's Nutcrackers squawked behind the Visitor's Center.  We drove from the Visitor's Center to the entrance twice.  On the second attempt, a male Dusky Grouse was observed along the road (about 100 yards east of the road to the Campgrounds)!

Snow, cold, high winds, predicted additional snows, Bryan and I decided to skip staying in Gunnison and a visit to the Waunita Hot Springs (Gunnison Sage-Grouse) Lek and head to Elkhart, Kansas (for warmer and more pleasant weather).

We took turns driving and sleeping and made the 400 miles (7+ hour) trip to Elkhart, Kansas.

March 8, 2013

Of course, our planned route took us through Cottonwood Canyon (Baca).  A fifteen minute stop at the camping area added another Western Screech-Owl to our trip list.

We arrived at the Elkhart, Kansas Lesser Prairie-Chicken Lek just about an hour before sunrise.  Lesser Prairie-Chickens were already cackling!  Only half a dozen were observed from a distance (did not get close to lek, scoped from 1/4 to 1/2 mile away, then took off).

Our return trip to Colorado was along Highway 287/385 into Baca County.  While none was expected, we did not find Cassin's Sparrows, Mountain Plovers, Long-billed Curlews, etc at their usual Locations (search previous trips).

The previously reported Golden-crowned Sparrow below the Two Buttes Reservoir dam (Baca) would have been a new county bird for both of us.  Regrettably, it was not found.  We did see a Harris's Sparrow, two White-throated Sparrows, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker and a Barn Owl!

A Carolina Wren and three Northern Cardinals were found at the Lamar Community College Woods (Prowers).  The resident Red-bellied Woodpeckers were not.

Bonny Reservoir (Yuma) was skipped (too early for passerine migration, we have found Eastern Screech-Owls many times before, the windbreaks that protected wintering Long-eared Owls has been destroyed by high winds).

A quick stop to say "Hi" to a friend in Wray (Yuma) added a pair of Northern Cardinals to our day list and we headed to the Yuma County Road 45 Leks.

Two Greater Prairie-Chickens were observed displaying at the Lek as the sun went down.

Our long day was not over.  A major snowstorm was coming to Colorado and we did not want to be trapped in a small eastern town.  However, instead of heading back to Denver (it was already snowing there, Bryan and I drove north to a friend's ranch in Sedgwick County and not a bad place to wait out the storm).

March 9, 2013

Snow accumulation in northeastern Colorado was 4-5 inches.  High winds produced some interesting snowdrifts.  Bryan and I played poker with Roger Danka who is recovering from a broken leg.  A few completed chores were traded for our room and board.

Two Harris's Sparrows visited the feeders outside of his kitchen windows.  An Eastern Screech-Owl called after dusk.

March 10, 2013

In daylight, the snow did not look as bad as last night.  Bryan and I ventured out and drove to the southern end of Tamarack Ranch Wildlife Area.  Along Logan County Road 46 (between 95 and 83), we ran into a flock? of Ring-necked Pheasant.  Two Greater Prairie-Chickens were among them.

This was an old "trick" told to me by the Tamarack Ranch Wildlife Area Ranger back in 1992.  It has worked on several occasions (more than four).

We swung by Sand Draw Wildlife Area (Sedgwick).  Nothing uncommon was found.  No owls moved about the western windbreak (probably sought shelter at the thicker windbreaks at the nearby ranches).

We circled back to Jumbo Reservoir (Logan) to wait for Short-eared Owls; none did today.  Seventy five+ Greater White-fronted Geese were the highlight of the drive.

March 11, 2013

The weather improved today.  Warmer temperatures and mild winds cleared most of the roads of snow.

Two hours before sunrise, Bryan and I were at the northern sections of Tamarack Ranch Wildlife Area (Logan).

We played recordings at several Locations and eventually received responses from three Eastern Screech-Owls in the taller cottonwoods along the South Platte River.

Picking our favorite spots, we took waypoints on three Northern Cardinals, five Red-bellied Woodpeckers, two Spotted Towhees and a couple of Blue Jays.

Nothing unexpected has yet arrived at the Wildlife Area.  It was a little strange that no sparrows were found.

Red Lion Wildlife Area (Logan) was slow (just too early in the spring).

Our next stop was more exciting.  Sterling Reservoir (Logan) offered hundreds of gulls to shift through.  We probably missed a good one or two, eventually finding two Lesser Black-backed Gulls (dark backs easy to id) and two adult Thayer's Gulls (much harder to id).

A Barn Owl for some unknown reason was in a bare tree at the picnic area.  Ten+ Common Redpolls flew around the Campground area.

A text message informed us about some swans in Weld County and we continued west.  The swans (originally four, then ten) now numbered 16 swans.  They were quite far from the road.  Even through a scope, identification proved difficult.  We thought there to be 15 Tundra Swans and one Trumpeter Swan (larger, more elongated, sloped forehead).  Other observers agreed while several others disagreed. I have not heard the final decision on their identification.

Bryan and I had been out birding so long, that we decided to extend the trip a few more days.

March 12, 2013

We started to run into snow about 10 miles east of Cameron Pass (Jackson).  A Boreal Owl again called around the upper parking area for Joe Wright Reservoir (Larimer).

Later in the morning we found last night's snowstorm had caused the lock of Rosy Finches at the Colorado State Forest Visitor's Center to increase to 160+ birds.  This time all three species were represented (with two Black Rosy Finches).

No American Three-toed Woodpeckers were found at the Visitor's Center or Ranger Lakes (Jackson).

It was going to be a long couple of days. Our plan was to hike/snowshoe up Pennock Pass (Larimer) in a search for Flammulated Owls.  Early dates for this bird are difficult to nail down.  Most of their nesting sites do not have access due to snow and mud well into May or June.

We timed our "adventure" to arrive at the Summit of Pennock Pass just before sunset (achieved)!  We wandered another mile east of the Summit before returning to our car.

The trip while only a little over seven miles round trip is quite strenuous.  Good health and snowshoeing experience a necessity.

Unfortunately, we did not find any Flammulated Owls.

March 13, 2013

We traded off driving, sleeping and listening for owls along highway 14 (Bryan was knocked out by the exhausting snowshoe trip and I admit was quite tired).  Mostly I stopped at the many Campgrounds and picnic areas along highway 14.  No Northern Pygmy-Owls were located.

At first light, we stopped at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery and Science.  Several dozen Common Redpolls were visiting the feeders.  We could not pick out a Hoary Redpoll.

We continued east to Black Hollow Reservoir (Weld) where several interesting gulls were reported year.  Our count was four+ Lesser Black-backed Gulls and two Thayer's Gulls.  The private reservoir is quite far from the road.  Identifying gulls was frustrating. 

Note: we heard that later in the day, a Mew Gull was reported.  Several possible gulls we observed could have been Mew Gulls, distance field marks were not conclusive enough for us.

Other stops added some interesting birds to our long trip.

The Red-necked Grebes at Firestone Ponds (Weld) were new county birds for both of us.

Several Greater Scaup were at Luna Reservoir (Weld).

One birder called the swans along Weld County Road 108, Trumpeter Swans.  Other called them all Tundra Swans.  Jury is still out (we thought, 15 Tundra Swan and 1 Trumpeter Swan).

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