Thursday, October 3, 2013

Guanella Pass and White-tailed Ptarmigan

October 1, 2013

Richard Stevens:

What a fantastic fall day in Colorado.  A snowstorm is predicted for Friday; however, today we enjoyed the calm before the storm.

Jerry Petrosky, visiting birders Sean Cooper and Kevin Willis and I enjoyed a hike at Guanella Pass.  Our target bird was the elusive White-tailed Ptarmigan.  Our choice of location was determined by whether Mt. Evans Road is closed for the season?

Guanella Pass provides a spectacular view of the western side of Bierstadt and Mt. Evans.  It is one of my favorite places in Colorado.  A slight dusting of snow made the view even more striking.  Conditions were spectacular with temperatures in the 50s and mild winds (unusual for this elevation, 11,669 feet).

We stayed just a short hour.  Jerry found a Ptarmigan shortly after our trek up the southeast hill.  The male bird jumped up on a boulder, just southwest of the junction of the Rosalie & 603 trails.

A couple of White-crowned Sparrows were still around (they nest up here).  We searched for a Brewer's Sparrow, which also nests here; without success.  There are rumors of the split of Brewer's Sparrows into Plains Brewer's and Timberline Brewer's.

About a dozen years ago, I heard a Brewer's Sparrow in the willows at Guanella Pass.  It sounded quite different from the "normal" song heard on Pawnee National Grasslands.  At the time, I did not know about a split.  When Jim Rising (Sparrows of North America) asked for a photo, I learned about the possibility of two species.

On the way back to Denver, we passed Pine Valley Ranch Park (Jefferson) and decided to try for an American Three-toed Woodpecker and a possible Northern Pygmy-Owl.

The Three-toed Woodpecker was an "easy" find for a change.  A male wandered around below the switchbacks along the Strawberry Jack Trail (just east of the Buck Gulch Trail).  This intersection is sometimes good for a Northern Pygmy-Owl, but not today. 

Other birds observed included three species of nuthatches (Red-breasted, White-breasted & Pygmy), Downy & Hairy Woodpeckers, and a small flock of Pine Siskins.

We hiked along the Narrow Gauge Trail to the closed gate (another good spot of Northern Pygmy-Owl), again without success.  A lone American Dipper was under the farthest western bridge. 

We returned to Denver under another of Colorado's colorful fall sunsets.

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