Saturday, December 14, 2013

Exploring the Colorado State Forest Area

December 8-12, 2013

Richard Stevens:

December 8, 2013

Bryan & Sue Ehlmann, Rebecca Kosten and I headed up to North Park by way of Silverthorne.

Three species of Rosy Finches visited feeders at a friend's home (Summit County).

No Rosy Finches could be found in Kremmling (Grand County).

Our birding day ended at Jackson County Road 26 where a search for Greater Sage-Grouse was unsuccessful.

December 9, 2013

Bryan Ehlmann and I drove back to the Canyon Campgrounds 35+ miles east of Cameron Pass (Larimer) to look for the Carolina Wren and Lewis's Woodpecker reported yesterday by Nick Komar.  Unfortunately, they were not found.

On the trip down Highway 14, we stopped at the Colorado State Forest Visitor's Center (Jackson).  Several dozen Rosy Finches visited the feeders behind the building.  It is early in the season and it appears the Rosy Finches come early in the morning and do not stay throughout the day.

Later in the afternoon, we stopped by the Visitor's Center, no Rosy Finches.  While walking highway 14, the drumming of a male American Three-toed Woodpecker was heard just northeast of the Visitor's Center, north of hwy 14.
December 10, 2013

Late yesterday afternoon, Bryan and I cross country skied into the Colorado State Forest.  Our arrival at Ruby Jewell Road (along Jackson County Road 41 at 5.0 miles east of Hwy 14) was timed to be there around sunset.

We continued up Ruby Jewell Road for about two miles.  Winds were mild (less than 3 mph) and we could hear the forest sounds clearly.  Temperatures were in the single digits by midnight; the strenuous skiing kept us warm anyway.

It still amazes me how noisy the forest is at night, even in winter.  Cassin's Finches, Pine Siskins and a woodpecker or two called during our trek.  The breathing of an Elk was heard at least twice.  Fortunately, the resident bears should have all been hibernating (a relief to my mind to not run into one this night).  Several Aspens had been scarred/worked over during warmer times.

On this night, we only heard one Boreal Owl (up Ruby Jewell Road).  It was not far from one of the nesting boxes that I monitor in June (although in eight years I have only found one Boreal Owl that ever used one of the 152 boxes in the Colorado State Forest).

It was quite an enjoyable trip, well worth the effort.

After a few hours sleep, we returned to the Colorado State Forest Visitor's Center (late afternoon and found only a few dozen Rosy Finches.  Earlier in the morning, Sue and Rebecca had counted only a dozen (no Blacks).

December 11, 2013

Four hours before sunrise, Bryan and I went out to listen for Boreal Owls.  Winds were in the 4-6 mph range.  While good conditions for hearing the soft calling owls, none was found this morning.

Then our troupe headed to Jackson County Road 26 to search for Greater Sage-Grouse just before sunrise.  None was found on this chilly winter morning.

We continued to Steamboat Springs and stopped at the road to the Highway Maintenance vehicle shed on Rabbit Ears Pass (Grand).  A female American Three-toed Woodpecker flew across the road!

Several stops along Rabbit Ears Pass did not add a White-winged Crossbill or Red Crossbill to our trip list.

Reservoirs around Steamboat Springs (Routt County) were frozen and had no birds.  After lunch, we walked along the Yampa River Riverwalk searching unsuccessfully for Waxwings.

At dusk, we stopped by a friend's home northeast of town.  Three Sharp-tailed Grouse roosted in one of his trees.  Most winter mornings, a few will drop down out of the trees and walk underneath his porch!

December 12, 2013

Early this morning, Bryan and I snow shoed to the Crags Campgrounds area (Jackson).  The resident Boreal Owls were not found.  We had been scouting for the past couple of days for tomorrow's Christmas Count.

Our planned cross country ski trip down the Michigan Ditch Road trail was canceled this week.  Conditions looked potentially too high for avalanches.  As I have said several times, I am quite familiar with the Colorado State Forest area having spent several hundred days birding there.  We always carry avalanche beacons in winter.  Wandering around below the mountains without experience can be quite severe.

In theory, it is possible to hike/cross country ski down the Michigan Ditch trail and reach Thunder Pass (in 4.0 miles).  One can take the pass (11,331 feet) from Routt National Forest southeast into Rocky Mountain National Park.  In 6.1 miles (Lulu City Ghost Town in 3.3) one will reach Trail Ridge Road (Highway 34).  All the while one is west of the Continental Divide (and does not cross it).

I have only done this once (in August).  The trip is not all that strenuous and passes through some beautiful country (and under Mount Richthofen (12,940 feet).  Make it a two day trip and you will enjoy two days of solitude with potential Boreal Owls (Flammulated Owls in season), and other mountain bird species.

When not birding, we have been playing bridge and resting our legs.  Weather conditions have been quite good this week.  Tomorrow, the 4th Annual Colorado State Forest Christmas Count.

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