Sunday, June 8, 2014

Eastern Plains Bird Trip

May 29 to June 5, 2014

Richard Stevens:

Bryan Ehlmann and I started yesterday on a northern to southern Colorado trip.  While most of the state experienced thunderstorms with accompanying hail, we missed most of it.  The few rainstorms encountered happened while we were driving from one location to another.  Winds on the other hand were another story.  Many days anonometer readings were 12-14 mph, gusts to the high 20s.  Temperatures reached 90 degree on several days.

May 29

Bryan Ehlmann and I continued our eastern Colorado trip in Logan & Sedgwick Counties today.  Temperatures reached into the 80s, winds clocked at 8 mph, gusts to 11 mph.

We missed Upland Sandpipers along Highway 138, but did find two White-rumped Sandpipers at Red Lion Wildlife Area (Logan).  A Bell's Vireo and American Redstart were found at Little Jumbo Reservoir.

Most of the day was spent at Tamarack Ranch Wildlife Area (Logan).  Migration is slowing down but not quite over.  Summer residents appear to have arrived in force.

A Black-throated Green Warbler (migrant) was relocated (Washburn:Simmons, 5/26).  A Veery and Wood Thrush were found near section 10 East.  A Northern Waterthrush was relocated in the same area.

Summer residents included Bell's Vireos, Field Sparrows, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Northern Cardinals Baltimore Orioles and two Eastern Screech-Owls.

Late in the afternoon, we found a Nashville Warbler in the northern woods at Jumbo Reservoir (Logan/Sedgwick).  A Common Tern was observed flying over the shore.  An Eastern Screech-Owl called from the border of Jumbo Reservoir and private property in the northwest side.

Eastern Screech-Owls called on Roger Danka's ranch (Sedgwick) after an hour after sunset.

May 30

The day started out with calm winds and temperatures in the 60s.  By late afternoon, temperatures rose to the middle 80s and winds were measured at 14 mph, gusts to 23 mph.  At dusk, a severe rainstorm hit Yuma County (gust over 34 mph).

Our first stop of the day was Sand Draw Wildlife Area.  The resident Barn Owl was again in the western windbreak.  Two Field Sparrows fluttered about the eastern fence line.

The Holyoke area was interesting, although not as birdy as the past couple of weeks.  No shorebirds were at the Holyoke Fishing Pond; however, a Bell's Vireo was singing.

A Yellow-throated Vireo was found at the Holyoke Cemetery.  A Dickcissel sang just outside of the property line.

The best location in Holyoke has been the east end of Akron Street.  Today we only found a Nashville Warbler.

We detoured to Haxtun on our trip south and found a rare Phillips County Philadelphia Vireo at the City Park.

Yuma was quiet and we turned back east to Wray Fishing Unit.  Most of the recent sightings had moved on; we did relocate the Eastern Phoebes at the outlet canal off CR FF.5.  A Great Crested Flycatcher was along the entrance road.

After the Fishing Unit closed, we walked the eastern canal and found a Grasshopper Sparrow.  Stalker Pond was also slower than past weeks.  A lone Northern Cardinal was found at the west end of the property.

Nothing uncommon was seen at the Wray City Park.  Pouring down rain changed our plans to scope the Yuma County Road Greater Prairie-Chicken lek.

May 31

Bryan Ehlmann and I scoped the CR 45 Greater Prairie-Chicken Lek at first light.  At least two male birds are still coming to the lek and displaying.  My personal late day was May 23rd (normally I do not visit the lek in late May).  Some unknown birder did report seeing a displaying bird on June 4, 2000.

Migration appears to be slowing down.  The two Eastern Phoebes continue at the Wray Fishing Unit outlet canal.  They may be nesting although we have not been able to find a nest (will keep an eye out for young later in the summer).

A Northern Cardinal flew around the picnic area at Stalker Pond.  No shorebirds were on the limited mudflats at the west end of the property.  Nashville Warbler flew around the cattails below the dam.

Our trek continued south and we visited five ranches on the way to Bonny Reservoir.  Along the way, Beecher Island provided some interesting birds.  A Great Crested Flycatcher, singing Bell's Vireo and Eastern Phoebe entertained us there.

We found a Golden-winged Warbler at private ranch # 5.  A Magnolia Warbler was at private ranch # 4.  While private ranch # 2 had a Palm Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler.  Private ranch # 3 was a bust this trip.  Just before dusk, we found four Bobolinks at private ranch # 1 where a Short-eared Owl came out about 10 minutes before sunset.

Our birding day did not end until midnight.  Eventually we found four Eastern Screech-Owls spread along the Republican River at Bonny Reservoir Wildlife Area.

June 1

An hour before sunrise, an Eastern Screech-Owl called at Hale Pond.  It is always a great way to
get a wake up call!

Bryan Ehlmann and I spent most of the day hiking Bonny Reservoir Wildlife Area and Hale Ponds.  Our hike started at CR 2 and Hwy 385, along the south side of Bonny Reservoir, to Hale Ponds and the Kansas border.  Our return trip was the Republican River to the north side of Bonny Reservoir back to Hwy 385.

It was a long and enjoyable day.  According to my GPS, we hiked 28.6 miles!  It has been awhile since I have covered that much ground in one day.  Getting to sleep this night was not a problem.

There were many interesting bird sightings along the trek.  A male Prairie Warbler and Bell's Vireo along County Road 2 were great highlights.  The Prairie Warbler was 25 yards northeast of where CR 2 turns from going east to south (later, shortly turning east again).  The Bell's Vireo was in the short bushes farther west.

Warblers and Vireos were scarce today.  In the order we found birds:

A Great Crested Flycatcher was at Hopper Ponds.  A few Spotted Towhees were seen also.  Unfortunately, no uncommon sparrows ("ammodramus", Baird's, LeConte's, Sharp-tailed or Henslow's).  Two Grasshopper Sparrows were found.

Then the Bell's Vireo and later the Prairie Warbler were found along CR 2.  A Baltimore Oriole and Red-bellied Woodpecker were observed along the closed section of road that runs along the south side of the now empty Bonny Reservoir.  No Long-eared Owls were found at the thick evergreen area of the Wagon Wheel Picnic area.

A Northern Cardinal was the highlight at the old Wagon Wheel Campgrounds.  Eastern Screech-Owls appeared to have abandoned the same area (or at least could not be enticed into showing themselves).

Not much time was spent looking at the evergreens below the dam (sometimes a good place to find a Northern Saw-whet Owl).

Four Eastern Bluebirds were at Hale (near CR LL.5 and CR 4).  We searched quite awhile at the area with large cottonwoods along CR 4, just east of Hale for cuckoos.  Black-billed Cuckoos once nesting here.  A Yellow-billed Cuckoo was well hidden in the cottonwood leaves (not quite good enough, Bryan spotted it).  A Great Crested Flycatcher was found lower in the same trees.  A male Red-headed Woodpecker carried food although the sighting was lost before its destination was determined.

We did not know at the time, however, no uncommon warblers or vireos would be found.  A bonus bird was a Dickcissel in the field just east of Hale Ponds.  Three Red-bellied Woodpeckers, seven Eastern Bluebirds, and a few additional Eastern Bluebirds were between Hale Ponds and the Kansas border.

Returning west, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo was observed with a branch in its beak (north of the most northwestern Hale Pond).  House Wrens were common and making much racket.

No additional species were found; we reached the northeastern end of the dam and continued west.  The sight of the once superb birding area of Bonny Reservoir is quite pitiful.  The Republican River/reservoir is now just a weed lined trickle of a stream.

An American Redstart fluttered about at North Cove.  We thought we heard a Bell's Vireo at the western end of the North Cove Nature Trail; however, it was never seen.

A check at Pikes Point did not find any of the Barn Owls that once nested here.

Foster Grove had another Northern Cardinal, fourteen Wild Turkey, another Great Crested Flycatcher, an Eastern Phoebe, two Lincoln's Sparrows, and a Grasshopper Sparrow.

The once flourishing marshes along the Republican River and now completely dry.  They once hosted Least Bitterns, American Bitterns, Virginia Rails, Sora and migrating uncommon birds.

Our final bird was another Great Crested Flycatcher about 400 yards west of Fosters Grove.

 June 2

Our plans had been to carry on south to Picture Canyon (Baca); however, a report of a Laughing Gull in Elbert County could not be ignored.  Once again, we got up in the middle of the night and headed back west.

The Laughing Gull was eventually observed flying over a private reservoir near Agate (Ball Reservoir).

We proceeded west for breakfast and a shout out to a friend in Kiowa.  Along the way, we checked several traditional Mountain Plover fields without finding any.  A stop at Joe Tembricks favorite Common Poorwill spot was not successful either.

A walk around the Elbert County Museum in Kiowa found a Tennessee Warbler.  Whether it was the same bird we observed on 5/17 could not be determined.  It seemed unlikely that a migrating Tennessee Warbler would hang around that long.  However, the Blue-winged Warbler at Welchester Tree Park back in Denver has been there now from 5/23 through 6/7.

Later, two Dickcissel were picked out of the alfalfa/weeds in the field about five miles south of town.

Our route had been Hwy 86 to Elbert Road, then south to Hwy 24.  It turned back Northeast along Hwy 24 to Calhan.  The Paint Mines Interpretive Park had been quite birdy in early May, not so much today.  A Rock Wren and Northern Mockingbird were all that were found.

Nothing uncommon was found at Ramah Wildlife Area (El Paso).  Once a great birding area, our drought has taken its toll on the property.

Instead of taking major highways, we drove back county roads south and east.  Stops at several State Trust Lands and Walk-In-Areas found few uncommon birds.  Most WIA are closed until September 1 and had to be scoped from the county roads.  Highlights were sightings of McCown's Longspurs at two locations (no Mountain Plover were found).

A lone sandpiper at Karval Reservoir Wildlife Area (Lincoln) turned out to be a White-rumped Sandpiper!  An Eastern Phoebe hawked insects at Hugo Wildlife Area (Lincoln).

Our birding day ended at Vogel Canyon (Otero).  A Rufous-crowned Sparrow was pished into showing itself.  A Northern Mockingbird and Greater Roadrunner were found around the parking area.  On the way out, a Short-eared Owl was observed flying across the road.

June 3

Bryan and I spent most of the day in Cottonwood Canyon (Baca).  The usual suspects were easy to find.  We encountered Rufous-crowned Sparrows, Canyon Towhees, Bewick's Wrens, Lark Sparrows, Cooper's Hawks, Chihuahuan Ravens, Red-tailed Hawks, Spotted Towhees, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds and a Black-chinned Hummingbird.

More uncommon birds (now days) included Mississippi Kites, Lewis's Woodpeckers, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers and Eastern Phoebes.  A Yellow-billed Cuckoo was found up a southwest draw.  A Western Screech-Owl was enticed out of its nesting hole.

Having found all our target birds, we drove over to Carrizo Mountain.  Several times in past years, Lesser Nighthawks have been found here, unfortunately none was found today.  Several Cassin's Sparrows flew around the edge of the gravel road on the way.

Our birding day ended at Picture Canyon (Baca).  We had enough daylight to walk down and find one of the previously reported Painted Buntings.  The males are extremely colorful!

Rufous-crowned Sparrows and Bewick's Wrens were found along the eastern cliffs.  A Greater Roadrunner ran across the main road as we made a short walk back to the entrance.

No Western Screech-Owls were enticed to call this night.

June 4

After a few hours sleep at Picture Canyon (legal to camp at the parking area, Baca County), Bryan and I spent most of the day exploring the area.  After Monday's 28 mile hike, the 16 miles we hiked today seemed like a walk in the park (really, not quite so, it was another long day)!

The circuitous route taken was necessary to see most of our desired spots.  Still there are many locations to checkout and we missed a dozen or so (it required another 6 miles or so of hiking).  In addition, it probably is more desirable to make this a two day adventure.  It is possible to drive into Sand Canyon, reducing the hiking by 8 miles or more.

If you plan to hike Holt and Sand Canyons, bring plenty of water.  We both drank over a gallon along the trek and could have used more (although, water that is 90 degrees is bad, we both had great respect for the pioneers that crossed Colorado's plains in summer).

Our route was not quite along the easy trails.  It is possible to hike up some of the draws and circumvent the open level trails/roads.  We expected most of the interesting birds to be in the draws, which provide some shade and protection from the rising temperatures.

This proved to be the case.  Holt Canyon while interesting is not quite up to the standard of Sand Canyon.  However, we did see half a dozen Northern Mockingbirds, Bewick's Wrens, two Greater Roadrunners, and a covey of Northern Bobwhite (seven birds, Bobwhite are uncommon to rare anywhere in Colorado, but much so in Baca County).

More uncommon was a pair of Lewis's Woodpeckers at a small stand of trees in one draw (In the area called Hells Half Acre).  A Rufous-crowned Sparrow sang near the Natural Arch trail.

If you acquire a topo map, it shows a multiple number of springs in this seemingly dry area of Colorado.  Birds tend to gather around these areas.  Regrettably, it requires much hiking to inspect each of these springs.

One spring near the Oklahoma border has provided Vermilion Flycatcher records at least four times in the past twenty years.  There could have been additional sightings if the area was birded more often.  I have recorded two records, one a male and one pair that successfully nested in North Canyon (2002).

A ran across another male Painted Bunting in Sand Canyon.  Perhaps he was one of the three reported a few weeks ago back in Picture Canyon.  The area needs more birder visits.  No telling how many Painted Buntings come here each year.  Our sixteen mile trek barely did the area justice concerning an accurate bird count.

Additional Northern Mockingbirds, Bewick's Wrens, Rock Wrens, Scaled Quail, Greater Roadrunners, Say's Phoebes, Canyon Wrens, Golden Eagles, Chihuahuan Ravens, and Brown-headed Cowbirds were recorded.

Our hope to find Scott's Orioles reported on 5/21/2014 did not come about.  Surely a few are down one of the many draws?  A second pair of Lewis's Woodpeckers (nesting) was found as we turned back east along the Oklahoma border.  Our Curve-billed Thrasher count for the day was eight!  They appear to be doing well in the southeastern Colorado canyons.

Finally we reached our vehicle, totally exhausted from the mileage and sun both sapping our energy.  It was quite an enjoyable day!

We caught a few hours sleep back in Cottonwood Canyon, not before listening to a Western Screech-Owl calling!

June 5

Much territory had to be covered today.  We really needed one additional day here in the southeastern corner.  However, Bryan had to be back in Denver tomorrow afternoon (later he found out that his meeting was put off for a month and we could have taken the extra day, too bad). 

Our first stop was Furnish Canyon (Baca) and a visit to a friend's ranch.  We arrived in the canyon about two hours before sunrise.  A Western Screech-Owl called from the entrance to the ranch!

It was a fantastic stop. He had a nesting pair of Vermilion Flycatchers (for the third time since 2002).  Later he took us to a pair of nesting Hepatic Tanagers.  Better still, he showed us a Northern Saw-whet Owl, which he believed, was nesting on his property!

Sightings that are more common included Juniper Titmice, Gray Vireos, Cassin's & Western Kingbirds, and Cassin's Sparrows.

Finally, it was time to head back; we probably missed some interesting birds.  There is never enough time.

We wanted to search for the Wood Thrush reported a few days ago in Colorado City (Pueblo).  Unfortunately, it eluded us (as did the Red-eyed Vireo).

Our day was timed to end up around the St. Charles Trail (Pueblo) about an hour before sunset.  We hiked about a mile up the trail hearing any Flammulated Owls.  An American Three-toed Woodpecker was also encountered.

A Dusky Grouse walked along highway 165 when we returned to our vehicle. 

After sunset and civil twilight, our birding (owling) started in earnest.  Eventually two Northern Saw-whet Owls were found along the South Creek Trail (Pueblo).  Flammulated Owls have been found here in the past, none today.

Our luck changed at the Davenport Campgrounds.  A Flammulated Owl flew in quickly in response to Bryan's imitation call.

No additional owls called at Ophir Creek, Florence and Smith Circle Campgrounds (Pueblo).

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