Monday, March 16, 2015

First Grouse Trip 2015

March 2-6, 2015

Richard Stevens:

March 2

Bryan Ehlmann and I started a "grouse trip" today.  Forecasts were for snowstorms along the Front Range.  We hoped the storms would miss the mountains.  As it turned out, we escaped the inclement weather (heard on the radio that the Front Range did not).

About three hours before sunrise, a Boreal Owl was heard as we stood at the northwest corner of the pullover at the Cameron Pass Summit (Jackson County).  Another Boreal Owl was calling approximately 0.5 miles to the west!

We sat in our cold jeep along Jackson County Road 26b about 30 minutes before sunrise.  Perhaps 15 minutes after sunrise two Greater Sage-Grouse crossed CR 26b (from south to north).  They walked around the Grouse Lek; however, they did not perform their mating dance/displays.

We stopped at several locations along Rabbit Ears Pass (Grand/Routt Counties) in search of crossbills.  A small flock of Red Crossbills (no White-winged) flew around the evergreen trees just north of the road to the CDOT maintenance sheds.

A female American Three-toed Woodpecker flew across the maintenance shed road and worked the evergreen trees north of the road.  She was first observed on one of the telephone poles on the south side of the road.

Next, we examined the 80 Route Road where there are many grouse leks.  The road was not drivable because of several snow drifts.  The weather was so nice (temperatures in the 40s; winds were less than 6 mph).  We decided to walk the 2.7 miles to the Jimmy Dunn State Trust Lands.

BTW, the J.D. State Trust Lands are no longer?  If anyone knows why/how they were sold and to whom, please let me know (leave comment on Blog).

We started north from the second cattle guard (where a Dusky Grouse has displayed for the last half dozen years, but not this afternoon).  About 45 minutes before sunset, we observed two Greater Sage-Grouse perched in the trees to the west.  They were approximately in the area of one of the Greater Sage-Grouse Leks found along Route 80.

Our trek continued and we arrived at the Sharp-tailed Grouse on the "old" Jimmy Dunn STL about 20 minutes before sunset.  Our wait was not long before several Sharp-tailed Grouse started to run around/display on their lek.  It was a great "coup" for our strenuous hike through snow drifts and muddy road.

We turned around shortly before sunset and made the long trek back to our car.

March 3

Bryan and I planned our arrival at the 20 Road Leks (Routt) for around sunrise.  Experience has shown to me that Sharp-tailed Grouse usually do not come to their leks in the morning until sunrise.  This was the case this morning.

Minutes after sunrise, we heard and then observed three Sharp-tailed Grouse running around the top of one of two hills west of Routt County Road 27, near the green pipe gate given in directions to the 20 Road Sharp-tailed Grouse Leks.  I have never determined/learned why the Leks are called 20 Road Leks when they are along County Road 27?

After watching these Sharp-tailed Grouse, we returned to Steamboat Springs and visited a friend's home.  Six Sharp-tailed Grouse wandered around her yard!

We leisurely walked the Yampa River trail in search of Waxwings (preferably Bohemian Waxwings) without finding any.  None was found in town or around Catamount Reservoir

Road closures did not allow us to get anywhere up Buffalo Pass Road and we headed for Craig (Moffat County).

Half a dozen Barrow's Goldeneyes were observed swimming in the Yampa River when we stopped along Highway 13.

We had plenty of time and decided to detour to the Oxbow State Trust Land.  It was too early in the season for Sagebrush Sparrows; however, we thought to search anyway.  Several Sagebrush Sparrows have already been reported far to the south.

No Sagebrush Sparrows, Black-throated Sparrows or Pinyon Jays were encountered (not expected).  We turned around and drove north to Moffat County Road 3.

The weather started to go downhill (sleet and then graupel).  I just learned the term "graupel" last spring.  Graupel is distinct from hail, small hail and ice pellets.  It is defined by the World Meteorological Organization as snow pellets encapsulated by ice!

We were greeted at the Timberlake Leks by a downpour of graupel.  Through our scopes, five Greater Sage-Grouse were observed unshaken by the falling pellets.  They were dancing around performing their ritual mating dance!

March 4

After resting in Craig and getting a late start, Bryan and I continued south down Highway 13.  The late morning air and wind had dried the highway.  Perch Pond was mostly ice/snow/graupel covered; no birds were on it.

A pair of Great-tailed Grackles was around the Rifle Rest Stop (Garfield County).

About two hours were spent at Cameo (Coal Canyon) before a Chukar was heard calling.  He was somewhere on the tall hillside southwest of the parking area at the second pipe gate.  Bryan eventually pointed it out!

We then headed to the Grand Mesa (Mesa County) and arrived about three hours before sunset.  On the drive up, we stopped near the first forest sign on the north side of Highway 65 (well past the town of Mesa). 

A Northern Saw-whet Owl was found here on one of my grouse trips last year.  We were not disappointed.  A Saw-whet responded shortly after I played a recording.  He was on the south side of Hwy 65.

A walk around the Powderhorn Ski Area found an American Three-toed Woodpecker in the grove of trees at the southeast end of the upper parking area.  No Northern Pygmy-Owls responded to our recording and we headed to the Grand Mesa Visitor's Center.

Few birds flew around the Visitor's Center parking area.  Well after dark, we stopped at seven of the pullovers (back north toward Powderhorn).  We found Boreal Owls at two of the stops.

Back at Powderhorn, a Northern Pygmy-Owl called when we played a recording as we walked the semi-circle road just inside/west of the entrance.

March 5

We took advantage of another late morning start by getting a few hours of sleep.  Both of us have driven the Colorado National Monument Road on many occasions.  It was too early in the year for sparrows and the southern/eastern entrance was skipped.

We drove to the Campgrounds from the northern/western entrance of the Colorado National Monument.  Sometimes Rosy Finches are found on the rocks near the tunnel, unfortunately not today.

A small flock of Pinyon Jays was at the southwest corner of the Campgrounds.  We found our obligatory one Juniper Titmouse and departed.  A detour to the subdivision at the southern entrance found many Gambel's Quail running around.

A Western Screech-Owl was found in the Connected Lakes State Park and our trek turned south.

The Confluence Park (Delta County) Western Screech-Owl was not found (we had not heard about the Delta County Fairgrounds Western Screech-Owl).  No Barrow's Goldeneyes were along the river or in the park.

Fruitgrower's Reservoir was checked for shorebirds; none was found.  A Lewis's Woodpecker was found below the dam and west of Evelyn Horn's home (their usual location in her tall cottonwoods).

Another Lewis's Woodpecker was in the trees at the south end of the Eckert Post Office (same bird as last year?).

We arrived at the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park (Montrose) about two hours before sunset.  The south rim road is closed at the Visitor's Center.  No Rosy Finches were found around the Visitor's Center this trip; however, a pair of Pine Grosbeaks and several Clark's Nutcrackers entertained us.

Thirty minutes before sunset and after driving the Campgrounds, we parked at the junction of roads just inside the entrance to the park.  Eventually a Dusky Grouse appeared and walked down the road.

No Northern Pygmy-Owls responded to recording played at the Visitor's Center or along the drive back to the eastern entrance to the Park.

March 6

An hour before sunrise, Bryan and I sat in a very cold jeep at the Waunita Hot Springs Lek.  Once it was light enough to see, two Gunnison Sage-Grouse were observed on the lek.  We had parked far to the south of the lek, first to not disturb the birds and second so that we could leave before the birds departed. 

The general rules state to park at the Lek Parking area an hour before sunrise and birders must stay until the last bird leaves the lek.  On several trips last year, we planned our arrival for just before sunrise and stopped a good half mile from the lek.  We scoped and counted birds and then left.  Both Bryan and I have seen the Gunnison Sage-Grouse many times and do not need closer views.

As we continued east, we stopped at the Highway 50 Rest Area near the Monarch Ski Area.  Two male American Three-toed Woodpeckers were observed drumming on the pines (one each on the north and south sides of Hwy 50).

A flock of four Gray-crowned Rosy Finches flying around the building on the south side of Hwy 50 was a nice bonus sighting.

Once at the west side of Canon City (Fremont), we stopped at Tunnel Drive.  Two Rufous-crowned Sparrows popped up from the rocky hillside (after only a ten minute search).  A quick stop at the Arkansas Riverwalk added the resident Western Screech-Owl to our trip list!

We circled south and east to Florence and stopped at a spot where Rich Miller had found Rusty Blackbirds the day before (thanks to GPS).  Two Rusty Blackbirds were quickly found.  No Tundra Swans were found a Holcim Marsh.

A drive down the Swallows Road (west side of Pueblo West, Pueblo County) added a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers and a Scaled Quail to our list!

We were not able to find the Greater Roadrunners at the end of the road.  Both a Northern Shrike and Loggerhead Shrike were nice consolation prizes!

Daylight ran out before we could check out Pueblo Reservoir.

I have been skipping over the weather reports.  For the most part, we were quite fortunate and missed the snowstorms that hit the Front Range and eastern Colorado.

Forecasts for snowstorms across the state in the next couple of days, forced us to go back to Denver instead of continuing our grouse trip.

We stopped several times on the trip back to Denver and searched for owls.  Colorado Springs (El Paso) and Castlewood Canyon State Park (Douglas) were quite tonight.  Winds were quite strong and not positive for owl sightings.

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