Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Shorten Grouse Trip

March 22-26, 2016

Claudia Green and I ran a shortened grouse trip.  We calculated our stops to bird between the many snowstorms predicted and arriving in Colorado.  Fortunately, we were quite successful in missing snow.  Back home in Denver, the city was hit with 11+ inches of the stuff.

March 22

Turbulent skies loomed as we drove west on I70.  Winds were mild (16+ mph) at Loveland Pass (Clear Creek).  Over the years, I have searched for White-tailed Ptarmigan on Loveland Pass more than 200 times.  The many failures were quite discerning, while the dozens of successes exhilarating.

After searching for an hour, I resorted to a method thought up four or five years ago.  I offered the snowboarders and skiers $25 for pointing out one that we can see with our binoculars.  It worked, within 20 minutes a shout from a snowboarder got us our Ptarmigan (below the western summit)!

A quick stop in Silverthorne added 3 species of Rosy Finches, Mountain & Black-capped Chickadees, Gray Jays, Clark's Nutcrackers, Pine Siskins and three species of nuthatches to our day list.

Four Barrow's Goldeneyes were swimming around the Blue River Water Treatment Plant (Summit).

One of the highlights of the day was a Common Redpoll visiting a feeder along 9th street in Kremmling (Grand County).

Our birding day ended at the Jackson County Road 26b Greater Sage-Grouse Lek.  Light snow was coming down on the snow covered field.  Two male Greater Sage-Grouse came out of the sage briefly; they did not dance/display.

No owls (Boreal or Northern Pygmy) called when we stopped at the top of Rabbit Ears Pass.

March 23, 2016

We parked at the Twenty Road Leks (Routt County) just before sunrise. In my experience, Sharp-tailed Grouse come to their leks mostly after sunrise.  We were not disappointed.  Six Sharp-tailed Grouse flew in from east of Routt 27 Road and landed on the leks west of the road.  Shortly thereafter, they ran around performing their ritual displays.  As far as we could tell, no females appeared.

Anyone know why the 20 Road Leks are on the local 27 Road?  Leave a comment to this post, please.

With the prediction of a snowstorm, we quickly left Routt and Moffat Counties and continued to Rifle then west to Mesa County.  The area was hit with snow only a few hours after our departure.

One Chukar responded to my recording played at the large parking area (by the second pipe gate) in Coal Canyon (Mesa County).

We then headed up the Grand Mesa (Mesa) figuring that snow would turn us around before we drove too far up the Mesa.

Eventually we relocated Northern Pygmy-Owl (Hwy 65 & old Grand Mesa Road) and Northern Saw-whet Owl (switchbacks to the top of the Mesa) with the help of previously recorded GPS Waypoints.

A Boreal Owl called at our second pullover stop south of Spruce Grove Campgrounds.

The Northern Pygmy-Owls around Powderhorn Ski Area did not call tonight.  Snowfall started to increase and we abandoned the Grand Mesa.

March 24, 2016

Our main goal was to bird the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park at sunset.  Claudia and I try to hit and many birding locations in Mesa County as time allowed.

Baxter Pass Road is always interesting this time of year.  We found two Sagebrush Sparrows, three Sage Thrashers and a Long-eared Owl (Marcus Lane and I first found on 3/15).

One of the four Black Phoebes near the Grand Junction Audubon Society's office was hawking insects when we stopped.  The Western Screech-Owl at Grand Junction Wildlife Area was cooperative and out sunning itself when we arrived!

We had plenty of time and decided to drive to Glade Park.  Seven of the previously reported Lewis's Woodpeckers were relocated along 16.5 Road.

Those sightings allowed us to skip Fruitgrower's Reservoir (Delta County, Lewis's Woodpeckers) and Escalante Canyon (Delta, Black Phoebe) and we continued to Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park.

Regrettably, the South Rim Drive is closed at the Visitor's Center this time of year.  The best location to find Dusky Grouse is the most western 1/2 mile of the drive.  That is about 12 miles from the Visitor's Center; definitely it is too far to snowshoe (for us anyway).

We drove back and forth between the entrance kiosk and the Visitor's Center.  On the second pass, Claudia found a Dusky Grouse walking along side of the road!

March 25, 2016

We drove down Gunnison 887 Road just before sunrise.  Three Gunnison Sage-Grouse were observed walking across the road toward their lek!  We continued east instead of waiting for additional birds.

A detour north from Poncha Springs toward Buena Vista found a small flock of 10+ Pinyon Jays about 0.5 miles south of Buena Vista (Chaffee).  We turned back and took Highway 50 toward Pueblo.

A stop at the Monarch Pass Summit pullover (Chaffee) is a good location to find American Three-toed Woodpeckers.  This morning we observed males on both the north and south sides of Highway 50!

Predictions for a major snowstorm to hit Colorado in two days changed our plans to leisurely bird our way down to Springfield, CO and Cottonwood Canyon (Baca County).

Instead, we decided on a plan that I have done five times in the past few years.  It is possible with a 700 mile drive to see Gunnison Sage-Grouse in the morning, see Lesser Prairie-Chickens at sunset in Baca County and continue on to Wray (Yuma County) to see Greater Prairie-Chickens the next morning.  It is a long day; however, allows us to pick up a day on a grouse trip.

A quick detour at Swallows Road at Pueblo West (Pueblo) added a Curve-billed Thrasher to our trip list.

We arrived at the Lesser Prairie-Chicken about 30 minutes before sunset.  No Lesser Prairie-Chickens, it appeared that our plan had failed.  However, ten minutes after sunset, a male Lesser Prairie-Chicken came out from nowhere.  He looked around for 10 minutes and promptly disappeared.

We then made the 300 mile drive to Wray.

March 26, 2016

At first light, Claudia and I parked at the Yuma County Road 45 Lek.  Three Greater Prairie-Chickens were performing their mating dance when we arrived!

The snowstorm was soon to arrive and we headed back to Denver.

After dropping Claudia off in Centennial, I passed through Cherry Creek Reservoir (Arapahoe).  The Glaucous Gull was back on the southwest marina; no Lesser Black-backed Gulls were around this afternoon.

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