Monday, February 27, 2017

Exploring Southeastern Colorado

February 20-24, 2017

Richard Stevens:

Terry Michaels and I explored southeastern Colorado for a few days.  Temperatures ranged from high 40s to low 60s.

We hoped to find an early migrant or two (and did so).  Perhaps Kingbirds or Flycatchers were moving northward during our warmer temperatures.

February 20

We left Denver several hours before sunrise.  Skipping most of the locations were birding was expected to be slow, our first stop was Lamar Community College (Prowers County).

The Northern Cardinals cooperated and two males and a female were found rather quickly.  The Carolina Wren was much harder.  It took us over an hour before finally finding it deep in the bushes.

Two Buttes Reservoir (Baca) was slow.  Our best find was a Swamp Sparrow below the dam.  A male Ladder-backed Woodpecker drummed on the older, taller Cottonwoods.

Our goal was to search for Lesser Prairie-Chickens the last hour of light and we continued south to Campo and then turned east.

A fos (first of the season) Lark Bunting was along CR G between CR 36 and the old Lesser Prairie-Chicken Lek.  It was not however the earliest record date.  The earliest date in our database in 3/6 (that was 2000).

Eventually we found three Lesser Prairie-Chickens on the Comanche National Grasslands (Baca).  Two had joined another that was found last December and again on 2/11/2017.

We have removed the location from the Colorado Birding Society's RBA.  Since the site may be a possible lek, we will continue to watch but not report until after May.

February 21

We stayed at a private ranch in Baca County, woke early and searched unsuccessfully for Northern Saw-whet Owls & Western Screech-Owls.   Consolation sightings included a Barn Owl and two Greater Roadrunners.

Several hours we spent birding in Picture Canyon (Baca) and North Canyon (Baca).  Highlights included two Rufous-crowned Sparrows (along the rocky ridge just south of the parking area) and a Curve-billed Thrasher on the rocky ridge near the closed mine gate.

North Canyon added a few American Tree Sparrows, two Townsend's Solitaires and one Northern Mockingbird to our day list. 

We hiked a short distance into Oklahoma and found the famous Meta stone.

No Short-eared Owls appeared this evening at the Upland Bird Management Area (Baca).  A McCown's Longspur was with 14-16 Lapland Longspurs.  It was a little strange to see these two species together.

Traditionally, Lapland Longspurs winter in Colorado and depart before McCown's Longspurs and Chestnut-collared Longspurs return to Colorado for the nesting season.

February 22

We spent the night back on our friend's ranch.  Leaving three hours before sunrise, we explored nearby ranches for owls.  A Northern Saw-whet Owl and Western Screech-Owl were found at another private ranch in Baca County.  The Western Screech-Owl has heard (captured) on one of the three "owl listening stations" we had set up.

At Cottonwood Canyon (Baca), we saw a Western Screech-Owl at the camping area.  Later we found two Rufous-crowned Sparrows at 1.2 miles northeast of the camping area.

Usual suspects were also found: Canyon Towhees, Chihuahuan Ravens, Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Spotted Towhee.

In the evening, we played recordings at a Las Animas private ranch and had visits from two Northern Saw-whet Owls.  One of three "owl listening stations" captured a response from a Western Screech-Owl.

February 23

We returned to our friend's ranch in Baca for a few hours of sleep.  Passing through Cottonwood Canyon, we tried unsuccessful for photos of the Rufous-crowned Sparrows.  We saw them; however, they did not cooperate.

A Cooper's Hawk and female Ladder-backed Woodpecker were nice surprises.  Heading toward La Junta (Otero), we stopped at the previously visited Las Animas CR 177.9 site and relocated one of the four Rufous-crowned Sparrows.

Nothing out of the ordinary was found during stops along the drive.  One Curve-billed Thrasher was near the Higbee Cemetery.  No Black-throated Sparrows appeared to have returned to the area yet this season.

February 24

Nothing uncommon was found at Lake Henry (Crowley) or Ordway Wildlife Area and our trek continued north.  Stops at locations that previously had many longspurs did not have any today.

Once we hit Highway 70, we detoured to Flagler Reservoir (Kit Carson).  We hoped for a Common Redpoll or uncommon wren; none was found.

Consolation sightings included a Red-bellied Woodpecker and two White-throated Sparrows.

We ended our birding day by sitting near a Greater Prairie-Chicken Lek on private land north of Joes in Yuma County.  No birds visited this evening.

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