Monday, March 27, 2017

Rapid Grouse Trip

March 21-24, 2017

Richard Stevens:

March 21

Barry Humboldt and I searched for White-tailed Ptarmigan on Loveland Pass (Clear Creek County).  It took 2.5 hours before we finally found one below the west side of the Summit.

Not to be funny, it was the last place we looked.  My usual plan is 1. Check east of the large pullover south of the Summit; 2. Check the hillside north of the pullover; 3. Scope the hillside west of the first pullover on the return drive to the Summit; 4. Scope the east side of the Summit; 5. Finally hike up the west side of the Summit (this can require a strenuous climb up to 0.8 miles

A brief stop at a friend's yard in Summit County added Rosy Finches (3 species), Clark's Nutcrackers, White-breasted Nuthatches, Pygmy Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks and Pine Siskins to our day list.

We stopped at Windy Gap Reservoir (Grand) on our way north.  Six Barrow's Goldeneyes were found among two dozen Common Goldeneyes.

Our birding day ended at the Jackson CR 26b Greater Sage-Grouse Leks.  We found four birds as the snow fell.

March 22

We started our birding day again with snow falling rather rapidly on the Twenty Road Leks (Routt).  Fortunately, five Sharp-tailed Grouse ignored the blowing snow and flew into the lek.  They did not show an interest in displaying.

The dilemma facing us was the prediction of major snowstorm(s) blowing across Colorado.  We made the decision to skip many of the planned birding stops and exit the western slope.

Regrettably, we omitted stops at Oxbow State Trust Lands (Sagebrush Sparrows, Sage Thrasher), Coal Canyon (Chukar), Colorado National Monument (Pinyon Jays, etc), and Fruitgrower's Reservoir (Lewis's Woodpecker).

A two mile drive up Escalante Canyon (Delta) for Black Phoebes was successful.  A Chukar crossing the road was an added bonus!

Our birding day ended at the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park (Montrose).  A male Dusky Grouse was spotted on the side of the South Rim Drive between the entrance and the Campgrounds!

March 23

A drive down CR 887 before sunrise found three Gunnison Sage-Grouse north of the Waunita Hot Springs parking area.

Trying to beat the coming snowstorm, we continued west along Highway 50.  Two male American Three-toed Woodpeckers were found at the Monarch Pass rest area (old Monarch Pass Road, Chaffee County).  Two Brown-capped Rosy Finches flew overhead.

At Poncha Springs, we turned south into the San Luis Valley.  The hope was to miss any snow.  We visited John James Canyon (Conejos County).  Taking the time to walk about a mile into the canyon, we found one Sage Thrasher and one Sagebrush Sparrow!

Then we high tailed it out of the San Luis Valley.  La Veta Pass while not a high pass in elevation is one of the two most dreadful passes for me to drive through (the other being Rabbit Ears Pass in Grand/Routt Counties).

We arrived in Cottonwood Canyon (Baca) in the afternoon and enjoyed stretching our legs after a 300 mile drive.  Birds found included a Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Canyon Towhees, Chihuahuan Ravens and Wild Turkey.

Shortly after sunset, two Western Screech-Owls were heard calling.  Eventually we observed one of them deep in a thick grove near the camping area along Carrizo Creek and Baca CR 7.

March 24

We started our birding day on a friend's ranch where Terry Michaels and I had found several Lesser Prairie-Chickens back on March 1st.  Two of them returned today!

Predicted snowstorms hit northeast Colorado today.  We were in no hurry to drive up to Wray (Yuma County).

We wandered back and forth along Baca County Roads.  A Vesper Sparrow was found along CR G, east of the road into the old Campo Lesser Prairie-Chicken Lek.  A Cassin's Sparrow was found with an hour effort in the field to the northeast.

A drive into Pasture G (across from the Washington Work Center) did not find any Burrowing Owls returning yet.  The Highlight of the day was a lone Mountain Plover in the field to the west!

Nothing uncommon was at Two Buttes Reservoir (Baca).  We missed the Carolina Wren at Lamar Community College (Prowers); however, a Northern Cardinal and Red-bellied Woodpecker were found.

We received the text message about a Vermilion Flycatcher rather late in the afternoon.  Of course, we rushed up the Kit Carson CR 55 & CR N.  The Vermilion Flycatcher and reported Chestnut-collared Longspurs found by Glenn Walbek yesterday were not seen by us.

Hale Ponds (Yuma) added Red-bellied Woodpeckers, eight Eastern Bluebirds and Wild Turkey to our day list.  After sunset, an Eastern Screech-Owl was called out of his nesting hole.

March 25

We started our birding day with a drive along CR 42 west of Highway 385.  Greater Prairie-Chickens were found at two locations both of which appeared to be leks.  We then rushed to the CR 45 Lek and picked up another three birds (they usually dance long after sunrise).

Stops at Wray Fishing Unit and Stalker Pond (Yuma) were quite successful.  An Eastern Phoebe was along CR FF.  A Barn Owl was west of the residences.

Stalker Pond had a male Northern Cardinal on the south side of the Pond.  A Winter Wren popped out of the cattails below the parking area.

Time was running out for Barry and we returned to Denver quite satisfied with our limited birding opportunities.

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