Friday, April 28, 2017

Successful Grouse Trip

April 21-27, 2017

Richard Stevens:

The four of us enjoyed a fantastic grouse trip.  Weather was a mixture of sun, wind, rain and snow, as is typical for Colorado springtime.  Fortunately, we missed most of the inclement weather with a well chosen route.  Our trip was cut one day short because of an incoming snowstorm.

April 21

Our troop arrived early in the morning and we set out for the eastern plains.  Rain and snow was predicted for the mountains that guided our route.

We missed the Carolina Wren in Burlington (Kit Carson) and the one at Bonny Reservoir Wildlife Area (Yuma).  Bonny Reservoir did yield a Long-eared Owl, eleven Wild Turkeys, a Red-bellied Woodpecker and Eastern Phoebe.

Our car was parked along Yuma County Road 45 a half hour before sunset.  Eventually five Greater Prairie-Chickens flew to the lek.  Their cackling display is hilarious entertaining!

A quick detour back at Bonny Reservoir added an Eastern Screech-Owl to our trip list.  The owl was north of the eastern Hale Pond.

April 22

We spent the night in Burlington and headed to Lamar by way of the eastern county roads.  No Mountain Plover was found in the rolling wild grass fields.  (I have gps waypoints of previously nesting areas).

Lamar Community College (Prowers) was slow.  If the Carolina Wren that wintered there is still around, we could not find it.  A male Northern Cardinal and Red-bellied Woodpecker were the highlights.

Fairmount Cemetery was also slow.  Not even the resident Great Horned Owl could be found.

Two Buttes Reservoir (Baca) twenty miles south of Lamar on the other hand was quite birdy.  The highlight was a red form of Fox Sparrow in its fresh bright plumage!

An Eastern Phoebe, Wild Turkeys and Brown Thrasher (perhaps early), Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Turkey Vulture were also found.  Misses included the resident Barn Owls and Greater Roadrunner.

We stretched our legs at one of my favorite sparrow fields.  The gravel road leading north from the entrance to the old Campo Lesser Prairie-Chicken lek is an excellent location to find Cassin's Sparrows.  Many nest along the Lek Road, some leak over to the north side of Baca CR G.

Today we found two Cassin's Sparrows, two Vesper Sparrows, a Brewer's Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow and many White-crowned Sparrows.

An hour before sunset, our car was parked near a Lesser Prairie-Chicken lek on private land.  Only three Lesser Prairie-Chickens visit this location.  However, Lesser Prairie-Chickens are difficult to find anywhere in Colorado; we were quite happy with the few.

Our camp was set up in Cottonwood Canyon (Baca) at the informal Campgrounds along Carrizo Creek.  Two Western Screech-Owls called early in the night!

April 23

In the morning, we explored Cottonwood Canyon (Baca).  Two Eastern Phoebes have already returned to their nesting site.  Rufous-crowned Sparrows were found along the rocky hillside 1.7 miles east of our campsite.

On the drive over, we encountered resident birds, Chihuahuan Ravens, Canyon Towhees, Greater Roadrunner and Wild Turkeys.  The resident Barn Owl could not be found.  No warblers or vireos have arrived yet.

One of my favorite spots to bird is the draw about half a mile west of the Campgrounds.  Today we found a Long-eared Owl (called) and Ash-throated Flycatcher.

It was time to move on; we stopped at two gps waypoints where Hepatic Tanagers have nested in past years.  It is early to expect them; however, we looked anyway.

Our next stop was quite far as we drove to the San Luis Hills and John James Canyon (Conejos).  This isolated area provides amble space for some interesting birds.  We hiked about a mile up the canyon and found along the way: two Sagebrush Sparrows, a Black-throated Gray Warbler (early in the season), Black-throated Sparrow (about average arrival time) and two Sage Thrashers.

Four Pinyon Jays flew by on the trek back to our vehicle.

We hoped for a Short-eared Owl to appear, none did.  A stop to listen for Boreal Owls on Wolf Creek Pass did not find any. 

It was a long day of driving as we spent the night in Cortez (Montezuma).

April 24

Usually grouse trips do not find many if any passerines (especially warblers or vireos).  The trips are early in the season and besides there is little time for searching.

However, we had heard about the Lucy's Warbler sightings in Yellow Jacket Canyon (Montezuma) and made it a target bird for our trip.

Yellow Jacket Canyon did not disappoint.  Eventually all had good looks at two Lucy's Warblers.  They can be quite elusive, usually feeding high in the trees.

Other birds recorded included a Black-throated Gray Warbler, Gray Flycatcher (first of the season for me), Chukar (strange location), Canyon Towhee, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Gambel's Quail (more likely Chicken-like Bird) and Ash-throated Flycatcher.

Misses: Summer Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and Virginia's Warblers.

Our route had us heading north to the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park (Montrose).  One stop was made along the way.  It was a good one.  A Grace's Warbler fluttered about Haviland Lake (La Plata).  A pair of Williamson's Sapsuckers was also seen.

We arrived at the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park an hour before dark.  Unfortunately, the south rim road is still closed at the Visitor's Center.  We drove back and forth to the entrance and eventually observed a male Dusky Grouse come out of the thickets just east of the Campgrounds.  He looked around, however did not display and returned five minutes later into the brush.

Later a Northern Pygmy-Owl responded to a recording played at the Campgrounds!

April 25

Early in the morning, we sat at the Waunita Hot Springs Lek (Gunnison).  Only five Gunnison Sage-Grouse came to the lek this morning.

Later we made a detour to Crested Butte. The drive around town found 40+ Rosy Finches (three species) along Hunter Hill Road (previously reported site).

We headed toward Delta (Delta) with a quick detour up Escalante Canyon.  Two Black Phoebes were found along the creek and not far from Pinnacle Rock.  A pair has nested in the area since at least 2005.

On the drive back to Delta, would not you know it?  Two Chukar were observed crossing the road just east of the old goat farm.  Nice to see them, however, I spent many a day and dozens of hours looking for them in the canyon.  Figures I would find them when not looking for them (picked up Chukar at Yellow Jacket yesterday).

Two Lewis's Woodpeckers were relocated along Meyers Road near Fruitgrower's Reservoir (Delta).  No shorebirds were found at the reservoir.  One Sandhill Crane was added to our trip list.

We then drove the Grand Mesa from the southern (Delta County) end.  Eventually we found three Boreal Owls along the pullovers.  All three were in Mesa County.

We briefly stopped at the Powderhorn Ski Area.  The resident Northern Pygmy-Owl was not found this evening.  We did find a Northern Saw-whet Owl farther north.  It has been loyal to this particular nesting location since I found it six years ago.

April 26

A decision was made to skip a day of birding around Grand Junction (Mesa).  Fortunately we had already found our target birds in the area (one exception, Sagebrush Sparrow).  A pending snowstorm forced us to continue to Craig. 

It was a good decision; we missed the storm by just one day.

Thirty minutes before sunrise we sat near the 2nd cattle guard up the 80 Route road.  The male Dusky Grouse that has guarded the area for many years was quite punctual.  Shortly after sunrise he appeared a displayed.  Having little success, he walked back down the road and disappeared in the willows.

The air was filled with bird sounds.  This included Sharp-tailed Grouse and Greater Sage-Grouse.  We scoped the fields to the north and observed both species.  It is always a treat to see the three species down the same road and especially from the same spot!

They were too far away for photos; we hoped for closer views later.  We rapidly headed to the Twenty Road Leks south of Hayden.  Three Sharp-tailed Grouse were on their lek and quite close to the road.  My companions took some nice photos.

Heading back north after the grouse show, several dozen Sandhill Cranes were found along the road to the airport.

We continued west to Oxbow State Trust Lands (Moffat).  The area is closed in Spring; however, most of the target birds can be seen through a scope.  Our target bird were found: two Sagebrush Sparrows, three Sage Thrashers and a Black-throated Sparrow.  Four Pinyon Jays flew by during our stay.  A Loggerhead Shrike hunted from the fence not far from the parking area.

Turning back east with a planned stop at the Greater Sage-Grouse Lek in Jackson County, we stopped for lunch in Steamboat Springs.  A drive around town did not locate any of the Bohemian Waxwings reported last month.

A stop at the maintenance road on Rabbit Ears Pass (Grand County) found a flock of fourteen Red Crossbills.  No White-winged Crossbills were among them, as sometimes happens.

The resident female American Three-toed Woodpecker flew to the single pine tree north of the road.  Shortly after, she returned to the pine tree forest lining the south side of the road.

Thirty seven Greater Sage-Grouse about 2/3 males visited the Jackson County Road 26b Lek this evening.  A few photos were taken.  Traditionally the grouse show up after it is too dark for photos; mornings offer better opportunities for that.

Three Boreal Owls were heard along highway 14, west of Cameron Pass.  It helps to know where their territories are located!

April 27

We spent a short night in Fort Collins and headed to the Pawnee National Grasslands (Weld) an hour before sunrise.  The day was to be short, two of my birding friends had to catch flights out of Denver in the afternoon. 

We did not have to walk into the field at Highway 85 and CR 114.  While we stood at the parking area, two Chestnut-collared Longspurs were observed performing their mating flight.

We drove then Weld County Road 134 and found six Sharp-tailed Grouse between CR 111 & CR 115.  The question of whether they are "countable" birds in still up in the air.  The birds are reintroduced Sharp-tailed Grouse of the Plains subspecies.  In my opinion, they will soon be countable because of the changes in the     ABA rules.

Dropping down south to CR 100 and CR 390, two Mountain Plovers and Burrowing Owls were relocated before we reached CR 89.

On the way back to Denver, we took the time to detour over to Jackson Reservoir (Morgan).  A Long-eared Owl was found in least than ten minutes and we rushed to DIA airport.

Brad and I dropped our friends off and decided to try for American Three-toed Woodpeckers at Reynolds Park.  We stopped at Cherry Creek Reservoir on the way and quickly observed the Northern Parula.  Then the rains came.

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