Sunday, May 21, 2017

Last Grouse Trip

May 8-14, 2017

Richard Stevens:

Mike and Linda Stephenson joined my last grouse tour of spring, 2017.  It was their honeymoon.  Quite a way to celebrate, many days of little sleep and hours on the road.  Sporadic weather hit Colorado during the week.  For the most part, we were fortunate to miss major snowstorms and thunderstorms.

May 8
Our first stop was Loveland Pass (Clear Creek) in search of White-tailed Ptarmigan.  It took several hours before one was found.  One Ptarmigan was finally found under the evergreen trees east of Hwy 9 (while we parked at the first pullover south of the summit).

A stop at a friend's home in Silverthorne (Summit) added Rosy Finches (no Black) to our day.  Many mountain species were also there: White-breasted Nuthatches, Pygmy Nuthatches, Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Mountain Chickadees, Clark's Nutcrackers and Common Ravens.

The "eastern" route was taken to the Grouse Leks in Jackson County.  A stop at Windy Gap Reservoir (Grand) found ten Barrow's Goldeneye among a dozen Common Goldeneyes.  A few California Gulls, American White Pelicans and waterfowl that are more common were also seen.  Misses: the Fox Sparrow reported a few days later was not found.

We stopped at the entrance road to the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge self-driving tour (Jackson).  Scoping the sagebrush covered hills added a Sage Thrasher to our trip list.

Our birding day ended at the Jackson County Road 26b Lek.  Eventually forty nine Greater Sage-Grouse emerged from the sagebrush and visited the lek.  We all were entertained by their ritual mating dances.

May 9
An hour before sunrise we drove to the 80 Route Leks (Routt).  The male Dusky Grouse did not disappoint.  Just before sunrise, we emerged from the bushes at the 2nd cattle guard and displayed.  Regrettably, no female appeared and he disappeared back into the brush.

Several Greater Sage-Grouse were observed on the hillside farther up north.  Eight Sharp-tailed Grouse scurried around their lek near the old Jimmy Dunn Gulch State Trust Lands.

Then we rushed over to the 20 Road Leks.  Three Sharp-tailed Grouse were displaying across from the old metal gate (see directions on Colorado Birding Society's website:

After breakfast, we headed to the Oxbow State Trust Lands (Moffat).  The lands are closed during grouse nesting season; however, our target birds could be found by scoping from the parking area.  Sage Thrashers sang quite close to us.  Two Sagebrush Sparrows were found within 20 yards of the parking area.  A Black-throated Sparrow popped up on a bush and sang for a bit.

Fortune shined and we saw one Chukar across from the 2nd pipe gate (and parking area) at Coal Canyon.  Half a dozen Black-throated Sparrows, two Pinyon Jays, three calling Rock Wrens and an unidentified flycatcher were added to our trip list.

Then we drove up the Grand Mesa (Mesa).  We relocated the Northern Saw-whet Owl that has nested in the same territory for three years now.  A Northern Pygmy-Owl called from the south side of the Powderhorn Ski Area entrance.  Eventually three Boreal Owls were encountered when we drove south to the Visitor's Center.

May 10
We decided to not drive the length of the Colorado National Monument but only visit the southern (eastern) end (Mesa).  Half a dozen Gambel's Quail were running around the subdivision just outside of the entrance. 

We walked down the Devil's Kitchen trail located just inside the entrance.  No Black-chinned Sparrows were found or reported this year.  Our interesting birds included two Black-throated Gray Warblers, three Black-throated Sparrows, a Gray Vireo, Gray Flycatcher, six Pinyon Jays and an Ash-throated Flycatcher.  It was a good stop!

Our next drive was more interesting!  A drive up Brewster's Ridge added a Sagebrush Sparrow, Sage Thrasher and Long-eared Owl.  The highlight of the day was a male Scott's Oriole.  We believed it to be the first reported in 2017.

We ended our birding day with a drive up the Uncompahgre Plateau (Mesa).  Our target bird was a Flammulated Owl.  It was early in the season and the road was not in tiptop shape.  A Northern Saw-whet Owl was found in one of the nesting boxes shown to me about four years ago.  Not far from there, we heard a Flammulated Owl.  The owl ended a superb day of birding!

After dark, we made the long drive to Cortez.  This time of year, we did not miss much in the way of birding.

May 11
Our birding day started at Yellow Jacket Canyon (Montezuma).  The two hour hike was well worth the effort.  Two Lucy's Warblers, our main target bird, were easily found.  One sang quite nicely.  A male Summer Tanager was a surprise; however, they have been found here in the past.  Other sightings include a Gray Flycatcher, Gray Vireo, Ash-throated Flycatcher and Black-throated Sparrows.

On the way back to Durango, a detour to Wildcat Canyon (La Plata) found two Acorn Woodpeckers.  A walk around the Huck Finn Pond in Durango found our Lewis's Woodpecker for the trip!

Our great success so far, made a detour to John James Canyon (Conejos) for Sagebrush Sparrows, Black-throated Sparrows and Black-throated Gray Warblers unnecessary.  Instead, we headed back north.  A stop at Haviland Lake Wildlife Area (La Plata) was productive.  A Grace's Warbler fluttered about the parking area.  A pair of Williamson's Sapsuckers also flew by.

About two hours before sunset, we arrived at Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park (Montrose).  White-throated Swifts flew around below the Visitor's Center.  A pair of Pine Grosbeaks perched in a tree at the northwest corner of the building.  Spotted Towhees, one Slate-colored Fox Sparrow and one Green-tailed Towhee were nice additions to our day.

With time to spare, we hiked to the western overlook.  A Northern Pygmy-Owl called briefly; unfortunately, it could not be found.

Two male Dusky Grouse appeared along the South Rim Road just before sunset.  They confidently walked along the side of the road, just east of the speed limit sign east of the western parking area.  One of them was lucky when a female emerged from the thickets!

May 12
An hour before sunrise we drove to the Waunita Hot Springs lek.  Only one Gunnison Sage-Grouse made an appearance.  One is better than none; the season must be winding down?

We stopped at the Monarch Pass Summit Pullover (Chaffee) on our trek east.  Two American Three-toed Woodpeckers drummed on the pines.  No females were seen.  Four Gray-crowned Rosy Finches flew briefly around the bunker.

Buena Vista was skipped (Pinyon Jay and Lewis's Woodpecker sites) and we continued to Canon City (Fremont).  A quick drive down the Swallows Road (Pueblo West) found a Curve-billed Thrasher and two Scaled Quail.

We had to detour to Mineral Palace Park (Pueblo).  Fortunately, the Yellow-throated Warbler was singing as we stopped!  Beautiful bird, we did not have much time to spend looking at it (only five minutes).

At La Junta, we turned south and headed to Cottonwood Canyon (Baca).  A Mountain Plover and Long-billed Curlew were observed along County Road 10 between CR R & CR U.  After dark, we found a Western Screech-Owl in Cottonwood Canyon.

May 13
An hour before sunrise, we watched two Lesser Prairie-Chickens at a lek on the Comanche National Grasslands (Baca). Later we walked up the gravel road running north from the Campo Lek off CR G.  It is a great "sparrow" road in spring.  The sparrow count included two Cassin's, one Clay-colored, two Brewer's, more than a dozen Vesper, many White-crowned and one Song.

Our return to Cottonwood Canyon (Baca) found three Rufous-crowned Sparrows, a Black-and-white Warbler, an Ash-throated Flycatcher, two Eastern Phoebes and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. 

A stop at Two Buttes Reservoir (Baca) added a Barn Owl and Yellow-throated Vireo to our trip list.

Lamar Community College (Prowers) added a Red-bellied Woodpecker & two Northern Cardinals.

Venturing into Lincoln County, a Mountain Plover was relocated along County Road 3F, west of CR 43.  A Chestnut-collared Longspur and several McCown's Longspurs were not far away from the Plover spot.

Great-tailed Grackles and Common Grackles were found in Burlington (Kit Carson) behind the Day's Inn.

An hour before sunset we drove in Bonny Reservoir Wildlife Area by way of CR 3.  Eight Wild Turkeys and an Eastern Phoebe were seen before reaching Foster's Grove Campgrounds.  An Eastern Screech-Owl responded to a recording played between the Campgrounds and Hwy 385!

May 14
Linda was getting tired as all of us were.  We watched three Greater Prairie-Chickens at the Yuma County Road 45 Lek and decided to head back to Denver.  I believe we had found almost all of our target birds.

Two Eastern Bluebirds fluttered about Stalker Ponds (Yuma).  A male Baltimore Oriole was at the Wray Fishing Unit. No Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was around the Wray Hospital today.

A quick stop at Flagler Reservoir (Kit Carson) found an Olive-sided Flycatcher. We could not find the Lesser Nighthawk reported yesterday.  It will turn out to be a first Kit Carson County record.  Lesser Nighthawks have been recorded farther north in Yuma County.

That stop ended my last Grouse Trip of 2017!  Great friends and good birds!

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