Thursday, September 13, 2018

Southeastern Colorado Trip

August 30 to September 8, 2018

Richard Stevens:

Terry Michaels and I started out to check on some rare bird sightings and do some owling in southeastern Colorado.

August 30

Temperatures reached 99 degrees in La Junta today.  Winds were 9-10 mph with gusts to 16 mph.

Arrival at the Fort Lyons Wildlife Easement (Bent) found the White Ibis quite cooperative.  Although far off, we managed good views through our scopes!

We backtracked 30 miles to Las Animas and continued south to Vogel Canyon (Otero) which has been a hot spot this summer.  It was not as birdy as our trip on August 14; still some nice birds were around.

We eventually would come up with a Greater Roadrunner, Red-headed Woodpecker, two Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, the Vermilion Flycatchers, two Rufous-crowned Sparrows and a Black-throated Sparrow.  No Zone-tailed Hawks but they had not been reported since our sighting on 8/16.

In the afternoon, we continued south to Cottonwood Canyon (Baca).  A Western Screech-Owl called in the early night!

August 31

It was 95 degrees in Cottonwood Canyon.  Winds were only 6-7 mph in the canyon but gusts measures 35 mph once we drove out.

Birding in Cottonwood Canyon (Baca) was good considering the wind.  We found a Gray Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, two Eastern Phoebes and two Rufous-crowned Sparrows to name the more interesting birds.

Local residents were also around Chihuahuan Ravens, Canyon Towhees, Bewick's Wrens, Rock Wrens, a Greater Roadrunner (calling early in the morning) and a Cooper's Hawk.

Nearby Picture Canyon (Baca) was okay also.  We found a Vermilion Flycatcher in North Canyon area and Northern Mockingbird and two Rufous-crowned Sparrows near the Picture Canyon parking area.

September 1

It was a "cool" 86 degrees today.  High winds continued at 20-21 mph with gusts to 29 mph.

Things got interesting today.  We went by to visit a friend who mentioned hearing a Barred Owl.  My friend is originally from Missouri and familiar with the Barred Owl call.

It has been since March 1996 that anyone has reported a Barred Owl in Colorado.  Bryan Ehlmann and I had confirmed nesting in Furnish Canyon (Baca) on 7/6/1995.

We wandered around southern Baca County and with permission hiked the Cimarron River in the afternoon.  No Barred Owls could be confirmed as we spent most of the night searching.

September 2

It was cooler today, only 82 degrees as a high.  Winds died down to 8-9 mph however I measures gusts to 17 mph.

We returned to the Picture Canyon area (Baca) and concentrated on Sand Canyon today.  Scott's Orioles have been found in the past (May 21, 2014 by Andrew Spencer; 6/16/2015 by Stevens & Ehlmann; 8/12/2017 by Stevens & Michaels).

It was a miss on Scott's Orioles; we did find two Lewis's Woodpeckers, an Olive-sided Flycatcher, a Curve-billed Thrasher and a Black-throated Sparrow.  Others have found them in Cottonwood Canyon; this was my first Baca County Black-throated Sparrow.

September 3

High temperature was again 82 degrees.  Winds stayed 12-13 mph with gusts to 24 mph.

We returned to the Cimarron River and again searched/listened for a Barred Owl, without success.

I suggested my friend send a text message if he heard the owl again while Terry and I headed east to the north end of the Lake Dorothey Wildlife Area (Las Animas).

A stop at a private ranch on the way found a young Hepatic Tanager.  We walked around the north end of the Wildlife Area and found our second Hepatic Tanager of the day.

My late date is 8/25/2009.  Super birder Dan Bridges saw one on 8/27/1994.  Others have reported Hepatic Tanagers in Colorado as late as 9/18 & 9/24.  It difficult to get a latest date because much of the lands they are expected on are restricted access.

We set up our two "owl listening stations" and wandered around doing some owling.  Two Northern Saw-whet Owls were found at different locations.  The "owl listening stations" did not pick up any owl sounds. 

While Northern Pygmy-Owls will give contact calls, I find that Northern Saw-whet Owls are quiet.  You have to be around the recordings and pick up shadows of the owls as they fly around.

Terry & I spent the night on a private ranch in Las Animas County.  We stayed at one of my favorite places, Twenty plus miles from anywhere.  The cabin once housed ornithologist Elliot Coues (one of my favorite characters).  It is always a treat to stay there!

September 4

High temperature of 83 degrees, will it ever cool down?  Hot winds 10-11 mph with gusts to 18 mph blow over us all day.

This morning Terry and I entered the south end of Lake Dorothey by way of Raton, New Mexico.  We planned to hike into the Wildlife Area and stay the night and owling most of it.

Birding around Lake Dorothey was okay.  Two Lewis's Woodpeckers and a Cassin's Vireo were added to our trip list.

Hiking north, we found two Townsend's Warblers.  Misses: no Acorn Woodpeckers or Hepatic Tanagers were encountered.  Acorn Woodpeckers were last reported at Lake Dorothey September 1994.  One was found farther west at Spanish Peaks 9/2/1996.

Owling was good.  Eventually we found three Northern Saw-whet Owls and one Northern Pygmy-Owl 

September 5

Finally a high of only 72 degrees!  Winds of 15-16 mph with gusts to 22 mph actually made for a pleasant day.

We returned to our jeep in late morning and returned by way of Raton Pass.  A Rufous-crowned Sparrow was spotted at the first pullover once back in Colorado.

Highlight of the day was another male Vermilion Flycatcher at a friend's private ranch in Las Animas County.  I met the once state senator while looking for Hepatic Tanagers on a county road that went through his property.  

Both of us were spelunking fans and we have done several caving trips in southern Colorado.  His ranch added five Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, two Lewis's Woodpeckers, three Eastern Phoebes, two Gray Vireos, seven Cassin's Kingbirds (nest here), a Northern Mockingbird, another Black-throated Sparrow (First County for Terry) and another Hepatic Tanager to our trip list.

September 6

Cool temperatures continued with a high of 70 degrees.  Winds were measured at 8-9 mph with gust to 16 mph.

Terry and I headed up Pryor area (Santa Clara Creek, Huerfano County) today.  Our quest to find additional Hepatic Tanagers did not pan out.  Best bird was a Great Crested Flycatcher that appeared to be out of range.  

NOTE: checking later I found two previous Huerfano County records (Richard Taylor 5/24/2015 & Leukering 6/23/2001).

We did enjoy a great birding day under the cooler temperatures.  Our bird list included Red-headed Woodpeckers, Cassin's Kingbirds, Bullock's Oriole, Greater Roadrunner, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Ash-throated Flycatcher and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers.  

Owling was a bust this night.  Winds continued at 16+ mph.  

September 7

A little warmer today, high temperature of 74 degrees and quite pleasant.  Winds were 6-7 mph with gusts to 15 mph.

Terry and camped at Apishapa Wildlife Area (Las Animas).  We set up our "owl listening stations" for a couple of hours and attracted one Northern Saw-whet Owl!

About 5:00am, we heard a Flammulated Owl or thought we did.  Unfortunately, we could not locate the spot it was hiding.

While the 4-mile (8 mile round trip) hike was not as long as the 8-mile (16 mile round trip) hike at Lake Dorothey Wildlife Area, it did seem longer.

Interesting birds observed today included a pair of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, two Eastern Phoebes (separate locations) a Curve-billed Thrasher, a Greater Roadrunner running along the ridge) and two Rufous-crowned Sparrows (my nemesis bird).

I spent more time trying to find my first Rufous-crowned Sparrow than any other bird.  It is always a happy occasion when I run across one now!

We stayed until well after dark hoping to hear a Flammulated Owl again.  It did not cooperate.  We did not play Northern Saw-whet Owl calls incase that would scare the Flammulated Owl away.

September 8

High was 81 degrees today.  Winds were 5-6 mph in the sheltered forest in the afternoon. 

Stops at Lathrop State Park (Huerfano) and Walsenburg Reservoir did not find any uncommon birds.  A Greater Roadrunner did cross the road at the northwest corner of Lathrop State Park.

A pair of Williamson's Sapsuckers, an Olive-sided Flycatcher, Townsend's Warbler barely kept our interest.  It took awhile to identify a small tern flying around as a Common Tern.

Two Pinyon Jays flew around Walsenberg Reservoir.

We headed up to Spanish Peaks Wildlife Area (Huerfano) in search of Hepatic Tanagers, Acorn Woodpeckers and Rosy Finches.  None of which were found.

Best bird was a Grace's Warbler, a good find for Huerfano County.  

We started back toward Denver but with another detour.  We walked around the St. Charles trail north of Rye.  A Dusky Grouse ran across the road about a mile south of the trailhead (Custer County).

It was a great night of owling.  Eventually we located two Flammulated Owls (west side of hwy 165) and three Northern Saw-whet Owls (trailhead camping area, east side of hwy 165).

We camped for a couple of hours and headed back to Denver in the morning 9/9.

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