Monday, November 18, 2019

Search for American Woodcocks Along the I76 Corridor

November 16-18, 2019

Richard Stevens:

November 16

One of my Wray, CO friends died last week.  Another had died several months ago and I wanted to deliver condolences in person.

I departed Denver at 3:00 am in order to drive Yuma County Roads between Joes and Yuma (highway 59).  Eventually I ran into a Greater Prairie-Chicken on one of the County Roads, which are driveways for several ranches.  Nevertheless, they are public roads; I have previously met with landowners and obtained permission to head toward their homes early in the morning.

When I arrived in Wray, I walked the City Park and hospital area searching for Red-bellied Woodpeckers.  While none turned up, a local resident out for a walk pointed me in the direction of Jackson Street, south of Kitzmiller Street (south side of hospital).  A male Red-bellied Woodpecker was easy to find with its loud, harsh "kwrrr" call.

I then drove into the Wray Fishing Unit located just a few miles east of the City Park.  The resident male Northern Cardinal was foraging in the evergreen trees along the entrance road (near the 10 mph sign).

While watching the Northern Cardinal, an Oriole was popped out in the same area.  Orioles are uncommon sightings in November and I needed to determine if it was a Bullock's or Baltimore Oriole.  Both Orioles breed in the area and a hybrid was even photographed back in September 2019.

It took 45 minutes before the Oriole revealed enough of itself for an id.  The bird's head was dull brownish color down to its weak orange breast.  Its two wingbars were well defined.   Its back was streaked and brownish scapulars had dark centers.  It was a young Baltimore Oriole!

A young Bullock's Oriole is expected to have a yellowish head, neck and auriculars, grayish less streaked back, yellowish malar and breast areas.

The Baltimore Oriole eventually flew to the cottonwoods below the Stalker Lake parking area and so did I!

While attempting to relocate the Baltimore Oriole I noticed two swans swimming on the west end of the Lake.  I circled a distance to the south around to the west end of the Lake.  Unfortunately, I got greedy, wanting good photos of the Swans.  I wanted a great photo of the birds and did not take any far away, long shots. 

The swans had all the field marks of Trumpeter Swans.  Regrettably, as I approached, the hundreds of ducks swimming around the Swans took off and frighten the Swans.

As I returned to my car, I noticed that the Swans and ducks did return to the Lake.  However, I did not have the time to return and also concluded they would fly away again if approached. 

My original plan was to visit Wray, drive to Jumbo Reservoir and end my day at North Sterling Reservoir.  Too much time was spent in Yuma County and I did not arrive at Jumbo Reservoir until 3:30 pm.  There was not enough daylight to visit North Sterling Reservoir this day.

At Jumbo Reservoir, I scoped the Lake from the south side, the eastern Campgrounds and west side.  On my second attempt along the south side of the Lake, I discovered the three White-winged Scoters not far off Logan County Roads 1 & 24.8 (recent witness photo on Colorado Birding Society's website: 

Later I would take GPS waypoints and found that the ducks had swum in both Logan and Sedgwick Counties!

Originally, I had reported only two White-winged Scoters.  Winds were 20+ miles and waves were quite high.  After examining my photos, I had captured all three White-winged Scoters in two of the shots!

At sunset, the fields south of the Reservoir were watched.  No Short-eared Owls appeared this evening.

After dinner in Sterling, I returned to Tamarack Ranch Wildlife Area (Logan).  A walk between Eastern sections 1 to 8 found one Eastern Screech-Owl!

November 17

I camped at Tamarack Ranch Wildlife Area (Logan), woke up to 21 degrees.  First, I hiked west sections 1 & 2, reversed and continued east to section 8.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers were found in 1 West and later 2 East sections. The most active birding was between sections 6 East and 8 East.  Two Field Sparrows were in the 7 East windbreak while a Harris's Sparrow was found in the 6 East windbreak.

No warblers or vireos were encountered.  Several Lapland Longspurs were on the main road as I drove to the Tamarack Pond area.  Nothing uncommon was encountered there.

A return to nearby Jumbo Reservoir found the three White-winged Scoters still north of CR 1 & 24.8, although the Scoters were farther away from shore today and too far for photos.

No birds were found at Duck Creek Wildlife Area (north of Crook).  Brush Wildlife Area (Morgan) was more interesting, in spite of more than half a dozen duck hunters lining the Lake and S. Platte River.

To avoid the hunters, I walked west from the Lake and found a Red-bellied Woodpecker on the north side of the Platte River.  GPS stated the woodpecker was 1461 feet west of the fence along the west side of the Lake. 

Another 142 feet west, a flock of sparrows on the south side of the Platte River contained nine Song Sparrows, fourteen American Tree Sparrows and a Harris's Sparrow.

A brief detour to North Sterling Reservoir (Logan) found few birds and nothing uncommon.  My trek then resumed toward Jackson Reservoir (Morgan).

I stopped at Riverside Park Nature Trails (formerly Morgan Ponds.  A birder had just finished her two mile loop of the trails where she had found two Eastern Bluebirds and an Eastern Screech-Owl.  Jane was nice enough to take me back to the Eastern Screech-Owl; during the walk, we saw the Eastern Bluebirds!

Finally I reached Jackson Reservoir (Morgan), however did stop at Bijou Creek and Highway 144.  It is one of the most reliable spots to find a Wilson's Snipe in Colorado; one Snipe walked just below the south side of the bridge.  Regrettably, my American Woodcock search continued unsuccessfully.

Jackson Reservoir was scoped three times from the north side Wildlife Area and five times from the west (Lakeside Campgrounds).  The previously reported Long-tailed Ducks were not found.  I also did not find the Harris's Sparrow reported awhile back at Morgan CR CC & 4.  The lack of sparrows anywhere at the Park was surprising.

Eventually I found three Long-eared Owls along the west side of the Lake.  Two were in an area that most birders would not think to look.  The days of 11-14 Long-eared Owls wintering are most likely over.  I will no longer list exact locations; the park is overrun with people, just too busy and a disturbance to the owls. 

Perhaps additional owls will return once cold weather discourages people from camping.  Yet, additional campsites and new trails through the west side riparian area may dishearten Long-eared Owl from wintering here.

At the end of the day, the plan was to park at the northwestern Campgrounds and wait for dusk, perhaps seeing Short-eared Owls hunt over the open fields.  Unfortunately, the Campgrounds were closed to cars for the season.  It was too far to walk over a hill to view the open fields.

Instead, I parked along the west side of Andrick Ponds Wildlife Area (Morgan CR 2) and walked along the cattail fields hoping for a Swamp Sparrow or Marsh Wren.  Neither was found and no Short-eared Owls appeared over the Wildlife Area this trip.

I drove to Fort Morgan for dinner and a motel stay.  Two nights camping in the cold and without a shower was too much.

November 18

Went to Prewitt Reservoir this morning and found hundreds of gulls on a narrow strip of land at the inlet area.  One dusky brown Gull with a slightly hooked bill caught my attention.  After long looks, it was determined to be a first year Laughing Gull.

Note: I had not noticed at the time.  While studying photos later during lunch, I noticed that an adult Mew Gull was standing less than ten feet from the Laughing Gull.

Then I hiked the dam, it was 25 degrees at 7:00 am.  Once I got moving, it warmed up nicely.  A few interesting birds were moving around.

I drew arrows in the dirt on the dam trail for anyone trying to look for the birds.  A Red-headed Woodpecker flew below the dam.  It stayed approximately 3-4 yards north of the edge of the woods.

Continuing south, I found a Surf Scoter at the next arrow.  The duck was approximately 30 yards south of the dam.  While the other birds were in Washington County, the scoter swam from Logan County to Washington County.

The third arrow marks the location of a Red-bellied Woodpecker.  Originally, it was in cottonwoods in Logan County.  Eventually it flew south into Washington County.

I did run into an Eastern Screech-Owl sunning itself in Logan County!

On the way back, I circled the riparian area west of the outlet canal.  Six American Tree Sparrows and two Song Sparrows were just about all there.  Two Lapland Longspurs flew up from the short grasses to the north.

On the trip back to Denver, I stopped at several Wildlife Areas along the Platte River and searched for an American Woodcocks; none was found.  Stops included Atwood, Dune Ridge, Knudson, Messix, Elliott, and Jean K. Tool Wildlife Areas.

Nothing stood out at any of the six Wildlife Areas.  Most of the late afternoon was spent at Jean K. Tool Wildlife Area.  The Rufous-crowned Sparrow reported back in September was not found.  The resident Eastern Screech-Owl was not out today.

Missed target birds included American Woodcocks and Short-eared Owls.  Uncommon birds found included Savannah Sparrows (Yuma & Logan Counties), Lincoln's Sparrow (Morgan), Swamp Sparrow (private land, Morgan), my first Rough-legged Hawk of season along hwy 138 (Logan), second Rough-legged Hawk (Washington), Ferruginous Hawks (Yuma, Logan, Washington Counties), Long-eared Owl (Logan) and two Wilson's Snipes (Logan, Morgan).

It was quite an enjoyable three days with weather in the 60s, sunshine, good friends and great bird walks!

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