26 March 2009

Another American Pipit

Bored with my normal afterschool routine, I headed down to Connected Lakes State Park to bird around a little bit. The weather today has been stormy and not good for migrants, so I didn't expect anything. The heavy clouds and bursts of wind gave the walk an eerie mood. As I walked around, I decided to go to the confluence of the Colorado River and Redlands Canal to see if a late Barrow's Goldeneye or Canvasback was loafing around. When I got there after bushwhacking through some tamarisk, I was disappointed to find only Mallards. But then, as I took a step forward, I flushed a surprisingly silent American Pipit off the river bank.

Normally, a pipit is nothing to be excited about, but seeing that lone pipit made me realize something. This winter CBC, my friends and I rafted the river and had over 170 pipits (if my memory serves me right), over 30 of which were in one flock! So what happened to them? The rest of my winter in Colorado was generally pipit-less. I walked the river but never saw them flying around. I imagine as the winter progressed, they moved on south. At this time of year, I always assumed they'd be on their way to higher elevations and latitudes. As that pipit flew in a wide circle over the river this afternoon, I realized I had accomplished my goal for the day: finding a migrant. I was hoping for something coming up from the south, but today's storms are probably to blame for the pipit I saw and for keeping the new stuff south. I then realized that this pipit was probably the last low elevation pipit I'll see this year. That lone bird made me consider how dangerous it is to get too caught up in what's new, because you never know when you'll see your last of something mixed in.

24 March 2009

Migrants Today

Due to a statewide test being administered to underclassmen today, I had some free time and decided to go out to Highline Lake State Park in Northwestern Mesa County and fill in one of my saddest county bird gaps: Long-billed Dowitcher. Long-billed Dowitchers aren't uncommon where I live; in fact, they're regular and 'easy.' However, they have seemingly avoided me on every in-county birding venture I have ever done. So today I drove out to the lake to try for this 'elusive' and 'difficult' bird, and was rewarded when I flushed a pair getting out of my truck. In fact, they were the first birds I flushed all day. After seeing my quarry, I looked around the lake a little and saw a couple Gadwall, Eurasian Collared-Doves, and heard a Killdeer. However, a Canada Goose and far off swimming thing made me think that the other side of the lake would be worth a look.

A few minutes later, I was on the other side of the lake and shaking my head. It was definitely worth the drive over - my First of Spring Osprey was sitting in a snag, and a lone Sandhill Crane circled up from its nighttime roost. A dozen cormorants wandered around the lake, and there on the shore between me and the sun were several gulls. Gulls. And they were in horrible lighting. Even in these conditions, though, I could see that one or two of these birds looked different. So I hiked the quarter mile out, hiding behind bluffs and bushes on the way, to get a better look. It was well worth it. From my truck, I thought I saw two non-Ring-billed Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls. Getting closer, I found that all but one was a Ring-billed, but that one was a Herring Gull! This is only the second Herring Gull I have ever seen in Western Colorado, as they are rare and irregular. As the book "Birds of Western Colorado Mesa and Plateau Country" states, there is a 50/50 chance that a bird will even be recorded at all in any given year. Not bad. I wonder what else will show up this spring...
Two of the gulls from Highline Lake: Ring-billed in front, Herring in back.

CORRECTION: Due to much correspondence I have since had about this photograph, I am unsure whether this is a weird Herring Gull or California Gull. For the time being, I am leaving the ID as Larus species, due to mixed opinions I have heard. When I am certain of the ID, I will re-edit this post.

18 March 2009

Stalking in a Good Way

My Aunt called from down the street this evening to inform me that a Great Horned Owl had swooped into her yard and was checking out her cats (well, she didn't describe this exactly, but owls will be owls). I saw this as an opportunity to get a good picture, but upon stepping outside I realized that the lighting would be too terrible to get any pictures. But then, I spotted a new quarry. Lying about twenty feet away from me was a Mourning Dove, presumably preparing to roost. I have observed them doing this numerous times on my way out into the world in the early dawn as my headlights illuminate them, but saw this chance to photograph one. I got down low to the ground and began inching forward. At first, the bird just stared at me. So I took a picture, using the flash in the low light to better capture his image. Then, while he was dazed, I began inching forward. I repeated this method about three times until I was a mere 1.5 meters away. I then took one last picture of him attempting to sneak away, and then he thwarted my plans once and for all by taking wing and alighting on a power line above. At least I got some decent pics.

12 March 2009

Louisiana Loitering

For the past 5 days, my family and I have been traveling around Louisiana to look at Louisiana State University and whatever else we might come across. I managed to squeeze in some birding, and got a state list of 79 by the time we boarded the plane - not bad for not going birding. Louisiana is definitely an amazing state though-the endless bayous, swamps, and "upland" forests that resemble jungles more than anything else. We wandered around the swamps of St. Marin Parish in particular, given that we were staying near the Lafayette/Vermilion Parish boundary and it was between us and Baton Rouge. There we saw Alligators, Roseate Spoonbills, Anhingas by the dozen, and lots of Cajun folk. I managed to get a few gator pics from Lake Martin, including this brute loafing on a log:
Wandering around the rest of Southeastern Louisiana, we got to see a lot of other interesting things. Avery Island was incredible for the sole reason that you get free Tabasco for walking through the door! It is also the cheapest place to buy it by the gallon that I know of. We didn't have the cash to visit the rest of the island, so I was pleased to see a Louisiana Heron (now known as the Tricolored Heron) at the entrance to the park. Other places we visited included coastal St. Mary Parish, where the swamps abutted into the ocean with Boat-tailed Grackles and other birds flying through the picnic areas, and where my dad spotted the most photogenic Wilson's Snipes I have ever seen.
In all, we visited about a dozen parishes, the French Quarter of New Orleans (one of the most disturbing places I have ever been), made a small hop into Mississippi, and drove across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. That is most definitely the longest bridge I have ever been on. The scenery, college, and awesome birds make me want to go to college in Louisiana. That would amazing.

Oh, and Vermilion Parish was incredible birdwise - it is the only spot I have had Inca Dove, Blue-headed Vireo, both Kinglets, and Fishcrow in the same yard, at the same time (except for the Golden-crowned Kinglet, which stuck around just long enough to be one of my first state birds down there).

02 March 2009

Delta County - February 28

On Saturday, the 28, Andrew Spencer, Jason Beason, Otus Beason and I all traveled up the Grand Mesa to find crossbills near the Grand Mesa National Forest Visitor Center, Delta County. Andrew was the first to spot our quarry while driving down the road just a few hundred yards from the visitor center. We parked among the snowmobilers and ran after the calling birds. We soon caught up to a small group of "Type 5" Red Crossbills on the roadside, where Andrew realized he forgot his memory card to record their calls. I decided to test my new camera on the awesome finches before us. While watching the Reds and waiting for Jason, White-winged Crossbills began flying over, singing on the wing. Of course, as soon as Jason arrived, the finches had moved on, and needed a slight bit of chasing. So we trekked farther up the road, and though we never saw another White-winged Crossbill, we got to hear them very well. In all, we had about a dozen White-winged Crossbills, 30ish "Type 5" Red Crossbills, at least one "Type 4" Red Crossbill, and a few probable "Type 3" Red Crossbills. A successful day of crossbilling, if I may say so myself.

Later, we journeyed down the mountain to Fruitgrower's Reservoir, where we saw Pintail, Sandhill Crane and the usual winter ducks, and on to Confluence Park. There, we had great looks at a flock of Barrow's Goldeneyes in the Gunnison River, as well as Ross's and Snow Geese on the main lake. A bit of searching also produced a Cackling Goose among the Canadas.

On the way back to Junction, we managed to turn up two more good birds - a Prairie Merlin at Cheney Reservoir (Mesa County) and a Swamp Sparrow at Corn Lake State Park (Mesa County). Overall, an excellent way to say goodbye to the February Blues.