26 December 2011

From Phoebes to Finches

The past week of roaming and birding the expanses of western Colorado has been quite interesting. Kevin Louth was still present for the first part of the week, and though I have been trying to force myself to get down to the work I need to do this break, I have still found myself sneaking out of the house to bird.

The day after Kevin and I returned from Utah we hit the water for the Grand Junction Christmas Bird Count. I have been in charge of the Colorado River section for several years now, and was looking forward to some dreary December rafting down the river. However, I was surprised by how nice - dare I say, warm - the weather really was! Eight of us crammed on to Johnathan Cooley's raft and had an excellent float down the river. We had a bird that appeared to be a Snow Goose-Canada Goose hybrid, but given all of our inexperience with this combo, it could easily prove to be part domestic or even an aberrant "Blue" Snow Goose (check out a photo by Jackson Trappett here). The other good bird of the count was one that threw me for quite the loop at first. I heard the echo of a 'pip pip' call, and became very turned around. It was extremely familiar, but seemed completely out of context, like I bird I heard before but a very long time before. I started looking around, and asked if anyone knew what that call was. Everyone cued in after I pointed it out, but none were certain of the call. I turned and saw something move on the bank, and was locked on a BLACK PHOEBE just a few seconds later. This is the second new species for the Grand Junction CBC I have found in my short river rafting career, and was very excited to see this little bird sticking out the winter so far north. I thought I saw two birds at one point, but no one got on more than one at once so we let it go. Leon Thurmon, however, spotted a second bird less than a mile downriver! It was very exciting to have multiple individuals of a new CBC bird. Overall, it was a great success, and we all had a great day on the river. In total, we had 45 species (eBird checklist here).

After doing some hikes and further exploring in the western half of Colorado, Kevin left, and I began to get on my paperwork, the scholarships and other work that I still need to complete. I did however, take one final birding trip for the year on Christmas Eve. Jackson Trappett, whose photographs can be viewed here, needed three more life birds to reach 175 new photo birds for the year, so we set out to get those birds. Our morning was not nearly as productive, with us dipping on Long-tailed Duck and finding a surprise rockslide blocking the road on our way out, but once we got to Pitkin County, things started looking up. We met Dick Filby at the top of the Village Express Chairlift at Snowmass ski resort to watch the feeders for Rosy-Finches. Mountain Chickadees swarmed the feeder for seeds and were constantly bickering in the nearby bushes, and a pair of Gray Jays watched the skiers from afar to see what it was they were up to. Eventually, a group of three Brown-capped Rosy-Finches flew in, but as we watched, no others came to join, and eventually they flew. A Lone Pine Grosbeak passed overhead as we waiting and watched for more birds. We were thankful to have at least seen some rosies, but as we debated about whether to stay and began considering leaving, a large flock flew into the Subalpine Fir behind the feeder. Success at least! There were about 80 birds that came in, with about 40 Brown-capped, 30 Gray-crowned, and 10 "Hepburn's" (coastal) Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches. We were ecstatic as the birds came in and feed just feet away from us. (This was about the moment I realized I had forgotten my camera ~140 miles away at home). We sat and watched the finches until they left, and then headed out with Dick to the other feeders across the valley at Elk Park. The Elk Park feeders were a lot less productive, but a short walk behind the feeders had two flyover Red Crossbills and a nice surprise group of three Golden-crowned Kinglets that came within a few feet of us! The Kinglets were photo bird 175 for Jackson, and as we congratulated him we began to work our way down the mountain. On our drive out, we even managed number 176 for Jackson: a Rough-legged Hawk in Garfield County circling over the road.

Overall, it was a great week, and I had a great Christmas the next day both with my family and with Emily's. It has been a great December, and I look forward to seeing what the new year has in store.

Happy holidays, and I'll see y'all in 2012.

23 December 2011

The Road to Zion

As I sat down at my kitchen table playing with my food, I glanced up at my friend Kevin Louth. He had followed me home (invited, of course) as he had never experienced the western United States before. He was in awe of the snow and fog that enshrouded the mountains surrounding my western Colorado home, and, still recovering from finals, we discussed activities we could participate in while staying in Colorado. His first question disregarded Colorado entirely. "Where's Zion? Can we go there?" I paused from my dithering to glance in his direction, and slowly nodded. Early the next morning, I was on an unplanned road trip through the heart of Utah.

The next three days included 21 hours of driving over a thousand miles of sandstone desert. Kevin was in awe at the territory so foreign to someone born and raised in the bayou, and I got to see my favorite desert haunts under a cloak of snow. Our low point was definitely the 17 degree F night we camped at Natural Bridges National Monument, and there were more highlights than could be counted. We hit Arches NP, Natural Bridges NM, Lake Powell NRA, Capitol Reef NP, Escalante-Grand Staircase NM, Bryce Canyon NP, and hiked the ice covered Angel's Landing in Zion NP. Below are some picture highlights from the trip. It was exhausting, but exhilarating!

Double-O Arch, Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Zion Canyon from Angel's Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

Last, but not least, the bird of the trip: CALIFORNIA CONDOR on Angel's Landing, Zion National Park. We saw two birds - numbers 99 and 0.

04 December 2011

The Benefits of Studying

While panicking and putting all my stuff together yesterday and waiting for Emily to come up from New Orleans, I noticed an Eastern Phoebe outside my window. I stared at it momentarily, and realized that if this bird were in the oak outside my window, then a flock would probably not be far behind. Lo and behold, my studying was quickly interrupted by Pine Warblers, Blue-headed Vireo, Downy Woodpeckers and a returnee (at least second-year) wintering Yellow-throated Warbler! The pictures below are from my humble dorm room window.

Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica), LSU Campus, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Brown Creeper (Certhia americana), LSU Campus, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Today, as another brief respite from studying, I went out with Kevin Morgan and Carol Foil to check out some hummingbirds not far from LSU. We had a three hummer species day, with Ruby-throated, Black-chinned, and Rufous all putting in appearances. I was good to see hummers at least one more time before venturing to a land that has none. Back to studying for now!