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.