Sunday, December 15, 2013

Rock Wren in a Winter Wonderland

Well, a Victoria-style Winter Wonderland anyway....

Yesterday I found myself finished up with work and everything with a couple of hours of light to spare, so I headed up to Christmas Hill to see if I could locate the Rock Wren.  A couple of very cold hours later, no go on the wren.

I decided to head back up this morning to make another attempt for this long sought after and oft missed critter, and was a little dismayed by the typical Victoria winter weather - cold, fog, and rain.  I found myself doing something out of my norm in that instead of leaving the morning Tims in the car, I hauled it up the hill with me.  I know a lot of birders tote coffee in the field, but I usually don't want to juggle binos with an extra large java, and then have to carry the cup back from wherever I am.  Today seemed like a good time for an exception, so up came the coffee.

At the top of the higher summit of Christmas Hill, which seems to be the most reliable location for the bird, the weather wasn't looking any less like a West Coast Christmas.

I had half expected to be greeted by the wren busily foraging out in the open, but there was no sign of it anywhere.  I decided to head down to the lower summit where it had originally been discovered, in hopes that it had returned.  Yesterday I made the summit to summit trek no less than 8 times back and forth, in vain each time.

It was no more wreny at the lower summit than it had been up top, so I turned to head back up the hill, grumbling something along the lines of "stupid wren", which had been my mantra the previous day as well.

Back up top, a familiar face was scanning the rocks, and I saw him freeze.  As the story goes, Marlon had spotted me and turned to walk over when the wren flushed right in front of him, and ducked down the slope.  He relocated the bird and eventually I was on it, a great new Victoria area bird (#291).

As usual, no award winning photography courtesy of the Victoria Birder, but a long distance phone shot:

Marlon and I enjoyed nearly continuous views of the bird for almost an hour as it worked the summit, foraging very cooperatively out in the open, the looks I had originally dreamed of having.

One of these days I'll have to go for a big boy camera, but there are already more than enough great birders around who are great photographers, the Naturalest Naturalist for example.  Now if only he was in town for half of the great birds that show up....

Thanks Courtney for a great find!

Good winter birding, see you all on the Christmas Bird Count circuit!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Don't Forget Your Hood!

If today had a theme, it was the weather.....  For simplicity's sake, and to cut down on my typing, feel free to automatically add "... and then it rained" to the end of every paragraph.

I have been itching to head out west for the last week or so, for a number of reasons.  Firstly, an incredible number of southern birds have been turning up along the Pacific Coast much more north than usual.  Secondly, the winds have been blowing onshore.  Thirdly, I have been watching the weather and crossing my fingers that the rain and fog would conspire to push something down and then keep it down.  Lastly, fall migration at Jordan River and points west is a magical time, worthy of much more attention and coverage than it actually receives.

The first opportunity for me to head out being today, my wife and I saddled up a little later than I had hoped and, after the usual Tim Hortons fuel up, headed first for Whiffin Spit.  It was fairly quiet on the spit until we found the Black Turnstone flock, which was very active and moving from one side of the spit to the next.  Quite quickly, my wife informed me that there was something different on the shore.  There stood the Pacific Golden-Plover that has been around for a few days.  Tick.  We added five more species of shorebird, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Western Sandpiper, Black Oystercatcher, and Spotted Sandpiper, plus the female Bufflehead that has been around for quite some time, sitting on its usual log.  Not a bad start to the day!  Another coffee stop and off to Jordan.

I became a little discouraged as we drove into rain nearing Jordan, but reminded myself that I had pretty much asked for it.  I had visions of rarities dancing through my brain along the route.  Would I finally find my Rose-breasted Grosbeak?  Indigo Bunting?  Dare I dream of Asians?  The rain picked when we pulled into the gravel parking area in Jordan River, so I scanned the gull flocks... California, Mew, Glaucous-winged.... I'm sure I could have dug out a Herring had I the patience, but miraculously the rain stopped, and I crossed the road to my favourite three trees on Vancouver Island.  Small alders they may be, but they are an incredible migrant trap!

Finding nothing in the trees I circled around the back through the old WFP buildings.  Fox Sparrows were in numbers, and it looked like White-crowned Sparrows had had a banner breeding year.  There is a small clearing that opens up off the private driveway on the west side of this little patch, and I walked in there, drawn by the calls of Cedar Waxwings.  Immediately three birds flushed up in the blackberries.  Two more Fox Sparrows and a wait... what the hell is that?  The third set off bells, as it definitely didn't belong.  No sooner did I get a look than it disappeared in a flash of yellow-green.  No amount of pishing would draw it back out, and the waxwings and warblers had moved to the tree closest to the road so I circled back and met Thea, who had lost track of me.

Scanning intently into the tree I started counting the waxwings, which included a lot of young birds, and a few Yellow Warblers, when a different bird caught my eye, the bird which had played games with me a few minutes earlier.  Getting a fantastic look this time, I immediately noticed a longish, downcurved bill.  My first though was "Oriole-ish" and my second, "hey, you're not from around here, are you?"  A thorough look showed the bird to be slightly larger than the surrounding waxwings, with drab olive-ish uppers and uniform yellow-green underparts.  The bird sat upright and looked fairly slim, and the tail appeared long for the bird it was attached to.  Of course, my camera was in the car, and I sent Thea to fetch it while I studied the bird.  I had my suspicions, but would need Mr. Sibley to verify the potential lifer.  As soon as the camera was firmly in my hand the bird hopped into a very leafy part of the tree then took off east.  Another phrase familiar to birders was uttered at that moment, "Dammit, don't lose that bird, watch where it lands!"   Of course, we never saw it land.  It's long tail was apparent in flight as well as it headed east over the bay and disappeared into the trees on the other side.

Checking two different field guides back at the car, my suspicions were confirmed, a female/juvie type HOODED ORIOLE!  Not just a lifer but a spectacular one for Vancouver Island, Jordan River had done it again!

This small patch of trees has hosted 2 Lazuli Buntings and 2 Oriole species this year alone.
We hung around hoping for a return but none was to be seen, so we headed further west to Port Renfrew (and then it rained..).
The wind and rain were absolutely horrible between Jordan River and Port Renfrew, but again tapered off a little when we parked along the river and walked into the campsite.  Very few birds were to be found but we did have a Bonaparte's Gull, 35 Black Turnstones, and a Horned Grebe among precious few other species.  My main aim was to bird Botanical Beach, gateway to the open ocean and past host of such birds as Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Lark Bunting.  The thick fog didn't deter us (it will keep the birds on the ground, right???) but no sooner had we started down the path than the rain became torrential.  I am definitely not a fairweather birder, but this had me running back toward the car, screw it!  Lunch and a dry off at Coastal Kitchen was most welcome, and we departed Port Renfrew still in the grips of a tropical style monsoon.
View from the bridge... maybe the rain will stop?
From the beach.... not exactly stellar weather.

Jordan was clear, sunny even, on the way back in but there were few new birds to be found.  A lone Greater Scaup was in the river, and Pacific-Slope Flycatcher and American Goldfinch made appearances. 
We decided that since we were in the neighbourhood we would scan from Gordon's Beach and Otter Point in hopes of pelicans, shearwaters, or the like.  Again, it wasn't to be, and we settled for Common Murres, good numbers of Marbled Murrelets in their winter finery, and Pigeon Guillemots in their winter drabbery.  Many gulls were around as well, but nothing exciting.  Two gulls that looked very Western-ish were at Otter Point, but I suspect they were a couple of the usual, dirty mutts.
The grey weather continued, looking out toward Sheringham
Our last stop was Esquimalt Lagoon where we found very few birds but ran into Daniel D.  Good birding conversation is always a great way to end a day!
All in all, a great day out west, even considering the bone-chilling weather.  I can only imagine what else would turn up in Jordan River or Port Renfrew if more local birders took the time to visit!
Good birding,

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Knot Getting Away This Time

It's getting a little tough to add new birds to my Victoria List, nevermind a couple in a week, but I figured I would give it a try.  Earlier this week I added Franklin's Gull, a long standing Victoria nemesis, at Esquimalt Lagoon.  I figured I might as well take a shot today at an equally aggravating nemesis, Red Knot.  A couple have been hanging around off of Oak Bay this week, and one has been seen fairly regularly at the foot of Bowker Ave.

The weather wasn't particularly attractive this morning, which was just fine by me.  Instead of prowling the beaches, many of the fairweather dogwalkers choose to stay home and leave the shorebirds alone.

The light rain and fog didn't seem to have much of an impact on the birds either.  Immediately after stepping down onto the sand at Bowker, I was greeted by Black Turnstones, Black Oystercatchers, Surfbirds, and Black-bellied Plovers.  A little further down the beach I found more plovers, and then a Short-billed Dowitcher popped up.  My hopes were getting a little higher at this point, and more birds were flying in, until a pair of kayakers pulled close to one of the rocks and sent most of the shorebirds flying back out to the island.  Glancing back down the beach I noticed that, in true shorebird fashion, a second dowitcher had popped up, and a Greater Yellowlegs had joined the party.  Since these critters can pop up out of nowhere, I figured a more thorough search was in order.  To my surprise the two dowitchers were joined by another two! 

Around the corner toward Glenlyon-Norfolk School, there were only gulls present, and as I turned to head back to where my scope was setup a small flock of shorebirds flew in.  The flock was made up of 6 plovers, a dowitcher, and..... finally after 15 years of misses.....


My Victoria Checklist Area Red Knot, species number 288 on said list!  I watched the bird for the better part of 45 minutes until I decided to head back to the Westshore.  Always a treat to be able to enjoy a great bird!

Esquimalt Lagoon was my other stop of the morning, as I'm still hoping for a stray Elegant Tern, a species that has invaded the Washington side of the strait....  It wasn't to be.  There were no terns at all present among the Heermann's, California, Mew, and mutt gulls.  No shorebirds either, except a distant calling Killdeer and a couple of Black Turnstones.

Midway down the Lagoon, at "the hump", a small gull slept, nestled in with a few others.  The Franklin's Gull that had been checklist area bird #287 a few days earlier was still present, and sat still for a few shoddy phone-through-foggy-scope pics.

As always, I aim to get bad pics of great birds, and these don't threaten that!  All in all, a great day of birding.  A great week in fact, when I can add two Victoria birds in a few days.  The last time that happened was in 2011, and I can't imagine it will happen again anytime soon, if at all!  Now that I have the last two missing birds that can be loosely considered "annual", I have no idea what is next!
Things are picking up nicely out there, get out and make the most of it!  Our next Elegant Tern is just across the water.....

Monday, September 2, 2013

Westward Bound

One of my favourite local areas to bird is to head westward, to Sooke and beyond.  I've always thought the areas to the west to be under birded, especially given the potential for great rarities along rather small stretches of beach and forest.

With all of the jaw-dropping rarities being seen just south of us by our American counterparts, Jeremy G and I figured points west would be a great idea yesterday, and after meeting at our usual muster point, a certain Langford Tim Horton's at the usual ungodly hour, we headed first for Whiffin Spit, hoping to beat the human traffic and find some shorebirds.

A short-lived peep flock was the first sighting as we headed down the spit, and the usual suspects quickly showed - White-crowned Sparrow, Harlequin Duck, and a lone (early) female Bufflehead which made us wonder if it was the same one we had seen there last month.  The tide was well out and we walked down onto the slick rocks, hoping for some shorebird love.  Black Turnstones soon materialized out of the rocks, and before long Jeremy G was onto the stunning Ruddy Turnstone that had been seen for a few days.  What a treat to lock onto this great semi-rarity so early in the day!

Finding little else at Whiffin we headed further west.  Around Otter Point the second treat materialized when a Black Bear came out of the trees and crossed the road in front of us.  These may be commonplace in many areas of the island, but I can count on one set of fingers the number of times I have seen them on the south island.

Rounding the final corner into Jordan River I half expected to see a flock of Elegant Terns resting on the road, given the great start to the day, but it wasn't to be.  Instead, we were drawn to the small patch of brambles and trees across from the parking lot, which were so full of birds that we hardly knew where to look first.  Cassin's Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, and Orange-crowned Warbler were all well-represented.  A larger bird immediately caught our attention when it flew into the top of one of the trees, and binoculars quickly revealed it to be a Lazuli Bunting

We ended up spending 5 hours exploring Jordan River and found great numbers of migrants everywhere.  In addition to the above we found a couple of Bewick's Wrens (a great bird for Jordan), Hutton's Vireos, Lincoln`s Sparrow, Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Swainson's Thrushes, MacGillivray's Warblers, and Pacific-Slope, Willow, and Hammond's Flycatchers, plus many more.  Gull numbers were good as well with five species in attendance, including a lone Herring Gull, and a Greater White-fronted Goose was seen in the river.  Out in the surf, 500+ Red-necked Phalaopes were a continual sight, and small numbers of alcids drifted past.

We left Jordan River with 72 species in the bag and headed to Muir Creek, which was fairly quiet except for a flock of Yoga Participants off in the woods somewhere, and a good collection of Barn Swallows which included one Cliff Swallow and one Northern Rough-winged Swallow.  At Muir Creek I also (with much help) scored a lifer bug, Saffron-winged Meadowhawk.

A swing through the usual Metchosin areas at Lindholm Rd and Swanwick Rd yielded little.  Albert Head Lagoon padded the species total a little, providing Mute Swan, Greater Yellowlegs, and two early American Wigeons.  We spent a fair amount of time scanning a large collection of gulls well out on the water, which didn`t yield anything different, until Jeremy G called my attention to the one bird neither of us had paid attention to - a lone gull 20ft from shore.  How long the bird had been puttering around in front of us I don`t know, but how the Ring-billed Gull had managed to stay under the radar still puzzles me.  Perhaps it was the lure of tern or jaeger potential out in the heat haze.....

The last stop was Esquimalt Lagoon, where we held out hope for a mega of some sort.  My much-desired Elegant Terns weren`t there either, but we did finally add Least Sandpiper after 11 hours of birding, as well as a lone tern of the wrong type, Caspian Tern.

All in all we netted 93 species, a great total considering the total lack of woodpeckers and only 4 species of raptor.  Migrant numbers were amazing, and it was the perfect day for a more leisurely approach to birding.

It is shaping up to be a great fall birding season, and with all of the great stuff across the strait, who knows what`s lurking around our neighbourhood!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

It's That Time of the Year Again!

Yes, it's Baillie Birdathon time!

It looks like I will be solo this year for my Mother's Day Big Day, due to some notable field work induced absences, but my Baillie Week started off with a bang when a Lewis's Woodpecker was located at Highrock Park in Esquimalt, of all the random places.

I was in the office, watching posts come in and hoping the bird would stick. By the time my last meeting was finished, I zipped home to change, and made record time getting to Esquimalt. After all the rush and hustle, it took a mere three minutes from time of car parking until I spotted the beautiful Lewis's Woodpecker atop a snag, hawking insects. This has long been a big miss for me in the Victoria Checklist area, a long overdue tick.

Anyway, back to the Baillie Birdathon. I haven't decided on my exact routing yet, but given the incredible birds that have been showing, it is sure to be a great day! If anyone wants to join for the full 24 (midnight to as close to midnight I can get without falling asleep) or for a part, let me know!

To sponsor me, or any member of Rocky Point Bird Observatory's team, head over to our Birdathon Page and click on the link for any of our participants. Remember, 75% of everything raised stays right here with RPBO, let's make this the biggest year yet! We also have several local politicians birding for Rocky Point again this year!

Good birding, stay tuned for the results!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Insanity Begins

I think we left off with my retreat from the Grand Valley on Mar 29.  My plan for the day was simple - get to Wray for the mandatory 6pm Greater Prairie-Chicken orientation, and find Black and Brown-capped Rosy Finches along the way.  Simple?  Not so much.

Driving back through the mountains, I had to stop at Vail Summit, hoping for Grey Jay, and perhaps a Rosy-Finch or 200.  Nothing of the sort appeared, though I did find this, which seemed picture worthy:

A little Colorado humour maybe?

I decided Silverthorne would be my Rosy-finch attempt, as good numbers had been seen off and on in the vicinity of Lake View Dr.  It was around this time that my GPS decided to play an early April Fool's joke.  It seems there are two Lake View Dr's in the Silverthorne area... one right in town, and the other 30km north.  Can you guess which one my GPS decided to take me to?  After a recovery and an unsuccessful search of the correct area, I continued to Wray, and made it with enough time to check in and unpack the car before walking the two blocks down to the Wray Museum for the 40 minute presentation.

While I was unpacking, I met the couple in the room next to mine, Koos and Susan, who were also on the tour and happen to be from Comox!  Small world indeed, as it turned out the remainder of the tour group was from Colorado or Florida.  The presentation flew by, and it was early to bed for the 5:15am bus trip out to the lek.  After the trip out in a school bus and an orderly filing into the metal viewing trailer Josh, our pistol-packing guide, opened the flaps on the trailer and we waited.

Within 2 minutes of the trailer being opened we heard our first male Greater Prairie-Chicken, followed by a second, a third, a fourth.....  As the night turned to light, the dark blobs that were my lifer tick turned into actual birds, strutting, displaying, calling, and flapping.  I counted 15 males and 4 females, though there may have been more.  The displaying intensified when females ventured into the lek, and when the females left the males sat.  And sat. 

The Greater Prairie-Chicken lek, post-female

Sadly, I didn't get a clear picture of a full display (I did get a few very bad ones), so this will have to substitute.  As always, the Victoria Birder aims to bring you terrible pictures of great birds:

After the females departed we did likewise, boarding the bus for the ride to the Kitzmiller Grazing Association for a great breakfast of eggs, bacon, biscuits, juice, and much needed coffee.

Back at the hotel before 9am, I had plenty of time to load up the car, pass on the info about the next days Lesser tour to Koos and Susan, and head east, into Kansas.  My plan was to drive the 5 hours to Quivira Refuge in hopes of locating Whooping Crane, then driving the 4 hours to Lamar.  I was encouraged by a report of cranes two days previous, and a couple of other species that had been recently seen.  Just before passing into Kansas I found Eastern Bluebird, giving me the third and last species of bluebird, all in Colorado.

Hours and hours of this... it isn't for the faint of heart!
I wish I could say the drive passed quickly, but no..... the endless fields were causing my eyes to cross not long into Kansas, and this sign had me saying "there's no place like home", wishing for my damp coastal air and forests:

Quivira Refuge was an area I would consider visiting again, though I was rushed for time and failed to find cranes.  However, I still consider the long drive well worth it, as at Little Salt Marsh, on the south side of the refuge, one of the first birds I put the scope on was none other than Snowy Plover, my longest standing nemesis bird that I have chased all over the coast and Arizona!  Two had been reported a couple of days earlier, but now there were an incredible 34!  Other notable birds at Quivira included Baird's Sandpiper, Blue-winged Teal, Eastern Meadowlark, and my first Chipping Sparrows of the year.  Also of note, all of the Northern Flickers I saw at Quivira were of the "Yellow-shafted" variety, which I saw nowhere else on my trip.

The trip to Lamar passed no quicker, and my review of southwestern Kansas would not encourage any Chambers of Commerce or visitors, so I will skip them.  I got to the Arena Dust B&B just before 9pm and, finding no wifi, went straight to bed (with a whisky detour) for the 3:30am wakeup call.

3:30 came much too early, and shaking off the whisky and little sleep called for extreme measures - a cup off coffee before boarding a bus with no washroom.  The two of us staying at the bed and breakfast boarded the bus, and we picked up the remainder of the tour at a motel in town just after 4am.  Koos and Susan had made it down for the trip, and familiar faces were nice to see.  Fred Dorenkamp, our guide, drove us almost and hour out into the middle of nowhere to the lek, and the drill was similar to the previous day, except this time we stayed in the bus and viewed with windows down.  From our arrival at 5:30, it didn't take long for the birds to show.  Much the same as the previous day, the calls came first, then shadowy movement out on the lek, gradually turning into real birds as light filled the sky.

We had great opportunity to watch the Lesser Prairie-Chickens displaying, and Koos and I commented more than once on the differences in calls, displays, and frequency of different aspects of the display.  Having seen the Greaters the day before, it was a great opportunity to compare and contrast.

Yet more terrible photos.....

Taken with my phone through a scope on a school bus
At exactly 6:50am, the birds suddenly flew off en masse.  I counted 12 males, and no females chose to make an appearance that day.  We made the trip back to Casa Dorenkamp for breakfast, dropping the motel folks off in Holly to grab their cars.  During this brief interlude we added Blue Jay, American Kestrel, Common and Great-tailed Grackle, and others.

The breakfast prepared by Fred's wife, Norma, was easily the best breakfast I had over my entire trip, consisting of egg casserole, sausage, fresh biscuits and gravy, and coffee.  The conversation was lively, and a couple across the table from me, hearing of my finch plight, mentioned that they knew of a spot near Gunnison for Rosy-Finch.  Excellent, assuming they were still around.

With chicken two in the bag and breakfast done I headed west.  I did little birding between Lamar and Pueblo, but did stop to scan the occassional field, finding my first Loggerhead Shrike of the trip, followed closely by my only Lewis's Woodpecker.  I kept focussed on my mid-day destination, Pueblo Reservoir.  A location I have seen many times in rare bird alerts, I figured it was worth a look-see.

Though Pueblo Reservoir failed to deliver any earth shattering rarities, I did have a great walk around the park, and turned up Rock Wren, Eared Grebe, Say's Phoebe, Loggerhead Shrike, Turkey Vulture, and my lifer Canyon Towhee, among others. 

From there it was straight to Gunnison with the occassional stop for a quick, uneventful scan.  I made it to Gunnison with plenty of light left so I checked into my room and headed off to the Wuanita Lek to see if I might be able to catch the grouse displaying in the fading light.  With no such luck I returned to town and picked up my Easter Sunday dinner at Taco Bell.  I must not have paid much attention to my room when I checked in, when I got back with dinner I noticed that there was a mirror above the bed and a jacuzzi tub in the bathroom.... I'm not sure what kind of birding trip they thought I was on, but.....

The rules of  the Wuanita Lek are simple.  Be there an hour before sunrise, stay in your car, and don't make noise.  Sunrise that day was 6:52am, so I showed up at the lek at 5:25, just in case of competition for the few parking spots along the viewing area.  Cassie, a Department of Wildlife volunteer, was there to provide directions and protocol, and I had just enough time to move over to the passenger seat and figure out how to position my scope for viewing the lek.  With a while to wait until light, I sat back with my coffee and a breakfast consisting of Shockers, Pepperoni, and a Tijuana Mama Pickled Sausage.

To give you an idea of viewing distance, the birds were near the arrow
At 6:20am I could finally make out dark shapes moving far out in the distance, and eventually they turned into my lifer Gunnison Sage-Grouse.  The birds, 9 males and 3 females that I counted, stayed on the lek displaying and posturing for almost an hour.  I happened to look down at 7:17, and when I looked up they had all disappeared.  As with the two Prairie-Chickens, the grouse put on a fantastic show, though the only all out wing fight I saw was in the half dark.

More crappy photos shot through a scope with a phone, this time from the passenger seat of a rental car:

Apparently I was so focussed on the birds that I missed a herd of Elk and a couple of Coyotes passing through the far end of the lek.  As I got back into my car to leave the lek, a pair of Rosy-Finches flew over calling, but no identification.  Go figure.

Again, my GPS tried playing another April Fool's joke, suggesting a three hour route to my next destination, which I knew was only 10 minutes north of my hotel.  I found the suggested location without trouble.  Just south of the town of Almont and 10 minutes north of Gunnison, Evelyn Lane was the location of large Rosy-Finch flocks over the winter, and I hoped that a few had stuck around. 

When I turned onto Evelyn Lane there was a large flock of finches in the first tree I came to.  Predictably, they all took off before I could get a look.  A small portion returned, and I was able to get my bins on a Black Rosy-Finch before the skittish birds took off again.  I spent some time walking up and down the road, only getting distant looks at the occassional finch, until I arrived back down at my car, where two larger birds were sitting in the top of a tree.

This Brown-capped Rosy-Finch was my final lifer of the trip, and I got fantastic looks at it and its companion.  I never did get a clean look at a Gray-crowned, but c'est la vie.  A local resident, Jim, invited me in to watch his feeder from inside, and we had a great talk for an hour about all things birds.  Birding, travelling, species splits, etc.

Since this post is getting a little long, I will wrap it up with a quick summary of the following two days.  From the Rosy-Finches I travelled to Colorado Springs, picking up Red Crossbill at Monarch Summit, and Gray Jay, my fifth and final Colorado jay, at the Monarch Ski Area.  Despite a thorough search of Pathfinder Park in Florence, I dipped on the long-staying Red-headed and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, though I did get my only White-breasted Nuthatch and Belted Kingfisher of the trip.  North of Florence I also found one of the FOY records of Swainson's Hawk for the state.

The next day, my final day of birding, found me birding the countryside south of Colorado Springs, looking for Mountain Plover.  Finding none, I headed north to Denver to Cherry Creek State Park, again searching for a couple of long-staying rarities.

Cherry Creek State Park was not only my last stop for Colorado birding, but also the birdiest.  In my two hours there I picked up 34 species, including first (and last) of trip American White Pelican, Peregrine Falcon, Snow Goose, American Avocet, California Gull, Thayer's Gull, and Franklin's Gull.  I dipped again on long-staying Lesser Black-backed Gull and Glaucous Gull, but it was hard to feel disappointed, even despite the extra two dollar surcharge above and beyond the usual seven dollar State Park Day Use Fee.

It was all downhill after that as I checked into my hotel, returned my rental, and spent an uneventful evening packing for the return trip.  Luckily, I didn't miss anything in Victoria during my absence.  I am looking forward to a return to Colorado during fall migration one of these years, to track down the remainder of the state's specialties - Mountain Plover, Chestnut-collared Longspur, and McCown's Longspur.

All said, after 4 flights and 4000km on the rental car, this trip turned up 110 species, including 8 lifers.  I figure I probably could have added another dozen species with more effort, but oh well, a great trip!

As for where to next, I am thinking maybe Texas in early January?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Playing Chicken

"The Great Colorado Chicken Hunt" got off to a less than auspicious start when, following a couple of weeks of nice weather, a snowstorm chose the day of my arrival to visit Denver, cancelling flights, closing highways, and generally causing trouble.  Luckily for me, my flight wasn't among the dozens cancelled, and was only delayed twice, for a total of an hour and a half.  Upon arrival in Denver, I spent another hour trying to contact my hotel for pickup, eventually managing to drop my bags off in my room and find dinner much later than I had anticipated.  So much for joining an owling walk!

The next morning my good fortune continued when I went to pick up my rental.  After 20 minutes of high pressure upsell attempts on everything from a 4X4 (warning I wouldn't make my destination in the Dodge Avenger I had selected) to extra insurance, I found my car easily enough, snowed into a parking spot.  After 15 minutes I was able to free the car and was on my way, learning through On the Job Training the fine art of driving on ice, the days subsitute for the I-70 in Denver.  Impressive for a Victoria driver, I managed to avoid being a casualty of one of the half dozen accidents I passed, and once out of Denver City Limits, the roads became, for the most part, pavement.

My first planned stop driving west was Silverthorne, home to not only outlet malls (and I did sneak in an hour of very disappointing shopping), but good numbers of Rosy-Finches of all three varieties as well.  My plans to track them down were cut short by threatening weather that had picked up, as well as planned construction delays along the highway.  I decided that it would be best to keep moving through the mountains, and also skipped one of my backup Rosy-Finch spots at Snowmass.

Finally, coming down from Vail, I encountered one last heavy snow around Eagle that slowed traffic, and then the white stuff was gone.  Easy sailing to my destination, Grand Junction, with a few fairly unproductive birding stops along the way, adding birds only to my Colorado list.

The pre-dawn crispness greeted me on my first day of real birding, and I headed further west, into Utah, stopping at a viewpoint for my first Utah bird, Mountain Bluebird.  This was followed closely by a few more, as well as a sign warning to watch for eagles on the highway.

Things picked up nicely when I turned off the I-70 onto Highway 128, a back route to Moab that a friend had suggested.  Immediately after turning off, Horned Larks appeared in droves along with Common Ravens, and finally, two of the promised Golden Eagles not far off the road.  The secenery also became spectacular at this point as Highway 128 wound through a river canyon, and I got my first looks at Utah's rock columns.

A few more birds appeared on the way, including Say's Phoebes and Red-tailed Hawks, plus a few "lifer" mammals, White-tailed Prairie Dog, White-tailed Antelope Squirrel, and Rock Squirrel.
Arches National Park near Moab lived up to it's reputation, and even though I had come as much for one of my long-standing nemesis birds as I had for the scenery, I spent much more time admiring the rock formations than I did searching for birds.

I will leave further pictures of the park to your searching, needless to say I took lots!  Arches was fairly quiet on the bird front, but did give up a pair of Cassin's Finches, a small flock of Black-throated Sparrows, easily my favourite sparrow, and more ravens.  Finally, after pishing throughout every bit of juniper in the park, near the end of the road, my pishing stirred up a very upset Juniper Titmouse, my first target of the trip, and a nemesis bird.  The remainder of the day was anti-climactic, with little else showing in Utah, or my return to Colorado.

The following two days were spent exploring Mesa County from my base in Grand Junction.  A trip up the scenic byway over Grand Mesa was disappointing in that every sideroad was closed by 4 to 6 feet of snow, and I didn't find my hoped for birds near the top, but the trip up did turn up several birds near the town of Mesa, including my first Western Scrub-Jay.  The backside of the mesa also produced some interesting birds, including Colorado's first two Red-naped Sapsuckers of the season, also the first March record for this species in Delta County, where I found them.  A flock of Sandhill Cranes near the town of Delta was a nice add, though I missed the numbers that had been seen in the Grand Valley.

A walk around a nature trail in Grand Juntion turned up two early Lincoln's Sparrows and most of the expected waterfowl, and I joined the local Audubon bird walk on the Colorado River trail on the Wednesday.  I always like to connect with local birders where I can, to get a little local knowledge and insight.

One such bit of local knowledge was an explanation of all of the laundry baskets I had seen in trees.  Apparently, after West Nile decimated the local magpie population and the nests had fallen apart or been destroyed by the young Great Horned Owls that were raised in them, a lack of suitable owl nests prompted the locals to put up laundry baskets as substitutes.  The walk along the river also turned up my only Wood Ducks of the trip, a couple of Gambel's Quail, and a small flock of Cedar Waxwings, a nice surprise for all.  I was welcomed at the walk with open arms, and had great chances to chat with the other folks.  A quick spin through Connected Lakes State Park yielded little, aside from my my only Bushtits of the trip.

Wednesday afternoon was my final birding in Mesa County, as Thursday was to be a tourist day.  After a fantastic lunch at 626 on Rood in Grand Junction, I headed up to Colorado National Monument, supposedly a very birdy area.  My first stop, the Devil's Kitchen trailhead, most certainly was.  No sooner had I left the car then Canyon and Rock Wren were both heard, and the bird I had travelled to Utah for, Juniper Titmouse, was present in multiples.  The remainder of the Monument turned up little of interest, besides more spectacular scenery.

After touring the National Monument I spent an enjoyable hour and a half watching feeders and talking birds at the home of a local birder, hoping for titmice and Rosy-finches.  Though neither showed (the Rosy-finches had last been seen a couple days prior), we enjoyed great looks at Lesser Goldfinch, Gambel's Quail, and Pinyon Jay.
Finally, while in Grand Junction that evening, a group of 8 Turkey Vultures put in an appearance, one of the first sightings for the county, and my first of the trip.
The next day I played tourist and enjoyed a little rest and relaxation, my last for the trip.  I will wrap up my adventure in another post in a couple of days.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Out of Moth Balls!

Well, it is maybe about time to update this blog, as it has been silent for a few months!

Luckily, nothing exciting has happened in the meantime, unless you count two Canada firsts and a couple of exciting Victoria area vagrants, all of which have been well publicized.

The Victoria Birder is set to be back on the road soon!  Following the success of last years Great Canadian Chicken Hunt with Russ and Ilya, I have decided that a followup is in order, and am kicking off the Great Colorado Chicken Hunt in a mere six days.

My route is not going to be the most efficient, and as this is a solo trip, I won't have anyone to share the driving with, but starting in Denver next Saturday, I am going to head first to Grand Junction, a smaller town in Western Colorado.  From there I will be able to access several great birding locations, as well as use it as a base for a day trip to Moab, Utah, where I will spend the majority of my time beginning a Utah list and hunting for Juniper Titmouse, if the scenery doesn't distract me.

Next, I will be retracing my steps back through Denver to Wray, located in Eastern Colorado, a few miles from the border with both Nebraska and Kansas, for an early morning Greater Prairie-Chicken tour through the Wray Chamber of Commerce.  After wrapping up this tour I am headed to Lamar, where I will be doing a Lesser Prairie-Chicken tour the next morning with Arena Dust Tours.  Now to most, the 3 hour drive from Wray to Lamar would be a great opportunity to bird casually along the way.  The Victoria Birder is not most, however, and I will be taking the scenic route, driving from Wray to Quivira Refuge in Stafford, Kanses, a major stopover for the critically endangered Whooping Crane.  With two hours at Quivira, I will then complete the 7-8 hour drive, winding up in Lamar with enough time to sleep before the next mornings tour.

After the Lesser tour, I will be heading West again to Gunnison, home of the "other" Sage Grouse.  The endangered Gunnison Sage-Grouse is limited mainly to a very small area, the Gunnison Basin, and is a victim of habitat loss.  Thankfully, Colorado Parks and Wildlife maintains a viewing area at the Waunita Lek, 19 miles east of Gunnison.  This viewing area opens on April 1, and I will be there opening day, hoping for great looks.  Also in the area of Gunnison and Crested Butte, I will be hoping to track down Black and Brown-capped Rosy-Finches, if I haven't already found them.  Following the Gunnison birds, I will be heading to Pueblo and Colorado Springs, hunting for gulls, waterfowl, and passerines at the Pueble Reservoir, and passerines and Mountain Plover at Chico Basin Ranch.  Winding up the 12 day trip, I will be flying home on April 3.

This trip will have my smallest travelling target list to date (13, with many longshots, plus another 4 that I haven't seen in the United States), so I am thinking I am going to have to start travelling further afield.  I may also have to start considering warmer locations, after last years March trip to southern Alberta, and now this one.  Jeremy Gatten may have the right idea, heading to Thailand or Panama during the winter season.....

Stay tuned for post-trip updates, and Good Birding!