Thursday, May 23, 2013

CFO Convention Day 5

Woooo times to go home!

After several days of doing nothing but birding, eating and sleeping, we were both exhausted and ready to be home...if only there weren't 400 miles between us and home.

We woke up at 6:30 planning on leaving by 7:30. We were also giving a friend of ours Austin Hess, a ride back to the front range as well. We picked up Austin at 7:30, grabbed some breakfast and started the drive. We decided to take the long way again, because Austin wanted to see some scenary on the million dollar highway, but we had one last birding stop to make in durango before we really left.
Acorn Woodpeckers! I was reading about the durango area on the Colorado Birding Trail website and came across a site that has an active colony of Acorn Woodpeckers. It was on the way out and easy to find (according to google maps...) so we went for it. And we found it! It was great. We drove up and noticed two lage dead trees with thousands of tiny holes in them. and on the road in front of us was a pair of Acorn Woodpeckers! They flew up to the trees and hid in one of several cavities. We waited a good 30 minutes set up the scope and got a few poor pictures of the little clown-faced guys. It was all very exciting!

After we'd had enough of barking farm dogs we piled back in the car and started the drive...and we drove, and drove, and drove. The farther we went the harder it was to keep going. We drove over 4 mountains passes, and stopped in almost every town after gunnison for coffee and snacks. We left at about 8 in the morning and arrived back on good ol C470 at 6:00. We dropped Austin off to meet his mom in highlands ranch (he lives in Fort Collins and still had a ways to go) and made our way home. We didn't even go home at this point, Jordan's father had offered to us a chance to go see the new Star Trek was too hard to turn down. So we went! It was great by the way....but it was nice to be home. To be in familiar territory and always know what the speed limit was. It was a fantastic trip but i think i may try flying into Durango next time.
Turkey Vulture sitting in the Acorn Woodpecker tree

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

Snowing on Monarch Pass

CFO Convention Day Four, Sunday

Today we decided not to sign up for a guided hike and go out on our own...but perhaps it could've used more planning. Saturday evening we decided to go to Mcphee Reservoir, which according to google maps was about an hour from cortez.

We awoke at 7:30 AM later than we wanted, but still early enough to make it while it was still cool out. We gathered our things, wrote down detailed directions and headed out of town. We were driving along looking for the junction to our exit when we started to feel we'd been driving too far. I was gazing out the front window wondering if we should turn around when suddenly a large billboard loomed ahead, Welcome to Utah it said!
This here, according to google maps, it Mcphee Reservoir.

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Mesa Verde at sunset

We've got the scopes on cavity in a riverside that is supposed to have a Barn Owl in it. We never saw it though.

Still lookin for the Barn Owl

......We had gone too far, way too far. We turned around and started on our way back to cortez hoping again to find out junction. We decided to pull up an app Jordan has on his phone called Nokia Drive. We usually don't use it because it often flips the map and orients it backwards, but we were desperate. This time though it seemed to working. North was North and South was South. We drove about 30 minutes, continuously watching the map, and we found our exit! From this point we followed the google directions i'd written down. We turned onto county road 23 and followed it to road J, we were suposed to follow road jay until it turned into a forest service road and eventually to the reservoir, but the road on the map ended and our road, which continued, turned into private property.

At this point it was about 10AM, it had been a long dissapointing drive full of wrong turns and confusing directions. We drove back to the main highway and continued towards the distant water and voila! There is was, a nice large sign stating Mcphee Reservoir...about 1 miles ahead of our original turn off on CR 23...finally, we had made it. We parked and found the nearest hiking trail and just started walking.

I had hoped to find Grey Flycatchers, Gray Vireos, Black-throated Grey Warblers and Juniper Titmice here. but no luck. We did manage to see a few things before a large storm front blew in and we rushed down the trail and back to the cars. We were exhausted, i was bitter about our poor navigational skills and Jordan had a headache, we were both looking forward to Owling later in the evening. We arrived back in town around 1 and decided to stop for lunch. We found a delicious sandwhich shop which served a quesadilla with sweet potatos, black beans, and three favorite foods! It was fantastic. Jordan got a boring ol cheeseburger...but it was equally delicious. We finished lunch slept the rest of the afternoon, both exhausted from driving and being lost.

We awoke to our alarm at 6:00PM later that evening and gathered our stuff for Owling. Owling is when a person or a group of people go out at night and play tapes of different owls calling in hopes of a response. We drove 20 or so miles out to mancos and up a mountain through scrub oak, aspen forests, and finally some douglas fir. We stopped at each and played the appropriate owl for that habitat. Northern Pygmy Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Long-eared Owl, and Flammulated. We may have gotten a response, from a Long-eared or a Flam, but they were so distant it was difficult to hear. We did hear one Common Poorwill, a bird in the nighthawk family.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

CFO Convention Day 3 Saturday May 18th

Today was a fantastic day. We saw many amazing interesting birds, and our groups had some really great individuals and the leaders  Joe Roller and Bill Schmoker, also our group included John Vanderpoel the famous big year birder from Colorado.

We drove about 45 minutes from our hotel to the entrance of McElmo Canyon where we drove two miles on a organ jumbling high clearance dirt road. We were surrounded by Pinyon-Juniper habitat with singing Grey Vireos, Plumbeous Vireos, Rock Wrens and Black-throated Sparrows. We pulled up to a preplanned stopping point marked by some blue flagging in a dead tree. From this point the road was too difficult to drive so we walked down to a riparian area where we hoped to coax out a Lucy's Warbler. Yesterday's group heard two singing so we felt we had a good chance at finding them. Lucy's Warblers were only discovered to be breeding here 10 years ago and they only seem to be breeding in the lower riparian areas of Yellow Jacket Canyon.

No warblers where singing when we arrived so one of our leaders whistled a Western Screech Owl call to bring out some birds. (Using tapes or recordings or mimicking is considered unethical by some birders and it is usually left up to the group leader whether it will be used). It worked this time and brought in several Lucy's Warblers and we got great views. The red on the head was a little difficult to see but after watching them flit around for a while it became more and more obvious.

Several minutes later a man in the group walked up to Bill and said he heard a response from a screech owl so then we listened. We played the call a few more times and listened for the owl. It responded and almost everyone in the group heard it. While we were listening for the owl a pair of very agitated Hairy Woodpeckers flew around between two trees. They skidded up and down the trees occasionally stopping by a hole to feed their screaming young.

We continued to the end of the trail listening the whole way. We had singing Black-headed Grosbeaks, Lesser Goldfinches, Blue Grey Gnatcatchers, and many many many Yellow Warblers. At one point we all stopped when a bird flew to the top of a bush on the right side of the trail. We all got our binocs up and realized it was a Grey Vireo! It flitted around in a large circle and alighted atop a Pinyon Pine and sang. This was a great bird for the trip and a Pinyon Juniper habitat specialist.

At the end of the trail we stopped for a snack a drink and to spend some more time listening to the things around us. We decided to play a Bewick's Wren recording and it answered in warbling chatty gusto. The bird wasn't ever seen though.

On our way back we stopped to look for a singing Plumbious Vireo, when suddenly a small yellow-headed bird with white wing bars appeared bellow the Plumbious. It was a Yellow-throated Vireo! a rarely seen and never recorded in this area species! It was quite the find and almost everyone got great looks at it.

Black-throated Sparrow

Collared Lizard

Spiny Desert Lizard

Grey Vireo

Lucy's Warbler

Tiger Whiptail

Western Screech Owl
The last find for the trip was an especially exciting one. On our way back to the cars we stopped at the Hairy Woodpecker nest again and discovered several other smaller holes about ten feet bellow the Hairy's nest. We decided to whistle the screech owl again to see if anybody would pop out, and to our absolute amazement a tiny little head peaked out of the hole and watched us wondering why, once again, we were disturbing him from his afternoon nap. Screech Owls are cryptic and difficult to find so it was a great opportunity to actually see one!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

CFO Convention Day Two Friday 5-17-2013

Today we drove up Madden Road towards of the peak. It was a cold, very orange sunrise and it cast an orange light on all the aspens. As we drove up the road we rolled down the windows to listen as we drove. We heard many birds including many many Warbling Vireos, Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Dusky Flycatchers and an occasional Hermit Thrush.
We came around a bend to find a male Dusky Grouse sitting midway up a small aspen tree. We all drove past slowly each stopping for a look as we went by. The six cars all eventually made it and we continued up the mountain bumping along the dirt road as we went.

We came to a clearing where we stopped to look for Purple Martins, but instead we found a second Dusky Grouse sitting in perfect light on a large boulder. All the photographers pulled out there cameras and large lenses and we sat and took photos for several minutes. We hoped he would start drumming and displaying but i think the group of 17 people was a little distracting.
We all piled back into the cars and drove to our final stop.
As soon as we pulled up an agitated Green-tailed Towhee hoped across the road in front of us chattering and raising his crown feathers and disappeared into the brush. Immediately the sound of many singing Warbling Vireos hit our ears as well as the songs of Yellow-rumped Warblers and a lone House Wren.

By now it had warmed to about 60 degrees which was much more comfortable than the starting 43. The larger insects started warming up and flying around. We photographed a Pallid-winged Grasshopper that we found on the road. As we got back in the cars to drive down the road to our next stop a Western Wood-Pewee let out a single call.  

Our second stop was at Division of Wildlife fishery in Durango where we walked down the animas river. This was a very prolific and colorful area. As soon as we got out of the car we heard a cacophony of noise surrounding us. We decided to walk up the road to the gas station and use the restroom. On our way up we found a large flock of Evening Grosbeaks with Black-headed Grosbeaks mixed in, also calling in the area were many Pine Siskins.

We we met back up with the group after using the restroom they told us that they'd had great views of a Lewis's Woodpecker that flew up to a tree and then flew around the parking lot trying to catch a moth. Lewis's Woodpecker has been a little bit of a nemesis bird for me. I missed them at the last convention and have missed them at every location since.

We started our walk down the river to singing Yellow Warblers, more Pine Siskins many swallows including Northern-rough Winged, Barn, Cliff, and Tree. We saw bullock's orioles and more Black-headed Grosbeaks. Later we came to a stand of old dead cottonwoods striped of bark. The group was in front of me at the time and they all looked back and started waving to get my attention. I looked up and saw a large black bird with very round wings and a woodpecker flight pattern fly away. I knew this was it, my Lewis's Woodpecker, and again i had missed it. I still had a chance though! The cavities in the tree gave us a clue that maybe they were nesting there. So we sat, and waited. Suddenly, in she came landing in front of the hole and quickly ducking in. Again the glimpse was fleeting and i didn't get a chance to admire the beauty of the bird. Again we waited. we waited around 10 minutes when the bird finally poked her/his head out of the hole, the red and green face pattern shining in the sun. The bird hopped from the hole and landed on a nearby branch. The sun striking the bird showing off all its iridescent glory. Its pinkish underbelly feathers were fluffed giving the bird a strong silhouette.Woodpeckers are beautiful birds and after having seen this bird i have an even greater appreciation for them.

This is only the first half of the day and its getting late for an early start tomorrow, so i'll add today's hike (5-18-13) tomorrow.
Dusky Grouse in a tree

Beautiful views of another Dusky Grouse on a rock

Jordan in his winter hat and jacket. It was 42 degrees that morning

Pallid-winged Grasshopper

Evening Grosbeak

Gorgeous Lewis's Woodpecker!!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Colorado Field Ornithologist Convention Day 1

The Colorado Field Ornithologist (CFO) hold a convention inside of Colorado every year. Last year they went to Trinnidad, but this year we went to Cortez! We woke up at 6:30 am on Thursday morning and managed to be out of the house by 7:15. What was supposed to be a 7 hour drive turned into a 12 hour drive with various stops, lost keys, and scary mountain passes. We filled up at a really interesting old style gas station. We were going to stop for some birding toward Durango but by the time we arrived in Durango
--after 4 mountain passes-- we weren't really feeling like birding. When we arrived in Cortez we checked into our hotel and met up with some other birders who checked in for us.
-Megan and Jordan

Jordan taking a picture down the canyon

Coyote Vs. Dog

Box Canyon

Lookin for Swifts