Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Just getting out is good enough - sometimes

After a cold and windy Sunday, and a cold, windy, and snowy Monday I was ready to get outside at lunch yesterday. The sun was back out, and while it was still cool, mid 20s, it was oh so nice. It was about as "common" a day as you could have species wise. I saw exciting rarities such as House Finch, Rock Pigeon, Northern Flicker, Black-billed Magpie, American Robin, and Red-tailed Hawk.
Fortunately for me I still prefer out-of-doors to in, and am easily entertained.

The House Finches were a good exercise in manual focusing to pick through all the branches.

4 Flickers were busy on the ground between a cattail filled creek and some trees.

As I pulled into my work parking lot I spotted the two Red-tails coming in to perch across the field. They were a long ways off, but it was good to see them after an uneventful hour.

2009 Count: 56

Lifetime: 86

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Walden & Sawhill Ponds

Another great day at a location I found via the Colorado Field Ornithologists' Birding by County site. This time it was a pair of preserves in northeast Boulder called Walden and Sawhill Ponds respectively. They are managed by different agencies, and are separated by a small fence with multiple access points. For the wildlife they make one large habitat with numerous lakes, ponds and marshes.

After seeing many Ring-billed Gulls, Mallards, Canada Geese and American Wigeons I spotted a juvenile Bald Eagle soaring above me.
Later I saw two adults soaring hundreds of feet above a human glider being towed aloft by a prop plane. That would have made a great picture, but trees and distance prevented it.
I got over it quickly though when I finally spotted a Great Horned Owl. This has been my most frustrating species since I started listing. I had decent pictures of one last spring in the wild, and worked with them enough at Birds of Prey to have one mistake me for a tree, but had not seen one yet that I could confirm since last October. I knew that they were out there, and that when I did find one it would be closer than I expected.

Sure enough this guy was sitting directly behind me at eye level. When I first spotted him he was on my sunny side and I couldn't get much detail.

I gradually worked my way around him at a safe distance.

What a magnificent bird!

These two were swimming on a larger lake as the sun began to sink behind a storm cloud on the mountains, a good portrait of Ring-necked Ducks.
As I took their picture movement erupted across the lake.

Another Great Blue Heron!

Two on back to back days is a nice trend, hopefully this means more owls soon.
Immediately after I saw what may have flushed him, this cool looking intermediate Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk, (also pictured at top).

He would have had more than he could handle with a great blue, so perhaps they were flying coincidentally.....
either way I'll take it.

The contrasts in that bird are very nice.

An excellent place for birding, and the Great Horned is a nice add to the list.

2009 Count: 56

Lifetime: 86

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Yesterday's Lunch Update

I did some more work on my photos from yesterday, and am going to rule the hawk a Red-Tail. Unless someone can tell me differently. I can't see legs from where the bird is perched, so Ferruginous hawk can't be confirmed, and I don't see anything in the guide about an intermediate Ferruginous. The white undertail still makes me wonder, but hopefully I will catch him on another day in better light and get a conclusive Red-Tail.

The summary of the work was benneficial, I added two species to my year total, the Blue Jay pictured above along with two of his pals, and the Great Blue Heron whose picture is in the previous post.

2009 Count: 54

Lifetime: 85

Friday, January 23, 2009

Good Lunch Birding

Will update or repost later, but my lunchtime trip to Waneka Lake/Green Lee Preserve was definitely good.

I have not updated my numbers, but I had some good species counts and saw some fun birds. A highlight and one worth a closer look. The Great Blue Heron seems to have donned his breeding plumage. I don't know if those molt or can just get puffed up in the cold.

The hawk is evading me until I can get home and double check some guides. Mostly dark head, (maybe a white chin), streaked body, and all white undertail.

The puffed feathers are making it tough for me to gauge if the streaking is representative, or if the bird would appear darker when unpuffed.

If anyone has insights feel free to comment, otherwise I will update when I have a chance to look more closely. Of course it is back to overcast winter here, so unfortunately there is less detail than I would like.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Balmy Morning

These two Red-tails were enjoying the 40 degree temps at 7:30 this morning before the sun dipped back behind the clouds. I stopped by the Flatiron Crossing Mall parking lot on my way to work and got a couple of long range shots before a car flushed them.
2009 Count: 52
Lifetime: 85

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Marshall Mesa

There is a quote from Ferris Bueller's Day Off that runs as follows:
"How can I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this? This is my ninth sick day this semester. It's pretty tough coming up with new illnesses. If I go for ten, I'm probably going to have to barf up a lung, so I better make this one count."

Believe it or not I did not play hookey today. I posted the quote because I think everyone in Colorado has the same feeling today, that we had better make this one count. It is once again pushing 70 degrees along the Front Range, and we all realize we are living on borrowed time. So, knowing that there are still two of our snowiest months ahead I made sure to get out today to enjoy a bit of spring in advance.

I headed to Marshall Mesa, another trailhead area of the Boulder County Open Space land. It ended up being overly ambitious for good birding. I made a 2.6 mile loop in just over 45 minutes. It was enough to be a good well paced hike, but didn't allow time for stops to wait for birds to emerge. The warming Chinook winds, (blowing close to 20 mph), didn't help me hearing anything singing from cover either.
My three species total would have been very disappointing, except that it was a beautiful day, I got to be outside, and one of the species was a Golden Eagle - which I needed for my year list.

Unfortunately he was soaring towards the sun with respect to me, and despite standing for a few seconds with a balled fist blocking out the sun hoping he would angle back towards me, he continued to drift away.
I'm sure the biker who was stopped right there thought I was completely sane!

In addition there is a great PDF available on the site above that describes the history of the mining town of Marshall whose traces can still be seen in the landscape. Marshall was mined for coal from 1859-1946. It adds a nice backdrop for anyone enjoying the area, and even more so for someone who earned a history degree a few miles up the road! The same time constraints prevented me from taking pictures of any artifacts, but I am sure I will get them some day. I did get a shot of the Flatirons from the top of the trail though.

On a side note, to any of my friends or relatives in Minnesota who are reading this...Yes, I know I am spoiled, and yes I have been seeing just how cold it has been there. Stay warm!

2009 Count: 52

Lifetime: 85

Walker Ranch at Dusk (Monday 1/19)

Our unseasonably warm weather continues through today, Wednesday the 21st, but I had a chance to enjoy the evening hours on Monday. As previously stated my workday ends at 3:00 on Mondays, so I have a bit of time in the afternoon to get out if I have no other pressing concerns. This past Monday I headed up to a renowned part of the Boulder County Open Space property, Walker Ranch.
I have known of Walker Ranch for years, but not really had a chance to explore it. I believe I had the first of many visits there Monday night. I parked and began walking up the Meyer's Homestead Trail. It is an approximate 2.4 mile out and back trail. I made it roughly a mile and a half up the trail before fading light made me turn back.
In the meantime I had a great evening walk. One of the first birds I saw was soaring well overhead. Squinting against the low light I took a few frames of it before it rose out of photographic range. After zooming in on him after the fact I confirmed a Turkey Vulture, Lifetime list #85.

I also realized that I had left my camera in black and white mode. I made adjustments and headed on down the trail.
While I was looking for birds I had the greatest success seeing deer.

These white-tails were crossing the into the eastern area of the 2000 Walker Ranch fire.

Further down the trail I was able to pass this Townsend's Solitaire and catch him enjoying the view from his perch at the end of a beautiful day, and a White-breasted Nuthatch, (not pictured here) doing the same.
I love Colorado for its diversity of scenery, and my trip to Walker Ranch was a welcome one-hour escape to the higher elevations. The barn ruins (above) and trail markers provide an insight to the history of the area over the past 100 years. I can't wait until the days get longer and I am able to make it all the way to the trail's end.

2009 Count: 51
Lifetime: 85

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Warm Weekend Wrap-up

I enjoyed two mornings outdoors this weekend, before spending the afternoons watching college basketball and the NFL Championships.
Yesterday morning I took a walk over to my local open space, Tom Frost Reservoir. It was a great day to bask in warm sunshine. I checked the pond and found the usual waterfowl, the common mergansers were gone, leaving the Coots, Mallards, and a few Canadian Geese. I found some Mourning Doves in a grove that were patient and willing to perch while I took some photos.

On my return leg of the loop I spotted some Western Meadowlarks on a fence, they were my first of the year, and first seen in Colorado since I started keeping my lists.

I had left the pond and was heading back to my neighborhood when I turned around to take a less muddy trail, there just off the trail and a dozen feet behind me a Kestrel male was landing. He watched me for a few moments, and eventually retreated to a nearby tree. It was a great closing to a good morning.

This morning I wanted to capitalise on the weather and get a good few hours of birding in. I decided to head to Jefferson County, (southwest of Broomfield), a county I had not yet birded. I decided to head for Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuge. I knew of it from my work at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, but had not yet been there.
Despite having a partial seasonal closure the refuge was still a nice place for a walk. I listed 12 species, including a White Crowned Sparrow which was an additional pickup for the season.

Finding that the area was smaller than I had expected I came back to Broomfield and dropped by Plaster Reservoir to see if the warmer temps had cleared the ice much. It was somewhat more open, and in addition to 2 Common Mergansers, a group of Ring Necked Ducks, and some Shovelers there were a group of Lesser Scaup.

I dropped into a grove of Russian Olives in the area to let the resident Robins acclimate to me, and found to my surprise another group of White Crowned Sparrows.

Nothing too spectacular, and no new lifelist ticks, but a pair of spectacular days outside in January.

2009 Count: 49

Lifetime: 84

Friday, January 16, 2009

Snow Goose!

Clear mild morning. When I heard that on the morning news I knew that there wouldn't be more snoozing on the alarm clock. I rolled out to get another visit to Stearns Lake in before work.

Much better! Now I don't have to rely on pictures that may or may not be used as evidence for the existence of bigfoot. My persistence paid off, after scanning about half of the lake for last night's potential hybrid I found him swimming. He headed right towards me and cut across the near side of the lake. I watched him and was able to pick out his distinct higher pitch call from the hundreds of honks coming from the Canadian Geese.

As I was looking through the viewfinder and listening to his vocalization I suddenly heard the apx. 3000 geese begin to warning honk in unison. I looked up to see the elusive Bald Eagle making a pass towards me across the lake. Nice.

Now when each person I see at that lake asks the obligatory, "Have you seen the Bald Eagle?" I can answer Yes, and then point out the more uncommon Snow Goose to them. Of course I turned my attention back to the Snow Goose and took a few more pictures as he swam around.

I continued my walk to the farmland to the south, and got a good shot of another juvenile Red-tailed Hawk above me in a cottonwood.

After taking too much time near the hawk I was hurrying back to my car, but had to stop for a few frames of a light toned Coyote before I left.

2009 Count: 46

Lifetime: 84

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ross's X Snow Goose Hybrid?

I pulled off back at Stearns this evening and took my bins, (no camera), and went out to walk the lake. Sure enough I get to the water and spot a white head. I took a good look and thought the isolated white head was different from the previous Snow Goose. I ran to the parking lot, grabbed camera, ran back, attempted to hold still for the extended low light exposure...yeah right. Well I got a few picks.
The lack of white on the neck and apparent white on the belly are Ross's indicators. The sloped forehead, size, and lack of white tertials are Snow traits. It seems strange that both birds, different individuals based on picture comparison, are "blue" (dark morphs). Apparently the white forms are more common, but I haven't seen them yet.

Actual Red-tail (I think)

What a difference a few hours make. The fog burned off, and the temps are about 30 degrees warmer than this morning. I headed over to a nub of Broomfield County that extends north of Flatirons Mall towards highway 36. I had wanted to check it out for a while, ever since I spotted a pair of golden eagles in one of the trees on the way into work.

It is a spot that I believe will produce some good birding results over time. There is a stretch of undeveloped land that the mall developers must have had to throw some cash at while they were bidding.

Now by parking at the remote end of the parking lot I find myself looking down over a terraced layout of habitats. First there is a retention pond with some landscaped trees and shrubs. Next, a footbridge crossing the "enhanced" section of creek. It features some extra rock work and staged drops which I believe will attract some attention over time. Finally, there is a last section of undeveloped creek bed cut deep and covered by cottonwoods. The only drawback to the site is that it is close to the highway, and therefore a bit noisy to locate birds by sound. On the other hand, it doesn't look like many people head down that way too often. So I guess I will see how that site pans out. At least it is close and has potential.
2009 Count: 46
Lifetime: 84

Foggy, Frosty Morning

I got an early start to my day today and had a chance to stop at Stearns Lake for a longer walk this morning. I had made two brief stops early in the week, but had no time to walk or look carefully.

This morning was one of those great wintery overcast days. There was no wind, and the fog had left a nice coating of frost on everything. While the light was once again terrrible the blanket of cloud gave everything a calm and secluded feeling. A great way to start the day. The birding was not spectacular. I had ten commmon species, one of which was the Kestrel above.
However I have great hope for the next visit. As I walked on what I believe was the Rock Creek Farm loop, I flushed two large birds from a group of trees I had just passed. Of course I had just pulled out my phone to check the time, and was trying to catch back up to them as they flew. No picks, and I didn't have bins with me to get an ID in flight. I hope they were owls, but they were more likely buteos or eagles. They seemed very silent in flight, and the wrong shape for hawks, but I want to find the owl I saw last summer in the same area, so I may have been projecting. Anyhow, I'll keep checking the area and report back when I spot him or get good picks of the Baldies that have been reported in the area.
I met a couple of birders heading in to the park as I left. Hopefully they will have time to do a thorough check of the geese in the lake and find all the rareities I missed.
2009 Count: 46
Lifetime: 84

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Posing Female Juvenile Northern Harrier (Not Red-Tail)

On my lunch today I ran out to get my Boulder County Mountain Parks and Open Space parking permit. $15 will be worth 5 trips to Flagstaff Mountain and Gregory Canyon in the course of the year, and should have itself paid for soon.

The administration building is located close to Baseline Reservoir and the East Boulder Park Ponds. There is a trail that runs along South Boulder Creek next to the parking area, and I decided to check it out quickly with the time that remained for my lunch. I crossed a footbridge over the creek and was disappointed that nothing had been drawn to the moving water that had broken through the ice in a few places.

I checked my time and looped around the far side of the creek when I caught alarge bird flying low over a nearby field. She settled in on a post a few hundred feet from me, and I was able to move up slowly and get some fairly good shots of her.

She is, upon further review a juvenile Northern Harrier female, the white facial disk line is the giveaway trait. (Before editing I had this incorrectly ID'd as a juvenile red-tail and wondered about the facial disk.)
Popping up to land on the post.
Showing her dark banded tail, the "red-tail" is not visible until adulthood. After checking Hawks From Every Angle, I saw my mistake, the juvenile red-tail banding is fine, where these bands are broad. Again the facial disk was the key, but this is another telltale trait.
Light brown streaking beneath. Update, I should have noted that the streaking on a juvenile red-tail is faint, and would be limited to the bellyband area.

Just after landing. This pose shows his fluffed belly feathers, and those powerful looking talons.

If anyone does have additional details on the facial disk shown here please feel free to drop me a comment. (Duh, I saw it, but since I was so much closer than my previous Harrier sightings I hadn't appreciated their size. Lesson learned.)

2009 count: 46

Lifetime: 84

Monday, January 12, 2009

1/9 Barr Lake State Park

On my Friday off I spent my day well at Barr Lake State Park. The weather ranged from mediocre to annoying, but even so the park seems to have a great deal of potential. For anyone who has already visited this site, or is familiar with it that is a bit of a no-brainer. As the home of the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and a bird banding site it is one of Colorado's birding hot-spots. Thanks to the wind and overcast skies I had the place effectively to myself.
During my visit I hiked two miles out and back in both directions along the perimeter trail from the Nature Center.

My first hike took me north to the boat launch point. I had good views of Shovelers and Northern Pintails, and enjoyed watching Bald Eagles out fishing on the ice. On my return from the boat launch I had a great up close Downie Woodpecker who was willing to stay close while I snapped his picture a bunch of times.
I also got my first shots of a Brown Creeper.

The second out and back took me south into the wildlife preserve half of the lake. One of the highlights was walking out to the Gazebo under and through a cloud of 1700-2000 Red-winged Blackbirds.
I walked until I had gotten just past the Bald Eagle rookery. It was nice to be able to watch them back in the trees perching over a secluded pond or inlet. On the return trip I was treated to several Bald Eagle flyovers, and watched a Black-capped Chickadee as he hung inverted while working over a branch.

All in all it was a great day at the park. I am really hoping for a nice sunny day so I can get back to taking bright pictures again.
Update: Saw that this is a Song Sparrow, 7/17/2009
2009 Count: 46

Lifetime: 84