Monday, March 30, 2009

Saturday's Sunny Snow

Saturday was a bird activity day I had really been looking forward to. It was the day that I was set to attend a volunteer training for the Hawkwatch at Dinosaur Ridge. When I replied to the invitation email I indicated that I was really looking forward to the opportunity, but that the date of the training fell on my oncall weekend, and that I may have unforeseen conflicts come up.

Of course, any time that I have something I hope to sneak in while oncall it is inevitable that I will get a page at the same time. So it was on Saturday. Instead of starting my morning at the top of Dinosaur Ridge I started it on the phone and working from my laptop.

While I worked I had time between updates to pull out my camera and get some pics of the birds around my feeder. The snow was really highlighting their colors.

Even the iridescence of the Common Grackles was impressive as they dumped the feeder contents on the snow.

Rather than getting to see majestic raptors, I had a chance to watch House Sparrows between keystrokes.
Finally, an hour after the training was to have started I got in my car and headed out, on a drive that was much slower in mid-morning traffic than it would have been 2 hours earlier. Eventually I made it, and strapped on my new Yaktrax to rush up the hill and see if anyone was still around.
I made it just as the leader was giving the wrap up talk, but at least I had a chance to introduce myself and see a couple of familiar faces including a couple of people from my Big Dry Creek trip a couple of weeks before.
First off - Dinosaur ridge is phenomenal! I have driven past it hundreds of times on my way to the mountains and watched the sunset reflect from it while at concerts at RedRocks Amphitheatre but had never made the short hike to the ridge line. Boy is it worth it! On a day like Saturday, when the snow is gleaming under a clear blue sky I could almost appreciate the view a soaring raptor gets to enjoy.
After saying "Hi" to the participants I was hearing that there hadn't been much raptor activity. I was asking where the sightings had been, when three Red-tails caught a thermal just above us and to our west, and leisurely road it up the adjacent ridge.
The snow-reflected sunlight gave their undersides brilliant white sharpness, and against the blue sky they seemed like they were just inches away. A Ferruginous Hawk went by followed by another Red-tail. Most of the group headed back down, and I pulled out my camera so that I could get a few shots of what I imagined would be a raptor parade that seemed to just be getting started.

Of course the act of pulling out my camera must have announced my presence to the avian world. Perhaps the Townsend's Solitare and many Robins were spreading the word to migrating hawks that humans were nearby and wanted to take their pictures. Whatever the case, the action dried up. We had at least one more Red-tail and one more Ferruginous, in the distance, and another two that were two distant to id in the next hour.
My one remaining hawkwatching partner, Doug, decided to head out, and I planned to walk the ridge while keeping an eye skyward for additional raptors. The slush kept me from going too far, so I slowly turned to make my way back to the station, and then down the hill. Just as I did I saw the Coopers Hawk that others had reported earlier in the day make a hunting pass over my head. I had two more Red-tails flash along the ridge line as I walked back. They were moving way too fast to think about getting a picture, but they sure were cool.
All in all it was one of the best disappointing photography days I have had birding. Despite being cut short and unprepared for the best photo ops the day was fantastic and the views were spectacular. The good news is that there are still lots of opportunities to get back up there, so I will hope for shots better than the one below soon.
The second training session will hopefully work better for my schedule, and in the meantime I know I will try to get back for some drop in time with the others.

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