Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sometimes, You Just Get Lucky

I knew that the Christmas Bird Count in Boulder would be good, they always seem to be. This year was no exception, but there was one highlight that I didn't even consider prior to the count.
Note the size of the bird in the picture below, it is roughly twice the size of a Ponderosa Pine cone.

We never would have seen it, if I hadn't followed a likely Townsend's Solitaire toward the top of the same tree. We moved around for a closer view, and I was quickly tipped by the count leader to a trait that made it definitely not a Solitaire - it has a relatively fat head! The count leader, being far more experienced than I, already had a good idea what it may be, and was trying to disqualify it. I picked up on the spotting, before I moved around to the side for a better view. It was from there, and approaching behind a tree, that I got all of these shots.

The bird, was an unexpected site, a Northern Pygmy Owl! These tiny owls are incredibly difficult to spot. This one was silent, but apparently they can be heard fairly readily, but usually hang out deep inside evergreens, not on low hanging bare limbs.

This one was content to sit for some time, giving us good views as it rotated through multiple angles. It was unfazed as we stood and exclaimed our good fortune to one another.

I can't express just how tiny this owl is when seen in the wild. It seemed almost like an over-sized, puffy junco. The last treat that this great bird had in store was when it took off to pursue a junco as it flew by. They really appeared to be close to the same size, before they were gone in an instant, lost amongst the trees.

I am sure that in time I will lose the memories of some the species that I saw today, some of the lessons I learned about identifying bird calls will have to be revisited, but once again a Christmas Bird Count has given me at least one memory that I know will take years to erase at the earliest. Betasso Preserve, this fun little slice of nature just outside Boulder, seems to have that characteristic for me. My first visit was my first CBC, my first sighting of Pygmy Nuthatch parents returning to feed there young were here, my unforgettable first wild American Black Bear sighting, a handful of species added to my life list, and now most recently a new and most unexpected Owl. I look forward to many more visits and surprises.

1 comment: