Friday, May 28, 2010

Singletree Trail - Superior - Boulder County

Perhaps a couple of the readers who drop by this blog may recall that on a wintry day last December I 'discovered' a new stretch of trail just south of Coal Creek, near Superior, Colorado. The trail appealed to me largely because of a close proximity Coyote sighting, but had a low brush patch that promised even better rewards when the migrants returned. Well, for the past three days I have kept returning to see what goodies I could find. Wednesday started off well, with Blue Grosbeaks popping up to fence posts before I had even reached the brush a few yards down the trail. Unfortunately, I learned that even with a dSLR, it is possible to shoot an entire session without having a memory card present. That is what happens when great birds start showing up before you are ready to shoot...and don't slow down to let you check your settings until your half hour is up and you are leaving. "DOH!"

Needless to say, I was back Thursday afternoon and this morning to make amends. If Wednesday was the day of the Blue Grosbeak, and yesterday featured Western Kingbirds, then this morning was all about the Yellow-breasted Chats. Not that they were the only birds around, but this was the first time I had a chance to see and hear them vocalising, and putting on flight displays.

I checked back to see my previous shots of Blue Grosbeaks, and see that I am ahead of last year, when I saw them on June 1st. I am sorry that the shot above, from this morning, is so distant. I am sure the shots I took Wednesday that didn't end up on a card were spectacular! Even so, I think that the shot below, from yesterday, shows an even younger, or just more brown juvenile Blue Grosbeak than the one I posted last summer. I am not sure if they gain blue over time or if all juv. Blue Grosbeaks just show different amounts of blue until they reach adulthood.

There was another bird that I had been kicking myself about since Wednesday. It was small, yellow, and secretive - and I thought that I may have gotten just enough of it in frame to be sure of an identity. Thursday it did not appear, but this morning my persistence paid off.

A female Yellow Warbler.

She is not as bright as her male counterpart, and from what I can tell less likely to perch outside of the thickest of vegetation. However, these dried nettle heads were worth emerging for.

I wasn't certain if she was pulling plant material for nest building, or using a spider's snare as an opportunity for an easy snack. Either way I am glad she decided to stay out in the open for a bit.
Have a safe and birdy holiday weekend. If you are in the United States, or even if you are not, take a moment as the summer activities kick off to remember all of those people who have given their lives to establish and protect our society and freedoms. If it weren't for them luxuries like birding and photography wouldn't be possible. Then find a kid, tell them, and then take them out to find some cool birds!
2010 Count: 175
Lifetime: 229

The Return of the King...

The Western Kingbird of course.

Yesterday morning I got a bit of an early start, just enough time to stop off at Stearn's Lake on my way to work. The one above was actually seen in the afternoon at lunch, but they were certainly back, and engaged in all kinds of territorial and pre-nesting activities.

The award for the most photogenic birds of the morning has to go to the Vesper Sparrows I saw as I left the lake area and headed to work. They put my shots of the morning Kingbirds to shame.

Birds like these are the reason I always leave any morning birding stops with a large cushion of time before I have to be to work. You never know when you will have to stop and shoot a hundred frames or so.

A Vesper Sparrow has plenty to sing about on a late spring morning. I was glad to hear their song, a good way to start the day.

I wonder if the cow hair left on the barbs from a good scratching is alluring to a female Vesper Sparrow? This bird sure was advertising it to the world.
A few leftovers from the CFO convention trips before I begin to try to catch up this current week. It is so good to have too many birds to share!

While up in the high country meadows on our Red Feather Lakes trip, we were unsuccessful in our attempts to track down a Williamson's Sapsucker, we had a very cooperative Lincoln's Sparrow. It was perched in front of a willow thicket, and sat as an entire birding crew got long looks at it. I tried to move around it to get a bit better angle in the mid-day glare, and was somewhat successful.

The trip to Phantom Canyon was not one that was well suited to photography, but I did get a slightly closer shot of a Green-tailed Towhee to share. My previous post didn't have the same camo pattern of shadows going on, but what this one sacrifices in face detail it does regain by showing a bit more of the tail color.

Finally, there was that last life bird that I added on the impromptu stop returning from Wyoming. Just as we were reaching our turnaround point our trip leader heard a bird calling from the bushes, and I was fortunate to get this shot of a female American Redstart.

Once again I would like to express my gratitude to the CFO board for coordinating the event, the trip leaders who got us out to the primo sites, and to all my fellow birders on the trips who shared their experience and enthusiasm to make sure that everyone was getting on the good birds. I arrived as a mostly anonymous individual, and am sure that next year if I am able to attend I will be seeing more familiar faces, and generally more familiar with the whole event.

I find that in life there are certain situations that you only get to experience as 'firsts' once. This was one of those events. I know that any future bird trips or conventions I attend will be different, because I will have this one to compare them to. My slate is no longer blank, but I couldn't have picked a better event to fill it on. Watch out birding world and CFO, my bar has been set high!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Birds of Wyoming's Hutton Lakes NWR

I had three great field trips while birding at the Colorado Field Ornithologists convention last weekend. All three had different feels to them and exposed me to three different habitat types on the trip. The first was the Red Feather Lakes trip, which ended up being a good tour of the foothills habitat, roughly covering the forest range from plains up to treeline. The second trip was to the Phantom Canyon TNC property, which was beautiful, but didn't lend itself well to photography. My final trip was actually designed to be a photographer's trip. Just over a dozen of us loaded up our dSLRs and Digi-scoping rigs, and headed north for Wyoming to see what the gale forced winds would blow in. We weren't disappointed, I shot these Wilson's Phalarope, firsts for 2010, from my vehicle before even reaching the NWR.

A trip of birding photographers is the best, everyone understands that shooting through the car and past a passenger's head is perfectly acceptable when the bird is on the other side of the road. The favor was returned back and forth multiple times. My next life bird, also seen before we had reached the NWR proper, was a McCown's Longspur, this time posing on my side of the vehicle.

Our first stop inside the refuge was behind the brush where we had all staked out the Marsh Wrens. As we enjoyed our sheltered spot we were also treated to occasional flyovers, such as this Forster's Tern.

We weren't the only ones seeking shelter. As we drove between two lakes we had a nice look at a Willet, which had abandoned the water for the relative calm of some scrub brush.

We also saw it's evil twin, the less well known 'horned willet'. Right, same bird, but the wind did lend itself to lame jokes.

The birds were all doing their best to cope with the strong winds, but some species are just designed to thrive in such conditions. The Northern Harrier, a species that normally glides effortlessly over fields and marshlands anyway, was able to fully extend and use every gust to scrutinize the flooded cattail beds.

We humans, on the other hand, were not so well adapted. We gathered our tied down hats and wind battered senses, and headed south for the border and calmer air to enjoy our lunch. One more impromptu stop awaited, and one more life bird for myself, but that will show up in a final post.
Photography, like birding, is one of those hobbies that lends itself to the quiet contemplation of nature. I find that through scheduling and the opportunistic style of most of my birding that I am generally alone when I pursue both activities. So, it is refreshing to get out with a bunch of folks who enjoy combining the two as much as I do. As great as group birding is, it can often be detrimental to those of us who are always looking for the next good shot. Birding courtesy dictates that a photographer allow the group to get good bins on the bird before pointing a long lens at the target and firing away. It was rewarding to be with others who were also seeking the shot as a goal. If you know other bird photographers in your area you may want to set up a designated bird/photo trip of your own. I am not going to say that this one took me from being an average photographer to an expert, but I definitely came away with some new insights and techniques to try.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mountain Forest Birds

Ruby-crowned Kinglet. This bird was an exciting highlight of our trip to the Red Feather Lakes district. This little fellow was showing off big time for his lucky lady. He showed her that he could out sing, and display, an entire group of humans.

I was a bit disappointed that my sharpest shots didn't coincide with his best perches, but even so he made for a great subject.
As we worked our way along the road, giving the kinglet his well earned space after the show we reached one of our targets, the American Three-toed Woodpecker.

The American Three-toeds have a snazzy yellow crest, but the identifying field mark to look for is the barring on their sides. That distinguishes them nicely from some of the other woodpeckers in the area with similar black and white coloring.

I was able to get this horrible photograph of a male Pine Grosbeak perching high in a barren tree-top. He looked great, and I will enjoy future attempts to get better shots of these colorful males.

Another good mountain species that I added on the day trip was the Cassin's Finch. The female below was enjoying one of the feeders at the Moose Visitor Center at State Forest State Park.

Finally, an early morning singing Red Crossbill greeted the group of photographer birders who were headed to Wyoming on Sunday morning. Featured in the keynote address, these Crossbills were confirmed as Type 2 by our leader, based on the Ponderosa habitat we were in.

Mountain habitat birds help to contribute to the great diversity of species that we have here in Colorado. I really enjoyed getting to know some of those that I saw last weekend, and hope that I will retain some of this for my own trips up in the future.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

We had the good fortune to come across a flock of eleven Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep while on a field trip that expanded out from the Red-feather Lakes area of Larimer County. The Bighorns are a fun species in Colorado, they are so symbolic of the mountains, and just numerous enough that they are seen, but rarely enough to make it notable when they show up.

Usually when I see these critters they are congregated very close to the busy traffic on Interstate I70 heading up to ski country. It is rare that I have been on a quiet mountain road and had a chance to take some pictures. I hope the opportunity repeats itself.


Many of the CFO field trips I participated in were accompanied by the sound of the now returned House Wrens. They were busy establishing territories and and advertising the locations they had scouted out for comfortable nesting. Finding a nest box like the one above was reason to sing loudly...

Watching the plentiful House Wrens was a pleasure, but a greater treat was in store for the group of us that braved the Wyoming winds on Sunday to visit the Hutton Lakes NWR, just outside Laramie. As we hunkered down behind a clump of sage at one of the lakes we were rewarded with the sounds and fleeting glimpses of Marsh Wrens who remained mostly hidden in the brown cattail flats.

Eventually, after a few failed attempts I finally got my glass on this one.

I noted the darker crown, back and eye-line, not to mention the more elusive habits and distinctive song. Just one of the many great new birds I had a chance to observe over the weekend.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I've got "Cooties"!

Uh, I mean I've got Cootlings......or if you want to be all technically correct about it - American Coot Hatchlings.

I was shocked at lunch today when I stopped by the Greenlee Preserve, and saw tiny bits of orange moving around with a pair of Coots on the edge of a large cattail bank.

After shooting several hundred distant pictures I checked the Birds of North America Online article on Coots to find out about these little orange puff-balls. Apparently the color patterns of the bald head identify the chicks to their parents and trigger a feeding response from the adult birds. Whatever the reason for it, seeing these bright youngsters out for a swim, (which they are capable of doing 6 hours after hatching), was a pleasantly shocking surprise.

There were other birds around, like this Western Wood-Pewee, but I'm not going to pretend that there were any other stars of today's lunchtime than the young American Coot chicks.

I love that when birding you may always be surprised. Here I was, out hoping to find one of the species that I had gotten to know this weekend, and blamo, I find out that American Coot chicks are brilliantly orange. Had anyone asked me what a Coot chick looked like 10 hours ago I would have never in a million years guessed the truth. I guess that is what keeps so many of us coming back for more, over and over again.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Trip Recap

What a weekend!

This post is just a quick catch-up, I have a bunch of pictures to continue to process, but I wanted to get a quick post up; then I can try to put some posts together that will help me share, and remember some of my lessons learned from the trip. I hope that a bit of time spent planning the posts will be worthwhile, rather than just throwing together picture posts which would be about all I could manage at the moment.

First off, I encourage anyone, who like myself considers them self to be on the beginning side of birding rather than the 'advanced', to seek out an opportunity to bird with a diverse group of birders in your area.
I had a blast, met many great people, and as I expected saw some great birds. I think that in many ways this past weekend removed my last vestiges of being an outsider to the birding community. I'll have more thoughts on that in some future post, along with some of my impressions that I took away with me. For now though, a quick recap of my birding numbers. I am including my own numbers from Thursday evening, because for me they were all a part of the trip.

During the 4 days I went on 4 trips, submitted 7 checklists, that covered 2 states, 3 counties, and a range of elevation from 5003 to 10,276ft. I saw 113 species, which included 11 that I was able to add to my lifetime list. Perhaps most significantly though, I woke before 6am on 6 out of the past 8 mornings. That last one is just scary!

New species I added:

Least Flycatcher
MacGillivray's Warbler
American Three-toed Woodpecker
Cassin's Finch
Cordilleran Flycatcher
Pine Grosbeak
Virginia Rail
McCown's Longspur
Marsh Wren
American Redstart

Some of those have post-able pictures to go along with them, and other well-known species were just too photogenic to pass up, (like the Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler above), so check back over the next few days to see what may be turning up. I knew coming in that I would be seeing new species, but had no idea just how many I would be adding. The whole experience was one that exceeded my expectations, and one that I hope to participate in again soon.

2010 Count: 173
Lifetime: 229

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I got away a bit early this afternoon and took the opportunity to do a bit of solo birding at the Running Deer Nature Area in Ft. Collins. If the pre-birding was any indication it is going to be a good weekend. I had 33 species on a casual walk, including this displaying Black-crowned Night Heron. One of which was a Least Flycatcher (I had a Western Wood Pewee for comparison), giving me a new life species before the convention birding has begun.
2010 Count: 148
Lifetime: 219

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Estes Park / RMNP Trip Wrap-up

I hope that readers have enjoyed my thoughts and pictures following my trip up to the mountains around Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park. It is a beautiful country, and an area that has the ability to surprise on your first visit or 800th. The shot above was taken looking from Upper Beaver Meadows towards Long's Peak in the distance. The natural side of this trip was enough to make great memories, but it was even more enjoyable for me having all of my immediate family in Colorado together for the first time in years.

There are a few species that could vie for poster bird of the park. Everyone sees them when they visit, and because they are so common they fail to get quite the attention of their less likely cohabitants. So I start this wrap up with a couple of shots of Steller's Jays.

They, along with Black-billed Magpies, are everywhere in the park, and very likely to approach humans in search of a picnic dropping or free handout. I resisted shooting hundreds of pictures of Magpies on this trip, but the Steller's Jays still win me over.
Another of the reliable mountain species is the Red Crossbill.

I watched this pair as my nephew and I searched for perfect pine cones just before I left. The male, (above) has the namesake red coloring, the female, (below), is more of a greenish yellow.

Fun to get to see them up close rather than peering up at the top of a pine tree.
So for the trip I totalled 48 species, including 4 that I added to my life list. Those were; White-faced Ibis, Green-tailed Towhee, Red-naped Sapsucker and Dusky Grouse.
Tomorrow evening I am off for Ft. Collins and the Colorado Field Ornithologists Convention. This morning I received confirmation that I got my first choices for field trips on the first two days. Friday I will be going to Red-feather Lakes, and Saturday there is a trip to Phantom Canyon, a private holding that is normally restricted from public access. It will be my first convention, and really my first birding destination event of any kind. I am sure that I will be wow'd by all of the talent and experience of my fellow attendees, and hopefully I will pick up a few tricks along the way. Since tonight will be spent in a frantic effort to finish turning my laundry and getting repacked to leave directly from work tomorrow evening the next update will either be from the hotel or the first in a series of post convention posts. Should be fun!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Moraine Park - RMNP Ranger Led Birdwalk

On Friday May 14th I headed into the park early to join a ranger led birdwalk. I started early, and had a chance to get the snowy morning pics before the others arrived. The walk itself was one on which I hoped to add a couple of alpine species that I had not seen previously. In one spectacular instance I fulfilled that goal. The Red-naped Sapsucker. I actually spotted this bird, was correct on the ID, (I had done a bit of checking on some targets), and was able to get the rest of the group on this bird as well. Getting a life bird for myself was one thing, but sharing it with the rest was even better.
This shot illustrates the namesake red nape:

Sapsuckers are woodpeckers, but they drill a series of holes into a tree to get the sap flowing, then they use the sap like flypaper to catch insects. They make their rounds of their territorial wells, and gather the insects that are stuck there until they arrive. Those wells, I also learned, provide an alternate food source for Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. They must be useful during snowy snaps like this one.

We developed a good list of species as we walked, most of which were fairly common for me. I did have a nice flyover from a Clark's Nutcracker, but was unable to get any pictures of it as it flew past multiple treetops before heading off into the rising sun. I did note that it has a "flickery" shape in flight, but with a predominantly white underside of it's tail and wings.
Driving back from the Cub Lake trailhead I stopped to get a few shots of Mountain Bluebirds as they perched along the road in the sunlight. I pointed them out to some of my fellow birders, an karma came back my way as I caught up to our leader as he had stopped further along.

I pointed them out to some of my fellow birders, and karma came back my way as I caught up to our leader further along the road. As I took a few frames I thought I was looking exclusively at more male and female Mountain Bluebirds, so I was pleasantly surprised to find American Pipits mixed in as well as I looked through my pictures more closely.

I didn't stop for long, as I was racing down the 'hill' to meet my brother-in-law and his students for a hike outside Ft. Collins. We hiked the Greyrock Trail, and after my spectacular morning birding it seemed fairly quiet, but one last surprise was in store as I descended the trail with one of the students. A large grouse was just off the trail below one of the many switchbacks, and gave us good looks before flying up to a nearby tree. At that point I pulled the camera back out of my bag, and got a few shots from a less than ideal angle. It was enough for confirmation of a Dusky (formerly 'Blue') Grouse.

Ranger led birdwalks occur every Friday and Saturday morning at 8:00am at the Cub Lake Trailhead. I checked at the Visitor Center the day before and confirmed that no reservations are required, and oh yeah, they're free. If you are in the area and interested I would check the park's website to make sure that they are being held at that time of year.
After discovering the Pipits amongst my pics my counts are now:
2010 Count: 144
Lifetime: 218