Monday, June 28, 2010

Imagination Post!

I had a fantastic weekend camping. The air was cool, the creek next to the campsite babbled pleasantly, food cooked over an open fire tasted better - as it always does. In general it was a great visit into the wild.

Unfortunately the trip didn't coincide with great photographic output. So the reader will be left to imagine a narrow valley of Douglas Fir, surrounding and shading the origins of the Platte River. Marshy Meadows choked with Willow scrub teased the potential for Moose, but didn't reveal any to these eyes. Last year's prickly Porcupine visitor to our camp didn't return, much to the relief of Blizzard the Golden Retriever's human companions. Those dogs are amazing in the water though. A fast moving mountain stream doesn't even faze a Golden as it chases a treasured muddy tennis ball. Watching them wade through white water, tail wagging, where biped humans would be struggling to stand is quite a sight. Knowing that the wet, muddy dog will not be sleeping in your tent is priceless!

So, photographically what happened? To start, that stretch of woods is a bit tight for shooting with my telephoto, or even birding in general. Birds hide in the treetops, only offering brief glimpses before they vanish behind the trunks. Early morning and evening sunlight is blocked by the slopes, leaving bright skies and dark foregrounds at peak birding hours. Columbines were blooming along the road in a few places, and they were great, but those stretches of road weren't ones where a camera could safely be left on the passenger seat to get a shot. Sadly, my point and shoot Nikon met an untimely end a few weeks ago, and the replacement, a waterproof & shockproof Panasonic didn't arrive in time to make the trip with a charge. Once I have that tool back in my bag I will be more able to relay the experience visually.

Finally, the 4runner passed it's most recent challenge with flying colors...opening even more possibilities for accessing the high country in search of the those Rosies and other high alpine breeders.

Birding highlight, Dusky Grouse hopping from the middle of the road to eye-level in the brush beside me. I did reach for the camera on that one, but go figure, the Grouse was not content to sit beside a vehicle with a dog head sticking out the back window.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Checkin' In

Howdy any and all! I have been silent on the blog for the past couple of weeks, and will probably remain so for the next little bit. After an intense and interesting late spring birding season I set the camera down and have been focusing on some varied interests.
The downtime coincides with mid-summer, the season when birds are wrapping up breeding, hiding in dense foliage, and generally less active than at other times of year. I am off for my first mountain camping trip of the season this weekend, and of course will be bringing the bins and SLR along for the adventures.
Thanks for checking by, and please continue to do so, I will have more to share soon.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Emerald Lake - RMNP

Last Sunday I got a chance to hike to Emerald Lake with 5 friends. It wasn't much of a birding hike, but our stop at Emerald, just over 10,000 feet, produced some good looks at a few of the higher elevation critters. The lake is edged on the far side by some dramatic faces rising above to the Continental Divide, and makes it one of the more heavily visited places in the park. Of course that also leaves the lake wide open to winds, rolling down from the ridge several thousand feet above. The Clark's Nutcracker (above) seemed used to having its feathers ruffled.

The residents, both Clark's Nutcrackers and Steller's Jays seemed to have gotten used to relieving hikers of their snacks and lunches - and were bold enough to watch from a few feet as we sat and enjoyed the view.

I was happy to get the close range shots, and to have a chance to see that white tail that flashes when the Clark's Nutcrackers fly above. Their all gray heads help to distinguish them from the somewhat similar Gray Jay.

The brazen attitude of the pair of Nutcrackers and lone Steller's Jay was matched by the mammals in the area, chipmunks were everywhere, and this Yellow-bellied Marmot may have been considering whether it had a chance to wrestle my pack from me.

If you are a visitor to Rocky Mountain National Park and have a limited amount of time for your visit this is a hike I highly recommend. Starting from the Bear Lake trailhead it is rated as easy and passes Nymph and Dream Lakes before ending at Emerald Lake. The total out and back round trip for those three is 3.8 miles, and Bear Lake can easily be added at the beginning or end to bring the total closer to 4.5 miles. If you do visit and want to give this one a try be sure to get there early or go on a weekday - visitors in the summer will fill the parking lot, and crowd the trail. We were on the trail around 9:00 and already had plenty of company. Descending, we were passing groups of around thirty people, and trust me, there isn't enough space at the top for a group that big to even enjoy the scenery. As of last weekend the trail between Dream and Emerald lakes was still mostly covered by snowfields, and postholing became an issue as the temps rose. That should become less of an issue, but if you are going in the late spring be aware that snow can push the rating from easy to a mild moderate.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Friday June Fourth Recap - Nesting

The last treat that I had before leaving the picnic area on the south-east shore of Jumbo Reservoir began when I caught a glimpse of bright yellow flying into a tree just beside me. It took me a moment, but I saw that the bird, a female Yellow Warbler, had flown through the foliage and landed on the trunk just ahead of me.

She then hopped up to the tiniest beginnings of a nest I had seen, just a few feet from my face. She made a couple of deft adjustments, and was off before I could even raise my camera to point in the general direction. Not wanting to disturb the scene, and hoping it would repeat itself, I retreated a few feet, and waited a few moments before the builder returned.

I found that by lying down on my back I could get an unobstructed shot up to the nest, and enjoyed watching several return trips to the nest site. While my presence didn't go unnoticed I also don't believe it caused any change to the activity of the Warbler. Because the nest was so low and exposed I only hope that other observers with more malicious intent don't find the same vantage I had. Hungry critters may take a more active role in any future activities at the site.

Regardless of whether this site is an actual nest attempt or a false start it worked well for my purposes. I felt fortunate to have such a prolonged and interesting opportunity to watch this Yellow Warbler going about her activities.

Friday June Fourth Recap - Common Loons

Even if you aren't much of a birder you may be thinking, "Those aren't Loons, they're Pelicans!", and of course you would be correct. Click on the picture to see the larger view. Their formation gives the impression that they were flying in a loop. Even as we rightly consider ecological disaster and gloom, we must remember that elsewhere life endures, and birds have the freedom of flight. It is good to observe nature and savor the simplicity and peace we find when we are out in it.

A bird that I have been watching for since I began birding is the Common Loon. Having grown up in Minnesota, the haunting cries and maniacal laughter of these diving birds were a part of the environment on many a canoe trip. Finally getting to see them here, where they are occasional but consistent visitors was very welcome.

Getting to see them near the shore as I drove along the berm-top road was even more so. Attempting to age these birds is a bit beyond my skill, they may be first summer birds, or adults that have just not molted back to their alternate (breeding) plumage. The birds I remember from the summers of my childhood were all in that traditional breeding plumage, so I am not too sure if adults would retain their basic look this late or not.

I am also unsure if these are a pair of late migrants that will continue further north, or if they will stick around out on the plains for the season. Perhaps I will make a return visit in a few months to see if they are still around. Either way, I hope that I won't have to wait another couple of years before seeing Common Loons once again.

2010 Count: 180
Lifetime: 232

Friday June Fourth Recap - Orioles

As I headed east on Friday I was looking to pick up a couple of eastern birds that I have seen regularly on trips to the Midwest and beyond, but not yet in Colorado. Specifically I was hoping to pick up the Northern Cardinal and Red-belied Woodpecker for my Colorado list. I didn't get either of those two, but did pick up two eastern species of Oriole on the trip, both of which were life birds for me since starting to keep a list. As dawn broke over Sedgwick Bar I was getting frustrated as I heard, but couldn't see, Wild Turkeys and Ring-necked Pheasants in the hedgerows around me. Then I caught a glimpse of color in the treetops beyond me - a Baltimore Oriole with color to rival the sky.

Check the bright orange color on the underside of the tail. That is a tell-tale indicator for the Baltimore Oriole. I had to double check that one, because later in the morning when I stopped at the picnic grounds at Jumbo Reservoir I had the pleasure of seeing a large group of Orchard Orioles widely scattered with the Western Kingbirds throughout the trees.

Both species have dark heads, with the most prominent difference being the more red-orange color of the Orchard Oriole. However, since I had seen the brilliant orange of the Baltimore at sunrise, and was watching the darker orange Orchards in the broken shade of the grove of trees I wanted some other field mark to make sure I had both species and wasn't just trying to make one species into two. The clincher was the underside of the tail. On the Baltimore, the already mentioned orange is visible, but the Orchard Oriole's tail is all black. That makes the tail a good reference point when lighting and time of day make comparing the two species by color more difficult. Another difference between the two is size, with the Orchard averaging smaller than the Baltimore Oriole. I did get a feel for the smaller size of the Orchard Oriole while I was in the field, and before I had consulted the guide back at my truck. I even had one pose close to a Western Kingbird for a comparison shot.

As I was leaving I got an unexpected look at a juvenile Orchard Oriole. I was surprised that the yellow bird with a black throat would turn into a chestnut bird with a black head, but then if a bright orange fuzzball can turn into a sleek black American Coot I guess nothing is really that surprising.

The Orioles alone would have made my stop at the picnic area memorable, but I had one more treat in store before I left that little grove...

Friday June Fourth Recap

Sorry to all for the long delay without posting. My birding activity last weekend was concentrated, productive, and left me with a mountain of unprocessed images to try to weed through and narrow down to a postable amount. This post contains some images of old favorites and a recap of my route and destinations. Upcoming posts will focus dial in on some particular species. Having spent the previous week oncall I was ready for some time away from town, and decided to make Friday a day trip out to the extreme northeastern corner of Colorado. I loaded up the truck and left town somewhere in the very late night / very early morning hours. After a couple of hours I found myself arriving at the Sedgwick Bar State Game Preserve just in time for sunrise. It was a beautiful morning, and being between most of the major hunting seasons I had the place to myself. I didn't linger too long though, after a short walk I was off to another Sedgwick County hotspot, the small town of Ovid, and a wooded stretch of creek that runs through town and offers shelter to some eastern visitors.

Ovid Woods, (as they are known), didn't offer up any eastern visitors during my time there, but I did enjoy watching seven Turkey Vultures waking up from their sheltered roost and a good number of other birds. The Hairy Woodpecker was visible at an angle just off to my side through the sun roof. I don't think that anyone will find themselves in Ovid and just happen to need to track down a birding spot, but it is worth a check if you are checking some of the more well known hotspots in the area. I really like that the quiet street runs just along the riparian corridor, and allows for observations from a vehicle without alarming the birds who shelter there.

If you are heading to the area of Colorado north of the South Platte River and just south of the Nebraska panhandle, and you are a birder, odds are that your destination is, or was considered as Jumbo (Julesburg) Reservoir. Jumbo was my next stop, and primary destination for the trip. The Reservoir straddles the county line between Sedgwick and Logan counties, and has year round appeal catching migrating waterfowl in the winter, land migrants in the spring and fall, and apparently drains down to attract shorebirds in the late summer. The county road leading into the reservoir offers an opportunity to crawl along and get shots of some of the area residents, like the Red-tailed Hawk above.

My first visit didn't disappoint, although the migration madness seems to be dropping off a bit. I approached from the southeast, and started at a maintained picnic area where there were a good number of trees. The groves must be welcome in so much open land and had attracted the largest concentration of Western Kingbirds that I had seen in one area. The water was calm, and aside from a pair of fishing boats there were large fish occasionally making spectacular leaps out of the emerging vegetation near the shore. I regretted that I hadn't brought along a rod, thinking that the setting was perfect for the first few casts of a lazy summer season, but soon enough I was distracted by a Warbling Vireo moving along the shoreline.

The stop was great, but some of my great views and sightings were from the road that rings the res. The Barn Swallow (two above), and many of its kind had settled down in a drainage culvert and were enjoying the early morning sun as much as I was. As I completed my loop later in the morning I had one last highlight. The Burrowing Owl below had just settled onto some prey as I approached the Prairie Dog Town it was hunting in. I pulled to a stop and got some shots before it decided to vacate the area for a more secure snacking location. The light had gotten a bit harsh by that point, but it was a marked improvement on my previous attempt to post images of this enjoyable species.

A really rewarding trip, and one that will lead to a few more posts soon. If you are in the Denver area and haven't decided to make the drive I strongly recommend it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A welcome birdless weekend

After several back to back weekends of dedicated birding, and with a pager attaching its short leash to me I settled in for a long weekend of little to no birding or photography. So, hopefully the birding will pick back up through the week, and some planned hikes on the coming weekend will lead to some more pics to share.