Monday, October 3, 2011

Fall Colors and Unphotographed Birds

A fun weekend for me, and hopefully for readers as well. Mine was not all that intensive a birding weekend - as is often the case for me I had too many other activities and obligations, but that didn't mean my eyes weren't on the beautiful clear skies.

First, while waiting for a bus to take me to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival I had a memorable bird pass overhead... Before I get to the bird though I will plug Beerfest, as it is commonly known. If you are a fan of beer, people, or both I definitely recommend adding this event to the bucket list. The world's largest commercial beer convention has been going, and growing for thirty years - this year it featured 3,930 different beers competing for medals in various categories. Just remember to be safe and plan your transportation ahead of time! ...Getting back to the bird though, as I was waiting for my bus I was watching the clear blue sky for any chance migrants passing through. We Coloradans along the Front Range have been spoiled with weeks of practically unbroken beautiful weather, and I found myself scanning the endless blue hoping to catch a flock of Sandhill Cranes in their high altitude flights. Having a half-hour to wait, I was disappointed that I was seeing nothing. I was growing frustrated, all those days stuck in an office spent wishing I just had more time to watch the skies; then there I was with literally nothing to do but watch the skies, and no birds to spot. I kicked a rock, I took a deep breath, I rechecked the bus schedule, I focused on a different patch of sky. Then, out of the north I spotted something white headed straight towards me.... As it grew closer I forced myself to memorize the markings I could see, white head and body, dark primary tips, faint patagial bars, no dark "v" formed by the legs, slight dark markings on the trailing edge of the wing....bird overhead, flying straight as an arrow due south. I spun as I watched it recede, then another red-tail momentarily circled past it and called. It never turned, and I don't believe it responded, it just continued on ever southward. I just stood silently, it was as if the bird had set its course just to show off for a bored birder doing some 'bare naked birding' (birding without binoculars, scope, or camera) while waiting for a bus. I was cautiously optimistic that I knew what I had seen, but waited for the bus to arrive before I started checking web pictures on my phone for confirmation. I am now confident that my bird was a Krider's Red-tail Hawk. What a payoff for a few minutes of impatience! These are Red-tails of the plains, they may pass through during migration, or in the case of a few will settle in to over-winter here. I followed up on this sighting by consulting my trusty copy of Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors in Flight written by Jerry Liguri and Bryan Sullivan (highly recommended book); later I came across this great article by the same guys specific to the Krider's Hawks.

Following a fun evening in Denver, Saturday morning got off to a late start (by birding standards) heading out at 7:30 to pick up my truck, stop by the store, and arrive in Boulder around 9:30 for tailgating prior to the University of Colorado football game. As we boiled our brats and set things up while waiting for the crowds to arrive I looked up to see a kettle of Turkey Vultures passing low over the stadium and our heads before catching the same thermals that are so popular with glider pilots over Boulder. I commented that it was probably not the best omen for the game, and much to our dismay the game exceeded our worst fears. The Buffs came close, but managed to allow two unanswered touchdowns in the last 5 minutes, erasing a 10 point lead and devastating thousands who were hoping for a win before an upcoming stretch of 5 brutal games.

Muttering, I headed off for some quality nature time at the Walden Ponds complex in north Boulder at dusk - finding a bit of tranquility, but not much in the way of photographic opportunity.

I believe this weekend reveals a bit of the 'hook' of birding for me. There are plenty of times when dedicated birding at a prime location will, for whatever reason, completely fail to deliver. Then, while out in the routines of life, nature will come along with something remarkable, as if to test our perception - to see if we are paying attention! Are you up to the test?

The photos here are both from a beautiful drive I took last Tuesday evening. I drove up to Golden Gate Canyon State Park, and after limited success birding the Red Barn Picnic area and near the Visitor Center I found a great route, Mountain Base Road to Gap Road stopping at several spots along the way including Panorama Point, before heading back down and joining hwy 72, (Coal Creek Canyon Rd.).

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