Journal - June, 2005
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This log is in chronological order and the most recent entries
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The last update was on Monday, June 27, 2005
Wednesday, June 1, 2005
Road Trip Day 2 (New Mexico - Texas - Oklahoma)
Another driving day and a day of chores. The good news is that I moved on from Santa Rosa, NM to Ponca City, OK and now I'm ready to start some real birding tomorrow. The early morning drive from Santa Rosa to Amarillo, TX was quite foggy but otherwise uneventful. I took the time to get a couple of new tires in Amarillo, something I couldn't find the time to do in Sierra Vista before leaving! I also picked up a few more trip supplies (including bug stuff!).
From Amarillo I traveled in a generally northeasterly direction on highways 60 and 64 (get out your map and follow along now). It was interesting to see the change of habitat from the mainly agricultural land in the Texas Panhandle to the more vegetated terrain in Oklahoma with ponds and trees and eventually some nice hayfields, etc. Does Alfalfa County conjure up a picture? It was also interesting to see the subtle changes in the birds from western to eastern species, notably WESTERN and EASTERN MEADOWLARKS. I specifically listened to the Eastern Meadowlarks to compare with Lilian's in Arizona. To my ear the song of the Eastern is "thinner" and weaker than Lilian's. COMMON GRACKLE'S took over from GREAT-TAILED, although I saw them both together in some places. SWAINSON'S HAWKS petered out and I then noted plenty of RED-TAILED and a couple of RED-SHOULDERED HAWKS.
In the open terrain of Oklahoma you can see the small towns coming up well ahead, all seemingly looking alike with grain elevators and a bunch of trees. AMERICAN ROBINS were singing in an almost identical location in each town (gee, didn't I just go around this corner). I noted EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES in a couple of towns (Seiling and Nash). CHIMNEY SWIFTS were active in Pond Creek and Ponca City. GREAT EGRETS could be seen foraging as I passed over a couple of creeks/rivers.
The highlight of my day was seeing so many SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS that became more common the further east I traveled in Oklahoma. I started to count them but soon gave up on that futile exercise! The song of DICKCISSEL eventually got my attention in the hayfield areas (which, incidentally, looked great for Bobolink but according to the range maps they don't nest this far south).
Fun stuff (if you like this sort of thing) and a good way to learn about bird distribution. Not many species but an enjoyable day nonetheless. By the way, Ponca City is ~1040 miles from Sierra Vista via the route that I took. The late afternoon temperature was in the mid 80s.
Day List (32 species recorded): Trip list: 48
Great & Cattle Egrets, Turkey Vulture (scarce), Red-shouldered, Swainson's & Red-tailed Hawks, Killdeer, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove (very common), Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Canadian River, TX), Chimney Swift, Western Kingbird (super abundant), Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (common in OK), Cliff & Barn Swallows, N. Mockingbird, Am. Robin, Am. Crow, Chihuahuan Raven, European Starling, House Sparrow, House Finch, Am. Goldfinch, N. Cardinal, Dickcissel, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern & Western Meadowlarks, Common & Great-tailed Grackles and Brown-headed Cowbird.
Thursday, June 2, 2005
Road Trip Day 3 (Oklahoma - Kansas)
This morning I birded at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska then traveled north into Kansas ending up in Junction City, near Manhattan. The morning was excellent but the afternoon quickly went downhill with roadwork delays and detours. I hit the road well before dawn and encountered mostly foggy conditions along Hwy 60 from Ponca City to Pawhuska. I saw very little in the gloom save for a few SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS. I heard countless DICKCISSELS.
In Pawhuska, I turned off the highway onto Grandview Avenue that led me to County Road 4201 which eventually leads to the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. Although it was still gloomy, I heard and or saw a fair number of species just driving through the neighborhoods. Among the eastern species that I don't see very often were EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE, GREAT-CRESTED FLYCATCHER (perched on an antennae), BLUE JAY, PAINTED BUNTING (singing while perched on a wire) and BALTIMORE ORIOLE.
The tallgrass prairie habitat along CR 4201 is just as good as that in the in the preserve. The DICKCISSEL density along this section was simply hard to imagine (or describe). Later, when I had more time, I did a count in an area that I estimated was about half the density that I had first encountered and still came up with 50 birds in a one mile stretch -- almost 2 birds every 100 yards (1760/50/2 counting both sides of the road). Bear in mind, this is just what I could see or hear from the road. Imagine the birds present in the interior.
GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS were fairly common -- the individual in the photo was on the roadside margin. I started to listen carefully for my quarry and it wasn't easy with the din of all the Dickcissels. Just after I entered the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve (same habitat that I had been in for miles), I heard the distinctive se-lick song of HENSLOW'S SPARROW. I stopped the car and found the bird a little too far from the road for good images. Nevertheless, I took some shots! The bird was doing its morning ablutions and apparently having a bad hair day. Image #2 show it having recovered slightly and Image #3 shows barely a hint of a greenish nape. The bird sang loudly as it preened, all the while keeping an eye on me. After studying in advance, I had expected to see more yellow/buffy on the breast than this bird shows. Still, not having seen one before I have no idea how accurate the field guides are with this species, god knows they're wrong for many species that I do know.
While listening for the sparrow, I'd heard the call of NORTHERN BOBWHITE many times. However, the tall grass ensures that they are pretty well invisible. I heard yet another bird and decided to try a whistled imitation (this has to be just about the easiest species to imitate) and the bird stepped up on a rock.
Near the visitor center, I took the short (1 mile) "Study Trail" (there's
also a longer 3 mile trail). This was a mixture of woodland and grass with a
good selection of new species for the day including YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO,
CAROLINA WREN, CAROLINA CHICKADEE, EASTERN BLUEBIRD, RED-EYED VIREO, NORTHERN
PARULA, SUMMER TANAGER,
FIELD SPARROW and AMERICAN GOLDFINCH. I also heard another HENSLOW'S
SPARROW (only two all morning) and saw gobs more
took plenty of better photos earlier this morning but this was a better perch
(not on a wire).
I left the preserve via the west entrance road (habitat not as good as the south entrance road). Back on the county roads outside the preserve I encountered a roosting COMMON NIGHTHAWK, a bold as brass UPLAND SANDPIPER, EASTERN KINGBIRD, BROWN THRASHER, BELL'S VIREO and ORCHARD ORIOLE. Although SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS were common, I had to settle for a shot on a wire (boo-hoo).
Heading into Kansas, I could have chosen any number of routes. I decided on Hwy 77 to leave my options open for going east or west as I continue on into Nebraska. I couldn't have made a worse choice -- the highway has some major roadwork and at one point I had to take a detour that cost 40+ miles. A thunderstorm didn't help matters either. Eventually, I cleared the roadwork and stopped for gas in the small town of Herrington. There must be a gas station I said. I drove around and found one -- closed, looked abandoned. I drove around some more. Nothing. I found an old codger walking his dog (me in a few years, sans dog of course). He told me where to go. Just as I was pumping gas, lightning knocked out the credit card equipment. Total chaos. Two pumping sessions, cash to the rescue.
It's an adventure. On to North Dakota next with no schedule in mind, I'll stop wherever it seems birdy as I travel the remainder of Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.
Day List (47 species recorded): Trip List: 72
Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, N. Bobwhite, Killdeer, Upland Sandpiper, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Common Nighthawk, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Carolina Wren, N. Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Bluebird, Am. Robin, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue Jay, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Bell's & Red-eyed Vireos, Am. Goldfinch, N. Parula, Common Yellowthroat, Summer Tanager, Field, Henslow's & Grasshopper Sparrows, N. Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, Painted Bunting, Dickcissel, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle, Great-tailed Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird and Baltimore Oriole & Orchard Orioles.
Friday, June 3, 2005
Road Trip Day 4 (Kansas - South Dakota)
The day started out extremely wet as a thunderstorm and torrential rain hit the Junction, KS area. At this point, I didn't expect to be doing any birding at all today. I got underway at 6:30am (gave up trying to wait it out) and did a fair amount of traveling and sightseeing before eventually managing to do some birding.
I had to drive north for over 100 miles before escaping the rain in Beatrice, Nebraska. Skies here were cloudy and it was quite windy, but at least the rain finally quit. [I later learned that some areas of Kansas and Nebraska had incredible rainfall mounts today so perhaps I was lucky.] My time in Nebraska on previous visits has been limited to a few days in Lincoln and a couple of weeks in the Pine Ridge region in the west. It really wasn't a day for birding so I elected to work my way north on the back roads looking at life in some of the small towns.
As I approached South Dakota, I decided to visit the Lewis and Clark Recreational area on the Missouri (Yankton, SD is the nearest major city). However, I birded on the Nebraska side and managed to add three more species to my Nebraska list that now stands at 113. The weather here was quite pleasant despite high humidity (fortunately, the temperature wasn't high). Lots of BLACK TERNS worked the spillway and fast water below the Gavin Point Dam. I spent at least an hour trying to get a photograph without success. In fact, I think a focusing problem has developed with my camera or lens. Other birds here (most with an eastern flavor now) included BELTED KINGFISHER, YELLOW-SHAFTED FLICKER, EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE, EASTERN KINGBIRD (with fledged young), EASTERN TOWHEE and BALTIMORE & ORCHARD ORIOLES.
I continued on into South Dakota where I noticed a distinct thinning out of the common roadside species that I'd been seeing further south (robins, grackles, blackbirds, starlings and meadowlarks, etc.) All are still present, albeit in fewer numbers. Balancing that out, the roadside ponds now have waterfowl whereas further south I saw absolutely nothing on any roadside pond. I saw my first YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS of the trip in roadside marshy habitat. WESTERN MEADOWLARK is now the meadowlark du jour. I made an impromptu stop at Silver Lake, south of Salem (where I met a local birder who had just returned from Arizona!). Birds on the water included WHITE PELICANS and a few duck species.
DICKCISSELS show no sign of quitting. Just like the Greater Pewee back home, their song (which at first is endearing) quickly wears thin. They're like the Ever Ready bunny that just keeps on going -- although they have thinned out now that I've reached east central South Dakota (I'm in Brookings tonight). The rainy conditions are forecast to continue for a week so I'm going to play it by ear for a day or two then, if necessary, I may change my plans.
Day list (51 species recorded): Trip List: 94
Eared Grebe, Am. White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Black Tern, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, Chimney Swift, Belted Kingfisher, Northern (Yellow-shafted) Flicker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Kingbird, N. Rough-winged, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Cedar Waxwing, House Wren, Brown Thrasher, Am. Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, Blue Jay, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Warbling & Red-eyed Vireos, House Finch, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, Chipping, Grasshopper & Song Sparrows, N. Cardinal, Dickcissel, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird and Baltimore & Orchard Orioles.
Saturday, June 4, 2005
Road Trip Day 5 (South Dakota - North Dakota)
Today was rain free and early morning fog was the only weather issue. The fog was quite heavy all the way along I-29 from Brookings, SD almost to the ND line and I saw very few birds. Once in North Dakota the fog lifted and I was able to start birding. .I worked my way into the southeastern part of North Dakota (a part of the state that I haven't birded before). SE North Dakota was cloudy all day and somewhat muggy in the afternoon. I visited Tewaukon NWR then birded some of the county roads in Sargent County. After a mediocre lunch in Lisbon, I birded along the Sheyenne River (Valley Road) in Ransom County, finishing up at Fort Ransom State Park. My overnight stay was in Valley City. A brief report today.
I finally lost the good Dickcissel habitat and went all day without seeing one (I'll pick them up again later, I'm sure). BLUE-WINGED TEAL were very common and it seemed that each of the countless roadside ponds had at least one pair. SAVANNAH and CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS and YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS were also common. In terms of an uncommon nesting species for the location, perhaps the best bird was a SWAMP SPARROW just on the South Dakota side of the state line on CR 14 in Marshall County.
However, today's highlights for me were the eastern species that I only get to see once a year or so on road trips (such as the one that I'm on now). I particularly enjoyed the many BOBOLINKS (I couldn't get close enough for a detailed photo) and abundant SEDGE WRENS as well as OVENBIRD and BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER
Day List (68 species recorded): Trip List: 118
Western Grebe, Am. White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Egret, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, N. Shoveler, Redhead, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Ring-necked Pheasant, Killdeer, Ring-billed Gull, Black Tern, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, Chimney Swift, Belted Kingfisher, Hairy Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Willow, Least & Great Crested Flycatchers, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Tree, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Cedar Waxwing, House, Sedge &, Marsh Wrens, Gray Catbird, Am. Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Warbling & Red-eyed Vireos, House Finch, Am. Goldfinch, Yellow & Black-and-white Warblers, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping, Clay-colored, Field, Vesper, Savannah, Grasshopper, Song & Swamp Sparrows, Indigo Bunting, Bobolink, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Common Grackle and Brown-headed Cowbird.
Sunday, June 5, 2005
Road Trip Day 6 (North Dakota)
Apart from early morning drizzle that lasted a couple of hours and occasional sprinkles throughout the day, I managed to escape the rain again. It was another cloudy day that was a little chilly and windy in a couple of places. I started out along the Sheyenne River in Griggs County then spent the rest of my birding day at Arrowwood NWR in Stutsman County. Afterwards, I drove north (my favorite direction) to Devil's Lake for an overnight stay. It was much colder here than anywhere I've been on this trip so far. I don't think I'm in Arizona anymore Toto (and that's a significant part of the plan).
Black-billed Cuckoo continues to be a nemesis bird. Yesterday, I spent time on the Sheyenne River and did so again this morning in a different location -- Griggs County Road 23 east of Cooperstown. I thought this was a location were several birds had been heard yesterday -- I learned too late that I was on the wrong road! Among the 25 species that I noted in the drizzle were SORA, LEAST FLYCATCHER, VESPER and CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK and BOBOLINK In a nearby location (on an old road with a closed off bridge) I picked up a first-of-trip ALDER FLYCATCHER.
As I headed west from Cooperstown, I encountered a very confused looking VIRGINIA RAIL on the highway, sans tail. When I first saw it from a distance, I thought it might be a juvenile but the plumage doesn't support that. Further west in Glenfield, I had to leave an accipter species as unidentified (I hate when this happens). Singletons of WILLET and female WILSON'S PHALAROPE (on a roadside pond on highway 9 near Courtenay) were the first shorebirds of my trip.
It was quite cold and windy for a while at Arrowwood NWR and listening for sparrows was difficult to say the least. I heard then saw LE CONTE'S SPARROW but struck out on my target Nelson's Sharp-tailed, probably the first of many strike outs! SHARP-TAILED GROUSE in two different areas of the refuge represented the highlight of my day (I only have a couple of previous sightings in Nebraska and Idaho). A group of four SANDHILL CRANES surprised me a little (but I don't know their migration dates here, perhaps they are not late). There was also a large flock of migrant WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS. Other species included CALIFORNIA GULL, WILLOW FLYCATCHER, GRAY CATBIRD, the usual marsh species and plenty of BOBOLINKS (I never tire of their song).
Day List (65 species recorded): Trip List 129
Am. White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, N. Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Ring-necked Pheasant, Sandhill Crane, Virginia Rail, Sora, Killdeer, Willet, White-rumped Sandpiper, Wilson's Phalarope, Ring-billed & California Gulls, Forster's & Black Terns, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, N. Flicker, Alder, Willow & Least Flycatchers, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Horned Lark, Tree, Cliff & Barn Swallows, House, Sedge & Marsh Wrens, Gray Catbird, Am. Robin, Blue Jay, Am. Crow, House Sparrow, Warbling & Red-eyed Vireos, Am. Goldfinch, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping, Clay-colored, Vesper, Savannah, Le Conte's, Grasshopper & Song Sparrows, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Bobolink, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird and Baltimore Oriole.
Monday, June 6, 2005
Road Trip Day 7 (North Dakota)
Sunshine was a major surprise this morning - the weather guys suck here too. The state has received lots of rain recently and apparently, another storm is expected tomorrow. Sunny skies and pleasant temps prevailed in the Turtle Mountains (hills, really) near the US-Canada border where I spent most of my day. I was in this location once before in 1997.
The day didn't start well when I encountered a washed out entrance road to Lake Alice NWR (just north east of Devil's Lake). I did see a number of birds along the road before I had to turn around including SHARP-TAILED GROUSE (I wasn't quick enough with my camera), scads of FRANKLIN'S GULLS, WILLET, WILSON'S PHALAROPE, SORA and the usual common marsh species.
I pushed on northwards to Bottineau where I'll be for a couple of days (ah, the luxury of a two night stay). The nearby Turtle Mountains are the only place where I have a chance for Philadelphia Vireo. Several interesting birds were on Highway 3 a few miles south of Dunseith in Rollette County -- a roadside SHARP-TAILED GROUSE (again, slow with my camera), the first BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE of the trip and BOBOLINKS singing in the meadows. After securing lodging in Bottineau, I spent time at nearby Lake Metigoshe State Park in separate mid morning and late afternoon/evening sessions. In between, I took the time to get the muffler on my car replaced --the noise has been driving me nuts for a couple of days.
Philadelphia Vireo is listed as common in the Turtle Mountains but I didn't turn one up on trails that I walked. I heard and saw tons of RED-EYED VIREOS. They sound similar to Philadelphia but there's enough difference for me to feel confident in picking one out by song. I found one Red-eyed nest (4 feet off the ground) with two featherless nestlings. The habitat at the State Park is fairly similar throughout (mostly Aspen and Oak) and consequently, the species diversity is not high. LEAST FLYCATCHER and CEDAR WAXWINGS were both common. VEERY was vocal and easy to see. Other species included RUFFED GROUSE, BELTED KINGFISHER, HAIRY WOODPECKER, GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER, HOUSE WREN and BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (scarce).
Highlights of the day were breeding plumaged COMMON LOONS and RED-NECKED GREBES. Target bird success 0%. Enjoyment factor: 100%. Even the ticks and mosquitoes were less of a problem than I expected. The ticks on the woodland trails at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, OK and (especially) at Fort Ransom State Park a couple of days ago were far more numerous.
Day List (68 species recorded): Trip List: 141
Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Am. White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, N. Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, N. Shoveler, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Swainson's & Red-tailed Hawks, Ruffed Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Sora, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Willet, Wilson's Phalarope, Ring-billed & Franklin's Gulls, Black Tern, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Hairy Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Least & Great Crested Flycatchers, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Tree, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Cedar Waxwing, House, Sedge & Marsh Wrens, Veery, Am. Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-billed Magpie, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Warbling & Red-eyed Vireos, Pine Siskin, Am. Goldfinch, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping, Vesper, Savannah & Song Sparrows, Bobolink, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged & Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Common Grackle and Brown-headed Cowbird.
Tuesday, June 7, 2005
Road Trip Day 8 (North Dakota)
After yesterday's wonderful blue sky day, the weather reverted back to a more wintry feel today. In fact, it was generally quite miserable this morning -- cold, cloudy, wet and windy. Cold and cloudy are okay with me, wet and windy not so much. A day to stay at home, really, but when you're on the road you have to get out and enjoy yourself whether you like it or not. At times, fog also hampered visibility.
I toughed it out for about 9 hours looking in vain for Philadelphia Vireo. If this is a common bird (as advertised) then I'm definitely losing my touch. I covered lots of territory working back and forth across the Turtle Mountains. I visited some specific locations as well as working the back roads up to the Canadian border. Some of the roads were extremely slick and I needed to use four wheel drive several times; and even then I almost didn't make it in a couple of places. Sadly, all my efforts were in vain and I didn't so much as hear a false alarm. I'm beginning to wonder if the birds are back on territory yet. Although they migrate through North Dakota starting in May, the data I have for them as a breeding species puts them back on territory at the start of June. Perhaps they are late this year. It's interesting to note that RED-EYED VIREOS (of which I heard and saw bazillions again today) arrive early in May and already have young in the nest. Note the shutter speed of 1/30s on this image. It was extremely gloomy and wet where I took the shot and I'm amazed that I got anything usable at all. Either the Canon image stabilizer really works or this was just a fluke!
I really struggled to find birds today and added only a couple that I didn't see or hear yesterday -- AMERICAN REDSTART and NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH. I first saw both at Pelican Lake Recreation Area (very active early this morning despite the conditions) and then at numerous locations. The redstart was common, waterthrush uncommon. It was very gloomy and wet when I took the waterthrush photo, ditto for this BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE.
I found singing ALDER FLYCATCHERS in a couple of locations which prompted me to check their breeding distribution. The National Geo guide (3rd edition) doesn't even show them in either of the Dakotas! Sibley has them about halfway across both states (the eastern half).
The highlight of the day was provided by a RUFFED GROUSE that dropped out of a tree right in front of me (on the road to Pelican Lake). The bird was too close to the car for me to get a photo and it soon wandered off into the dense vegetation.
More bad weather is on tap for tomorrow so it's going to be a case of trying to pick a location where it will rain less! I may return to the Turtle Mountains in a few days to test my late arrival theory. Otherwise, it's adios to my vireo chances for at least another year.
Day List (45 species recorded): Trip List: 144
Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Am. White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Canvasback, Bufflehead, Red-tailed Hawk, Ruffed Grouse, Sora, Forster's & Black Terns, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Alder, Least & Great Crested Flycatchers, Barn Swallow, Cedar Waxwing, House Wren, Veery, Am. Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, Black-billed Magpie, Am. Crow, Warbling & Red-eyed Vireos, Am. Goldfinch, Yellow Warbler, Am. Redstart, N. Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping, Clay-colored, Savannah & Song Sparrows, Bobolink, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Common Grackle and Brown-headed Cowbird.
Wednesday, June 8, 2005
Road Trip Day 9 (North Dakota)
After checking the various weather forecasts, I decided to head back to southeast North Dakota since it was the only part of the state that looked like being rain free today. Bottineau was cool and partly cloudy when I got underway. Rain began before I'd traveled 100 miles and stayed with me for the next 100 miles. Miraculously, blue sky appeared by the time I reached Jamestown and it was sunny and 65 degrees in Lisbon by late morning. I decided to spend time in the Sheyenne National Grassland, (east of Lisbon) mostly because this is the only place where Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows have been reported in numbers recently. Thanks to Dan Svingen (Bismark) and Bryan Stotts (Lisbon) for their advice and information.
Sunny skies prevailed all day in the grasslands but the downside was diabolically high wind, I'm talking really windy, and this lasted until 9:00pm. I spent some time in the late morning and midday hours doing some scouting of likely Nelson's locations and then took an afternoon break before heading out again later in the day. I spent a total of 7 hours birding in the grasslands and came up empty on the sparrow, including a location where several had been heard a couple of nights ago along with a number of Yellow Rails. I didn't hear either and I covered lots of ground listening for the sparrow. I stayed until 10:15pm by which time I would have expected the sparrows to start singing. Even had they done so, it was a little too dark to see anyway.
The wind finally died down around 9:00pm as the sun started to set and I thought that I might just be able to hear if the sparrows were to sing. No such luck. I did hear and then track down a LE CONTE'S SPARROW and, if anything, their song is not as loud as Nelson's. I'd seen them earlier in the day as well.
It wasn't all bad though -- the grasslands are a delightful place to bird. For many, grassland conjures up endless monotony. However, this is certainly not the case here. There are rolling hills, different types of prairie grasses, nearby cropland, wet ditches and meadows, and plenty of isolated stands of trees, some quite significant. Among the fairly common to common species, or at least conspicuous species (despite the wind), were WILSON'S SNIPE, MARBLED GODWIT, EASTERN KINGBIRD, MARSH WREN, CLAY-COLORED & GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS, WESTERN MEADOWLARK, RED-WINGED & YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS and BOBOLINK Other, less common, species included WILSON'S PHALAROPE, BLACK TERN, WESTERN KINGBIRD, SEDGE WREN and ORCHARD ORIOLE.
Oye, remember my statement on day one of this trip "Who knows, I may even stumble into a Gray Partridge, a bird that I still haven't seen in the U.S.". Well today was the day that I finally stumbled into a GRAY PARTRIDGE hallelujah! (or should I say drove into one). I now know why I haven't managed to see them until now -- the birds are so dumb that many must end up as road kill. This photo might be entitled "why did the partridge not cross the road?". Don't just stand there, do something. The location was on 75th Street SE, just west of the intersection of 145th Ave SE (generally west of the southern boundary of the National Grassland)..
Day List (60 species recorded): Trip List: 150
Pied-billed & Western Grebes, Am. White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, N. Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, N. Shoveler, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Gray Partridge, Ring-necked Pheasant, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Wilson's Snipe, Marbled Godwit, Wilson's Phalarope, Ring-billed Gull, Black Tern, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift, Common Nighthawk, N. Flicker, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Tree, Bank, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Sedge & Marsh Wrens, Am. Robin, Loggerhead Shrike, Am. Crow, House Sparrow, Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping, Clay-colored, Vesper, Lark, Savannah, Le Conte's, Grasshopper & Song Sparrows, Bobolink, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird and Orchard Oriole.
Thursday, June 9, 2005
Road Trip Day 10 (North Dakota)
I returned to Sheyenne National Grassland first thing this morning then headed west to bird in Kidder County. I then headed north again (it's like a magnet) for an overnight stay in Rugby. The day began mostly cloudy and very much cooler than yesterday and didn't warm up much as the day wore on. Fortunately, the wind was far less severe today.
I struck out once again on Nelson's even though I expanded my search zone. Not once did I hear anything even close to their song. However, just as yesterday, serendipity struck. I paused to try to photograph a singing BROWN THRASHER and what do you imagine walked (scurried) across the road not 20 feet away from me -- YELLOW RAIL! The bird moved from a large expanse of marshy area to a wet ditch. The exact location was as follows: Seen on 147th Avenue, 1.75 miles north of 75th Street, 0.25 miles south of 73rd Street (where The Nature Conservancy's Brown Ranch is located). This is roughly 6 miles from McLeod and 2 miles from where Bryan Stotts heard rails calling a few night's ago (approximately at the southern boundary of the grassland, due south from McLeod).
My early morning visit produced a couple of species that I didn't see on midday and evening visits yesterday. The day began well with a couple of SHARP-TAILED GROUSE on the roadside and singing DICKCISSEL, my first in North Dakota on this trip. Both species were on Highway 27 just before the National Grassland starts (I also heard Dickcissels in the grassland).
After checking some habitat in Sargent County, acting on a tip from Dan Svingen I moved on to Kidder County to try another Nelson's location on CR 71 south of Tappen, Unfortunately, a couple of hours working the habitat there wasn't successful. I picked up VIRGINIA RAIL and SORA for a three rail day. WILSON'S PHALAROPES were common here. I continued south to check Alkaline Lake where I saw about 25 species during a short visit including lots of WESTERN GREBES, a lone SNOWY EGRET (fairly scarce in June as best I can figure), AMERICAN AVOCET, WILLET, FRANKLIN'S & CALIFORNIA GULLS, FORSTER'S TERN and HORNED LARK.
Heading north (on CR 71) I checked Tappen Slough where there was nothing of note among 25+ species, again during a short visit. However, about 8 miles further north I saw HOODED MERGANSER, perhaps another less common species based on the (very old) data that I have. Not too far beyond this location I heard a "squeet" call and saw what I believe was a Sprague's Pipit fly by. I'm not certain so it doesn't go on my day list.
I stopped overnight in Rugby ready for another attempt at Philadelphia Vireo in the Turtle Mountains tomorrow. I'd rather have stayed in the southeast for another day but I didn't want to be in the mountains over the weekend.
Day List (75 species recorded): Trip List: 154
Pied-billed, Eared & Western Grebes, Am. White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Snowy & Cattle Egrets, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, N. Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, N. Shoveler, Canvasback, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Ring-necked Pheasant, Yellow Rail, Virginia Rail, Sora, Am. Coot, Am. Avocet, Killdeer, Wilson's Snipe, Marbled Godwit, Willet, Wilson's Phalarope, Ring-billed, California & Franklin's Gulls, Forster's & Black Terns, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Chimney Swift, N. Flicker, Least Flycatcher, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Horned Lark, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Sedge & Marsh Wrens, Brown Thrasher, Am. Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, Am. Crow, House Sparrow, Warbling Vireo, Am. Goldfinch, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping, Clay-colored, Vesper, Savannah, Le Conte's, Grasshopper & Song Sparrows, Dickcissel, Bobolink, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged & Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird and Baltimore Oriole.
Friday, June 10, 2005
Road Trip Day 11 (North Dakota)
I made the short journey north from Rugby into the Turtle Mountains this morning. I soon ran into rain and it stayed with me on and off in the mountains until 10:00am. After that it was a case of cloudy skies with occasional sun breaks for the rest of the day. I spent until mid afternoon working various locations along highway 43 through the heart of the mountains. I stayed overnight in Bottineau ready for a swing westward tomorrow. By the way, Botno is a close pronunciation.
Once again, I failed to find Philadelphia Vireo. I spent time at Wakopa Wildlife Management Area, at Pelican Lake and a few other good pieces of habitat. I duplicated the results of my two days earlier in the week in that I encountered scads of RED-EYED VIREOS and didn't have a single false alarm. It's interesting to note that a high proportion of the Red-eyed Vireos show plenty of yellow almost identical to that depicted for fall birds (perhaps these are individuals born last year). Interestingly, in Arizona, many Thick-billed Kingbirds show much yellow (and not pure white) that is also purported to be a fall plumage character Anyway, absolutely no success in three days of looking and listening. It's laughable that the Turtle Mountain checklist shows them as common. However, since that same checklist doesn't even show Alder Flycatcher and Forster's Tern as being present (I saw both again today), I have low confidence in its accuracy. Así es la vida.
A pair of COMMON GOLDENEYES on a roadside lake along highway 281 north of Dunseith represented a new trip bird this morning. They are a rare breeder in North Dakota. RED-NECKED GREBES and a handful of ducks were also present (I didn't stay long in the rain). In fact, I was flagged down by a couple of guys who had run their car into a ditch. They already had a chain attached (possibly an indication of prior experience ditching their vehicle) and I was able to pull them out in no time.
Once in the mountains, I started with some casual birding at Carpenter Lake. BOBOLINKS and SAVANNAH SPARROWS were in the grassy areas just before reaching the lake. On the water I saw RED-NECKED & WESTERN GREBES, a few WOOD DUCKS, a fair number of FORSTER'S TERNS and a SPOTTED SANDPIPER. Some of the species around the lake margin were GREAT-CRESTED & LEAST FLYCATCHERS (respectively uncommon and common throughout the mountains), BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (scarce here), VEERY and BALTIMORE ORIOLE (fairly common throughout).
At Wakopa, I birded along the muddy roads and the "Nature Trail", a.k.a. swamp, river, jungle and obstacle course (hasn't been dewinterized yet). My wellies and raingear came to the rescue and helped to keep the mosquitoes at bay (but didn't keep the ticks out). Additional species here included RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (my first hummer of the trip, AZ it isn't!), YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, HAIRY WOODPECKER, ALDER FLYCATCHER (singing), CEDAR WAXWINGS galore, GRAY CATBIRD, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, AMERICAN REDSTART (common throughout), OVENBIRD, NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK (scarce here).
I wonder how many readers realize that the only Philadelphia Vireo breeding locations in the U.S. are in the very northernmost reaches of several north east states. So, if you don't run into the bird in migration or go to the heart of its range in Canada, options in North America are very limited. Screw the vireo I said. I lapsed into grockle mode and made a short detour to the "International Peace Garden" at the border, just to say that I've done it. Actually, when I got there I remembered that I'd done it previously.
I birded some back roads then decided to do some casual birding at Pelican Lake. I saw many of the same birds including a fairly cooperative GREAT-CRESTED FLYCATCHER and a decidedly uncooperative AMERICAN REDSTART that simply would not stay still and insisted on making me look into the sun (at least there was some sunshine now). These are not great images but both are photo firsts for me so standards are lower!
As I headed back down into Bottineau, an INDIGO BUNTING on Lake (Metigoshe) Road was new species for me in the mountains.
Day List (71 species recorded): Trip List: 157
Common Loon, Red-necked & Western Grebes, Am. White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Ruddy Duck, Red-tailed Hawk, Ruffed Grouse, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Ring-billed & Franklin's Gulls, Forster's & Black Terns, Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, N. Flicker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Alder, Least & Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbird, Tree & Barn Swallows, Cedar Waxwing, House & Marsh Wrens, Gray Catbird, Veery, Am. Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Am. Crow, House Sparrow, Warbling & Red-eyed Vireos, Am. Goldfinch, Yellow & Black-and-white Warblers, Am. Redstart, Ovenbird, N. Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping, Clay-colored, Vesper, Savannah & Song Sparrows, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Bobolink, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged & Brewer's Blackbirds, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird and Baltimore Oriole.
Saturday, June 11, 2005
Road Trip Day 12 (North Dakota)
Apart from a brief afternoon trip into the Turtle Mountains, I spent my day in the Bottineau area looking for Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow. It was generally a cloudy day after an early morning sunny start. This was a very frustrating day as well as my worst day so far for ticks and mosquitoes. However, it did end well.
I started by cruising around the dirt roads south of Bottineau for a couple of hours. Lots of great habitat but no sight nor sound of a Nelson's. I contented myself by enjoying the common birds and trying to do some photography which is more difficult than normal at the moment due to a focusing malfunction with my lens. Amazingly, after 12 days on the road I saw my first AMERICAN KESTREL very close to RED-TAILED and SWAINSON'S HAWKS that seemed to tolerate each other. I stopped to photograph a BLUE-WINGED TEAL -- this is an abundant bird in North Dakota but all you have to do is look at them funny and off they go. This bird left shortly after the shot. YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS are also abundant and this bird was another exception to the "usually fly away" rule. The highlight of this early session was an adult AMERICAN BITTERN with a juvenile still showing some white fluffy feathers. I was a long way from the bird but managed to get a usable image of the adult.
Ironically, now that I've finally found one, I ran into a couple of GRAY PARTRIDGES (94th Street at 13th Avenue). Other species over a 10 mile stretch included NORTHERN PINTAIL, WILSON'S PHALAROPES, SORA, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, LE CONTE'S SPARROW, BALTIMORE ORIOLE and many BOBOLINKS (very common).
Now comes the frustrating part. I spoke with a client (Chuck Gooding) who was in this area last week and saw Nelson's. Unfortunately, we had some difficulty in pinpointing the location with a series of phone calls and me going out into the field (kind of like the phone ads "can you hear me now"). Anyway, I drove around 'til I was blue in the face and I don't think I ever did find the right spot, although I did see what I thought was good habitat. Needless to say, still no damn sparrow. Among the birds noted during this exercise in frustration (at Lords Lake NWR) were WESTERN GREBE, some very spiffy looking EARED GREBES, a pair of HOODED MERGANSERS, FRANKLIN'S GULL and the usual pond and grassland species. I did get a slight improvement on my earlier BOBOLINK photo effort.
At this point I took a sit down lunch break (rare for me) then headed into the Turtle Mountains by a different route than I've used previously (24th Avenue). This turned out to be a very interesting route and I managed to pick up a new trip vireo although, unfortunately, it was a YELLOW-THROATED VIREO and not Philadelphia. Apart from the vireo and an EASTERN PHOEBE, all the birds were the same that I have been seeing in the mountains.
In the evening I returned to 24th Avenue south of Highway 5 (this is the road to Lords Lake NWR about 12 miles east of Bottineau). I cruised along slowly and had only driven 0.2m from the highway when I heard the sound that I've been listening for, for about a week now -- NELSON'S SHARP-TAILED SPARROW. Por fin! That little patch of habitat that I'd found earlier in the day paid off big time. Okay, now I'd heard it, what about seeing the little stinker. I scanned and scanned in the area of the sound and saw nothing. After a few minutes the bird fell silent and I thought my chance had gone. Over the next 30 minutes with increasing wind and decreasing daylight, my sense of "oh shit, I'm not going to see this bird" steadily grew. Then, wouldn't you know it I saw a sparrowy shape perched halfway up a tall piece of grass. "Quick, get the scope on it" I said to myself. That was it, great views of this beautifully colored little bird, well earned. The quest was over. Slate-throated what?
Day List (70 species recorded): Trip List: 161
Red-necked, Eared & Western Grebes, Am. White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Am. Bittern, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, N. Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, N. Shoveler, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, N. Harrier, Swainson's & Red-tailed Hawks, Am. Kestrel, Gray Partridge, Ring-necked Pheasant, Sora, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Marbled Godwit, Wilson's Phalarope, Franklin's Gull, Forster's & Black Terns, Mourning Dove, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Least & Great-crested Flycatchers, Eastern Phoebe, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Horned Lark, Tree, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Cedar Waxwing, House, Sedge & Marsh Wrens, Black-capped Chickadee, Black-billed Magpie, Am. Crow, European Starling, Yellow-throated, Warbling & Red-eyed Vireos, Am. Goldfinch, Yellow Warbler, Am. Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping, Clay-colored, Vesper, Savannah, Nelson's Sharp-tailed, Le Conte's & Song Sparrows, Bobolink, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged & Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbird and Baltimore Oriole.
Sunday, June 12, 2005
Road Trip Day 13 (North Dakota)
After almost two weeks of traveling, it was time to take a day off today. I moved on just a short distance from Bottineau to Minot where I spent time catching up on stuff like laundry, emails, paying bills and other fun stuff; as well as making a new plan, Stan. Montana and Wyoming lie ahead with perhaps just one more day left in me for North Dakota. The only birding that I did today was at J Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge, a location that I've visited just once previously. It was a fairly warm, blue sky day.
The grassland trail was a very disappointing. Whether it was due to the late hour (although 9:00am didn't seem very late) or just the time of season, there wasn't much activity. Mosquitoes outnumbered birds by approximately a billion to one. In fact, the need to keep the windows closed meant that I couldn't hear any singing. If you go slow enough to listen and watch for birds with the windows open, then the mosquitoes will always get in. Speed up to prevent this and the birding is useless. Murphy at his finest. I also took the Scenic Trail along the river where I had the sun constantly in my eyes. Other than this, it was a perfect morning.
I didn't see anything out of the ordinary and I only picked up a couple of new trip species in BAIRD'S SPARROW and MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD. However, the sheer spectacle of so many FRANKLIN'S GULLS was a definite treat. SEDGE WRENS were abundant but not very photographable (looking into the sun at birds mostly obscured by reeds). A nicely posed EASTERN PHOEBE was also difficult to photograph, backlit in the shade. It was interesting to see EASTERN and WESTERN KINGBIRDS perched within feet of each other (something I've seen in a few places on this trip).
I'm not sure yet what I'll do over the next few days, although I know that I want to explore some new locations when I reach Wyoming. After a number of visits there, it's time to think outside the box a.k.a. the very outdated bird finding guide. Who knows, maybe I'll even get lucky and find the highly fictitious Black-billed Cuckoo, or perhaps all my karma has been used up on Henslow's Sparrow and Gray Partridge (but I did pay my dues on Philadelphia Vireo and Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow).
Day List (65 species recorded): Trip List: 163
Pied-billed & Eared Grebes, Double-crested Cormorant, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, N. Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, N. Shoveler, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Ring-necked Pheasant, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Willet, Wilson's Phalarope, Ring-billed & Franklin's Gulls, Forster's & Black Terns, Mourning Dove, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Willow, Least & Great Crested Flycatchers, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Tree, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Cedar Waxwing, House, Sedge & Marsh Wrens, Mountain Bluebird, Am. Robin, Black-billed Magpie, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Warbling & Red-eyed Vireos, Am. Goldfinch, Yellow Warbler, Am. Redstart, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping, Clay-colored, Vesper, Savannah, Baird's & Song Sparrows, Bobolink, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Common Grackle and Brown-headed Cowbird.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Road Trip Day 14 (North Dakota)
Another fairly easy paced day as my North Dakota birding winds down. I birded at Lostwood and Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuges northwest of Minot then traveled south to Dickinson for an overnight stay, picking up an hour into the bargain (MDT here). What a difference in the weather today -- cool and cloudy all day after yesterday's sunshine. It was also windy at times, but at least it didn't rain.
Despite the poor light, I went ahead with my plan to visit Lostwood NWR where I'd hoped to photograph some of the prairie specialties (my third visit here). Unfortunately, not only was it gloomy, the wind made listening for sparrows quite difficult. Grassland birding is tough enough when everything is in your favor. However, for once I was happy it was windy to keep those big-assed prairie mosquitoes at a distance. CLAY-COLORED and SAVANNAH SPARROW'S were plentiful and couldn't be missed (the latter seen feeding young). GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS were also common and I could here them singing even with the wind.
At the "Grouse Blind" site, BAIRD'S SPARROW was singing and easy to detect but required a little bit of patience to see. I was determined to get a decent photograph (I only have digiscoped shots) so I worked at it for over an hour. I used the time to check on behavior and flight patterns to help me when I have to find them in winter in Arizona (always a challenge). Basic behavior followed the pattern -- fly a short distance several times (undulating, fluttery, finch like flight with a hunched posture) and drop into the grass. Then, perch up on a high piece of vegetation and repeat the pattern. It took me a while to figure out where the bird would likely go next and that's how I got my shot in the end.
Several SPRAGUE'S PIPITS were in the same area displaying and singing their surreal sounding song, which is wonderful to hear. Beats walking the grass in winter in AZ! I'll need to be a lot more proficient and patient a photographer to get any shots of these babies (and that's not gonna happen). By the way, the grouse blind hasn't been used in a while (appears to have nesting Barn Swallows). I didn't see any grouse in this area but came across one roadside SHARP-TAILED GROUSE further along the tour route. I recorded about 40 species on the refuge.
I doubled back towards Kenmare and spent a little time at the Des Lacs refuge, particularly Tasker's Coulee to try for Black-billed Cuckoo again. Ha! I've birded here before and remembered about the ticks a little too late. After that it was roadside birding on the way to Dickinson. I'd forgotten how beautiful a drive it was through the Little Missouri Badlands. Great scenery. The most exciting moment of the day came south of the badlands (about 12 miles north of Killdeer on highway 22) when a SHARP-TAILED GROUSE walked into the middle of the road and stopped. I was traveling at 65mph with a truck bearing down on me and couldn't brake. I just managed to go around it and in my rear view mirror I saw the bird fly out of the way of the truck. One lucky grouse.
I picked up 6 new trip birds today -- AMERICAN WIGEON and SPRAGUE'S PIPIT at Lostwood, WILD TURKEY south of Kenmare, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT and LAZULI BUNTING in the badlands and SPOTTED TOWHEE at Tasker's Coulee.
Day List (71 species recorded): Trip List: 169
Eared & Western Grebes, Canada Goose, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, N. Shoveler, Canvasback, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Wild Turkey, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Sora, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Marbled Godwit, Willet, Wilson's Phalarope, Ring-billed & Franklin's Gulls, Black Tern, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, N. Flicker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Willow & Least Flycatchers, Eastern Phoebe, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Horned Lark, Tree, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Sprague's Pipit, Cedar Waxwing, House & Marsh Wrens, Brown Thrasher, Veery, Am. Robin, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Warbling & Red-eyed Vireos, House Finch, Am. Goldfinch, Yellow Warbler, Am. Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, Spotted Towhee, Clay-colored, Vesper,
Savannah, Baird's, Grasshopper & Song Sparrows, Lazuli Bunting, Bobolink, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Common Grackle and Brown-headed Cowbird.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Road Trip Day 15 (North Dakota-South Dakota)
Today I traveled almost due south from Dickinson, ND to Sturgis, SD on highway 22, stopping to bird at Slim Buttes in Custer National Forest. After a lunch stop in Sturgis I did some local birding there then headed almost due east on highway 34 to Pierre. It was a sunny, blue sky day with a high in the low 70s, but again with the high winds.
The habitat change in the southern part of North Dakota continuing to South Dakota is not startling but there are some noticeable differences -- less roadside water (ditches and ponds) and way less trees. I drove 35 miles this morning before seeing my first RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD and didn't see a Yellow-headed at all. HORNED LARKS, WESTERN MEADOWLARKS and RING-NECKED PHEASANTS were the most conspicuous birds along highway 22 in both states. Predictably, I saw LARK BUNTINGS (state bird of SD) within one mile of crossing the state line.
Slim Buttes, part of Custer National Forest, is a scenic and nicely (mostly coniferous) wooded area located in Harding County (first county south of ND in the northwest corner of SD). I'd seen a report of Black-billed Cuckoo in this area but didn't have any details whatsoever. No matter, it was a pleasant place to bird and right along my route. Although the vegetation had a western feel (very noticeable after my time in North Dakota), a couple of eastern species were present -- LEAST FLYCATCHER and OVENBIRD. I detected multiple Ovenbirds in multiple locations so they are fairly common here. Territories must be small because I could hear two birds singing at the same time, not too far apart. Other species here included WHITE-THROATED SWIFT, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, SPOTTED TOWHEE , LARK & FIELD SPARROWS and RED CROSSBILL.
In Sturgis (on the northeastern edge of the Black Hills), I birded along Bear Butte Creek on the eastern edge of town (not to be confused with bare butt creek which is in a different part of town altogether). Apart from BLUE JAY, the birds here had a distinct western feel -- CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER, VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, WESTERN TANAGER and SPOTTED TOWHEE. Birds of a more cosmopolitan flavor included BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE, RED-EYED VIREO and EVENING GROSBEAK. My somewhat outdated (1991) copy of "Birds of South Dakota" (yes, I have it with me along with a boat load of other books) shows Evening Grosbeak as a rare summer resident in the Black Hills.
It was at this point that I changed my mind about the next destination. Knowing that the pesky (to put it politely) Cuckoo would only get more difficult the further west that I go, I decided to head east for a final try before throwing in the towel for another year. I drove to Pierre for an overnight stay. Grass, grass, a building, some more grass, my god a bird (usually a LARK BUNTING, WESTERN MEADOWLARK or HORNED LARK), then some grass. Is that a tree? You get the picture. COMMON NIGHTHAWK broke the monotony. I rolled into Pierre 2.5 hours after leaving Sturgis and promptly lost the hour (crossing the Missouri) that I picked up yesterday.
Ten new trip birds today. The two photos were taken in shady locations and I had to do some serious jiggery-pokery with Photoshop to make them usable.
Day List (58 species recorded): Trip List: 179
Great Blue Heron, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Ring-necked Pheasant, Killdeer, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, White-throated Swift, Belted Kingfisher, Hairy Woodpecker, N. Flicker, Least & Cordilleran Flycatchers, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Horned Lark, Violet-green, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Cedar Waxwing, House Wren, Am. Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Red-eyed Vireo, House Finch, Red Crossbill, Am. Goldfinch, Evening Grosbeak, Yellow & Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Western Tanager, Spotted Towhee, Lark Bunting, Chipping, Field, Vesper, Lark, Savannah & Grasshopper Sparrows, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged & Brewer's Blackbirds, Common Grackle and Brown-headed Cowbird.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Road Trip Day 16 (South Dakota)
I went out on a wing and a prayer this morning looking for a Black-billed Cuckoo. The prayer went unanswered and as for the wing, well, I think it fell off. I birded near Pierre in the morning, followed that with a little sightseeing in the Capitol area, then drove back to Sturgis. [I've been in Pierre before but only passing through.] Tomorrow will be a write off since I need to get some brake work done (and I had a brake job done before leaving for this trip!) . The A/C in my room isn't working and the TV remote is on the fritz. All in all, not feeling hunky dory right now. If I had a dog I'd probably give it a swift kick in the rear. Stick a fork in me -- I'm done with target birding. I'm surprised that I stuck at it for so long and now it's too much like work. I'm looking forward to some exploring in Wyoming and the birding and views on the Beartooth highway.
I spent the morning at Farm Island Recreation Area adjacent to the Missouri river, east of Pierre. I started at sunrise and covered about 6 miles of trails over 6 hours. No sight nor sound of my target Cuckoo, although I did find a couple of YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS in different locations. The birding was pleasant enough and I saw about 35 species. I spent some time on photography but the focus problem is really driving me nuts. In most cases the bird is gone before I can get a second shot. Nevertheless, I managed to get images of EASTERN KINGBIRD, BROWN THRASHER, SPOTTED TOWHEE (my favorite of the day), female BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, male BALTIMORE ORIOLE, male ORCHARD ORIOLE and female ORCHARD ORIOLE. I was surprised by the amount of yellow on the Baltimore. I don't see them that often to have a good benchmark, but the male that I photographed in Arizona last year was very orange.
The birdlife here was mixed eastern and western species, with a slight bias to the former. The most common species were MOURNING DOVE, NORTHERN FLICKER (mostly yellow shafted) and HOUSE WREN. I haven't seen many woodpeckers on this trip so RED-HEADED and DOWNY WOODPECKERS were good to find.
DICKCISSELS were fairly common along highway 34 that parallels the river.
I followed the river down as far as Fort Thompson then took the short way over to the interstate (found a bit of marshy habitat on highway 47) then drove back west via I-90. I didn't remember all the advertising signs along the freeway. Visit this cave, this museum, this store ad nauseum, each trying to outdo the other. Very tacky. Actually it's a ploy by the South Dakota Tourist Association -- they figure that if you looking at all the signs you wont realize there's nothing but grass. I didn't lapse into full grockle mode and visit Wall Drug, the Badlands, and all those gimmicky things in the Black Hills. Been there and done that in a previous life.
Two new trip birds today (the two woodpeckers). Hard to pick a "best moment" but I did get a smile from seeing a sign for a place called "Holabird" (no shit) in an area where HORNED LARKS were common. I have to believe it's not a coincidence (HOLA is the banding code for Horned Lark in case you're not with me).
Day List (52 species recorded): Trip List: 181
Western Grebe, Am. White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Mallard, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Ring-necked Pheasant, Killdeer, Marbled Godwit, Ring-billed Gull, Forster's & Black Terns, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-headed & Downy Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Horned Lark, Tree, Cliff & Barn Swallows, House & Marsh Wrens, Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, Am. Robin, White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Warbling & Red-eyed Vireos, Am. Goldfinch, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, Spotted Towhee, Song Sparrow, Black-headed Grosbeak, Dickcissel, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbird and Baltimore & Orchard Orioles.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
Road Trip Day 17 (South Dakota-Wyoming)
I lost the morning getting the brakes fixed (new rotors required) and got underway from Sturgis shortly before noon. RED CROSSBILLS greeted me at the repair shop. The good news is that I have finally made it to Wyoming, my real destination for this trip. Although skies were clear along I-90 as I headed west, some impressive thunderclouds were building over the Wyoming portion of the Black Hills. A gas stop in Beulah (just over the state line) immediately produced a trip bird -- WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE. As if I hadn't had enough of them in the Turtle Mountains of ND, a singing RED-EYED VIREO taunted me.
After securing lodging in Sundance for a couple of nights (RED CROSSBILLS in the parking lot here too), I headed back to Beulah and worked my way south along Sand Creek. Sunny skies gave way to storm clouds and the humidity was higher than anything I've encountered so far on this trip. Bird activity along this riparian strip (bordered by conifers on steep walled cliffs) was quite high even at 2:00pm. Part of the canyon has plenty of public access (WY dept of Wildlife I think) but the best habitat is all on private land and you can only bird from the road (boo-hoo). I recorded ~30 species in a couple of hours and even picked up a new state bird -- ORCHARD ORIOLE, #189 for me in Wyoming. Can I break 200 on this trip? Probably not because most of my visits have been in June so I'm approaching species saturation for this time period (although I haven't done any owling). However, if I go to new locations as planned, then I might just get lucky. Hey, maybe Black-billed Cuckoo will be #200. Dream on.
Other species in the canyon included CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER, ROCK WREN, VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, the white-winged race of DARK-EYED JUNCO (breeds in the Black Hills), LARK SPARROW, WESTERN TANAGER, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK (common), LAZULI BUNTING, PINE SISKIN, RED CROSSBILL and BULLOCK'S ORIOLE (several pairs seen as well as a very obvious nest in a leafless tree).
In the early evening I headed into the Bear Lodge Mountains adjacent to Sundance. Conditions in the mountains were excellent despite the proximity of storm clouds. Zero wind, sunshine and some light sprinkles. Habitat is mainly Aspen and Ponderosa Pine and species diversity (based on what I heard and saw) is quite low. I only went as far as ~6700 feet Warren Peak lookout (2000 feet above and about 10 miles from Sundance). On the drive up, singing WARBLING VIREOS were abundant and several COMMON NIGHTHAWKS "peented" from the pines. At the lookout I had excellent 360 degree views of the area (must be great on a clear day) with some colorful wildflowers and singing VESPER SPARROWS in the meadows; and several MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRDS to keep me company. I think this is the first real solitude that I've found on the trip so far -- wonderful.
My real objective for this little jaunt (in addition to visiting a new location) was to photograph the white-winged form of DARK-EYED JUNCO (this one's for you R.J.). Could this bird have posed any better? I found several birds singing and this individual constantly carrying food to a nest. The bird perched to check me out before going about its business. Like shooting fish in a barrel! As I took several shots, a group of 10 or so uncharacteristically silent CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS glided effortlessly over my head and down the mountain. Nearby, a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET was singing its heart out.
Five new trip birds today. Highlight of the day was the solitude on the mountain. It was also good to feel "at home" again with western birds and to press the brake pedal with confidence.
Day List (44 species recorded): Trip List: 186. 5 species new for the trip
Great Blue Heron, Mallard, Turkey Vulture, Am. Kestrel, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Violet-green & Cliff Swallows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing, Rock & House Wrens, Mountain Bluebird, Am. Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, Black-billed Magpie, Clark's Nutcracker, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Warbling & Red-eyed Vireos, House Finch, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Western Tanager, Spotted Towhee, Chipping, Vesper, Lark & Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged & Brewer's Blackbirds and Bullock's & Orchard Orioles.
Friday, June 17, 2005
Road Trip Day 18 (Wyoming)
This morning and early afternoon I did some exploring in the Bear Lodge Mountains. I headed west then north from Sundance via highways 14 and 24 (passing Devils Tower) then worked my way back south through the mountains on forest roads. A layer of thin clouds kept the temperature down but birding was tough because of very windy conditions.
Birds along the highways included EASTERN and WESTERN KINGBIRDS, WILLOW FLYCATCHER (Miller Creek, see range note below), MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD, CEDAR WAXWING, many singing VESPER SPARROWS, a few LARK SPARROWS and BULLOCK'S ORIOLE.
Some of the areas in this mountain range reminded me very much of the White Mountains of Arizona (a mix of Ponderosa, Aspen and willow thickets along the creeks). Of course, this type of habitat occurs at a much lower elevation here in Wyoming. Not surprisingly, I really enjoyed my time here since I like the White Mountains so much. I started along Blacktail Creek which was particularly productive once I'd driven past 11 miles of private ranches (without riparian access) before reaching National Forest land.
Birdlife was an interesting mix of eastern and western species. BLUE JAY and CLARK'S NUTCRACKER were a good example (I wouldn't want to get in the way if those two ever got involved in a dispute). OVENBIRDS were very common, AMERICAN REDSTART and VEERY less so. Breeding MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLERS are at the edge of their range here. I spent 45 minutes tracking down a singing bird just to be sure I was hearing correctly (the song was slightly different than what I am used to in the west). Take a look at a range map -- Sibley shows them throughout Wyoming, National Geo shows a dot in extreme northeast Wyoming after an absence eastwards from the middle of the state (probably more accurate since there's not much suitable habitat east of the Big Horns until you get to where I am now).
I found DUSKY and CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHERS sharing the same general territory (streamside willows adjacent to pines) and I watched them duke it out a few times. National Geo is incorrect for Cordilleran showing it as absent in eastern Wyoming. Dusky range is correctly shown extending into South Dakota. The more I look at range maps, the more I realize how much work needs to be done. For example, National Geo shows Willow Flycatcher as absent in the eastern half of the state. The Wyoming bird checklist (WY Game and Fish) shows the bird present throughout and the Black Hills checklist has them as uncommon here. This can create serious problems because there are many birders who take whatever field guide they use absolutely literally (be it on field marks or range). What a mess. I can see the problem, how many people are there like me who go out to do "grunt work" on a regular basis? It's not everybody's cup of tea, I know. The problem is exacerbated in remote areas because it takes years of data to get a true picture.
Among the other species were WILD TURKEY (state bird #190 seen on and off forest land), HAIRY WOODPECKER, BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, PINE SISKIN, WESTERN TANAGER and BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK.
After an afternoon break, I headed out again at 5:00pm by which time it was extremely warm and windy. The Sundance Elementary School swimming pool was getting a work out. Since I was looking for grassland birds, I should probably not have even bothered. Still, I definitely wouldn't have found any birds in my motel room. If I go out, at least I have a chance. It's this kind of thinking that wins awards.
I failed to find Grasshopper Sparrow and Bobolink in meadow areas south of Sundance where I've seen them on a previous trip. There could have been dozens of them but with the wind I couldn't hear anything loud, let alone a Grasshopper Sparrow. However, I did find another MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER and a RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, also a species at the eastern edge of its range. I only recorded 16 species in two hours with nothing else of note, although how can you be disappointed when you get great looks at numerous MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRDS?
Despite the wind, I had an enjoyable day in the field and I've extended my stay in Sundance to a third night so I can continue to explore the area. Today I saw more cows than people but the grockle count may increase over the next couple of days since it's the weekend.
Day List (59 species recorded): Trip List: 189. 3 species new for the trip
Canada Goose, Mallard, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Wild Turkey, Killdeer, Mourning Dove, Red-naped Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Willow, Dusky & Cordilleran Flycatchers, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Violet-green, N. Rough-winged, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing, House Wren, Mountain Bluebird, Veery, Am. Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted & White-breasted Nuthatches, Blue Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Warbling & Red-eyed Vireos, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Am. Goldfinch, Am. Redstart, Ovenbird, Yellow & MacGillivray's Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Western Tanager, Spotted Towhee, Chipping, Vesper, Lark, Savannah & Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed (White-winged) Junco, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged & Brewer's Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbird and Bullock's Oriole.
Saturday, June 18, 2005
Road Trip Day 19 (Wyoming)
I started the day by following the same route as last evening and then explored some new territory north of Devils Tower. It was another very warm day made even warmer by light winds.
Whether it was due to a morning start or the lack of wind, a couple of hours birding along FR 876 south of Sundance produced 33 species (compared to 16 yesterday evening in the wind). This time I managed to find GRASSHOPPER SPARROW but dipped again on Bobolink. In the rather minimal willow riparian on this road, I found another MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER and at least two singing DUSKY FLYCATCHERS. The usual MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRDS were present in numbers and I heard RED CROSSBILLS in a couple of locations.
I'd hit the DeLorme map last night (hard copy and software) to figure out potential birding locations and came up with a route that started near Devils Tower on Barlow Canyon Road. I followed this road west then north to the community of New Haven (community is too strong a word really ) then hooked up with the Little Missouri Road that runs northeast almost to the Montana state line. Signs were few and far between and dirt roads heading hither and yon were commonplace. Amazingly, I didn't get lost (however, it's hard to get lost when you're not going anywhere in particular!).
Barlow Canyon Road leaves highway 24 about 3 miles north of the turnoff for Devils Tower. Even this road wasn't signed! The land here is mostly private with some inviting side roads that I didn't take. Roadside birding was reasonable starting with a pair of CEDAR WAXWINGS caught in the act of copulation. I believe this is a photo first for my "C" list! I saw them displaying while sitting on a fence and they didn't fly off as I approached (now I know why, they had other things on their mind). I reached for my camera and managed to get a shot during the five second event. Wham bam thank you waxwing.
Not long afterwards I encountered a very large OSPREY nest on a power pole. I managed a halfway decent flight shot as a bird carrying prey flew in and then an excellent perched shot when the bird landed on the pole and posed nicely. Perhaps someone can figure out the prey item, visible in both images. There isn't a large body of water here so it presumably came from the nearby Belle Fourche river.
The habitat of ranchland, open fields, limited riparian areas and ponderosa pine produced a decent mix of almost 40 species including many "peenting" COMMON NIGHTHAWKS, DOWNY WOODPECKER, EASTERN and WESTERN KINGBIRDS, ROCK WREN, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, a new for the trip PLUMBEOUS VIREO, lots of LARK SPARROWS, WESTERN TANAGER and BULLOCK'S ORIOLE. The best birds came at the end of the road near New Haven -- here I found EASTERN BLUEBIRD and BOBOLINK (the former was a trip bird and state bird #191).
I negotiated my way through a confusing series of roads in New Haven (several GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS singing here) and hooked up with the Little Missouri Road. Habitat here was again ranchland and grassland with some sage, a few roadside ponds and marshy areas, rocky buttes with ponderosa and a riparian strip along the Little Missouri which the road only touched occasionally.
Over a period of 1 1/2 hours I birded a 30 mile stretch as far as the intersection with highway 112, a few miles south of the Montana border. This little jaunt produced 35 species including two more state birds -- #192 FIELD SPARROW and #193 WOOD DUCK. I noted a couple of PRAIRIE FALCONS (one here and another on highway 112) which was a trip bird. There was a good sized Prairie Dog town about halfway along the road (but no Burrowing Owls noted).
Water birds have been few and far between here in northeast Wyoming but in the ponds here I picked up DOUBLE CRESTED CORMORANT, GREAT BLUE HERON, AMERICAN AVOCET and MARBLED GODWIT. One of the marshes had YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD.
An interesting and productive day with the highlight provided by a couple of amorous waxwings. I'm in Sundance again tonight but now it's time to move on from this area. This is timely because the already high temperatures are predicted to climb to the high 90s in the next couple of days. Tomorrow I plan to head to the southeast near the Nebraska border, an area that I've only visited in winter (not much around birdwise at that time of year!).
Day List (61 species recorded): Trip List: 192. 3 species new for the trip
Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Prairie Falcon, Am. Avocet, Killdeer, Marbled Godwit, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, Downy Woodpecker, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Dusky Flycatcher, Say's Phoebe, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Horned Lark, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Cedar Waxwing, Rock & House Wrens, Eastern & Mountain Bluebirds, Am. Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-billed Magpie, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Plumbeous & Warbling Vireos, Red Crossbill, Am. Goldfinch, Yellow & MacGillivray's Warblers, Western Tanager, Spotted Towhee, Chipping, Field, Vesper, Lark & Grasshopper Sparrows, Black-headed Grosbeak, Bobolink, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird and Bullock's Oriole.
Sunday, June 19, 2005
Road Trip Day 20 (Wyoming)
I left Sundance early this morning and traveled south for about 2 1/2 hours on highways 585, 85 and 20 (through Newcastle and Lusk) before starting birding in the grassland near Van Tassel. Along the way I saw my first cop car since entering Wyoming several days ago. The area north of Newcastle known as Canyon Springs Prairie (part of the Black Hills National Forest) is very scenic. Newcastle would make an useful base for a few days to explore this part of the forest and the grassland to the south. Next trip! It was another super warm day with temperatures climbing close to 100 in some locations.
In the mid 1990s, I spent some time in the Nebraska panhandle (Harrison & Chadron) and traveled through Van Tassel and Lusk on a winter trip to Wyoming. At that time, I promised myself a summer visit that has never materialized despite many trips to Wyoming. Let's face it, this location is well out of the bloody way to anywhere and there's no pressing reason to come here. Nevertheless, today I was here, what I can I say. The road running south from Van Tassel traverses some excellent grassland habitat crossing the boundary of Niobrara and Goshen Counties in the process. By the way, the road numbers here are very confusing -- they often change when crossing an intersection and they certainly don't agree with my DeLorme map.
It was already very hot here by 8:00am and I always seemed to be looking east which made identifying and photographing birds very difficult. Most of the photos that I took today were not particularly good.
CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPUR wasn't particularly plentiful and none that I saw were cooperative. This is the only longspur that I hadn't previously photographed so, as I mentioned a few days ago, standards are lower. On the other hand, McCOWN'S LONGSPUR was very numerous and easy to see, literally a dirt bird (foraging in the road in this photo). [Murphy moment: My forays into Colorado and Wyoming longspur breeding territory have always produced easy McCown's (no effort required) while Chestnut-collared seem much harder to find. In Arizona in winter, Chestnut-collared is plentiful and McCown's is the prize.]
I was a little surprised to a find a few BREWER'S SPARROWS here since most of the habitat is simply grass. However, there were only a few birds and they were in the only field I found with patches of shrubby vegetation. GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS were few and far between while LARK BUNTINGS were abundant. LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES were uncommon. WESTERN MEADOWLARKS and HORNED LARKS by the boatload. SWAINSON'S HAWKS were scarce; FERRUGINOUS HAWKS were just about in double digits by day's end. I also saw a few LONG-BILLED CURLEWS and UPLAND SANDPIPERS (a good image of state bird #194)..
Puzzlers -- How do displaying and foraging longspurs find their way back to their nest in a vast sea of grass? Where did Upland Sandpipers perch before fences?
After an interesting drive south (seeing all the above species multiple times), I picked up state bird #195 entering Torrington -- EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE, a species that is slowly but surely spreading throughout the country. COMMON NIGHTHAWKS and BLUE JAYS were calling in town.
At 11:00am, I resumed birding at Table Mountain Wildlife Management Area (south of Torrington) where it was as hot as Willcox on its worst day. Stifling and completely uncomfortable. Birds were not plentiful but I did pick up my third state bird of the morning in BROWN THRASHER (#196). Most birds were just standing still and panting -- DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, AMERICAN AVOCET and WESTERN & EASTERN KINGBIRDS. Surprisingly, multiple ORCHARD ORIOLES were singing.
I left the WMA after an hour and immediately stumbled into state bird #197 near the entrance on highway 158 -- GRAY PARTRIDGE (another one that I almost ran over!). After going so many years without crossing paths with this bird, I've now seen them three times in the last couple of weeks. How often does this seem to happen? Ironically, the bird is at the edge of its Wyoming range here.
I checked a few more ponds before deciding it was simply to hot too continue (unless I was working, I wouldn't be birding under the same conditions in AZ so why do it here). I feel the mountains beckoning. Logistically, I have a problem now because I want to visit locations that are northeast and southeast of where I am now. I compromised by staying overnight in Wheatland to give myself some options after I make a decision where to go next (Wheatland is on I-25 between Cheyenne and Casper). The unseasonably high temperatures certainly aren't helping. Since I'm trying to visit new places on this trip, I've definitely decided to give Yellowstone a miss. I may even skip Jackson Hole (one of my favorite places), or maybe just spend one day there. I'm definitely going to hit the Laramie area and the Snowy Mountains as well as the Beartooth Highway. Otherwise, its new stuff.
The highlight of the day was seeing the displaying longspurs. I added three new trip birds and four new state birds. I also learned a bit more about Wyoming birds (which together with $5 will get me a coffee at Starbucks).
Day List (58 species recorded): Trip List: 197. 5 species new for the trip
Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, N. Pintail, Ruddy Duck, Swainson's, Red-tailed & Ferruginous Hawks, Am. Kestrel, Gray Partridge, Am. Coot, Am. Avocet, Killdeer, Long-billed Curlew, Upland Sandpiper, Wilson's Phalarope, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, Belted Kingfisher, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Horned Lark, Cliff & Barn Swallows, House Wren, Brown Thrasher, Mountain Bluebird, Am. Robin, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue Jay, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Warbling Vireo, House Finch, Yellow Warbler, Lark Bunting, Chipping, Brewer's, Vesper, Lark & Grasshopper Sparrows, McCown's & Chestnut-collared Longspurs, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird and Bullock's & Orchard Orioles.
Monday, June 20, 2005
Road Trip Day 21 (Wyoming)
Today I moved on to the Laramie area and took things relatively easy. I birded on the Laramie plains and in the Snowy Range where I found quite a difference in temperature and birds. On the way from Cheyenne to Laramie, I briefly checked the Vedauwoo area where I saw little of note in the early morning (never been there before, no plans to return). It was a cooler day (80 degrees in Laramie at 11:00am; of course, it's much higher here than where I was yesterday) and very fresh and cool near Medicine Bow peak in the mountains. Tonight I'm staying in Laramie.
I started by spending a leisurely few hours working my way along the Old Laramie River Road north of town. I've done this a few times now and even though I've never failed to find MOUNTAIN PLOVER here, I'm always surprised when I see them They are almost impossible to spot out in the fields with sage to hide them, especially with just one pair of eyes. Consequently, unless they come to the road and you just happen to be in the right place at the right time, the odds of finding them are not good. Amazingly, I came across three separate individuals today. I tried for a photo but couldn't maneuver so that the sun was behind me -- the bird just kept moving every time I moved. Eventually, I had to move out into the grass to have any kind of chance, which meant donating lots of blood to the prolific mosquitoes.
The road was much less birdy than I remember on previous trips, perhaps due to my late start of 8:30am. In contrast to my experience yesterday, I saw six SWAINSON'S HAWKS and only one FERRUGINOUS HAWK. Longspurs were not very conspicuous but I did see a few McCOWN'S LONGSPURS and one CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPUR. In the marshy roadside ponds, I noted several AMERICAN AVOCETS, WILLETS and WILSON'S PHALAROPES. Check out the slight double curve in the Avocet's bill. I can't say that I've noticed that before. A lone FORSTER'S TERN worked over the river. Sparrows were generally conspicuous by their absence with low numbers of BREWER'S outnumbering even lower numbers of VESPER
I spent the late morning and early afternoon up in the Snowy range west of Laramie. Birds were few and far between but the scenery is worth the drive (~43 miles from town on a good highway to Medicine Bow Peak viewpoint). Compare today's photo with last year's photo on June 23, 2004. Note how much more snow there is this year and that Bellamy Lake is still mostly frozen.
After taking the photo for posterity, I moved down to the edge of the lake where I spent a little time. After much scanning, I recorded my first Wyoming BROWN-CAPPED ROSY-FINCH (state bird #198). Unless they call, you'd never even know they were around. The scenic experience was enhanced by a COMMON RAVEN soaring overhead, courting SPOTTED SANDPIPERS, the display flights and song of several AMERICAN PIPITS, the song of WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS and the distant flute-like song of HERMIT THRUSH. You know, I watched several people come and go (wondering what the hell I was doing) and the average tourist hasn't the slightest idea that there are birds in this environment. Their loss. I've found Wilson's Warblers in the willows here in past visits but the vegetation just hasn't developed enough for them yet.
Elsewhere on the highway I picked up singing FOX SPARROWS and CASSIN'S FINCHES and only the second hummingbird of the trip -- BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD.
Tough to put my finger on today's highlight. Finding the plovers was satisfying but my love for the mountains mandates that I choose the time spent at Bellamy Lake below Medicine Bow Peak. Not many species again today but 8 new trip species and a new one for my Wyoming state list. I've now seen all three species of Rosy-Finches in Wyoming (Gray-crowned in winter near Sheridan, Black on Rendezvous Mountain in Jackson and on the Beartooth Plateau near the Montana border; and now today's bird).
Day List (53 species recorded): Trip List: 205. 8 species new for the trip
Double-crested Cormorant, Canada Goose, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Turkey Vulture, Swainson's & Ferruginous Hawks, Am. Coot, Am. Avocet, Killdeer, Mountain Plover, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Wilson's Phalarope, California Gull, Forster's Tern, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Horned Lark, Tree, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Am. Pipit, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, House Wren, Hermit Thrush, Am. Robin, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-billed Magpie, Am. Crow, Common Raven, European Starling, House Sparrow, Warbling Vireo, Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, Cassin's Finch, Pine Siskin, Am. Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Spotted Towhee, Chipping, Brewer's, Vesper, Fox & White-crowned Sparrows, McCown's & Chestnut-collared Longspurs, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged & Brewer's Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbird.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Road Trip Day 22 (Wyoming)
This morning I was up with the larks (Que sorpresa!) to check on various bodies of water on the plains west of Laramie. After a short delay to take care of a vehicle problem, I headed into the mountains again, this time crossing them by continuing westward, then headed north for an overnight stay in Casper. It was another super warm day for this time of year in Wyoming. Pleasant enough on the plains at 50 degrees early this morning, up to 80 degrees when I left Laramie at 11:00am, 88 degrees in Rawlins at 2:30pm and 95 degrees in Casper at 4:30pm. Yikes, this is Wyoming right?
I started by checking several roadside ponds then spent some time at Twin Buttes Reservoir and Wildlife Area followed by Lake Hattie. A couple of hours in these locations ~18 miles west of town produced 50 species. Best bird was a basic plumaged COMMON LOON at Twin Buttes. Lots of CALIFORNIA and a lesser number of FRANKLIN'S GULLS were loafing here with just a few RING-BILLED GULLS. Not much in the way of shorebirds -- plenty of AMERICAN AVOCETS and good numbers of WILSON'S PHALAROPES plus a few WILLETS. Landbirds were few and far between but this McCOWN'S LONGSPUR posed nicely for me, although it just wouldn't turn around to face me for the Full Monte.
At Lake Hattie I added WHITE PELICAN, WESTERN GREBE (lots, which I scanned repeatedly for Clark's), EARED GREBE, a dozen COMMON MERGANSERS and BANK SWALLOW (there's a reliable colony here). SAGE THRASHER and BREWER'S SPARROW were singing in the exact same location as last year at this time. Roadside ponds produced FORSTER'S and BLACK TERNS.
Back in town I dropped my vehicle at the Ford Dealer, conveniently next to the motel chosen for that reason. A couple of days ago, I opened the drivers door only to have the handle become detached from the locking mechanism. At the time I decided to wait until I got home to have it fixed. However, it only took a few times climbing through the passenger side to open the door in a mosquito storm to change my mind! I stopped by the dealer early yesterday to get the part ordered and a couple of hours this morning was all that it took to install (with an oil change thrown in). Good decision! The vehicle mileage is 264,000+ (6000+ on this trip so far) so that door handle has seen some use getting in and out to look at birds! But I digress, as I often do.
I decided to visit the Snowy range again today, partly because I couldn't understand how I had missed Wilson's Warbler yesterday and mostly because I enjoy the area so much. I stopped at a lower elevation location than yesterday (around 9000 feet) and checked a willow area with rapidly melting snow and some new growth. I squished around and turned up tons of singing and foraging WILSON'S WARBLERS. Some of the snow banks here were still taller than me (but that's not saying much). I also picked up LINCOLN'S SPARROW and MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE that I missed yesterday. I could hear several CASSIN'S FINCHES singing but all I could find was this female CASSIN'S FINCH foraging in the snow (image #2). [As I enjoyed the conditions here, little did I know that I would be in for some heat later in the day.]
Ironically, Bellamy Lake was alive with singing WILSON'S WARBLERS and a few LINCOLN'S SPARROWS. I wonder if they moved up the mountain today or was I half asleep yesterday? Perhaps it was a case of snow blindness (and deafness). Anyway, they were certainly present today. The ice on the lake has noticeably thawed since yesterday. A few more days of high temperatures and the water will be completely open. It was a little cloudy above Medicine Bow Peak today and I heard a few thunder claps as the heat increased.
I continued west over the mountain (I've only been on this side a couple of times before). The road drops more quickly than on the east side, eventually into willow riparian, aspen, grass and sage. Expected species that I encountered driving along the road included HOUSE WREN, WARBLING VIREO and YELLOW WARBLER followed by VESPER SPARROW and MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD at lower elevation. A stop at Storer-Saratoga Lake Wetland just north of Saratoga produced a few species for the day list but nothing unusual.
Then it was a long hot drive north with very few birds and only a couple of SWAINSON'S HAWKS and GREAT HORNED OWL new for the day (the owl was state bird #199). Highlights of the day were the mountain birds in the snow zone and being able to easily get into my vehicle again!
Day List (68 species recorded): Trip List: 210. 5 species new for the trip
Common Loon, Pied-billed, Eared & Western Grebes, Am. White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Canvasback, Redhead, Common Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Swainson's & Red-tailed Hawks, Am. Kestrel, Am. Coot, Am. Avocet, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Wilson's Phalarope, Ring-billed, California & Franklin's Gulls, Forster's & Black Terns, Rock Pigeon, Great Horned Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Say's Phoebe, Horned Lark, Tree, Bank, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Am. Pipit, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, House & Marsh Wrens, Sage Thrasher, Mountain Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Am. Robin, Mountain Chickadee, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Warbling Vireo, Cassin's Finch, Pine Siskin, Yellow, Yellow-rumped & Wilson's Warblers, Brewer's, Vesper, Savannah, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, McCown's Longspur, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbird.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Road Trip Day 23 (Wyoming)
A short report today. Un dia de aquellos. Neither one thing nor the other. I'd planned a birding day but abandoned that because of the prospect of a hot day. I then tried and failed to turn it into a long travel day (to get closer to the Beartooth). In the end, I achieved neither. I moved on from Casper to the Sheridan area ready for an early start in the Big Horn Mountains tomorrow. My heart wasn't really in it today. Perhaps because I've been traveling and birding every day for over three weeks. Perhaps because of the hot weather. I put in three hours of birding in the Casper area this morning on Coal Mountain Road (poor juniper habitat) and at Edness K Wilkins State Park (riparian along the North Platte River). By 8:30am it was already uncomfortable. I drove north and picked up a little relief from some cloud cover at the expense of higher humidity. Later in the morning I birded at Lake De Smet north of Buffalo, along Wagon Box Road near Story (very warm) and in the late afternoon in Tongue River Canyon northwest of Sheridan (95 degrees, very humid). Except for Casper, I'd birded at all locations several times before (it wasn't a day for trying to find new places). By the way, I hated Casper. It makes Sierra Vista look very attractive. Sorry Casperites.
Photos: AMERICAN ROBIN at Edness K Wilkins State Park, a very territorial WILLOW FLYCATCHER at Lake De Smet and a BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE in Kearny (very common in the Story area).
Highlight of the day: when the sun when down. Avian highlight was a GOLDEN EAGLE on Coal Mountain Road (Casper Mountain).
Day List (60 species recorded): Trip List: 211. 1 species new for the trip
Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Gadwall, Turkey Vulture, Golden Eagle, Killdeer, Ring-billed & California Gulls, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, White-throated Swift, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Downy Woodpecker, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Willow & Least Flycatchers, Say's Phoebe, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Tree, Violet-green, Bank, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Rock & House Wrens, Gray Catbird, Veery, Am. Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, Blue Jay, Black-billed Magpie, Clark's Nutcracker, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Warbling Vireo, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Am. Goldfinch, Yellow Warbler, Am. Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Western Tanager, Spotted Towhee, Chipping, Vesper, Savannah & Song Sparrows, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Bobolink, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Brewer's Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird & Bullock's Oriole.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Road Trip Day 24 (Wyoming)
If yesterday was a "1", today was a "9". I traveled west from the Sheridan area across the Big Horn Mountains as far as Cody; then headed north via the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway and finally east on the Beartooth Highway towards Montana. This is the part of my trip that I've been looking forward to the most. Unfortunately, although the road in Wyoming is open to the summit, the road in Montana is closed due to a landslide. I had planned to stay in Red Lodge, Montana tonight so that I could travel the Beartooth again tomorrow. I had to scrap that idea, hence the "9" instead of a "10". I could have stayed in Cody overnight and headed back again tomorrow (~80 miles, twice). However, I decided to head south and ended up in Thermopolis, close to my next destination (the name say's it all, no it's not a Greek birding hot spot, but it is normally a hot spot).
It was extremely windy early this morning so the birding in the Big Horns was severely impacted. However, I certainly appreciated having to wear a sweater! A stop at Sibley Lake produced an unexpected PINE GROSBEAK along with a small flock (8) of RED CROSSBILLS to get this finchy day started. As I continued west, birds seen in different locations included ROCK PIGEONS nesting on rocks, numerous BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDS, MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD, TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE (trip bird), MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER, LAZULI BUNTING, GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE (trip bird) and LINCOLN'S SPARROW.
I enjoyed a stop at Shell Falls before the tourists had arrived -- I was constantly buzzed by hummers and VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS. As I left the higher elevation and entered a riparian area along Shell Creek, I found a couple of eastern species still hanging in -- LEAST FLYCATCHER and GRAY CATBIRD. A stop in Cody at Alkali Lake was disappointing with very few birds present save for many AMERICAN AVOCETS, a calling SORA, YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS and a few others.
Chief Joseph Scenic Highway was just as scenic as the previous times that I've driven it. COMMON NIGHTHAWKS were active as I got started. The view from Dead Indian pass is to die for. It obviously killed the Indian, or was that the army? Seriously, it is a very splendiferous vista, as is the view from the bridge over the Yellowstone River. Follow that, you say. Okay, continue on the Beartooth highway for some of the best alpine scenery in the world (or the world as I know it). If you are ever in this part of Wyoming, make the effort to travel these roads, preferably in the direction starting from Cody, you'll be glad that you did. No, I don't work for the Wyoming Tourist Board.
The effects of winter are still very much in evidence on the Beartooth and plenty of snow is still present. Fast running snow melt everywhere. Snow capped peaks in all directions. Birds? They are few and far between once you get above treeline but I saw the two main expected species here -- AMERICAN PIPIT and BLACK ROSY-FINCH. It was blowing a gale and sleeting at the (~11,000) summit where I found these birds. The road to the vista point where I photographed the Rosy-Finches last year is still covered in snow. Just into the trees, WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW and DARK-EYED (Pink-sided) JUNCOS were hanging out. Island Lake Campground is still closed and this is where I usually find Pine Grosbeak (just as well I saw the one earlier).
My time here wasn't very relaxed for a couple of reason's -- I needed to cancel my Red Lodge motel reservation (ironically, the only reservation I've made on the whole trip so far!) and there isn't a phone for miles. Also, I hadn't gassed up in Cody since I had more than enough to reach Red Lodge, so I had that to deal with. From the summit I doubled back to the "Top of the World" near Island Lake and was amazed to only pay $2.39 for gas (no phone though). I picked up CASSIN'S FINCH as I pumped the gas. Storm clouds built up quickly and I encountered sleety rain and hail when I headed back up to the summit with the confidence of some gas to play with.
I left the Beartooth highway with regret on two counts -- this is probably my last high mountain fix for a while, plus it represents the beginning of the end of my trip. Nevertheless, I drove to Thermopolis well satisfied with the events of the day. Last bird recorded for the day was EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE in town (no, I don't think they'll ever make it to the Beartooth). A good show of lightning to the south as I went out to dinner. My plans now are to visit Ocean Lake tomorrow then spend a couple of days in the Pinedale area and then finally, the waterfowl refuges further west. Can I find one more state bird for #200? I'll say yes.
Highlights of the day: Feeling cold again. What a welcome contrast from the very hot recent days. I really enjoyed the spectacular views and stormy conditions on the Beartooth highway, despite the paucity of birds in this environment. Avian Highlights: The finch category. Any day with PINE GROSBEAK, CASSIN'S FINCH and RED CROSSBILL should be considered a good day by any standards
Day List (69 species recorded): Trip List: 215. 4 species new for the trip
Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, Turkey Vulture, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Sora, Am. Avocet, Killdeer, Wilson's Phalarope, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, White-throated Swift, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Downy Woodpecker, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Least Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Horned Lark, Violet-green, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Am. Pipit, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Rock & House Wrens, Gray Catbird, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend's Solitaire, Hermit Thrush, Am. Robin, Mountain Chickadee, Black-billed Magpie, Common Raven, European Starling, House Sparrow, Warbling Vireo, Black Rosy-Finch, Pine Grosbeak, Cassin's Finch, House Finch, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Yellow, Yellow-rumped & MacGillivray's Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, Western Tanager, Green-tailed Towhee, Chipping, Vesper, Lark, Savannah, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed (Pink-sided) Junco, Lazuli Bunting, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Common Grackle and Brown-headed Cowbird.
Friday, June 24, 2005
Road Trip Day 25 (Wyoming)
This morning I drove south from Thermopolis through Wind River Canyon then west over to Ocean Lake near Riverton. From there I continued south to Lander, west over the Wind River Mountains (at a low point here) and finally, north to Pinedale where I'm staying for a couple of nights. Spectacular views of the Wind River Mountains (still with plenty of snow). I covered several habitat types today and saw a decent mix of species. It was a fairly warm and muggy day.
I've driven through Wind River Canyon a number of times but never in the morning and never at low speed. Today I listened and was amazed at how many HOUSE WRENS were present, singing every 100 yards or so. WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS were the only other conspicuous species.
I hadn't previously visited Ocean Lake or the Riverton area. This is an agricultural area with many small farms, very green. I guess that I really didn't know what to expect with a lake named "Ocean Lake" in such an environment, probably something huge. However, it's actually quite small. I visited just one vantage point at one of the Wildlife Management Areas at the northeast corner. Not much on the water -- a few CLARK'S GREBES (new for the trip) in with many WESTERN GREBES and a few WHITE PELICANS. On the other hand, a small wooded area was quite productive with eastern and western species. Flycatchers were much in evidence with several EASTERN and WESTERN KINGBIRDS, WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE and LEAST & (2) WILLOW FLYCATCHERS all in close proximity. BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK and BULLOCK'S ORIOLE were both active and singing. MARSH WRENS were common and I persisted with the bird in the photo -- I've tried and failed many times to photograph them. I pished and it popped up only to drop back almost immediately. However, the bird finally made a mistake and stayed up just a bit too long Gotcha! I guess you could say that I pished it off. Not great detail in the image but a very typical pose for this species which turned out to be #350 on my photo list.
Lander seemed like a decent small community. A good sized pond south of town on highway 287 was very productive for grebes, ducks, three "standard" Wyoming gulls CALIFORNIA, FRANKLIN'S and RING-BILLED, FORSTER'S TERN, WILSON'S PHALAROPE and WILLET.
From here I turned west on Highway 28 over the Wind River Mountains. Although the mountains are low here (Continental divide is 7550 feet), the grade was still quite steep. I saw very little snow but there was plenty further north on this north-south range. Essentially zero birds other than BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE. The habitat on the west side as you approach Farson is sage, sage and more sage with some agriculture where the sage has been cleared.. This is a place that I've birded just once before and it's actually quite birdy with the irrigation channels, flooded fields and trees. Image my surprise to find several (at least three) CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS! I think they were juveniles, which may explain why they had left the mountains in a heat wave. FERRUGINOUS HAWK was another bird that I didn't expect to see here, although it's probably not really out of place, The bird swooped down on something in a ranch yard but I couldn't tell what the prey was. More expected species included SAGE THRASHER and BREWER'S SPARROW. At least six COMMON NIGHTHAWKS were active around 11:00am.
An OSPREY was on a pole as I approached Pinedale on highway 191 (the New Fork river is nearby). I've birded in this area just once before, in 2001. A nice Cafe that I remembered was no longer in business, not a good start. I checked into a Motel then headed out again in mid afternoon. (I've learned not to wait until evening because rooms are much more difficult to come by as tourist season gets into full swing). A check of the fields north of town produced 6 juvenile SANDHILL CRANES. I headed out to New Fork Lake where I was pleased to see a BALD EAGLE conveniently perched close to the road. I saw absolutely nothing on the lake, not a single bird. I walked some of the canyon trail (mainly aspen with some pine and willow) and didn't find much -- DUSKY FLYCATCHER. LINCOLN'S and WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS, CASSIN'S FINCH and a handful of others.
Day List (78 species recorded): Trip List: 218. 3 species new for the trip
Pied-billed, Eared. Western & Clark's Grebes, Am. White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed & Ferruginous Hawks, Am. Kestrel, Sandhill Crane, Am. Coot, Am. Avocet, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Wilson's Phalarope, Ring-billed, California & Franklin's Gulls, Forster's Tern, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, White-throated Swift, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Willow, Least & Dusky Flycatchers, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Horned Lark, Violet-green, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, House & Marsh Wrens, Sage Thrasher, Mountain Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Am. Robin, Black-billed Magpie, Clark's Nutcracker, Am. Crow, Common Raven, European Starling, House Sparrow, Warbling Vireo, Cassin's & House Finches, Pine Siskin, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Western Tanager, Green-tailed Towhee, Brewer's, Vesper, Savannah, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird and Bullock's Oriole.
Saturday, June 25, 2005
Road Trip Day 26 (Wyoming)
Today I explored new territory in Sublette County. I started on New Fork Willow Creek Road northwest of Pinedale then worked my way west along the Green River (west of Daniel Junction) into the Bridger-Teton National Forest. It was a much cooler day under high, thin clouds with low humidity (below 50 degrees to start climbing to the mid 70s by afternoon). Eastern Wyoming continues very hot. I had a fair number of photo opportunities today of teed-up birds. Light, distance and background weren't always what I would have hoped for but I took the shots anyway. Photoshop can fix many things but it's absolutely useless when it comes to fixing shots not taken. All today's photos were taken from my vehicle (makes a great blind).
I started by working the upland sage habitat along New Fork Willow Creek Road (this is mountain foothill sage habitat as opposed to low elevation sage flats). I was hoping for a photo opportunity of GREATER SAGE-GROUSE but that didn't happen. In the end, I considered myself lucky just to have found a bird (only one) in the enormous amount of habitat in this area. It took about 3 hours of slowly cruising around, during which time I saw most of the expected sage dwellers.
My first photo of the day was of a lowly KILLDEER protecting its progeny from the mighty blue trogon. If you spend time on a Killdeer it had better be a good image, right? This is a good image (even if I do say so myself) and reinforces one very important fact that I've learned about photography -- there's absolutely no substitute for being close to the subject and having good light.
Shortly afterwards I rounded a bend on the edge of a ridge and spotted a couple of RED-TAILED HAWKS perched in a dead tree. The light and distance were such that this was a nothing shot except for a fluke of timing -- one bird took off just as I released the shutter, making it an interesting action shot.
Next up was MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD. I'd already seen a few but this one was cooperative. Continuing on, I was able to photograph a somewhat forlorn looking BREWER'S SPARROW and a ferocious looking SAGE THRASHER, both of which were a little too far away. BREWER'S and VESPER SPARROWS were both very common, SAGE THRASHER fairly common.
I left the area around 9:00am and headed west to Highway 354. This road starts in Daniel Junction and runs alongside the Green River for about 5 miles. The riparian habitat is quite extensive (mostly low willow) and bird activity was high. Of course, it's all private property so there's no access. [Stock tip: invest in Wyoming fence companies.] Best birds here were a singing LEAST FLYCATCHER (the only eastern species today) and multiple singing WILLOW FLYCATCHERS. Among the other species were CANVASBACK with youngsters, a few dive-bombing COMMON NIGHTHAWKS that I tried in vain to photograph (damn that focusing problem), BELTED KINGFISHER, WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE and BULLOCK'S ORIOLE.
The state highway eventually becomes County Road 112 and deteriorates, but remains blacktop. Wet meadows are on both sides of the road and SAVANNAH SPARROW and WILSON'S SNIPE were both very common. I also saw distant SANDHILL CRANE and a couple of LONG-BILLED CURLEWS attacking a COMMON RAVEN.
A presumed pair of GREAT HORNED OWLS were roosting in barn structure with low sides. One flew as soon as I showed up but the bird in the photo stayed put, undecided, on the fence so to speak. Again, not a great image but I like how its breast feathers are hanging over the fence.
Where the blacktop ends (in the non-existent? town of Merna), Forest Road 10122 (not marked as such) continues into the Bridger-Teton National Forest. It seemed like much longer because I was driving slowly and stopping often, but I only went about 5 miles into the forest. The road runs alongside willow lined North Horse Creek, in a wide valley bordered by sage, pine and spruce. Birds were what you might expect of a western forest at this latitude and included BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD, at least 4 RED-NAPED SAPSUCKERS, OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER (singing), SWAINSON'S THRUSH (singing), MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE, CLARK'S NUTCRACKER (making that noise it makes) and ORANGE-CROWNED & MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLERS (both singing). The Orange-crowned was Wyoming state bird #200 for me.
I returned through sagebrush county on mostly unmarked roads and navigated by means of my old clunker GPS and my DeLorme Wyoming Atlas. I was hoping for another Sage-Grouse, no such luck. However, I did discover a likely spot that I eventually determined was only 8 miles from a highway. I've often seen the grouse in areas where sage is bordered by grassy flats adjacent to water. The water held a handful of ducks including only the second GREEN-WINGED TEAL of the trip, LESSER SCAUP and WILSON'S PHALAROPE. I may hit this location again in the morning as I leave the area.
In the same area I stopped to photograph a HORNED LARK, an abundant bird throughout Wyoming. The birds here are very different than those in Arizona in that they show minimal yellow on the throat.
No real highlights today, just a very enjoyable day of birding.
Day List (68 species recorded): Trip List: 222. 4 species new for the trip
Great Blue Heron, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, N. Pintail, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Greater Sage-Grouse, Sandhill Crane, Killdeer, Wilson's Snipe, Long-billed Curlew, Spotted Sandpiper, Wilson's Phalarope, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Common Nighthawk, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Red-naped Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Olive-sided, Willow & Least Flycatchers, Horned Lark, Tree, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, House & Marsh Wrens, Sage Thrasher, Mountain Bluebird, Swainson's Thrush, Am. Robin, Mountain Chickadee, Black-billed Magpie, Clark's Nutcracker, Am. Crow, Common Raven, European Starling, House Sparrow, Warbling Vireo, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Orange-crowned, Yellow, Yellow-rumped & MacGillivray's Warblers, Chipping, Brewer's, Vesper, Savannah, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbird and Bullock's Oriole.
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Road Trip Day 27 (Wyoming-Utah)
A sad day, since it was my last day in Wyoming for another year. The credit cards are maxed out so it's time to point the trogon south. Seriously, a couple of days to get home will give me a week to catch up and get organized before I have to work again. I spent the morning birding in southwestern Wyoming then drove to southern Utah. The day produced a few more trip species and a major surprise.
Before heading south, I started by returning to the potential Sage-Grouse area that I had found yesterday, arriving before the sun was up. I didn't find any grouse and eventually decided that even though the site profile was good, the sage wasn't of sufficient height and it's likely that grouse are not in the area. I don't have enough experience with this species to know the minimum sage height and density requirements. I waited around for about 45 minutes and noted the usual suspects -- (4) SAGE THRASHERS, BREWERS and VESPER SPARROWS and HORNED LARKS. The pond held the same ducks as yesterday plus WILLET and WILSON'S PHALAROPE. A few SANDHILL CRANES circled overhead.
You are now entering the twilight zone:
As the light improved, I scanned around and noted a distant blob that I was hoping would turn out to be a grouse hiding behind a clump of sage. I put the scope on it and was shocked to see that it was a NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL perched on top of the sage. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Still can't, but this is why Ripley is in business. I could distinctly see the somewhat triangular head shape, white facial discs and brown vertical stripes on a whitish breast. I was too far away to use the Canon and remembered that I had my digiscoping equipment in the car. It took me a while to find it and I frantically scrambled around trying to fit it to the scope. When I was ready to take a shot, I discovered that the battery was flat (it's been sitting unused for a long time!). I found another battery and installed it only to find that the bird had gone. I tried to relocate it without success. Damn.
I vaguely remember a similar report (don't know where or when) of a completely out of habitat Saw-whet. I did some quick research and couldn't find the report, although I did find information stating that Saw-whets do occur in sage habitat, nesting in willow riparian near the Black Hills of SD and WY (difficult to believe when you compare this to their Arizona environment). However, where I saw the owl was just a sea of sage and there's no way the bird could be nesting there. Straight line distance to the nearest mountain habitat is about 12 miles. Why would an adult be here in June? The only explanation I can come up with is an unmated bird moving to another location.
On the way to my next destination, I stopped to scan Fontenelle Reservoir from a roadside pullout. This location hasn't been very productive for me in the past, but I'm always here in June. A large concentration of CANADA GEESE were immediately obvious -- I didn't count them but there could easily have been as many as 500. I also noted 50+ WHITE PELICANS, a few WESTERN GREBES, AVOCETS, the usual gulls, SAY'S PHOEBE and ROCK WREN.
At Seedskadee NWR, I quickly picked up SAGE SPARROW (they seem quite reliable here) and a pair of what must be annual TRUMPETER SWANS (I've seen them here in three different years). Nothing unusual among ~30 species. Apart from LESSER SCAUP, waterfowl were in low numbers.
Now comes the time that I dislike on these trips -- the drive home. Nothing to look forward to, just lots of miles, traffic, roadwork, heat, smog, etc. The drive through the northern Utah cities is always a real pain. Still, it had to be done. I joined I-80 in Evanston and only managed to drive a little over 300 miles before pooping out. I was hoping to make it to Freedonia, just over the Arizona border, but fell way short and ended up in Panguitch after 5 hour of driving. This is a tourist town for several Utah national parks so here I was, an accidental tourist, paying top dollar for a room. Wildfires in southwestern Utah were the major news item of the night.
Highlight of the day has to be the owl sighting -- how bizarre was that?
Day List (60 species recorded): Trip List: 225. 3 species new for the trip
Western Grebe, Am. White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Trumpeter Swan, Canada Goose, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, N. Pintail, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, N. Harrier, Swainson's & Red-tailed Hawks, Am. Kestrel, Sandhill Crane, Am. Avocet, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Wilson's Phalarope, Ring-billed, California & Franklin's Gulls, Mourning Dove, N. Saw-whet Owl, Common Nighthawk, N. Flicker, Say's Phoebe, Horned Lark, Violet-green, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Rock, House & Marsh Wrens, Sage Thrasher, Mountain Bluebird, Am. Robin, Black-billed Magpie, Am. Crow, Common Raven, European Starling, House Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, Brewer's, Vesper, Sage, Savannah & Song Sparrows, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbird.
Monday, June 27, 2005
Road Trip Day 28 (Utah-Arizona)
Today I continued my journey home and drove from Panguitch, UT to Sierra Vista, AZ (605 miles, 10.5 hours). I left at 5:30am MDT and arrived home at 3:00pm MST (finally got my hour back). Obviously, not much in the way of birds to report today (blacktop isn't the best of habitat).
I didn't (officially) record any birds in Utah although I did see a few BLACK-BILLED MAGPIES. My record keeping began as I crossed the border into Freedonia, Arizona where HOUSE SPARROW was my first AZ bird of the month, probably something that happens in most months -- but not as late as the 27th.
The only time on the journey that I actively made an attempt to find birds (by driving slowly with just one stop) was as I passed through the Kaibab National Forest in Northern Arizona. A few RED CROSSBILLS were the only bird of note, although JUNIPER TITMOUSE and WESTERN BLUEBIRD were both new trip birds. It was quite cold here before the sun had made an impact. Unfortunately, that didn't last long and I started to feel the heat near Marble Canyon as I viewed the spectacular Vermilion Cliffs. By the way, will the real Vermilion please stand up (Cliffs or Flycatcher).
A few CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS greeted me in Flagstaff, home of the high priced Egg McNothing. As Crocodile Dundee (Paul Hogan) so succinctly put it: "tastes like shit but you can live off it".
About an hour north of Phoenix the heat really started to bite and I could see thick, yucky smoke from fires that I didn't even know about. A sign for the "Agua Fria" river blatantly lied.
It really didn't look or feel any better as I approached Sierra Vista. Shortly after leaving I-10, the view into the San Pedro Valley (between the Huachuca and Mule Mountains) was pretty grim. In fact, it was a while before I could really see the mountains, obscured by cloud and particulate matter. The temperature in Sierra Vista at 3:00pm was 103 degrees, a reminder of why I don't like to be around in June. I pity anyone trying to bird right now (soon to include me).
In a few days, I'll put together a summary of the trip with photo log (including any outtakes that I recover). Otherwise, look for my reports to resume on July 2nd. Will the monsoons have started? Probably not.
Day List (26 species recorded): Trip List: 228. 3 species new for the trip
Turkey Vulture, Am. Kestrel, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Gila Woodpecker, N. Flicker, Western Kingbird, Horned Lark, Barn Swallow, N. Mockingbird, Western Bluebird, Juniper Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Clark's Nutcracker, Am. Crow, Chihuahuan & Common Ravens, House Sparrow, House Finch, Red Crossbill, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Western Tanager, Spotted Towhee, Chipping Sparrow and Great-tailed Grackle.
This log is in chronological order and the most recent entries
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The last update was on Monday, June 27, 2005
Journal - June, 2005
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