2003 - Colorado with Fraziers

Rocky Mountain National ParkThis "long weekend" trip to Colorado began last winter when friends Jim and Kate Frazier missed seeing a McCown's Longspur in Arizona.  I explained to them that they would have much more satisfactory looks in the breeding grounds of eastern Colorado anyway and thus began our planning for a few days away.  My friend Kay Niyo, who recently moved from Iowa to Colorado, joined us for a couple of great days of birding the Rockies.

Jim and Kate left Chicago on Friday, May 30th and picked me up for the haul across Nebraska.  We pulled into Sterling, CO for a reasonable night's sleep in anticipation of birding the Pawnee Grasslands the next morning.

After a quick stop at Crow Creek campground, we began birding in earnest at the entrance to Murphy's Pasture, a well-described route in the Lane guide.  It wasn't long before the Fraziers had lifer number 1and the trip target - McCown's Longspur. 

Lark BuntingIt was a lark kind of day with Horned Lark, Western Meadowlark and Lark Bunting everywhere.  All were singing and skylarking and the Horned Larks were already in family groups.  Baby Horned Larks can really be a puzzle for awhile.  Other good grassland birds seen included Brewer's Sparrow and Ferruginous Hawk.

The western drought is beginning to break a bit and we managed to find a few pools of water.  In a couple of them we found probable nesting American Avocets.  The wind began to take its toll and we gave up on finding good looks at Chestnut-collared Longspur.  The brief views at a couple of areas would have to do.  At a quick stop on the way to Loveland we managed to find Burrowing Owl, one which was hovering in search of food, but we dipped on the Mountain Plover.

Sunday's weather was cold, cloudy, and windy.  Kay was late meeting us because of bear problems on her deck at 5:45 AM!  Finally we all rendezvoused and we birded the Bear Lake road.  Significant snow at Bear Lake precluded a hike around the lake.  Heck, it was tough enough just walking to a point where we could see the lake!

Clarke's NutcrackerAs the sun appeared we decided a trip up Trail Ridge Road was in order.  On the way we saw several neat birds like Clarke's Nutcracker and Gray Jay.  The ride also provided some great shots of mammals.  I had only seen one marten before in my life and we managed to find one on two separate days on this trip for a real bonus.  Curiously there were no pika.  Perhaps they are just waking?

The next morning dawned sunny and beautiful.  I now have a new favorite birding place in Rocky Mountain National Park -- Beaver Meadows.  Greeting us all over the picnic area were Richardson's Ground Squirrels.  As we walked the trail a Green-tailed Towhee serenaded from the rocks above.  A Cordilleran Flycatcher picked up nesting material and we watched her build her nest for awhile.  Up in the Ponderosa pines a Hammond's Flycatcher called - one of Jim and Kate's target species.  Before long one teed up in the path in front of us and we all studied the big-headed empid with a flat top. 

Richardson's Ground SquirrellOther neat birds seen along this trail included the ever-stunning Mountain Bluebird, Western Tanager, Dusky Flycatcher, Gray-headed Junco, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Red-naped and Williamson's Sapsuckers, and Virginia's Warbler.  Lincoln's and Song Sparrows sang from their territories along the creek.  But the creme de la creme of the morning, for me anyway, was the Three-toed Woodpecker in the burn area.  One of us who shall remain nameless stayed behind momentarily and watched the bird go into a nest hole in a dead aspen.  Cool!  The crowning touch was a soaring Northern Goshawk which proceeded to go into a stoop at full speed.  Wow!

Stellar's JayAnother trip to the top for ptarmigan proved fruitless but the weather was a bit better than the day before so we could enjoy the high mountain scenery better.  A couple of American Robins at 12,000 feet seemed a bit bizarre.  We enjoyed all of the American Pipits and White-crowned Sparrows in full breeding color.

Next it was on to Endovalley.  We watched a Dipper fly up and down a rapidly flowing Roaring River.  Magpies and Stellar's Jays were common throughout and we finally managed to see the singing Wilson's Warbler who miraculously can hide that brilliantly yellow color in a willow thicket.  The snow melt had the Fall River spread all over the valley so my normal hiking trail had become a river.

Polyphemus mothWhen we returned to our cabin we found this beautiful moth struggling against the wind.  Kate built it some wind protection out of our firewood and it eventually flew off.  We still don't know for certain what it was but it obviously is in the same family as our Cecropia moth.

Tuesday morning found us winding down with a short walk at Lake Estes where we had a Prairie Falcon fly over and a Willow Flycatcher near the golf course.  A grand slam of empids is always a good thing!

It was a short trip but extremely productive.  The Colorado trip list follows: