Sunday, April 1, 2012

Field Notes 3.31.12

Our first destination this last day of March was San Luis Lakes State Park. As we were paying the park fee at the ranger station, a bird perched on the flagpole singing a lovely, slurred two-note greeting. We pulled out the Sibley’s Field Guide and quickly determined that the solitary songster was a Say’s Phoebe. 

We then hiked the south shore of San Luis Lake in pursuit of water fowl swimming on the far side of the lake. Because of San Luis Lake’s enormous size, it seemed no matter how far we hiked we couldn’t get close enough to identify the ducks. We decided to enact Plan B, hike back to the car and drive to the north end of San Luis Lake. We saw two pairs of horned larks flitting among the chico. Normally horned larks congregate in large groups but the advent of mating season means they are pairing up.
On this day it seemed that the birding hotspot was around the ranger station because upon returning to the car we first heard and then saw a sage thrasher sitting on the fence west of the building. Its song is reminiscent of a meadowlark but softer and sweeter.
At the north end of the lake the ducks were no more easily identifiable so we decided to move on to the Nature Conservancy’s Medano-Zapata Ranch. We had heard that there was a 1.5 mile nature trail loop there and were interested in checking it out. What a lovely setting and a fantastic spot for birdwatching!! We hiked among tall deciduous trees filled with northern flickers, nuthatches, robins and mountain bluebirds. We will definitely visit the ranch again when the warblers and other songbirds return to the Valley. We anticipate that the ranch’s proximity to the Valley floor on the west and the pinyon-juniper habitat at the base of Mount Blanca – combined with the deciduous forest at the center of the ranch – will be a birdwatcher’s paradise. 
As we headed home on Alamosa CR 4S we stopped to observe a hawk perched on top of a power pole. This particular hawk was very accommodating and allowed us plenty of time to look for field marks. This was a ferruginous hawk, not a common sighting in the San Luis Valley, we were thrilled to have seen it.

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