Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Field Notes 5.27.12

For Memorial Day weekend we went to the old Fort Garland to see the historical re-enactors with plans to do some birdwatching on the way home.  In the parking lot we saw a Say’s Phoebe sitting on a fence post. We enjoyed visiting with the uniformed men and women and hearing about the history of the Civil War period.

Our next stop was nearby Smith Reservoir. We have been hoping to add Clark’s grebe to our list and sure enough, there were several out on the water. We strolled along the water’s edge and saw a violet-green swallow, along with other swallows, darting in and out of the deciduous trees.

We headed back to Hwy. 160 and saw two turkey vultures soaring in the high winds. Up the road towards the Sand Dunes we stopped at the Nature Conservancy’s Zapata Ranch and birded the nature trail. Our first sighting was a gorgeous western tanager. The red and yellow bird is conspicuous among the green leaves of the tall cottonwoods. We also saw several western wood pewees, a northern flicker and a western bluebird. Near the parking lot at the end of the trail we saw an unusual looking dove land on the ground. It was very cooperative and allowed us to get a good look at it before it flew up into a tree. It was a white-winged dove, a rare spring sighting in the Valley.

Field Notes 5.25.12

We decided to follow the “Cat Creek Loop/Hot Creek State Wildlife Area tour as described in John Rawinski’s “Birding Hotspots of South-central Colorado.”  From Alamosa we drove west across Alamosa County Road 8S and stopped first at the south viewing area at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. This treed area was filled with many birds flitting to and fro. The common phrase coming from both of us was, “What’s that!! Oh no, what’s that!” As soon as we would see one bird and tried to identify it, another bird would fly by and when we turned back to the first bird it would be gone. We spent half an hour doing our best to get our binoculars on every bird we could. We saw a northern mockingbird, a yellow warbler, a Bullock’s oriole as well as bluebirds and finches. Diane even spotted a gorgeous gold rooster with a red comb crowing at the rising sun. We were torn between spending the morning identifying more birds or continuing on our chosen path. 
We drove down Hwy. 15 for about 12 miles to the point where it becomes a gravel road. The book indicated that we should begin searching the prairie dog villages for burrowing owls. We drove several miles without seeing an owl, but once we stopped the car and scanned the short-grass prairie we spotted a burrowing owl sitting beside a hole.  We had a nice visit with an Amish lady who was outside in her yard, binoculars in hand, looking for burrowing owls and mountain plovers. She said that she had heard the plovers but hadn’t seen any yet. 
We, too, searched for mountain plovers but were also unsuccessful. Many horned larks, however, did get our attention. We turned west at Road BB to Golden-winged Warbler Bridge where we saw a Lewis’s woodpecker and numerous swallows. We caught brief glimpses of flitting warblers and a hawk.
Our next stop was Hot Creek State Wildlife Area. The riparian area appeared to be drier than normal and the water birds were not as abundant as we had hoped. We did hear the “barking” of a black-crowned night heron but it moved away among the cattails whenever we approached. We saw mallards on the creek and cliff swallows flying in and out of their mud-daubed homes. 

We returned to FDR 255 and drove through pinyon/juniper habitat hoping to see red crossbills but we will have to wait to add this bird to our list. We turned onto FDR 250 into the Cat Creek area and parked for lunch. We saw a broad-tailed hummingbird and heard the raucous cries of Clark’s nutcrackers. After lunch we drove east on FDR 250 to a heavily treed area called Keen’s Grove next to a barn and corral. The bleating of sheep from nearby hillsides could be heard as well as the exuberant songs of a house wren and a chickadee.
We ended our birding day at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge where we saw ducks, avocets, ibises and coots. On the southern edge of the auto loop we saw a turkey vulture feeding on the desiccated body of badger.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Field Notes 5.21.12

Avian activity has definitely picked up along the Alamosa golf course river trail.  New sightings for us for the year included American goldfinches, a western wood peewee and a brown-headed cowbird. We also saw red-winged blackbirds, American robins, a house wren, black-billed magpies, a pair of mountain bluebirds, a mallard, starlings and mourning doves. Mammals included a porcupine in a tree, a ground squirrel on the golf course and mule deer.

Fiels Notes 5.20.12

The San Luis Hills south of Alamosa were our destination today. We drove south on Hwy. 285 to Antonito, then turned east at CR 8. We were treated to a verdant stretch of trees and flooded fields for about five miles. The mosquitoes were plentiful and we decided it would be a good idea to roll up the car windows. The habitat transitioned quickly to the arid, sage-covered San Luis Hills. We turned north on a BLM 4WD track about 1 ½ miles to John James Canyon. From there we hiked into the beautiful and isolated canyon. We were tantalized by beautiful bird songs from both sides of the canyon but actual bird sightings were hard to come by. Our first positive identification was a black-throated sparrow perched on a pinon tree. We also saw spotted towhees, common ravens and a Swainson’s hawk. We heard but didn’t see pinyon jays and western scrub jays. We stopped for a rest under a pinon tree and noticed a tiny rock wren on a nearby branch. Further up the canyon we saw a Cooper’s hawk searching for its next meal.

As we neared the truck after our five-mile hike we saw about 30 head of cattle milling near the gate through which we had to pass. As the cows moved away perpendicular to our approach they revealed a couple of bulls – just what we were hoping NOT to see - at the back of the pack. Thankfully the bulls moved on with the cows but stopped a couple of times to eye us suspiciously.
We ate our peanut butter sandwiches while sitting on the truck tailgate, then continued east on CR 8 to the lovely Lobatos Bridge, which spans the Rio Grande as it transitions from a flat, broad flow to the steep canyons of the southern San Luis Valley and northern New Mexico. A couple of species of swallows, western meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds are at home along this stretch of the Rio Grande.

Fields Notes 5.19.12

After a day of working around the house we decided to get in some late afternoon road birding with our destination being the South River Road CR 10 out of Alamosa. Several flooded farm fields were filled with Wilson’s phalaropes, American avocets, white-faced ibises and a lone snowy egret. Overhead a Swainson’s hawk landed in a tree and a red-tailed hawk soared on the thermals.

At CR CC we turned back north and saw a western kingbird and several white-throated swifts.
We stopped at the Alamosa Cemetery to look for warblers among the mature deciduous and evergreen trees. We were pleased to see a yellow warbler flitting from tree to tree. I also thought I saw a yellow-rumpled warbler. A mountain chickadee, robins, magpies, Eurasian collared doves and two hawks rounded out our cemetery tour.

Field Notes 5.9.12

Since we were going to Monte Vista for the monthly Friends of the Refuges meeting we decided to leave early, stop at Home Lake, pick up a couple of sub sandwiches for a picnic at Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge and then head to the meeting.

We knew that double-crested cormorants had been seen at Home Lake and we were hoping to see them ourselves. The lake was full of western grebes, blue-winged teals, coots and mallards. A white domestic duck paddling on the lake looked odd with its colorful wild brethren. We also saw Wilson’s phalaropes, American avocets and a sandpiper that was too far out to get a good I.D. We were puzzled by a gull but after a long look and a check of our Sibley’s guide we identified it as a California gull.

It was time to move on and we had yet to see a double-crested cormorant but just before leaving Diane spied two cormorants high in the trees. As we watched one dropped down, glided over the water and landed without a splash.
At the Monte Vista NWR we ate at the picnic table near the walking trail. Our dinner music was The Blackbird (red-winged and yellow-headed) Serenade. Beside the auto loop we saw an American bittern with its beak stretched high. Avocets, mallards, teals and coots floated on the water.
At the south slough we saw a black-crowned night heron perched on the water’s edge. With barely enough time to get to the meeting we spotted a great horned owl on a telephone pole as we drove north to Monte Vista.