Wednesday, May 30, 2012

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.

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