Monday, July 23, 2012

Field Notes 7.20.12

 We went afield today as Earth Team volunteers to explore our Wetland Reserve Property near Lasauses.  This is a conservation project of the NRCS where we and others do regular bird counts on wetlands across the Valley.

When we are in the truck Diane is the look out and tells me to stop when sees something. I guess I’m not fast enough because she says, “Stop! Stop! Stop!”  I would like to stop as fast as she wants but I would put her through the windshield. One bird that I did not stop fast enough to see was a light brown sparrow-like thing that flew into the chico. However, I did stop in sufficient time for us to see white-faced ibises and killdeer in a flooded field and a Swainson’s hawk and a red-tailed hawk on power poles and tree swallows on the lines in between.
At our bird count area we were ready for the wet, wet, wet, pasture.  Diane was in irrigation boots and I was in shorts and sandals—both of us doused in bug spray.  The pasture has a dry high area with trees where we sighted barn swallows, house sparrows, mourning doves, American robins, western wood peewees and starlings. The lower pasture is wet and divided by a cattail fen.  It is a sloppy, slick, shaky bog. It is hard to walk through but we slogged down to the cattails to see a common yellowthroat, red-winged blackbirds and a marsh wren. We heard a sora in the reeds.  I startled a Wilson’s snipe and as it flushed up from its hiding place it startled me, too!  We saw a white-throated swift swooping overhead.

We crossed the wetland to dry chico where Diane found a long sturdy stick which greatly improved her chances of not falling in the muddy marsh as we crossed back again. How I did not fall myself was only luck. We were extremely lucky to see the sora, which we had heard in the marsh, fly up out of the cattails.
As we left the  village we saw a southwest willow flycatcher,
Our birding day was not yet done so we stopped by Pike’s Stockade hoping yet again to see a yellow-billed cuckoo.  I saw one flying across a field but Diane said, “No, that’s a magpie.”  She was right.  Then I was sure, “There, in that tree.”  “No, it’s a magpie!!”  “There, in the willows.” “Magpie.”  We were not going to see a cuckoo today.  We did see a sage thrasher as we left the grounds.

As we headed home we stopped to observe an American pipit on a barb wire fence. As we drove through the area where we had seen the light brown bird on the drive down we saw it again.  The bird stayed ahead of the truck but with careful starting and stopping under Diane’s direction we identified it as a lark sparrow, a beautiful little bird.
I love bird watching and I love that Diane is there to tell me how to drive and not get too extravagant with my sightings.

Field Notes 7.19.12

We understand your pain, William Clark.

An evening trip to the Rio Grande State Wildlife Area started at the northwest entrance. We doused ourselves with bug spray and started out.  At the river’s edge we saw a new bird for us and our best sighting of our year-long birding odyssey – a black phoebe.  It was just a perfect sighting - the black-headed bird with a black chest and white belly flew back and forth from its perch on a bare branch, snatching insects from over the water. We had plenty of time to make a good identification. This was only the second or third time a black phoebe has been seen and reported in the San Luis Valley.
We also saw two orange-crowned warblers flitting in the riverside willows.

We started down the trail, excited to see even more winged creatures but as we pushed further into the dense deciduous forest we encountered a fearsome flying thing - the mosquito. We tried to continue on undaunted but at the point that I started breathing them in through my nose I called for a return to the truck. We were reminded of the great explorer William Clark who complained often about the troublesome “musquetoes” as he and Meriwether Lewis led their expedition across the heartland.
We drove down to the southwest entrance of the SWA and found this area to be much better bug-wise. The area was more open and relatively mosquito free. We saw a beautiful American goldfinch male and female land on a post not ten yards from us.  Further on at a cattail pond we saw two great blue herons, American coots and mallard ducks. A northern flicker flew up into a nearby tree and we flushed several squawking black-crowned night herons. We also saw a house wren, a marsh wren, a western wood peewee, two northern harriers, a Swainson’s hawk and a prairie falcon. We heard a sora in the dense reeds but did not see it.

We decided that we’ll get some extra strong DEET and mosquito net hoods the next time we return to the thick riverside forest at the northwest entrance.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Field Nites 7.16.12

 Opening Day at Blanca Wetlands

There was not much doing at the wetlands but we had gone to see a snowy plover and our efforts were rewarded.
We saw what we presumed to be two snowy plovers feeding along the shore of the alkali playa north of parking area 4.  We were able to get a good look but decided to wait on a positive I.D. until we could check field marks against our Sibley’s field guide, which we had left in the truck. We also wanted to take some photos.
We moved on to parking area 6 and walked out to the playa to the west. It was filled with white-faced ibises, Franklin’s gulls, American avocets, killdeer, red-winged blackbirds and a mallard mother and ducklings. At the south fishing pond we saw a Swanson’s hawk.
Back at the truck and with field guide in hand we returned to the playa to again observe the shore birds. This time we saw the dark stripe on the plovers’ shoulders and we were certain of the sighting.
On our way home we saw a great horned owl as we headed across Alamosa CR 2.

Field Notes 7.15.12

 On this day we split our bird watching trips so we could observe morning and evening bird activity.

In the morning we hiked through the wooded area north of the Alamosa disc golf course. We were pleased to see that the previously dry marshy areas were filled with water – and birds!! We saw a large number of white-faced ibises and black-crowned night herons. We also heard one or two soras calling from the reeds.

The deciduous forest yielded sightings of broad-tailed hummingbirds, western wood peewees and yellow warblers.
After 6 p.m. we drove over to the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. What a wonderful treat to see so many newly hatched babies with their parents. The wetlands were full of baby yellow-headed blackbirds, American coots, eared grebes, ruddy ducks, Canada geese and mallards. They are so cute as they call to their parents and furiously paddle through the water. The pond at the south end of the auto loop is once again full of water and there we saw American avocets, black-faced ibises, black-crowned night herons and Wilson’s phalaropes. In the trees that line Colo. 15 we saw a great-horned owl, a Bullock’s oriole and a prairie falcon.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Field Notes 7.7.12

Earth Team Deployed.

After starting our SLV Birdwatching Odyssey we have come in contact with others with this shared interest.  One acquaintance asked us to become members of the Natural Resources Conservation Service Earth Team. The Earth Team is a project that recruits volunteer birdwatchers to do regular bird counts on agricultural land managed under the NRCS wetland reserve program. We have been assigned 140 acres of pasture  and wetlands near the village of Lasauses.
Under clouds and rain we headed down to the area with our niece Christa. We had a little trouble finding  the pasture but some locals recognized  three lost souls, seeing us in a field with a map and  pointing in three different directions. They directed us to some stock pens back up the road.
The field is filled with grass and cattail sloughs. Trees line the road and fences. The  San Luis Hills rise to the west above oxbows of the Rio Grande.
The field  and open water had a nice compliment of red-winged blackbirds. Tree swallows flew overhead or sat in trees with their fledglings.  We also saw violet-green swallows.  An  American goldfinch flew up into the trees and a Wilson’s snipe winnowed above us. Eurasian collared doves crossed the rainy  sky.
It is such a beautiful place and we are thrilled to be part of  this environmental study.
On the way back home we stopped at Pike’s Stockade hoping to see the yellow-billed cuckoo but it remained elusive.  We were elated, however, to see a blue grosbeak and a Lazuli bunting.
Also, you may remember that the last time we were birdwatching near Pike’s Stockade  we found a lost calf and returned it to some nearby cattle.  We were pleased as we drove by the same pasture when one little calf broke from its mother, ran to the fence and looked at our truck.  We know that this is the calf we saved or at least we want to think it so.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Field Notes 7.1.12

 Sparrows Galore 

Our field trip today took us into the beautiful Conejos River Canyon southwest of Antonito and up over La Manga Pass at over 10,000 feet. We turned off at Forest Service Road 114 to La Manga Creek Trail. Our first two sightings were sparrows – a white-crowned sparrow and a Savannah sparrow. A bit further down the trail we spotted a new bird for us – a warbling vireo. We continued along the trail for about 1 ½ miles, enjoying the scenery and numerous bird sightings including red-winged blackbirds, American robins, northern flickers, a hairy woodpecker, male and female western tanager, Clark’s nutcrackers and some high-flying swallows. We also caught a glimpse of a duck family, mother and fuzzy babies, on a beaver pond. Overhead we spotted turkey vultures and common ravens. 

We returned to Hwy. 17 and continued west to Trujillo Meadows Reservoir State Wildlife Area. After a picnic at the lake we hiked along the shore trail. While examining a Lincoln’s sparrow we startled a baby spotted sandpiper. It squawked and squawked and ran up and down the bank. Finally its mother returned and calmed down the poor frightened baby.   

Pretty white-crowned sparrows were abundant during this mountain terrain field trip.