Friday, September 28, 2012

Field Notes 9.15.12

It was not long after we left home that we realized we had both forgotten our cell phones. Oh well.

We continued on undaunted to Zapata Falls.  We had heard rumors of an American dipper on the stream, but we did not see the dipper. We think this is one bird that will go on our--Wanted To See, Tried To See, Should Have Seen (along with the yellow-billed cuckoo)--bird count list.  Up above the falls on the South Zapata Lake Trail we did see a Townsend’s solitaire, Clark’s nutcracker, northern flicker, black-capped chickadee and a possible Townsend’s warbler.

Returning to Zapata Falls, we still did not see the dipper but we did meet a sweet three-legged dog.

Following a theme, we headed next to Zapata Ranch. We saw an American kestrel on a signpost beside the road. At the ranch we walked the birding trail and saw black-billed magpies, white-breasted nuthatches and black-capped chickadees.  Several common nighthawks flew overhead. We saw one nighthawk sitting on a branch - the first time we had ever seen a nighthawk perching. We noted that the nighthawks were in flight during mid-day. Previously we have only seen nighthawks flying in the morning or early evening.  We also saw a handsome Abert’s squirrel, the first one we have seen in the San Luis Valley.

From the ranch we headed to the Great Sand Dunes National Park.  We stopped at the picnic area and ate lunch with a chipmunk. We drove up to the campground and only saw a few American robins flying through the pinon pines.  We hiked up the Medano Pass Trail and heard a Clark’s nutcracker, a jay and caught a glimpse of a few unidentified streaky sparrows.  Maybe it’s just us but we are not yet seeing many of the fall migration birds coming into the Valley. But there is nothing to feel down about.  Today was a beautiful fall day in the San Luis Valley.  We had the opportunity to walk in the forest with the aspen turning to gold, set off against the blue sky and the 14,000-foot Mount Blanca. My god, but sometimes we feel so happy.  Inexpressibly happy!!

We headed home with smiles on our faces. When we walked in the door we could not believe that it was after 5:00 p.m.  We had left the house at 8 a.m. It had been a long day for us but without the cell phones it had gone by as just a day of splendor and satisfaction.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Field Notes 9.9.12

Another fin and feather field trip.  We headed up to Big Meadow Reservoir near South Fork.  The fishing for me was terrible. I still think Diane is sending out vibes to keep me from catching fish because she doesn’t like to see them get hurt.

After about three hours of fishing I packed it up and we hiked around the reservoir for some bird watching -- which was not much better than the fishing.  We did see a red-tailed hawk overhead, its tail feathers glowed bright red as it soared under the afternoon sun. Near the inlet we found several Canada geese, mallards and two common mergansers.  A small pine tree next to a small aspen held dark-eyed juncos, mountain chickadees and a sparrow flitting too fast to identify.  A deer ran across the trail after getting a drink from the reservoir.

We drove west toward the Valley floor and saw the gray backs of several Swainson’s hawks on power poles. Although the sun was dropping in the western sky, we wanted to use every bit of the beautiful day to see birds so we stopped at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge.  The waters along the auto loop were filled with American coots, ducks and geese although the low autumn sun made it hard to see what all was on the water.

We then moved on to the treed pull-out on CR 8.  This spot is always fun, filled with birds darting in and out of the willows, Russian olives and cottonwood trees. We thought we might have seen a female blue grosbeak. It had a thick bill and the metallic chink call of the blue grosbeak but it also had a dark crest which is not a field mark in the Sibley’s bird guide.  We also saw a green-tailed towhee, Wilson’s warblers, a western wood peewee, American robins, European starlings and a white-crowned sparrow.

Diane suggested that we head up CR 3 on the way home. This part of the drive was filled with red-winged and Brewer’s blackbirds flying across the road, so much so that I was afraid I was going to hit them or they me. Better to drive slowly and enjoy the trip.

As we neared U.S. Hwy. 160 Diane saw big birds in a crop circle.  She asked if they were geese or cranes. They turned out to be sandhill cranes -- about 200 of them from the irrigation ditch to the center pivot. Just spectacular!! Our first crane sighting last year was on September 18. We heard it calling as it flew above us while we were walking in Carroll Woods in north Alamosa.

We still weren’t ready to quit birdwatching for the day so we stopped at Home Lake east of Monte Vista.  It was Coot City there, along with a few western grebes, a lone double-crested cormorant and a white domestic duck with her white and brown offspring.

Reluctantly we decided to return home with a reminder that autumn had definitely arrived – the Denver Broncos would begin playing their first game of the season in less than 10 minutes.

We Love the Valley!!!

Go Denver Broncos!!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Field Notes 9.4.12

Sometimes birdwatching is a very busy affair with birds everywhere. Other times it seems towards the end of summer things slow down and there are fewer birds to see. But that’s not to say there aren’t unexpected and delightful sightings such as the group of cedar waxwings we saw in a Russian olive tree just west of the Adams State University campus near the Rio Grande River.

We’ve also been busy with family events and end-of-summer activities so here is a list of sightings that have brightened the doldrums of late summer birding:

American goldfinches and plumbeous vireo at Pike’s Stockade
A Wilson’s snipe and great blue herons near Lasauses
American avocets, white-faced ibises, black-crowned night herons, Wilson’s phalaropes and gulls at Blanca Wetlands
Common nighthawks and killdeer at Riverwood Pond in Alamosa

Around town we’ve noticed that the numerous swallows that have delighted us with their aerial acrobatics all summer have left the area. The rufous hummingbirds that so jealously guarded the feeders are gone but we still have broad-tailed hummingbirds enjoying the sweet nectar. Canada geese are getting restless and practicing their v-shaped flying formations.

We will soon look forward to hearing the haunting calls of the sandhill cranes that signal the beginning of the fall migration.

Fields Notes 8.12.12

On our last good field trip we headed south on Rio Grande County Road 3 towards the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. About halfway down we stopped to observe a juvenile Swainson’s hawk in the middle of the road. Being concerned about its safety Brian got out of the truck to try to shoo it off the road. He thought better of this when he heard its mother screeching from a nearby power pole. Diane envisioned the mother hawk swooping down and digging its talons into Brian’s back. We did manage to move the funny young hawk closer to the side of the road where it would be out of danger.

We moved across to the wooded pull-out at the south end of the refuge off County Road 8. This has always been a hot birding spot for us. We were pleased to spot a green-tailed towhee poking around in the leaves on the forest floor. We also saw some lark sparrows and juvenile red-winged blackbirds with their much darker parents.

Our ultimate destination this trip was the Rock Creek area west of the Monte Vista refuge. As we climbed in elevation we saw numerous small birds flitting along the roadside which we believed to be horned larks. Some little birds darted quickly into the brown-colored brush and camouflaged themselves before we could I.D. them.

Soon we were in the foothills and mountain zones. We saw pine siskins in the evergreens and as we maneuvered a curve in the road we were surprised to see a blue (dusky) grouse standing on the gravel road. It flew into a tree and joined another grouse.

After a hike in the rain we explored a willow-covered creek where we saw several Wilson’s warblers, American goldfinches and dark-eyed juncos.

As we drove out of the Rock Creek area, we decided that even if we hadn’t seen any birds we still would have enjoyed the spectacular views as we cleared the canyon and looked out over the Valley. It was a wonderful trip. We saw a northern shrike and several American kestrels hovering over their hunting grounds once we reached the Valley floor.

Before going home we drove the auto loop at the Monte Vista refuge where we saw a lone coyote stalking waterbirds. We didn’t wait around to see if it had any hunting success.