Thursday, December 6, 2012
A trip down South River Road in Alamosa County started with a sighting of two foxes lounging in the morning sun on top of a haystack. They leaped off the haystack and ran away before we could take what would have been a fantastic photo.
We stopped at LaSauses to count birds at our Earth Team wetland. We saw another loggerhead shrike and the usual assortment of winter birds including juncos, northern flickers, ravens and sparrows. We spent a little time observing a large flock of rock doves roosting on a nearby metal barn.
Further on two great horned owls roosted in a bare deciduous tree while a northern harrier cruised low over the fields searching for rodents. We saw our first bald eagle of the winter season at the top of a tree near Conejos CR 26. Other sightings included a loggerhead shrike on a wire and a ground squirrel scurrying through the chico.
Driving east on Conejos CR Z we saw a porcupine in a tree and an American kestrel.
At the northeast end of Smith Reservoir, our final stop of the day, we saw a large number of ducks take flight in perfect synchronization as we approached in the truck. On the open water we saw mallards, common goldeneyes, and a common merganser. Horned larks lifted from the ground cover and then disappeared into the brush ahead of us. Several mule deer loped along the north shore.
Our last sighting of sandhill cranes in autumn 2011 was November 7. This year we were surprised to see eight cranes still in the Valley as we drove along Rio Grande CR 3E just south of Home Lake.
At the lake, which was mostly frozen, there were Canada geese, a gull, American coots and a bufflehead. We then went up the road to the south entrance of Rio Grande State Wildlife Area and ambled towards the river. During the hike we saw a northern harrier with reddish undersides, indicating that it was a juvenile. Flying nearby was light gray adult harrier. In the trees along the river chipping sparrows, Brewer’s sparrows and juncos flitted among the willow shrubs. A red-tailed hawk flew overhead and a common merganser swam peacefully in the river. A stop at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge auto loop yielded sightings of mallards and an American kestrel.
Based on a report of a greater roadrunner sighting, we drove to Great Sands Dunes National Park. After checking in at the visitor center, we hiked a trail that wound from the visitor center to the dunes. While scanning the chico, we saw a coyote lazing in the sun. We looked up to make certain no Acme Safes would drop on us. Beep, Beep.
We didn’t see the roadrunner but it was a beautiful day and a nice hike.
The San Luis Valley is really a large place and we have ranged over a better part of it during our one-year odyssey to see as many birds as we can in the Valley. So far we have seen over 180 birds. On this field trip we went to the western alluvial plain below the Crestone Needles. Following the trail guide in the Rawinski we headed up Hwy.17 to the Black Canyon.
As we drove north we saw sandhill cranes loafing in a field east of the highway. We also saw a red-tailed hawk diving at unseen prey and pronghorns racing across the chico. As we turned east across Saguache County Road G we saw a golden eagle flying on a thermal and a peregrine falcon sitting on a pole. We drove north on a rugged dirt track to the Black Canyon trailhead. Many horned larks darted across the road and disappeared in the brush. Ravens cawed across the sky and magpies dropped in and out of trees. The trail continues to Orient Mine, where during summer evenings large numbers of Mexican free-tailed bats leave the mine in a spectacular scene that thrills spectators.
We drove over rugged tracks and dirt roads until we found ourselves heading back down Hwy. 17.