Wednesday, March 27, 2013
A Good Day for Ducks
We started across County Road 8S. Near the Refuge we saw marsh hawk, red-tailed and rough-legged hawks. At the 8S pullout, the field was filled with sandhill cranes (but fewer than this time last year). Among the Canada geese were about 30 snow geese - an unusual sighting and that many snow geese makes it that much more unusual.
Ducks and duck-like birds:
At the first pond east of the Refuge visitor center, we saw an unusual-looking goose. It had a white patch on its side and orange legs. We debated whether it might be a Canada goose hybrid because it was near a regular-looking Canada goose that might have been its mate.
Along the auto tour we saw the thrilling yet ominous sight of two peregrine falcons feeding on what was once a flying creature. Their golden eyes and sharp claws were clearly visible to the naked eye, not 10 feet away from the road and our car.
Our evening trip ended with the lovely spring symbol of American red-breasted robins, singing and courting.
We deployed the NRCS Earth Team down to the Valdez WRP, traveling on the South River Road from Alamosa. We saw bald eagles, American kestrels, juvenile rough-legged hawk, magpies, ravens and newborn calves in the winter-brown fields.
--Sandhill cranes northwest of Pikes Stockade
At the Valdez WRP in LaSauses, the frozen hard ground allowed us to explore the full extent of the entire property. We discovered a northern entrance along an irrigation ditch that will allow us to get to some prime birding habitat. On this trip we saw a bald eagle and an American kestrel, along with a black-capped chickadee, a marsh hawk hovering over the fields, sandhill cranes flying high in the sky and we heard red-winged blackbirds.
During our daily walks we’d seen more ducks and geese coming to the open water on Riverwood Pond. We understand that parts of the pond stay melted through the winter because of warm thermal springs that flow into the pond. After our walk and prior to a trip to the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, we saw:
--Common goldeneye (male and female)
We then drove to the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge for a hike along the Rio Grande River trail where we saw:
--Marsh hawk (yes, we know the accepted nomenclature is northern harrier, but we prefer the older version of marsh hawk)
--Two coyotes looking forlorn because they were tied to the ground by four spindly legs
The cold winter had kept us inside for at least a month but a break in the weather and a warming trend sent us west to the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge.
--2 rough-legged hawks
--First sighting of the season - numerous sandhill cranes crossing the blue skies. HOORAY!!
--2-3 cranes in field (intersection Rio Grande County 3E and 7S)
--Huge flock of ducks in flight (possible lesser scaup)
--10-20 red-winged blackbirds
--8-10 song sparrows
--20 pronghorns - territorial chasing
--Elk bedding down for the night
And the sun dropping below the San Juan Mountains.
Monday, January 28, 2013
Total Birds Identified – 169
During our one-year Birding Odyssey we criss-crossed back and forth across the beautiful San Luis Valley – from the arid Valley floor to pinon-juniper habitats to higher mountainous areas. We drove across highways, county roads and U.S. Forest Service trails. We hiked countless trails in all kinds of weather. We even mucked through a flooded cow pasture wearing knee-high irrigation boots. We tromped through the snow, we swatted mosquitoes during the summer and we caught our breath as we crested mountainsides covered with golden aspen. We got up at the crack of dawn and we stayed out on the trail until the sun dropped behind the San Juan Mountains. We returned to favorite birding areas many times during the year and we explored areas we had never before visited. By the time our one-year Odyssey was completed on December 31, 2012 we had recorded 169 species of birds. Some we had seen before, others were new birds on our life list and a few are considered rare sightings in the Valley.
Below is our San Luis Valley Birding Odyssey list. When we saw a particular species only once or twice we noted the location. That doesn’t mean it is an unusual bird for the Valley, just that we had only one opportunity during the year to observe and record it. The highlight of our Birding Odyssey was on July 19, 2012 when we identified and photographed a black phoebe perched on a willow along the Rio Grande . Each and every bird we saw, however, brought us joy and excitement and even a little regret that we are unable to join these exquisite creatures in flight.
Greater White-fronted Goose – Home Lake
Ross’ Goose – Alamosa Riverwood Pond
Dusky Grouse – Rock Creek
Eared Grebe – Smith Reservoir, Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge
American White Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant – Home Lake
Great Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Osprey – Big Meadow Reservoir, Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Cooper’s Hawk – John James Canyon
Ferruginous Hawk – Alamosa County Road 104
Merlin - Alamosa
Sora - LaSauses
Snowy Plover – Blanca Wetlands
Black-necked Stilt – Johnson Lake at Russell Lakes State Wildlife Area
Willet – Home Lake
Baird’s Sandpiper – Alamosa Ranch
Long-billed Dowitcher – flooded farm field east of Splashland, Home Lake
Black Tern – Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Forster’s Tern – Russell Lakes State Wildlife Area
Eurasian Collared Dove
White-winged Dove – Medano-Zapata Ranch
Great Horned Owl
Burrowing Owl – Colorado Highway 15 south of Monte Vista
Black Swift – Zapata Falls
White-throated Swift – South River Road
Black-chinned Hummingbird – Underwood feeder
Calliope Hummingbird – Underwood feeder
Lewis’ Woodpecker – Keen’s Grove in Rio Grande County
American Three-Toed Woodpecker – Big Meadow Reservoir
Western Wood Pewee
Willow Flycatcher – Conejos River near LaSauses
Cordilleran Flycatcher – trail to Zapata Lake
Black Phoebe – Rio Grande State Wildlife Area
Say’s Phoebe – San Luis Lakes, Fort Garland
Eastern Kingbird – Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Western Scrub Jay
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Bushtit – Zapata Lake Trail
Red-breasted Nuthatch – Great Sand Dunes National Park
Rock Wren – John James Canyon
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Big Meadow Reservoir
Sage Thrasher – San Luis Lakes
Cedar Waxwing – Rio Grande River near Adams State University
Common Yellowthroat – LaSauses
Green-tailed Towhee – Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge
American Tree Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow – Costilla County
Lark Sparrow – Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Black-throated Sparrow – John James Canyon
Savannah Sparrow – Cumbres Pass area
Lincoln Sparrow – Cumbres Pass area
Blue Grosbreak – Pike’s Stockade
Lazuli Bunting – Pike’s Stockade
Bullock’s Oriole – Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge
Brown-headed Cowbird - Alamosa
Pine Grosbeak – Summitville Road
Lesser Goldfinch – Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge
Thursday, January 3, 2013
Our last field trip in our San Luis Valley Birdwatching Odyssey was along the dry Chicago Ditch at the Alamosa NWR.
At the Refuge we saw song sparrows in the brown grasses and a raptor in a distant tree. A waddling porcupine amused us by sliding backwards down a steep, snowy slope in its haste to return to its grassy den along the irrigation ditch. In the distance we heard the yipping and howling of a family of coyotes.
The Refuge is a fitting place to end our Odyssey. It is at the Refuge where Diane and I started first started birdwatching thirty years ago and it was at the Refuge where we hatched a plan to return to the Valley and once again make it our home.
Like Ulysses we heard the siren’s songs-- the crane’s call, geese’s glee. And we once ran across a one-eyed farm dog that was as mean as heck.
Like the Hero we returned home at Odyssey’s end. Our Odyssey was not as harrowing as the Hero’s. To us it was a grand experience and we loved every minute of it.
Christmas Bird Count Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. We started out at 8 a.m. from the refuge office. We were teamed with Mike and Peggy on their 14th MVNWR Christmas Count. We were on our first Monte Vista count. Our count area was the northwest quadrant with the Refuge office being the center of a circle. With the aid of Peggy and Mike’s sharp eyes we saw western meadowlarks, rock pigeon and an American goldfinch at a feeder. We drove down county roads where there were plenty of horned larks. We drove to the Monte Vista lagoon to see many, many mallards, green-winged teals and Canada geese. At a small irrigation ditch with open water we saw a killdeer and two Wilson’s snipes. Song sparrows, ravens, crows and magpies were frequently sighted along with a number of American tree sparrows. The surprise of our country tour were two emus in a farm yard.
Within Monte Vista city limits we saw a multitude of house sparrows. A red-tailed hawk eyed us from the top of a high spruce tree.
Our total species count was 28.
Monte Vista Birdwatching Field Notes
6 geese------- west field
Mostly frozen—some open water
Rio Grande SWA
Light Gray------under sides
We headed south up Summitville Road to one of the hot spots listed in the “Rawinski” --along Pinos Creek south of Del Norte. It was sunny and cold as we started up Schrader Creek Road. The hike was pleasing but not much was stirring. After about two miles we walked back towards the truck and saw a Townsend’s solitaire and some mule deer in the distance. We heard a Clark’s nutcracker and a chic-a-dee-dee-dee.
Further up the road after the pavement ended we stopped and went into the forest. A red-tailed hawk flew from a tall pine and we heard a nuthatch. Then, twenty yards ahead in a small pine tree, we observed a small flock of pine grosbeaks.
We hoped that if we could get farther up the road to 11,000 feet we might see a ptarmigan. The road began dry but was snow covered as we climbed in elevation. We decided it would be best to turn around before we got stuck. However, in turning around the truck did get stuck, but with cool calm Diane directing me we got out by backing up. It is true what they say about a four-wheel drive truck, “It will just get you struck in a more isolated place.”
We stopped at the”Chicken Foot” and ate lunch, hiked a little and enjoyed the fabulous mountain vistas.
Later we rolled down the Summitville Road. We stopped to see a loggerhead shrike and a Stellar’s jay.
Back in Del Norte we strolled along the river walk and saw juncos, a chickadee, a downy woodpecker and magpies.