Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fieldnotes 3/24/2013 Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge

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.

Also recorded:
--Western bluebirds

Ducks and duck-like birds:
--Cinnamon teal
--Northern shoveler
--Lesser scaup
--Green-winged teal
--American coot
--Common goldeneye
--American widgeon

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.

Fieldnotes 2/10/13 South River Road, Pikes Stockad and the LaSauses WRP

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.

Fieldnotes 2/23/13 Riverwood Pond in Alamosa

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 merganser
--Common goldeneye (male and female)
--Red-headed duck
--Canada geese

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)
--Northern shrike
--Bald eagle
--Red-tailed hawk
--Common ravens
--Two coyotes looking forlorn because they were tied to the ground by four spindly legs

Fieldnotes 2/7/2013 4:30-6:15 Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge

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.
 We saw:

 --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

The Last Bird Count

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
Snow Goose
Ross’ Goose – Alamosa Riverwood Pond
Cackling Goose
Canada Goose
American Widgeon
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Common Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Dusky Grouse – Rock Creek
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe – Smith Reservoir, Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge
Western Grebe
Clark’s Grebe
American White Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant – Home Lake
American Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night Heron
White-faced Ibis
Turkey Vulture
Osprey – Big Meadow Reservoir, Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Cooper’s Hawk – John James Canyon
Swainson’s Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk – Alamosa County Road 104
Rough-legged Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Merlin - Alamosa
Peregrine Falcon
Prairie Falcon
Sora - LaSauses
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Snowy Plover – Blanca Wetlands
Black-necked Stilt – Johnson Lake at Russell Lakes State Wildlife Area
American Avocet
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet – Home Lake
Lesser Yellowlegs
Western Sandpiper
Baird’s Sandpiper – Alamosa Ranch
Long-billed Dowitcher – flooded farm field east of Splashland, Home Lake
Wilson’s Snipe
Wilson’s Phalarope
Franklin’s Gull
Bonaparte’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Black Tern – Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Forster’s Tern – Russell Lakes State Wildlife Area
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared Dove
White-winged Dove – Medano-Zapata Ranch
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Burrowing Owl – Colorado Highway 15 south of Monte Vista
Common Nighthawk
Black Swift – Zapata Falls
White-throated Swift – South River Road
Black-chinned Hummingbird – Underwood feeder
Calliope Hummingbird – Underwood feeder
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Lewis’ Woodpecker – Keen’s Grove in Rio Grande County
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Three-Toed Woodpecker – Big Meadow Reservoir
Northern Flicker
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
Western Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird – Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Loggerhead Shrike
Plumbeous Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Steller’s Jay
Western Scrub Jay
Pinyon Jay
Clark’s Nutcracker
Black-billed Magpie
American Crow
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Bank Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Mountain Chickadee
Bushtit – Zapata Lake Trail
Red-breasted Nuthatch – Great Sand Dunes National Park
White-breasted Nuthatch
Rock Wren – John James Canyon
House Wren
Marsh Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Big Meadow Reservoir
Western Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird
Townsend’s Solitaire
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
Sage Thrasher – San Luis Lakes
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing – Rio Grande River near Adams State University
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Yellowthroat – LaSauses
Wilson’s Warbler
Western Tanager
Green-tailed Towhee – Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge
Spotted Towhee
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Brewer’s Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow – Costilla County
Lark Sparrow – Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Black-throated Sparrow – John James Canyon
Sage Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow – Cumbres Pass area
Song Sparrow
Lincoln Sparrow – Cumbres Pass area
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Black-headed Grosbeak
Blue Grosbreak – Pike’s Stockade
Lazuli Bunting – Pike’s Stockade
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Brewer’s Blackbird
Common Grackle
Great-tailed Grackle
Bullock’s Oriole – Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge
Brown-headed Cowbird - Alamosa
Pine Grosbeak – Summitville Road
Cassin’s Finch
House Finch
Pine Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch – Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Thursday, January 3, 2013

12.27.12 Odyssey End

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 12/15/12

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

Monte Vista Birdwatching Field Notes
8 cranes
6 geese------- west field

Home Lake
Mostly frozen—some open water
Canada geese
Coots Bufflehead

Rio Grande SWA
Marsh Hawk
Light Gray------under sides

Chipping sparrow
Common merganser
Red Tail

MV Refuge-mallard
8 S--Kestrels

Summitville Road

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.