Thursday, July 1, 2010

Flammulated Owl and More

Today is Thursday July 1st--the halfway mark of my big birding travel adventure. When I started this back on January 1st, I had spent quite a bit of time last fall making my travel plan, but I did not know for sure if in the end it was going to be the "travel adventure" that I had hoped for. I can say now that it has been and much more.

I regularly told people that as long as I was having fun I would continue to follow my original plan, modifying it as needed. The basic schedule was predicated on where the birds would be at any point in the year. This is one reason that I have already reached 631 total species seen so far for the year. Being in the northern hemisphere, the bird's migration and breeding cycle means the 1st half of the year is very intensely packed with travel in my effort to see as many birds as possible.

So far I can say that of the birds that I ought to see, while I have had a few misses during the winter, I still have a chance to see those that I missed before the year is out. And because there are only so many birds that one can reasonably expect to find in the lower 48 states, at this point I probably will only see another 50 new birds for the year. 1/3 of those 50 will be seabirds, and most of those I will have a chance to see in August and September off the west coast. Of course if during the rest of the year many vagrants happen to show up in the lower 48, then it might end up being more than 50.

But let me return to the last 2 days of birding here in Colorado. Early Tuesday morning my friend from Austin and I went back into Rocky Mountain NP to bird for a few hours before I took him to the airport. We saw nothing new, but again had a very good time taking in the high mountain scenery and birdlife including a broad-tailed hummer on its nest. The photo above is of a black-billed magpie, one of the common but quite beautiful birds found all of over the western part of the US.

I drove west from Denver toward Grand Junction. I decided to drive up Mt. Evans to get the views above the treeline. I stopped at Summit Lake and was fortunate to see a nice mountain goat along the ridgeline. I also stopped at a place called Cameo near Grand Junction that I visited back in March in my efforts this year to see a chukar. My stop late Tuesday afternoon ended once again at that location with no chukar seen. I did see some nice desert birds including black-throated gray warbler, black-tailed gnatcatcher, say's phoebe, western kingbird, and a magnificent golden eagle which may be why I did not even hear a chukar calling.

I then drove up onto the uncompahgre plateau which is south of Grand Junction to a place that is well known for having flammulated owls. I arrived about 10 PM, and listened for their call. Not hearing any, which did not surprise me since it is now past their breeding season, I played the call from my Ipod. Very quickly I heard the owl call back. I walked around with my flashlight, playing the call again, and a flammulated owl flew over my head 3 times before flying further off into the trees. Since this was the only bird on my life list that I had heard but not seen, I was elated to have finally been able to see one. I fell asleep in the back of my truck with a smile on my face.

Yesterday I awoke with the sun rising over the plateau, and spent the day birding my way down the western side of Colorado near the Utah border. This is probably one of the most beautiful parts of our country and most Americans, and even residents of Colorado have never seen it. My destination for the evening was outside of Durango where a friend from high school and her husband live.

We spent the evening talking about a myriad of things while drinking some very good wine from their cellar ('95 Montelena cab, '99 Behrens and Hitchcock cab, and '70 Taylor port). The longhorn steak and salad was a good accompaniment for the cabs. An after dinner walk at sunset to visit their horses, and a house being built on part of the 150+ acres they own/owned gave us a second wind to keep talking past midnite.

The past 2 days of birding added another 31 new birds for the week. I will be birding my way back up to Grand Junction this afternoon. I am still on the trail of the chukar. Stay tuned!

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