Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Colorado and Home

Thursday to Saturday, June 19-21, 2008

It was farther to Arapaho NWR than it looked like on the map, but once there I did very well. First I drove the short tour route. Extremely good ducks, 15 species by days end mostly at Arapaho, and a smattering of shorebirds and misc others, including a variety of blackbirds. There were Prairie Dog researchers there, sitting in raised platforms with canvas tops, spotting scopes aimed at their marked mounds. They said no Burrowing Owls, and in fact the range maps showed them starting on the east side of the Front Range. For the rest of the day I was running south through the connected series of valleys called North Park, Middle Park, and South Park. I went over to the HQ building, had a good talk with the biologist, and went back to the tour route again to try a couple of heads-ups she's shared. Also stopped at another boardwalk nature trail near the HQ, turned out it was a place where I'd encountered a moose when I had been there before. It had been my first up close and personal, hearing some strange sound in thick tall brush, M chewing it turned out. About twenty feet away, and it didn't give the impression of welcoming. It seemed a lot farther back to the truck than on the walk in, listening for galloping from behind, imagining ungulate eyes boring into my back. Nothing happened.

The road from Arapaho heads south to Granby where a nice viewing area had been built beside a lake, where there was a Pelican, and one Ring-billed Gull mixed with lots of Californias. Met two birders there from L.A., a couple, he was working on the last of his code 2 birds, needing Sage Grouses. I was impressed. Tried to save face by talking about 7000 total tics. Was allowed to drive off without a fine. Then came a lot of wasted time driving past the back side of Denver. First over the Berthoud Pass, where I found good birds up a hillside from a picnic area. Had I realized, there was a good road down a canyon with lots of small lakes that would have saved at least an hour, and maybe had better birding than dispersed suburban sprawl. Then there was a long crawl past a really bad accident. The car that was still by the road was destroyed totally to the back of the front doors. After that I was into South Park, which was pleasant, open, and fast driving. I crossed back into the mountains, where there were Forest campgrounds, and ended up finding on just south of the Salida junction. It seemed crowded and noisy, so I retreated back down the mountain to an un-developed informal space and set-up there. Turned out pretty good. Got Western Scrub-Jays, Plumbeous Vireo, and a prize for the day, Hammond's Flycatcher, singing and calling. It still took awhile to find the recording that nailed down the ID, there are Dusky's in the same area. Mellow evening, catch up on journals and data entry. Slept well.

Friday - I was back in Salida before any eatery was open, so harvested some email at a motel. Got word that a good friend from my early days settling in Arkansas had died suddenly, a guy just my age. I had taught him a song called "Arkansas Fliers" that I'd learned in Philadelphia, which had become his signature piece. These deaths are happening more often now, and I doubt it'll let up. I don't remember any focal sadness, but as the day wore on I got kinda depressed and hopeless, combination of being frustrated on Gunnison Sage-Grouse, too much heat, and a negative reaction to a sweet waitress at breakfast, strictly me, nothing about her. Jill, cute and blond and perky, probably a co-ed working a summer job, willing to chat some and say kind things about an old fart. At first it was elating, then it was a back-door entry to aging reality and cynicism. Guess it'd make a short story. She did say it was just an hour drive to Gunnison, I had drifted closer than I'd planned, so I went over there and followed the chapter in the old ABA Colorado guide. This was not the right time to try for grouse, they're dispersed and not making much noise. I stopped at the BLM office and the guy there was very helpful. I stopped at the CO Wildlife office and the folks there were obtuse and ignorant. I kept wishing I could somehow find the man who had written the Gunnison chapter, but had no idea how that could be done. Started checking out sites.

First tried the airport, which had an excellent wetland, but it had been fenced and gated and secured beyond anything a birder could use. A little west of town there was a turnoff for a road the BLM guy had mentioned. Good birds at a river crossing there, and a little further there was a trail-head mentioned in the ABA guide. I started hiking, was finding god birds, Green-tailed Towhee, Violet-green Swallows, elusive flycatchers and such. Met an old guy walking the trail, no binocs, two walking poles. Started chatting some when I caught a flycatcher in some rocks close by. I slammed my glasses on it, and thought maybe it was Dusky, I was talking out loud to avoid being rude. He says, does it have an eye-ring, I said front and back, he says yep that's a Dusky. I commented that he was pretty knowledgeable about birds. He asked me how I'd come to be on that trail, so I said it was in this book I had. He says, "I wrote that chapter" His name is Ron Meyer, and he then told me where he was having the best birding these days after sharing a lament over how things had changed.

Following his advice I made several stops in Curecanti Recreation area, there are picnic grounds with trails along the Gunnison River, and those were excellent even with the mosquitoes. Best bird was a Black-headed Grosbeak, and there was rumor of a Least Flycatcher, but I would have had to do some wading. Ron had also mentioned a trailer park where GUSG came up to feed on the grass in the evening. I went looking for it, and it was way further than I'd suspected. When I got there and had driven around it trying to figure which of two possibilities he had meant, including a trip back to the Rec Area campground, I finally figured out that it was deserted, un-mowed, and not very promising. Now I could have stayed at the campground and tried evening and morning, but the depression was growing, it was treeless bare rock canyon hot, and my gumption failed. I started east for home. Took an alternate route over the mountains back to South Park, then south to Monte Vista NWR. It was desolate.

Fortunately I also tried Alamosa NWR, which was pretty birdless also, no flocks or even groups, just individual birds here and there. But four of them were new tics, Avocet and Stilt, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and Snowy Egret, all just as I was heading down the last leg of the tour loop. That helped. From there I drove to the Interstate at Walsenburg, then south to Trinidad. I had visited a woman there many years ago, and after I found her name in deep storage memory I checked the phone book. No luck, and gas in Trinidad was the most expensive of the trip. At least they had a KFC. It was almost true dark by the time I left, driving US160, an almost deserted two lane blacktop that goes to Kansas. I got to Kim, the only town for about a hundred miles, population less than 200, and went to sleep next to a general store. I saw 86 species in Colorado in two days, 21 were new tics, making a total of 190 species for the state. It'll probably be someplace I'll try to get to 50% in the next couple of years.

Friday - Not much to say except I stopped for breakfast at a run down truck-stop in Springfield, with a table full of Ranchers talking feed and beef prices and drought. Then across Kansas, with just one stop at Jacob's Well natural area. It was an historically notable spring in a mixed grass prairie remnant. Neat place. I found my first wild Horned Toad ever. From there it was just driving, but on a stretch of road I'd not traveled before, that passed along the north edge of an area called the Red Hills. I want to go back there. The old Kansas Birdfinder, Zimmernam and Patti, has a loop tour laid out in there that had caught my eye when I was setting up a GPS mapping file for the state. I got to my home town about 7pm, parked outside the library for some Wifi, and headed home. The anticipated spiders, mice, and grass were waiting. No unpacking, but did do my ritual trips-end pinning of the wall map before crashing.

For the whole trip I had 232 speciesin 17 days, pretty good since I'd been in a fair variety of habitats. 354 new tics making a total of 6906. I should be able to break 7000 by year's end.


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