Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Utah briefly and East across Colorado

November 22-24, 2008

Saturday: The next morning the truck started OK, it had been a little balky, but the computer wouldn't boot at twenty degrees and 7500 ft. Once I was going and warmed up, it was down the long slope into Vernal for breakfast and gas. Another Utah rancher place. The computer lit up when the cab had warmed up.

The first goal was to take the highway west from Vernal and then a minor road south to Pelican Lake and also Ouray NWR. Pelican had been a great find when I lived out that way. There's some free primitive camping. I saw my first Common Loon there, and my first Bobolink. I guess my first Phalaropes twirling up a meal too. And there had been a Peregrine Falcon on a fence post eating a duck. This time it was very good also, lots of birds and good variety, the water was mostly open, just a small fringe of ice where it was shaded by the bank-side vegetation.

Ouray was disappointing, the smaller water features there were mostly frozen, but there was a small flock of Sandhill Cranes, my first for Utah. I drove the tour loop, but it was pretty birdless. Back to Pelican and get back in the reeds with a scope for an hour. That was satisfying. But I had some hopes for northern Colorado so it was back through Vernal and east. It was a long cold and generally birdless drive, and was already dark by the time I got to Granby. The most interesting thing was a sky phenomenon just before sunset, called anti-crepuscular rays. It's the complementary phenomena to the rays one sometime sees coming through clouds that look like the glories in religious paintings. It's a trick of perspective that they seem to diverge, since they're actually parallel. If they come from a sun nearly set (or just risen) they reconverge on the opposite side of the sky. I had never been conscious of them before, but they had shown up in a picture on an astronomy site I check daily, and when I saw them I knew what it was.

I had sort of targeted the pass south of Georgetown to camp, and then look for Rosy-finches in town in the morning, but when I got there in the dark and realized from studying the GPS how much of a climb it would be, and how cold in the morning, it seemed wiser to head down to the plains beyond Denver. There was also the lack of snow up high, which is what drives the Rosies down. They hadn't been mentioned on the listserv. I'd already come over the Berthoud Pass, 11,000' plus but snowless, so it was a long downhill coast. It had gotten late enough that the city traffic wasn't bad, and the GPS got me through the freeway labyrinth without a hitch, and headed north toward Ft Collins. There were some sites there too, mostly big lakes with a tendency to get vagrant winter gulls, that had aroused my lifer hopes while following the bird listserv for Colorado. But first I needed to sleep. Found a truck-stop with a restaurant for breakfast, and got tucked in between two semis. When I woke the next morning two more had tucked in even closer, and lulled me to sleep with their rattling and rumbling in the night (not).

Sunday: Up around first light and fed and coffeed up, and only twenty miles or so to Fossil Creek Reservoir. The water was open, but it was a chilly windy day. There were lots of Canada Geese on the opposite shore, but I couldn't make out any others. The lake itself had some waterfowl, including Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, and Western Grebe. Farther north at the Visitor Center for Ft Collins, I found out there were a whole bunch of public access areas called the Prospect Ponds along the Cache le Poudre River. They had a lot of useful literature and maps, in fact it was one of the best welcome centers I'd seen. They filled my coffee cup too.

Headed down to the first parking lot, and had the great good fortune to meet a couple of young birders, Rollie and Mike, who were familiar with the site. I asked if I could follow them around, and they assented. Turned out they were sorta new to birding, but were really interested. They didn't know about the listservs, and I hope they found them, since I never got an email that would let me send a bunch of useful links. I got several Colorado tics with them, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Belted Kingfisher, and Cinnamon Teal. Later we found Snow Geese and Cacling Geese too, in a place I'd have never found on my own since it required climbing down a twisted rebar ladder, crossing a small dam, and then climbing back up. One of the geese had really strange markings, we hoped for something rare, but it was a bizarre Snow. I ended up spending a couple of hours with them in a cold wind, but it was obviously well worth it.

I made some shopping stops too, at REI where I got a new headlamp, brighter than the one I'd been using for reading. Next door was Barnes and Noble, and I couldn't resist some Moleskin notebooks. Also got the cheapest gas of the trip so far. Then it went back up until I got to Missouri a couple of days later.

It's not too far from Ft Collins to Pawnee National Grasslands where I'd stayed a couple of times before. This was the most wintry visit, I didn't have much hope for good birds, but dutifully walked the trails in the little stream-side woodland at the campground. Lots of White-crowned Sparrows, not much else. But an Eastern Screech-Owl in the night gave me 201 species for Colorado.

Monday: It was 16 degrees in the morning, and the truck was balky starting. That was starting to be a background concern all the time. This was just a driving-all-day day, my homing instincts had kicked in, and it was straight to Great Bend, Kansas and stay at Cheyenne Bottoms. The motel that had always had good wifi was dismally slow and sketchy, but I did manage to get an email on the Kansas listserv regarding Trumpeter and Tundra Swans maybe (they had been way off) at Quivera and another about a Black Scoter at a Wichita site. There was nobody at the campground at CB, no hunters, so It was a good sleep.


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