Sunday, September 19, 2010

Wyoming, Southeast Corner

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wyoming was a fine change from Nebraska. I already had a place picked out for camping that I'd discovered reading the bird-finder and studying the maps. Vedauwoo turned out to be a high (8000'plus) piece of geology beloved of rock climbers. I knew I was in the right place when, after driving around to pick a campsite, got out and the first bird was a calling Clark's Nutcracker.

And I finally got down to camping, or at least setting up the new REI tent. Actually went up pretty easy for a first run, since they had used some hardware treatments that I knew from other of their tents that I've used a lot. Roomy inside with two doors. I put out some hopeful kitchen gear too, but never managed to cook anything. I get too swept up in the birding part. But I slept well.

Tuesday, Sep 14

Up in the dark and drive back to Cheyenne, with a stop first at McDonald's for battery recharge on the laptop. I was nursing it along for GPS use since the inverter problem still wasn't solved. The first place I wanted to try was the Wyoming Hereford Ranch. I wasn't sure exactly what it was, but check the link. There had been reports of shorebirds on its reservoir, which I finally managed to reach from the wrong direction, the GPS saved me, and when I climbed the embankment along the road was actually able to find a few species. There were passerines in the trees along the road, and it turned out to be a good stop. I was really about ten days too late the whole trip for shorebirds, having waited to start until after a hike I'd agreed to lead for an adult education group from the University of Arkansas. That delay would cost me the whole trip.

Next stop was was lion's Park, and especially Sloan's Lake on the north side of Cheyenne. Very good birding, a small lake surrounded by lawns and patches of woodland, completely surrounded by a paved trail, and then another that seemed to be the birding and fishing trail. Several good migrants including MacGillivray's Warbler, and many Wilson's Warblers. Even White-throated Sparrows and a Wood Duck. Walked all the way around, and then made some other stops in the park, none as good, but the Mississippi Kite fly-over made the time not wasted.

Another place I'd noted was some grasslands north of town, apparently a research ranch for the University of Wyoming. Poked around on the roads but never really did find the heart of the place, at least not a place where I could ask anyone questions. It was a great area for raptors though.

The day was still young enough that I decided to try a drive out Happy Jack Road, WY Rte 210, after buying some ice. That store was where I learned how to say Vedauwoo. Veda, as in Hindu sacred books, voo, as in French "you", vous. So: veda-voo. That was a beautiful drive. parallel to the Interstate and up over the ridge that made the highest point on I80. Just before that point in Curt Gowdy State Park, I met a young man from New England who was crossing the country for the first time, on a bicycle. We talked routes and weather. I advised him that crossing the northern part of Nevada riding on the shoulder of the interstate wasn't such a good idea, and suggested a more southern and scenic route through Southeast Utah. Incidentally the same general route, Happy Jack and Interstate, was the line of the original coast-to-coast railway, the Union Pacific from Utah eastward. Happy Jack joined the Interstate about five miles east of Laramie, and when I got there Hutton Lake NWR lay to the south. So I drove south and wasted twenty miles because that's not the way to get there. Back through Laramie to another two lane blacktop heading southwest, then ten miles of dirt.

This was a great place, partly because there were a few good birds, but mostly for being simply open and quiet and well watered with healthy native vegetation. I felt terribly centered. relaxed, and mellow. Looking back I'd say a real high point for the trip.

Wednesday, Sep 15

Up before sunrise, full dark, took down the tent in a fairly good wind, and it was easy, very smooth, no struggle. I was so proud of myself. Not so much when I found the two dead ground squirrels in the water bucket, which they couldn't escape since I hadn't leaned a rough surface stick in there, something I always do at home with my buckets and tanks. I felt really dumb. Did the only logical thing, split and drove to Laramie. I'd made a note that there was possible good birding on a dirt road along the Laramie River north of town. First stop on a bridge over the river got three shorebird tics, and the road was generally birdy for fifteen miles until it rejoined the highway. Many sparrows, including flocks of Chestnut-collared Longspurs, but the best birds were White Pelicans and an immense and very secure pale hawk that just stared as I approached in twenty foot idling coasts. I could not figure it out, but it was beautiful, very fully feathered in what looked like a new molt, just some chest speckling, not a band, and a smallish two colored beak. It finally flushed and showed the big white upper-wing spots of a Rough-legged Hawk. A very light morph, which I'd never seen.

When I got back to the highway, after once more failing to find even decent looking habitat for Mountain Plovers, which there was a note about, headed south with a parts store stop for a fuse, which fixed the lighter and mirrors. Still no working inverter, but closer. Then a hundred mile drive south into Colorado, coming into Fort Collins from the northwest.


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