Friday, July 20, 2018

Colorado trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, Pawnee Grasslands and other spots (July 8-16)

Elk calf, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 9, 2018
Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 9, 2018
Moose, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 9, 2018
Moose calf, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 9, 2018
Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 9, 2018
 Yellow bellied Marmot, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 9, 2018
Yellow bellied Marmot at Gore Ridge, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 9, 2018
 Yellow rumped Warbler 'audubon's', Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 9, 2018
 Clark's Nutcracker, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 9, 2018
 Mountain Bluebird, Granby, CO, Jul 9, 2018
Alpine Ridge, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 9, 2018
Back from a trip out to Colorado with lots of good stuff seen. We arrived into a very hot Denver on Sunday the 8th and then drove into the Rockies to stay at a cabin in Granby for five nights. The only really notable sighting for the first day were my first Black billed Magpies, which became species #1372 for me.  The first full day found us heading out early to the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park with our goal to make it up to the highest elevations before the crowds came out in force. We had a few quick diversions on the way to the top including a large herd of Elk (with lots of young) in a large meadow right along the road as well as a much smaller group of adult males further up. We made it to the Alpine Visitors Centera little after seven and walked around the nearly deserted area finding lots of American Pipits and just a few other species (including several Yellow bellied Marmots). I hoped to find White tailed Ptarmigan there but no luck so we headed a bit further east to Rainbow Curve where I had distant views of one (species #1373). A stop at another overlook up above tree line produced some more Yellow bellied Marmots and several Pika rapidly scurrying around. As the high elevation areas were starting to get busy we headed back down with a couple more stops including one at Lake Irene that produced a few pockets of birds including my first American Three toed Woodpecker (#1374). As it was getting quite warm and somewhat slow for wildlife by midday day we headed back to the cabin.
Black billed Magpie, Granby, CO, Jul 10, 2018
Black billed Magpie, Granby, CO, Jul 10, 2018
Dark eyed Junco (gray headed), Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 10, 2018
Moose, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 10, 2018
Red Crossbill (Type 5),  Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 10, 2018
Mink, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 10, 2018
Moose, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 10, 2018
Kawuneechee Valley, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 10, 2018
Adams Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 10, 2018
On Tuesday we once again were out the door early and headed back to the national park. The morning was sunny but even cooler than yesterday with a cool temperature of 42 degrees. We arrived at the Coyote Valley trailhead a little before 6:30 and were the first people there. We walked along the Colorado River for almost an hour and picked up a few new species of birds for the trip as well as fantastic looks at a bull Moose moving across the meadow. When we were almost back to the car we had brief looks at a Mink. Our next stop was a little further south to the River and Valley Trail where we walked over three miles over the course of a couple hours adding another Moose sighting and a decent selection of birds (and almost no people). By the time we finished this hike it was warming up nicely. Our final stop (and the most crowded) was a short walk to Adams Falls and the meadow above the falls. Some great scenery but a little too crowded for my tastes.
MacGillivray's Warbler, Monarch Lake, CO, Jul 11, 2018
Yellow Warbler, Ten Mile Creek, Granby, CO, Jul 11, 2018
American Three toed Woodpecker, Monarch Lake,  CO, Jul 11, 2018
Western Grebe, Lake Granby, CO, Jul 11, 2018
Monarch Lake,  CO, Jul 11, 2018
I headed out before dawn on the third full day of the trip to nearby Ten Mile Creek where I had a Sora among a few other species. Once it got to be after six I headed to the cabin to pick up Sherri and we headed a bit south of the national park to Monarch Lake is located at the southeast end of large Lake Granby and the road along Lake Granby proved to be quite productive with a single Western Grebe and a flyby Black Swift being highlights. The Black Swift was species #1375 for me and not one I expected to find at the lake. I may have seen the species post Hurricane Irene when I had a large swift flyby with Common Nighthawks but was not 100% certain. The storm displaced a number of Black Swifts of the Caribbean subspecies (likely a full species) to areas along the east coast of the US. Once we arrived at the lake we started our 4 mile hike around the entire length of the lake and turned up a number of species during the roughly three hours we were there. Among the nearly forty species were two Williamson's Sapsuckers which was another new species (#1376). By the time we finished up at Monarch Lake it was late morning and getting crowded with people. We still had some energy so we headed up to the park and took a mile hike around the area of the Kawuneeche Visitor's Center. Not a ton of activity as it was late in the morning and getting fairly warm. We then headed back to the cabin for lunch and then I made a return trip to Ten Mile Creek to get some photos of birds along the riparian area.

On Thursday we had a rafting trip planned for the morning starting at nine leaving out of Kremmling and floating down the Colorado for a bit under five miles. We were on the river for a couple hours and during that time a few notable birds were seen despite the high level of human activity on this part of the river. The highlight for me was a flyover Prairie Falcon that came through one of the more secluded canyons. Also had a close up look at a Western Grebe as well as lots of swallows including a colony of Cliff Swallows on a bridge near the small town of Radium. The Prairie Falcon was a new species for me and became #1377. We got back to the cabin in the middle of the afternoon with several thunderstorms moving through.
Elk, Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 13, 2018
Mallards diving, Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 13, 2018
Wilson's Warbler, Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 13, 2018
Elk, Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 13, 2018
Lava Cliffs, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, Jul 13, 2018
Friday was our transition trip from the Rockies down into the middle of Denver. We got up early to make the trek over the mountains and into the eastern part of the park before the hordes of people showed up. On our way over the top we stopped at a few pull offs up at the highest elevations and turned up a few flyover Brown capped Rosy Finches (#1378) as well as my first Horned Larks of the trip. Once we were down on the east side our original plan of hiking the area around Bear Lake was scrubbed as the roadside signs showed the parking lot full prior to 7:30AM. We then went with our alternative plan of hiking around Sprague Lake. When we arrived to a rapidly filling parking lot but it was still somewhat active with a few birds around including some juvenile Red Crossbills (recorded but unable to determine type), some diving Mallards and a few warblers. In addition two bull Elk decided to take a soak in the lake, which provided for some great photo ops.
Grasshopper Sparrow, Pawnee National Grasslands, CO, Jul 14, 2018
Lark Bunting, Pawnee National Grasslands, CO, Jul 14, 2018
Chestnut collared Longspur, Pawnee National Grasslands, CO, Jul 14, 2018
Chestnut collared Longspur, Pawnee National Grasslands, CO, Jul 14, 2018
Prairie Rattlesnake, Pawnee National Grasslands, CO, Jul 14, 2018
Lark Bunting, Pawnee National Grasslands, CO, Jul 14, 2018
 Brewer's Sparrow, Pawnee National Grasslands, CO, Jul 14, 2018
Mountain Plover, Briggsville, CO, Jul 14, 2018
Pronghorn, Pawnee National Grasslands, CO, Jul 14, 2018
Common Nighthawk, Pawnee National Grasslands, CO, Jul 14, 2018
Western Meadowlark, Pawnee National Grasslands, CO, Jul 14, 2018
Pawnee National Grasslands, CO, Jul 14, 2018
I headed out bright and early from Denver on Saturday to make the drive north up to the Pawnee National Grasslands where I arrived right around six. The grasslands are a large remnant of a habitat that once existed over a large portion of the west but has largely disappeared since the arrival of Europeans. It is a unique habitat with a group of species that depend on it for survival. I had a few species I wanted to find during my time there and I eventually found them all (and more). I stayed in the western unit of the grasslands plus a few close by areas that are not part of the grasslands. Driving along the dirt roads through the grasslands (list 1) provided impressive numbers of Lark Buntings, Grasshopper Sparrows and Horned Larks plus a new mammal for me with several Pronghorn. The Pronghorn were incredibly fast when they decided to take off (the second fastest mammal on earth after the Cheetah). The first target species I found was a Ferruginous Hawk along the roadside and by the time I could get over to a spot to try for a photo, it was gone....species #1379. After about an hour and a half in the grasslands I drove a bit more east to some recently tilled farm fields were I found at least three Mountain Plovers (#1380). The birds were a bit distant but I was just happy to find them. I then decided to head back to the western unit and drive into the heart of the grasslands in search of a couple species of longspurs. Lots of the same species I had earlier but also a few large prairie dog towns which included several Burrowing Owls. I eventually ran across several Chestnut collard Longspurs (#1381) and a single McCown's Longspur (#1382). The Chestnut collared Longspurs but on quite a show with several males still in breeding plumage flying around and calling. The birds hardly ever settled down in the open for long. Unfortunately the McCown's Longspur showed only briefly and I was never able to get a photo of it (list 2, list 3). After spending the morning in and around the grasslands I started the long trek back to Denver for the rest of the day satisfied with having found all my targets (four life birds) plus a new mammal for me.
South Mesa Trail, CO, Jul 15, 2018
Lazuli Bunting, South Mesa Trail, CO, Jul 15, 2018
White throated Swift, South Mesa Trail, CO, Jul 15, 2018
Spotted Towhee, South Mesa Trail, CO, Jul 15, 2018
Long billed Dowitcher, Walden Pond Wildlife Habitat, Co, Jul 15, 2018
House Wren, Walden Pond Wildlife Habitat, Co, Jul 15, 2018
On the last full day of the trip I headed northwest out of Denver to the South Mesa Trail near El Dorado Canyon in Boulder. Although I arrived early the park was already rapidly filling up but there were several trails so I was still able to find some good stuff. I added a number of new species for the trip during my three hours there but no more life birds. The day started out with a mix of sun and clouds but the clouds quickly won out and a cool breeze kicked up. After my time there I wandered around the nearby area as I dodged occasional rain showers. I stopped briefly at Baseline Reservoir and the Valmont Reservoir overlook at Legion Park once again adding more species for the trip. My final stop was an hour and half spent at the Walden Ponds Wildlife Habitat which is a series of ponds and marshes harboring a nice cross section of birds including a pair of Long billed Dowitchers. I thankfully made it back to the car just as the skies opened up once again. As the rain didn't seem to be letting up at all I called it a day and headed back to Denver.  On our last day in Denver we stayed mostly in the city visiting a few spots before making a mid afternoon stop at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, which was fairly quiet during the heat of the afternoon.

Overall for the trip I found a total of 142 species including eleven life birds bringing my world total to 1382.  Among the 142 species were eight species of warbler (more details on those can be found at the following: Colorado warblers

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