Monday, March 23, 2015

I'm Back!...Kountze Lake Birding Fun

It has been a long year plus since I had last updated my blog.   I apologize about that and plan to get this blog back on track to being active.
The primary reason behind my absence is due in part to life becoming very busy.  Between bouncing around jobs, raising two kids and going back to school,  I could't keep up with everything I once was pursuing, and unfortunately birding and blogging took a hit.
I have also picked up another hobby that I have been pursuing seriously for the last year and a half, and that is urban exploration.   That took the time I usually gave to birding.

But, I am back.  With a renewed passion!
Last year saw my dad and I enjoy our best Big Birding Weekend to date, and I will do a short update about that a little later on.  The Barr Lake Bird Fest was amazing as always and saw my dad and I have our best day of festival birding to date as well, as we saw 81 species. I have also upgraded all my camera gear, and that has given me renewed passion for photography, birding and making this blog active again.  When I left off, I was using a Canon Rebel t2i with a Canon 55-250mm lens, I have since upgraded to a Canon EOS 60D and just purchased the Sigma 150-500mm lens, which is an amazing bird photography set up.

After acquiring my new lens last Tuesday,  I decided that since I still had a couple hours to kill before school started that I would hit up Kountze Lake in Belmar and try out my new gear.  And talk about perfect.  The weather was beautiful, the birds were abundant and I was loving my lens.  The lake was FULL of Northern Shoveler. Mallard and Bufflehead. I was very happy to see the Bufflehead since they are one of my favorite birds.  Two pairs of Great Blue Heron had taken up residence in the trees on the island and are currently in the process of building their nests.  The cormorants have yet to show up, and I can't wait to shoot them on their nests as well.  Canada Geese had paired off and every 10 minutes or so a sudden outburst would be heard as two pairs would get to close to each other, thus initiating a who-can-be-the-most-obnoxious honking match.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a pair of Hooded Merganser working the lake.  At one point, the female surfaced with a crawfish and proceeded to smack it on the water and shake it violently.  Suddenly, she flung it through the air and snatched it up immediately after it landed.   My walk around the lake revealed a single Green-winged Teal who promptly took off after I managed a couple photos.  Amidst the mast throngs of shovelers, I found a couple Gadwall, a pair of Lesser Scaup a single Redhead and a single Common Goldeneye.  Black-capped Chickadees and a couple Blue Jays worked the trees, but there was little around in the way of non waterbirds.
The next day I returned to the lake as I again had a couple hours to kill before my classes started.  This time I settled down at the gazebo instead of walking the lake.  As before, the lake was dominated by shovelers.   The Bufflehead kept to the far water and were not being very cooperative with photos.   As I watched one Bufflehead preening, a shoveler accidentally bumped into him and the Bufflehead dove right on the top of the shocked shoveler.  I snapped off a photo but unfortunately it is too hard to tell what is in the photo.  The male Hooded Merganser made a surprise appearance much closer than he was the day before.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching him bathe and preen and was finally able to get some photos that I had only dreamed of getting before.  After the merganser finally tucked his bill under his wing, I got up and went to see what was at the smaller pond behind the gazebo.   That was one of the best decisions I have made in a while.  I was able to get some close up shots of a beautiful male Northern Shoveler and a gorgeous male Gadwall(yes, gorgeous, for even though they are very much a drab bird, they are handsome and the light was perfect.)  Suddenly,  a pair of Wood Ducks made an appearance.  Of all the ducks I had thought I'd see, they were not high on that list.  With gorgeous evening sunlight lighting them up,  I was able to shoot away and enjoy the Wood Ducks.  These were the best views and closest I have been to these beautiful ducks.  After a few minutes of showing off, they took flight and were on their way.  I decided to call it a day and head over to school.  The two days of birding at Kountze renewed a passion in me and left me with some amazing memories.

Female Hooded Merganser with her crawfish. 

Back view of a male Hooded Merganser. 

The Great Blue Herons of Kountze. 

The shy Green-winged Teal. 

Two is better! A pair of male Bufflehead sliding in for a landing. 

Playing with dinner. The Hooded Merganser tossing her prey. 

Back view of a Bufflehead. 

Canada Goose landing.

Buffleheads in a row. 

Regal Gadwall. 

The male Hooded Merganser showing off. 

Northern Shoveler. 

Wood Ducks. It is always a red letter day when these beautiful birds show up. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Catching Up...Again.

Hello everyone!
I greatly apologize for having not been posting this summer. Since the Big Birding Weekend with my dad I have not been out much. Life has been very busy for me.  Started a job, then quit and started a new one. I now am working as a photographer at the Downtown Aquarium in Denver, CO. Finally getting started down the road to a career in photography or videography! Very excited.

To catch up I shall continue on with the second half of the Big Birding Weekend...

Waking up at 3:30am, my dad and I packed up and headed out. Our target locations today were Chatfield State Park and Waterton Canyon. These two locations are favorites of ours, providing great diversity and birding. Definitely some crown jewels of the Colorado birding scene.  We arrived at Chatfield just before 5 as the sun's light started to peek over the horizon.   We parked at Kingfisher Bridge and could hear a ton of activity all around us as we stepped out of the car.  American Robin, Great Horned Owl and Canada Goose all called in the distance, along with many a buzz and song we couldn't quite make out.  Soon enough Yellow Wabler and House Wren joined in the chorus.   We started along the trail and saw a small hummingbird.  We didn't have the best views and both happened to have left the bird books in the truck.  So we took mental notes and trekked further in.  The trees were alive.  Broad-tailed Hummingbirds soon made appearances, as did a Willow, Hammond's and Least Flycatcher.   Coming to a point where we could view the river, we picked up Common Merganser, Osprey, Belted Kingfisher and Great Blue Heron within a few minutes. An Olive-sided Flycatcher perched high up on a tree further upstream.  We forged ahead listening to the many songs and calls all around us, thoroughly enjoying this treat of nature.  We paused for a moment to look for a woodpecker we heard, and my dad looked up just in time to call out a flock of White-faced Ibis that was flying over.  A nice surprise.  We then decided to turn around and head back to the truck and go to another part of the park.  We drove to the lake overlook and had a look around.  We finally added Violet-green Swallow to our list at this point. Looking over the lake produced Common Merganser, Snowy Egret and a few other ducks. I then noticed another diving duck off in the distance and after a few minutes of study and deliberation with my dad, we identified it as a young Common Loon, a very pleasant surprise.  We then packed up back into the truck and headed off to Plum Creek.  Upon arriving at Plum Creek,  we were soon greeted by the pair of Eastern Phoebes that have been nesting under the bridge. We were treated to some great views before the birds flew off into the trees to hunt for insects.  We birded around the bridge and a Dusky Flycatcher made a brief appearance.  We then turned our sights for the path along Plum Creek and headed off.  Within a few steps, we discovered a female Yellow Warbler constructing a nest in a shrub just off the path. I tried for a photo but she flew off before I had a shot.  We waited a little longer with no success and then pressed on.   Another pair of Common Mergansers made an appearance, as did a few other common birds we had seen all day.  We were unable to go very far as the water level was pretty high and made cross country walking very muddy and wet, so we turned around.  We came upon the nest shrub again, and my dad kept walking while I sat down to wait out the warbler for a photo shoot.   After about 10 minutes of waiting, she finally returned with spider web and fiber for her nest.  I was able to get a couple quick shots off as she was a quick worker.  As I met up again with my dad, he informed me that while I had been focused on taking a photo of the nesting warbler, a Long-billed Curlew had flown over.  I was a little bummed on missing that bird, but was very pleased with being able to photograph the warbler.  We climbed back into the truck and drove to the flooded parking lot, with no success, before heading out to bird Waterton.
We left Chatfield and took the long way round to Waterton.   We got some great views of Vesper's Sparrow and Horned Lark, and finally picked up Turkey Vulture for the weekend.  The drive also produced a Western Bluebird and Bullock's Oriole.  We then pulled into the Waterton parking lot and were very excited to see what it had to offer.
As we crossed the street to enter Waterton, my dad jokingly made a bet that we would see a Bullock's Oriole in the cottonwood tree just around the bend.  No sooner did he say that then a pair of male orioles flew out from the tree, one hot on the tail of the other.  Lo and behold as we made the turn, yet another oriole was sitting there in the tree. Hence why we have come to call it, the Oriole Tree(ever need to show someone their life Bullock's Oriole, take them either here or to Barr Lake in May/June and they can't be missed). A few sparrows made an appearance as well and I finally saw a White-crowned Sparrow for the weekend.  We headed up the path into the canyon and were soon greeted by Spotted Towhee, and there were many of them here.  A different buzz got our attention and we tracked the sound down to a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. A fun little bird that my dad and I both love.   Heading further up the trail we heard a Yellow-breasted Chat calling from some trees, but were unable to locate it.   We walked along the river path but did not add any new birds to the list.  Once again joining the main trail, we quickly picked up Lazuli Bunting for our list.  Heading further into the canyon, we came to realize that the bird life was very much dead.  Very quiet with few singing other than a towhee or bunting every few dozen feet. A large bird flying off in the distance got my dad's attention, and we were happy to find it to be a Golden Eagle.  The birding for the rest of our walk through Waterton was very slow, outside of a Red-breasted Merganser fighting the current heading upstream on the river, providing great views and a fun viewing experience of this cool bird.  Upon exiting the canyon a couple hours later, we walked the trails at the Audubon Center and enjoyed views of some of the common birds we had been seeing.  We then headed back to the truck and decided to hit up one more place before heading home.
We pulled into the parking lot of Belmar Park to bird Kountze Lake.  We got out and were greeted with many common birds, as well as some Double-crested Cormorants and Snowy Egret. On one of the islands in the lake, two pairs of cormorants had a nest.  An egret foraged along the edge of the island, showing some of its fun hunting antics.  Gadwall and Mallard swam around but otherwise there was not much variety.  We walked around to the other viewing platform and saw a Spotted Sandpiper, as well as a female Mallard with eight ducklings.  We had a nice chat about birds and the outdoors with a lady, and then decided that it was time to head home and call an end to what had turned out to be a great Big Birding Weekend.
All told, we had 125 different bird species, over 1/4th of all the birds ever seen in Colorado, on our list for the two days.  We could not have been happier. We went to many great places, saw many great birds, had many a laugh and created a memory to last a lifetime.  I very much look forward to next years Big Birding Weekend.

Now that I am all caught up there, upcoming birding events include:
Barr Lake Bird Fest in September. I will post more info when I come across it.
My dad and I will be leading another bird walk at Two Ponds NWR before the summer is over as well, and I shall post more info about that as we get it finalized too.

I want to thank you all for reading my blog and please forgive me for having such a long dry spell. I will do my best not to let this happen again.


Morning light at Chatfield. 


Great Blue Heron and Osprey

Canada Goose resting in the top of a broken tree. 

White-faced Ibis flyover. 

Common Merganser

One of my favorite shots. The female Yellow Warbler at her nest. 

Vesper's Sparrow

Mountain Bluebird. Lighting was horrible. 

Double-crested Cormorant hanging out in Waterton Canyon. 

Red-breasted Merganser.
Watch a video here on YouTube:

Spotted Towhee. One of many in Waterton. 

Snowy Egret at Kountze Lake at Belmar Park. 

The nesting island. 

Mama Mallard with her ducklings. 

The nesting cormorants. 

Closer shot of a Snowy Egret

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The 2013 Big Birding Weekend Pt. 1

Two words are all that are needed to describe the Big Birding Weekend that my dad and I completed over the weekend of May 17-18th.  Those words are: "incredible" and "fun."  To recap: two days, nine locations, many miles walked, hundreds of miles driven and 125 species seen.  We handily beat our total of 114 species that we saw last year.  This post is dedicated to Day 1 of the Big Birding Weekend.

Friday, May 17th 2013...Day 1...

We woke up at 3am so that we could get an early start to our day and arrive at our destination before sunrise.  Our three target locations for today were Crow Valley Campground, Pawnee National Grasslands and then Barr Lake State Park in that order.  We headed off around 3:30 and made a quick stop at the post office to drop off some mail.  As we pulled out of the post office, a large owl flew in and landed on one of the street lights.  Great Horned Owl, first bird of our weekend.  We drove up to Crow Valley Campground and arrived just as the sun was peeking over the horizon.  We could hear birds all around and a Northern Mockingbird greeted us at the entrance to the campground.   I don't think either my dad nor I were expecting to see a mockingbird on the trip so we were both very happy.  We walked around the campground for about an hour, adding multiple species to our day and weekend list.  We saw Bullock's and Orchard Orioles shortly after parking and the trees were dotted with Western Kingbirds.  The kingbirds were all over and making a big ruckus chasing each other around.  Pretty soon, we found some Eastern Kingbirds and a pair of Western Tanagers.  A flock of Blue Jays made their rounds through the park.  Constantly circling through the trees in the park and seeming to add one bird to the flock every time they flew by us.  The best bird we saw at the campground was a Broad-winged Hawk.  It was sitting in a tree, ignoring the occasional kingbird and jay that would squawk at it.  After an enjoyable time at Crow Valley, we headed off to drive the Pawnee Bird Tour.
Shortly after leaving Crow Valley, we saw a Lark Bunting sitting on the fence.  I was very excited to see this bird as it is our state bird and I've only seen them once before.  We pulled over to enjoy some nice views for a minute before heading over to start the bird loop.
We pulled into the bird loop and were greeted by about a half dozen Lark Buntings.  You couldn't drive ten feet on the tour without seeing one of these birds.  We saw hundreds of them.  We drove along the tour seeing little other than the buntings and an occasional Horned Lark.  Three birds suddenly flew up in front of us that were different.  We were able to get quick looks at them and dove into our bird book.  McCown's Longspur.  I was ecstatic.  Longspurs have long been one of my nemesis birds and I finally saw one.  Life bird 311 and the first of the trip.  Continuing along the bird tour, we made a few stops and picked up Savannah Sparrow, Northern Pintail and a few others.  We continued to rack up our bunting sightings and saw few dozen more McCown's, but it wasn't until about 90 minutes into the drive when we finally saw a pair of Chestnut-collared Longspurs foraging just off the road.  Life bird 312.  The only other bird of note that we added on the tour was a Loggerhead Shrike.  Then we were off to the Pawnee Buttes.
The Buttes were much further away than either of us realized.  The drive was long and slow with more Lark Buntings making appearances.  About half way to the buttes, we drove passed a prairie dog colony and were surprised and amazed to see three Burrowing Owls sitting on fence posts along the drive.   They made the drive to the buttes worth it.  We got to the buttes and ate lunch, but birding was slow.  It was not worth the drive in our opinion but we were happy to have seen the owls.  So we decided to head south to Lower Latham Reservoir and bird there for a bit before heading to Barr Lake.
Latham, though you can't park and walk around it, was incredible.  Very birdy.  There was bird activity on both sides of the road.  We picked up Great-tailed Grackle, Yellow-headed Blackbird and more pretty quickly.  Along a stream we found Song Sparrow and Yellow-breasted Chat.  On the reservoir itself we got Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal, Franklin's Gull and Great Egret.  A Common Yellowthroat made an appearance in a tree near the lake and Black-necked Stilt and Wilson's Phalarope were to be found on ponds nearby.  We drove around the ponds and the town of La Salle before heading down to Barr Lake.
We entered Barr with  over 70 birds on the day and were feeling really good about breaking 100 on the day.  We got out and headed left on the trails to bird the southern loop first.  Black-capped Chickadee showed up and a Lincoln's Sparrow gave us a pleasant surprise.  We walked along the boardwalk but didn't add many birds. House Wren and Yellow Warbler were all over though, and Bullock's Orioles again were very common.  Coming to the end of the boardwalk, we heard a calling grassland bird and made our way to a spot to scan the grasslands and find it.  After a short bit of searching we tracked down the Ring-necked Pheasant who was making the calls.  We scanned for other birds but found none so we headed back out long the trail.  In one of the overhangs, we heard a pounding of a woodpecker but couldn't figure out where it was coming from.  We looked and looked and finally I figured out it was in a tree right off the path near us but I couldn't pinpoint which tree.  I rested my hand on a tree truck to brace myself to peer into the trees when I heard the poundings and felt the tree I was leaning against vibrate in sync with the sound.  I quickly tracked down a hole in the side of the tree and my dad and I both were rewarded with a great view as a female Downy Woodpecker poked her head out of the hole.  We enjoyed watching for a minute or so and then headed down the trail to leave her to her work.  We decided to walk to the banding station and a little ways beyond before heading out to another location.  We heard but couldn't find a White-breasted Nuthatch and outside of a large flock of mixed sparrows(Brewer's, Clay-colored, Chipping, Lark, one White-crowned and some American Goldfinch and House Finches) the birding was slow.  A movement in one of the trees near the banding station got my attention and I was very happy to discover a Rose-breasted Grosbeak! Life bird 313 and one of my other nemesis birds! We continued along the walk and went passed the banding station.  We added Spotted Sandpiper and Blue Grosbeak to the list as well as a couple other species.  We wrapped up our Barr Lake segment having seen 97 birds on the day(my dad had 98 as I missed the White-crowned Sparrow). We decided to drive passed a couple lakes and then bird Two Ponds NWR to see if we could pick up enough birds to break 100.
The drive to Two Ponds yielded one new bird for the day, Western Grebe.  That sighting put me two away from 100 and my dad one away.  We were surprised that we hadn't seen any Turkey Vultures on the day and we had missed a few other fairly common birds as well.  We tried another pond that was good for Snowy Egret but of course the egret wasn't there when we drove by.  Finally we arrived at Two Ponds and we eagerly headed in to the park to see if it couldn't produce for us.
Enter Two Ponds NWR.  One of our favorite locations to bird and a location we new well.  Though it is a small location and not very birdy, it was a reliable location for a few species that we had missed on the day.  We walked over to the main pond and immediately found Black-crowned Night-heron, bird 99 for me and number 100!! for my dad.  I hit the century mark seconds later with a Cooper's Hawk perched in the tree just above the heron.  A female Wood Duck made a flyby, further adding to our day list.  We birded a little longer and decided to head home as we were both very exhausted.  As we were walking to leave, some movement in a tree got our attention and we were pleasantly surprised to identify it as a Yellow-rumped Warbler.  That would be the last bird we would add to our day and weekend list.
All in all, the first day was incredible.  I saw 102 bird species(my dad had a list of 103) so the day ended as my second best Big Day total ever.  I added three new birds to my life list and was finally able to bird Pawnee National Grasslands.  As the clock read just after 8pm, I closed my eyes and was asleep before I knew it.  With alarms set for 3:30am, I couldn't wait for Day 2.

Eastern Kingbird

Orchard Oriole

Photogenic Western Kingbird

Lark Sparrow

Yellow Warbler foraging.

Broad-winged Hawk. Too far away for a better shot. 

Green-tailed Towhee

Lark Bunting and Horned Lark along the bird tour. 

American Avocet in a pond. 

Can you find the Longspur?

You can see the "horns" in this photo. 

Chestnut-collared Longspur

Burrowing Owl.

The Pawnee Buttes. 

Great-tailed Grackle at Latham. 

Black-necked Stilt and other birds. 

Wilson's Phalarope

Northern Harrier being harassed by Red-winged Blackbirds.

Lincoln's Sparrow

House Wren with nesting material.

The "Log Bird"

Bullock's Oriole

The Downy Woodpecker in her nest hole. 

Spotted Sandpiper.

Swainson's Hawk with stick for nest.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Black-crowned Night-heron. Bird #100 for my dad. 

Cooper's Hawk. My 100th bird.