Still catching up on the month of blogging I've missed. So...here we go!
THE BIG BIRDING WEEKEND Pt. 2
Alarms woke us up at 3:30am on Saturday, May 19th. Our plan for the day was to get to Tamarack Ranch SWA before sunrise to listen to the dawn chorus. Tamarack was our target birding spot for the trip. We packed up the truck and headed out around 4am. On the 40 minute drive from Sterling to Tamarack, my dad and I were treated to some nice views of lightning in a distant thunderstorm. Taking a wrong turn at the exit, we back tracked to Tamarack and were off for another day of great birding.
We drove along one of the roads at Tamarack and listened to the great chorus of birds singing all around us. We heard Wild Turkey but were unable to track them down. As daylight started to creep in, we saw Brown Thrasher again as well as many more Baltimore, Orchard and Bullock's Orioles. Driving further along the road, we soon heard the pounding of a woodpecker and spotted a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers working on some trees. We ended up seeing about 6 different Red-headed Woodpeckers along this road. We had a nice view of a not-too-distant thunder cloud, but thankfully the storm was moving east, away from us. We were scanning the trees and all-of-a-sudden spotted a falcon like bird soaring over the field. We both got glass on the bird and determined it to be too big for an American Kestrel and it didn't have the right markings either, but too small to be a Prairie or Peregrine Falcon. We happily looked at each other and identified it as a Merlin. I was very happy as I hadn't seen one in over two years. We heard a familiar "peep"-ing sound and soon tracked it down to a few Bushtits hanging out in some trees. Shortly thereafter we found a Gray Catbird. We then headed off to explore the eastern part of Tamarack.
Heading out on the road to the eastern portion of Tamarack, we got our first Vesper's Sparrow of the trip. We headed down toward the hedgerows. Birding the hedgerows(and there are many, along with good riparian and wooded forest on the other side of the road), I was keeping a sharp eye out for Red-bellied Woodpecker, my other target bird for the trip. We picked up a Olive-sided Flycatcher, but otherwise birding was pretty slow. I stuck my head out the window at one point to get a better view of the area as we drove, and a large woodpecker flew over my head and disappeared into the trees. I knew it wasn't a Red-headed Woodpecker and it was too big and didn't have the right markings for a Downy Woodpecker. My dad and I raced to the trees to try to find the bird. After 10 minutes of unsuccessful searching, I consulted a field guides(as my dad only caught a glimpse of the bird) and settled on making an identification, Red-bellied Woodpecker. I was very ecstatic. Life bird 304! We decided to head out to Tamarack Pond as a lot of good birds had been reported there earlier in the week.
As we pulled into Tamarack Pond, it was a little windy and looked like a storm was blowing in. We got out and started to hike around the pond. While scanning the pond at one point, a smaller wading bird took off and we were happy to find it to be a Green Heron. We found more orioles and Brown Thrashers as we walked around the pond. My dad soon told me to stop and listen, and a light whistling could be heard. My dad soon found the source to be a small flock of Cedar Waxwings. A nice bird to find. I scanned the pond and found a Spotted Sandpaper along the shore. The bird soon took off, circled the pond and then came in for a landing at a different spot on the shore. My dad and a both burst out laughing when the sandpiper ended up doing a somersault-crash landing. Never seen a bird botch a landing like that ever. A raptor soon got our attention and my dad and I yelled out at the same time "Broad-tailed Hawk!" This was an awesome bird to find and one I wasn't even expecting to see! Life bird 305 and a state bird for my dad. It started raining about that time so my dad and I headed back to the truck. We got in the truck and slowly started driving with windows down listening. He soon stopped and stated he heard a Northern Bobwhite. I listened but was unable to hear the call he was hearing, even though he said he kept hearing it(turns out I was just hearing the "white!" part of the call, as I soon heard the identifying and namesake call). We got out to try to find the birds but were unable to. This was life bird 306. I soon got back in the truck, but my dad headed down to the fence to try one last time to locate the birds. A LOUD "WHOOSH!" and a yelp from my dad got my attention and I turned just in time to see a rather large female Wild Turkey take off not three feet from in front of my dad, and my dad jumping upwards and backwards with hands flailing. After we both collected ourselves(I from laughing, he from the fright), we watched the turkey as she paced nervously about 100 feet away. We both concluded that she probably had a nest nearby.
After nice birding at Tamarack, and that fun little encounter, we proceeded up to Jumbo SWA and Red Lion SWA. We drove around Jumbo Res. and picked up Blue Grosbeak. Life bird 307. We then continued on and went to Red Lion SWA.
We got out at the parking lot and decided to follow one of the trails to a grove of trees below the damn of a small lake at the SWA. It was fairly windy with light rain off and on, but the conditions weren't too bad. The group of trees was pretty slow though we did pick up Yellow-rumped Warbler and locate a Hermit Thrush and Orchard Oriole. We followed the path to a blind overlooking a small group of ponds and were able to get some good views of Blue-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler. We then decided to give the group of trees one last look over before heading to the truck. In one of the thickets we saw a female Common Yellowthroat working the lower branches. The weather then suddenly cleared up, with the wind dying down and sun coming out and rain stopping, and the birding got magical. Within seconds, the thicket we were watching came alive. A male Common Yellowthroat started foraging about, and another Yellow-rumped Warbler came out too. A beautifully colored warbler with a nice black and white facial pattern and yellow patch on the wings showed up. My dad and I couldn't believe what we were seeing. A Golden-winged Warbler. Not only was this life bird 308, it was also one of my all-time most wanted to see birds and a VERY rare bird to find in Colorado. This bird is also a fairly uncommon bird out east as it has a limited range and is declining in numbers. The birding in the thicket wasn't done yet, though. Another warbler showed up and we identified it as a Tennessee Warbler. A Hermit Thrush joined the action as well. A male American Redstart came through too, and a Hammond's Flycatcher flew into the back of the thicket. To top it off, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet showed up as well. I've never experienced anything like this in my entire life of birding. In the span of 5 minutes or less, 10 different birds(including Red-winged and Brewer's Blackbirds) including 5 different warblers, filtered through one little thicket. The weather then got sour again and the birding died down tremendously. We headed back up to the truck amazed at what we had just witnessed, and in a state of fascination and disbelief that we had just seen a Golden-winged Warbler.
We decided to go to Duck Creek SWA before heading back home. Along the way, we passed by some prairie ponds and picked up Redhead, Short-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Phalarope and Northern Pintail. We also saw a large flock of White-faced Ibis'. Arriving at Duck Creek SWA, it looked very unassuming. We picked up Rock Wren right off the bat. We walked along one of the treelines and located yet another Hermit Thrush. We decided to head up to a dirt road boarding a creek at the west end of the SWA. A few swallows and sparrows were about, including a couple Brewer's Sparrows. We were on the lookout for Grasshopper and Field Sparrows, but were unable to find any. We did find a sparrow that we couldn't quite identify. We walked back to the truck, consulted some field guides, and identified it as a Clay-colored Sparrow. We then decided that we should start heading home.
On the way home we made three short little birding stops to see if we couldn't tease out another bird or two. The first stop was at Lowell Ponds. We walked around for about 15 minutes but were soon rained out. We then headed up to Stearn's Lake. The lake itself was quite, with only an American White Pelican and a Double-crested Cormorant. The pond to the west wasn't very active either, but did produce a Semipalmated Plover, a nice addition to the list. We then made our final stop at Baseline Lake. A few Double-crested Cormorants were around, but we were looking for a couple good birds that had been seen there a few days earlier. My dad spotted one of them pretty quickly. A Common Loon was still hanging around on the lake. A Red-throated Loon had been seen too, but we were unable to locate it. We also saw a family of Bald Eagles soaring at the lake, which was a really cool site to see. We finally decided that it was time to be home, and on our way to the house, we had on last hurrah when we spotted an American Raven.
All in all, we spent nearly 30 hours birding and drove hundreds of miles. We had a trip total of 114 birds for two days. We saw 78 birds the first day, and I ended the 19th with my second highest Big Day total to date, with 98 species. I saw a total of 8 Life Birds and 9 State Birds. It was one of my most fun and memorable birding experiences I've ever had.
Morning at Tamarack.
The storm cloud we were watching.
The Vulture House. An abandoned building at Tamarack being taken over by three Turkey Vultures.
Birding at the wheel.
The lonely road. Heading east at Tamarack.
Pushing through the trees and undergrowth searching for birds at Tamarack Pond.
The clouds that proliferated the sky all day in Northeastern Colorado.
I will have one more blog post coming up to catch up on everything I missed.