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. 

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