South Platte Park, Dec 1 – with Chuck Aid

Greater Scaup (c) John Hoogerheide

Eight of us had a productive morning birding on a gloriously nice fall day.  The waterbirds were great, with two species of geese, fourteen species of ducks, plus a couple of Pied-billed Grebes, and some American Coots. Of special note here was a single Snow Goose amidst a long, long line of Canada Geese passing overhead.  Also, we had to wrestle with the identification of a small group of Greater Scaup.  Greater Scaup are member of the genus Aythya, which also includes Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, Canvasback, and Redhead.  

Lesser Scaup (c) John Hoogerheide

In Colorado Lesser Scaup are far more common than Greater, but telling the two apart presents us with a significant challenge.  Key attributes to look at are lateral head shape (rounded, not peaked with slight tuft), frontal head shape (has jowls), bill shape (large black nail on tip), and the extensiveness of the white wing-stripe on birds in flight (extends from the body to the end of the wing).  A more subtle attribute to look for has to do with the iridescent head color, Greaters are green, and Lessers are purple, BUT be mighty careful here. We all know how in certain light Mallards have green heads and other times they have purple heads.  Head color in scaup is not a reliable characteristic, but, coupled with seeing other pertinent details, it can help lead you to a proper identification.

Black Scoter (c) Bill Schmoker

Perhaps the bird of the day was a Black Scoter.  We are fortunate to get to see all three North American scoters in Colorado – Black, Surf, and White-winged, but these are primarily seaducks and their appearance here in the middle of the continent is relatively rare, and generally it is during fall migration that we could get lucky enough to see them.  Our bird was apparently an adult female, but first-winter juveniles, both male and female, have a very similar plumage.  Key features include a dark cap and pale cheeks on an otherwise rather plain brown, stocky duck.

Northern Shrike (c) Bill Schmoker

One other bird of note for the day was a Northern Shrike.  We get Loggerhead Shrikes breeding in Colorado, and then in winter we’re fortunate to get Northern Shrikes.  Both are very striking birds with their dramatic mix of white, gray and black patterning.  With Northern Shrikes key features include a longer, more strongly hooked bill, and the black mask is narrower than on a Loggerhead.

All in all, a very enjoyable morning!

Good birding!
Chuck

 

 

 

South Platte Park–C470 area, Dec 1, 2018
33 species

Snow Goose  1
Canada Goose  200
Northern Shoveler  75
Gadwall  18
American Wigeon  15
Mallard  12
Green-winged Teal  11
Ring-necked Duck  2
Greater Scaup  7
Lesser Scaup  17
Black Scoter  1
Bufflehead  16
Common Goldeneye  9
Hooded Merganser  19
Common Merganser  2
Ruddy Duck  5
Pied-billed Grebe  2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  20
American Coot  3
Ring-billed Gull  5
Great Blue Heron  2
Red-tailed Hawk  5
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  3
American Kestrel  1
Northern Shrike  1
Black-billed Magpie  4
American Crow  1
Black-capped Chickadee  1
House Finch  3
White-crowned Sparrow (Gambel’s)  7
Song Sparrow  5

Hudson Gardens, Nov 17 – with Chuck Aid

American Wigeon – male (c) Bill Schmoker

Saturday, what with cold, drizzling rain and gusting winds, was not necessarily a good day for fair-weather birders, and about half the folks registered for our bird walk were no-shows. Those who did show up, all women by the way, were totally psyched to be there, well prepared for the weather, and had a great time.

Gadwall – male (c) Rob Raker

 

 

 

 

 

With Hudson Gardens being adjacent to the “Flat” Platte we always seem to get great views of the ducks on the river, and Saturday was no exception.  Everyone learned a lot about identifying the seven duck species that we saw, with some folks even starting to discern extremely fine points of identification all on their own – great observers!  I’m confident that in the future everyone will be far more self-assured in identifying both male and female Gadwalls – not one of the more colorful ducks, and the female is definitely a tricky ID even for moderately good birders.

Great Blue Heron (c) Bill Schmoker

One of our early highlights was getting good close views of a Great Blue Heron standing in a little streamside estuary and being aggressively challenged by a muskrat.  The muskrat kept circling around the Great Blue and to all appearances being quite brave in its attempt to drive the heron out of its home territory (we’ve seen baby muskrats in this same area on other outings).  Eventually the heron strolled off and the muskrat seemed mollified.  Great Blues are voracious carnivores.  They eat everything: fish, worms, aquatic insects, mollusks, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, birds (eggs, nestlings, ducklings, rails, bitterns, etc.), and mammals (mice, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, muskrats, gophers, etc.).   Not surprisingly they have been known to choke to death on an overly large prey item.  Here’s a link to a video of a large fish being successfully swallowed whole – however, it’s not for the faint of heart – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1v5w0UK2SvE.  You can even find videos of Great Blues eating muskrats if you’re so inclined.

Gray-headed Junco (c) Bill Schmoker

On a prior Hudson Gardens walk last breeding season we got to watch a similar standoff in which a Red-winged Blackbird was attempting to drive off a Great Blue from within a stand of cattails.  The heron would crouch down and then make dramatic leaps into the air unsuccessfully attempting to snag the Red-wing.  We left not knowing the outcome of that encounter.

One of the other highlights of the morning was the good diversity of birds seen at the bird feeders in the Bird Garden.  Besides the usual House Finches and Black-capped Chickadees, we got to see a White-breasted Nuthatch, a Song Sparrow, and several American Goldfinches.  These are all species that can be seen year-round in the Denver area.  Then, we also got to see some recently arrived migrants that will spend the winter here – a couple of American Tree Sparrows, and a nice variety of Dark-eyed Junco subspecies.

Oregon Junco (c) Bill Schmoker

We have one subspecies of Junco that is in Colorado throughout the year – the Gray-headed.  However, there are an additional five subspecies that, having bred up in the boreal forest of Canada, the Pacific Northwest, and the Northern Rockies, come here to spend the winter.  We were fortunate to see four subspecies at the feeders.  A nice mix!

Hope to see you soon on another great Hudson Gardens outing!

 

Hudson Gardens, Nov 17, 2018
23 species (+4 other taxa)

Canada Goose  30
Gadwall  9
American Wigeon  1
Mallard  35
Ring-necked Duck  1
Bufflehead  6
Common Goldeneye  2
Hooded Merganser  2
Ring-billed Gull  3
Great Blue Heron  1
Belted Kingfisher  2
Northern Flicker  5
Blue Jay  1
Black-billed Magpie  4
Black-capped Chickadee  6
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
American Robin  4
House Finch  12
American Goldfinch  7
American Tree Sparrow  2
Dark-eyed Junco  3
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  1
Dark-eyed Junco (cismontanus)  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)  3
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)  2
Song Sparrow  3
Red-winged Blackbird  4

Harriman Lake Park, November 3 – with Chuck Aid

Female Bufflehead (c) Bill Schmoker

This morning’s walk was a bit abbreviated as cold rain mixed with a bit of sleet sent us scurrying back to the cars posthaste.  Prior to that though we were able to enjoy a productive couple of hours working on our duck identifications.  We did not work on geese or grebe IDs because we saw none.  However, the ten duck species we saw now were spectacular. Most of the males were in glorious breeding plumage, though a couple of Mallards and several Northern Shovelers were still a bit betwixt and between.  Duck highlights included great looks at American Wigeons, Green-winged Teal, and Hooded Mergansers.  And, as we continue to look for new arrivals of those ducks that bred up in northern Canada and will now spend the winter with us, it was gratifying to find a pair of Common Goldeneyes.

Prairie Falcon (c) Bill Schmoker

The main highlight of the day was a Prairie Falcon, which we saw almost immediately as we first got out of our cars.  It was perched initially on top of a light post along Kipling, and then flew rapidly over to the top of another light post along Quincy.  This is part of a common foraging strategy for wintering Prairie Falcons.  From the top of a pole, or cliff, they can effortlessly survey their surroundings, and then once they have sighted a potential prey item the can swoop down, flying low, fast, and quite powerfully towards their quarry.  This behavior, alone, can almost be diagnostic in identifying a Prairie Falcon. Fortunately, we were also able to ascertain that it was a large falcon with obvious pointed wings.  Then, once it was on its second perch, we could make out the characteristic malar stripe below its eye.  (You might want to check out the introductory pages of your field guide to familiarize yourself with where the malar region is in a bird’s topography.) We could also see the dark ear-patch, and the distinctive white patch between the dark malar stripe and dark ear patch.  Again, though, it was the behavior of the bird that offered the best initial clues as to what it was.

So, once again, Harriman delivered.  It’s an excellent place for beginning birders as the lake is small enough that it’s possible to make out many of the ducks just with binoculars.

Northern Shovelers (c) David Chernack

Good birding!
Chuck

Harriman Lake Park, Nov 3, 2018
24 species

Northern Shoveler  190
Gadwall  8
American Wigeon  50
Mallard  35
Green-winged Teal  17
Lesser Scaup  9
Bufflehead  30
Common Goldeneye  2
Hooded Merganser  14
Ruddy Duck  9
American Coot  11
Ring-billed Gull  3
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Northern Flicker  5
Prairie Falcon  1
Blue Jay  3
Black-billed Magpie  1
American Crow  5
Black-capped Chickadee  1
American Robin  1
European Starling  3
House Finch  5
American Tree Sparrow  2
Red-winged Blackbird  28

Hudson Gardens, Oct 27 – with Chuck Aid

Gadwalls (c) Mick Thompson

It was another great morning at Hudson Gardens.  We spent a fair amount of time working on the finer details of identifying five duck species. On Gadwalls the male has the big black rump and has silver tertials (the flight feathers closest to the body), and the female though relatively drab has white secondaries that when the wing is folded against the body cause a white spot to appear on her side. 

American Wigeon female (c) Bill Schmoker
American Wigeon (c) Bill Schmoker

With American Wigeons both male and female have a light bluish-gray bill and warm, brownish flanks; the male has an obvious whitish forehead and a distinct dark green swoop through the eye area; the female has her mascara smudged around her eye. 

Mallard male (c) Bill Schmoker

 

Mallards we know pretty well, but don’t forget the male’s curly black tail and clean yellow bill; the female has an orange bill with the black blobby spot on top; both have white outer tail feathers.  We only got to review male Buffleheads, as we saw no females, but we noted how white they were overall, with their relatively large round heads. For Hooded Mergansers we only got to see two males, but they were beauties, and unmistakable.

Mallard female (c) Bill Schmoker

 

 

 

 

 

We had some great looks at a couple of Red-tails, and one flew just a few feet above us providing a nice close-up view of its underside.  The birds had some nice differences and similarities.  So, while one was more of our classic light morph western Red-tail, the other was a much lighter looking individual with almost no buffy coloration – just black streaking on white for the belly-band.

 

Bufflehead male (c) Bill Schmoker

We had some good migrant activity with tons of American Goldfinches all over the place, and then right when we were leaving a large flock of Cedar Waxwings moved through. Also, had a couple of Dark-eyed Juncos. 

Overall, we had numerous opportunities for really nailing down some of the finer points of bird identification, and we all came away gratified at how much smarter we had become in such a short while – deservedly self-congratulatory!

Hooded Merganser male (c) Bill Schmoker

Good birding!
Chuck

Hudson Gardens, Oct 27, 2018
25 species

Canada Goose  28
Gadwall  8
American Wigeon  9
Mallard  37
Bufflehead  3
Hooded Merganser  2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  8
Ring-billed Gull  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Belted Kingfisher  2
Downy Woodpecker  3
Northern Flicker  12
Blue Jay  2
Black-billed Magpie  3
American Crow  4
Black-capped Chickadee  14
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
American Robin  11
European Starling  3
Cedar Waxwing  38
House Finch  9
American Goldfinch  23
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Pink-sided)  1
Song Sparrow  1
Red-winged Blackbird  3

Hudson Gardens, September 29 – with Chuck Aid

American Wigeon (c) Bill Schmoker

Throughout the summer when looking at ducks, most of what we see in the Denver area are Mallards with occasionally a few of the three teal species, and perhaps a Wood Duck, Northern Pintail, Redhead, or Common Merganser.  It’s possible to see some other species, but they are pretty uncommon.  Then, as we progress through the fall the Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal leave and migrate south.  However, starting in mid-September we gradually pick up about fourteen additional duck species that have bred farther to the north, and will then be in our area throughout the winter.  On Saturday we had Blue-winged Teal that will only be around for about two or three more weeks, and we also had two newly arrived migrants from the north, Gadwall and American Wigeon.

Dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk (c) Bill Schmoker

Other highlights included a couple of juvenile Black-crowned Night-Herons, a dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk, a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and a single Orange-crowned Warbler – both of the latter perhaps on their way to spend the winter in the Sierra Madre Occidental of Jalisco, Mexico.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juvenile Cedar Waxwing (c) Bill Schmoker

Finally, the big score of the day was the huge number of Cedar Waxwings we encountered.  It’s possible to see these birds year-round, but their numbers seem to increase once we get past breeding season, and, in fact almost all the birds we saw were juveniles.  We had multiple flocks of 15-30 individuals, and at one time had close to 50 birds in one catalpa tree.  Outstanding!

Hudson delivers again!

Good Birding!
Chuck Aid

Hudson Gardens, Sep 29
29 species

Canada Goose  14
Wood Duck  9
Blue-winged Teal  7
Gadwall  5
American Wigeon  8
Mallard  55
Common Merganser  3
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  14
Mourning Dove  5
Killdeer  1
Ring-billed Gull  7
Double-crested Cormorant  4
Great Blue Heron  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  2
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Downy Woodpecker  3
Northern Flicker  8
Blue Jay  7
Black-billed Magpie  2
American Crow  1
Barn Swallow  20
Black-capped Chickadee  10
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
American Robin  60
Cedar Waxwing  54
House Finch  3
White-crowned Sparrow  7
Orange-crowned Warbler  1

Barr Lake State Park and Banding Station October 6th 2018 with David Chernack

This Clay-colored Sparrow was a great catch at the banding station. Getting to see an example of this species in the hand was an opportunity to observe its unique coloration and diminutive size. (c) David Chernack

     The greatest lesson of fall birding is to expect the unexpected. Yesterday’s visit to Barr Lake State Park and its banding station run by the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies is a prime example. While the weather at a glance looked like it would be poor for birding, a cold front sweeping in from the north on Friday brought with it a who’s who of fantastic migrating songbirds for our group to see on Saturday. Our lucky group of six birders were able to observe many of these birds up close and personal as they were banded and released at the station, making for an excellent morning of birding!

     Bird banding is one of the most effective tools ornithologists have at their disposal to study birds. The quintessential banding operation consists of mist nets — fine mesh nets nets that are often set up in prime foraging areas — which harmlessly catch birds as they traverse an area of habitat. Researchers then collect the birds in small cloth pouches and transport them to a table with supplies for physically banding the specimens. The species, age, weight, and sex of each bird is determined and recorded before a band — a small metal ring with identifying numbers and letters — is affixed to its leg. The banded birds are then released; if they are caught at another banding station at a later date, their band can then be used to identify where else they have been caught. The entire process is harmless to the birds, although there is typically a great amount of complaining from the birds while they are being handled!

This Plumbeous Vireo, though handsome, was not too happy about being caught at the banding station. He had words with us! (c) David Chernack

      For our group, the banding station meant easier than usual views of some of Colorado’s best autumn birds. Birding during fall migration presents some challenges: most birds are not singing or vocalizing, so identifying birds by song is usually not an option; some birds are still calling, but differentiating calls between two warblers or two sparrows is a tough skill to learn. Additionally, many birds are molting into duller plumage for the winter season, so they may be hard to identify (which is especially the case with shorebirds) or even hard to locate. While we had some luck locating some warblers and sparrows as we walked from the Barr Lake nature center to the banding station, the up-close views we received while the birds were being banded were educational and incomparable.

     The species most frequently caught at the banding station that morning is also the most common warbler in Colorado: the Yellow-rumped Warbler. Both subspecies, Myrtle and Audubon’s, were present; this provided a fantastic opportunity to learn their differentiating traits at very close range. Also very common at the banding station were White-crowned Sparrows, some showing mature plumage (with the unmistakable white crown) and some showing hatch-year plumage (with a rufous crown, almost resembling an adult Chipping Sparrow or American Tree Sparrow). 

The Orange-crowned Warbler rarely shows and sometimes even lacks its namesake orange crown, as was the case with this individual (likely a female). They still possess a subtle beauty that is often overlooked. (c) David Chernack

     Two other species of warbler were also caught at the banding station: the Orange-crowned Warbler and the Wilson’s Warbler. Both species breed in the mountainous areas of Colorado, but are more commonly seen in greater Denver during their spring and fall migrations. The up-close looks at a half dozen Orange-crowned Warblers afforded us a rare look at their normally concealed orange “crown”; meanwhile, the Wilson’s Warbler that was banded at the station was still showing some very bright yellow coloration for so late in the season.

     For me, the best part of the morning was getting to see a good spread of sparrows up close. Identifying sparrows is difficult year-round, especially from a normal distance; seeing them from mere inches away was a real treat. Among the species observed in the hand were Lincoln’s, Chipping, Clay-colored, Song, and of course White-crowned Sparrows. Spotted Towhees, perhaps the most vocally displeased birds handled at the station that morning, were also wonderful to observe at such close range.

 

White-crowned Sparrows were the most common bird at the banding station; this picture shows the adult (front) and hatch-year (back) plumages. (c) David Chernack

   One especially special bird at the banding station was a Great Crested Flycatcher, a rarity for the greater Denver area. It presented a bit of an identification challenge as it bears an uncanny similarity to its western cousin the Brown-crested Flycatcher. Another bird that was tough to identify was a Plumbeous Vireo which showed up mid-morning. Plumbeous Vireos greatly resemble Blue-headed Vireos and Cassin’s Vireos, which breed to the east and west of the Plumbeous’ range respectively; the three vireos are so similar that until recently they were considered to be one species. 

     And while the banding station was a fantastic highlight of the morning, our group also made a point to survey Barr Lake itself for the plethora of migrating seabirds and shorebirds that stop to feed in Colorado as they travel south. The usual American White Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, Ring-billed Gulls, as well as plenty of ducks and other waterfowl were present on the lake surface. A Brown Creeper and Hairy Woodpecker rounded off our list for the day which reached 47 species.

Check out the full list of species below!

Your humble guide and scribe,

David Chernack

Canada Goose 8

Blue-winged Teal 12

Northern Shoveler 12

Gadwal 8

American Wigeon 5

Mallard 2

Ruddy Duck 25

Western Grebe 2

Mourning Dove 2

American Coot 120

American Avocet 1

Killdeer 2

Ring-billed Gull 250

Herring Gull 3

Double-crested Cormorant 45

American White Pelican 400

Great Blue Heron 11

Northern Harrier 1

Bald Eagle 1

Hairy Woodpecker 1

Northern Flicker 1

Say’s Phoebe 2

Great Crested Flycatcher 1

Plumbeous Vireo 1

Blue Jay 5

Black-billed Magpie 1

Barn Swallow 7

Black-capped Chickadee 12

White-breasted Nuthatch 1

Brown Creeper 1

Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1

Hermit Thrush 1

American Robin 1

European Starling 15

Chipping Sparrow 1

Clay-colored Sparrow 1

White-crowned Sparrow 26

Vesper Sparrow 3

Song Sparrow 1

Lincoln’s Sparrow 1

Spotted Towhee 2

Western Meadowlark 2

Red-winged Blackbird 3

Orange-crowned Warbler 11

Yellow-rumped Warbler 14

Wilson’s Warbler 1

House Sparrow 10

Chatfield SP–Audubon Center: Sept 1 with Chuck Aid

Wilson’s Warbler (c) Bill Schmoker

Fourteen of us had a rather slow morning at Chatfield.  There were periods of almost total silence with regard to the avian community. However, we persisted, and managed to get a reasonable number of species even though the total number of individuals was quite low.

So, what did we not see?  We whiffed on Canada Geese, grebes, doves/pigeons, shorebirds (except for one Killdeer), gulls, herons, owls, woodpeckers (except for one Downy), vireos, and blackbirds/meadowlarks/orioles.

Western Kingbird (c) Bill Schmoker

 

What we did manage to see included three species of flycatchers: Western Wood-Pewee, Say’s Phoebe, and Western Kingbird.  We also had a few Gray Catbirds, Cedar Waxwings, and Lesser Goldfinches.  And, we had great looks at a couple of Yellow Warblers, a single Wilson’s Warbler, and a couple of Western Tanagers.  Fall migration is really the only time of year that we get to see Wilson’s Warblers in the Denver area, as their spring migration route is farther west and they breed high in the mountains.

 

Osprey (c) Bill Schmoker

The real highlight of the day may have been the raptors we recorded, though most of them were at quite a distance from us.  An Osprey gave us a fleeting view as it flew up the river.  We got to see Golden Eagles, Swainson’s Hawks, and a single Red-tail soaring; and we had an American Kestrel perched on a pole.  A few of us had a closer look at the two Golden Eagles as we drove back to the Front Range Birding Company.  They were on the ground tearing apart what was presumably a prairie dog and surrounded by Black-billed Magpies.  One was obviously a juvenile with the beautiful white “windows” in the wings and the white tail feathers with a broad, black, terminal band.  The other, which the whole group of us had observed while perched on a power pole, was a probable adult with the upperwing coverts paler than the rest of the dark brown feathers and forming a tawny diagonal bar.  This can be seen both on perched birds and those in flight.

Golden Eagle (c) Bill Schmoker

Hope that you get out with us on another walk soon!!

Chuck Aid

Chatfield SP–Audubon Center, Sep 1
29 species (+1 other taxa)

Mallard  11
hummingbird sp.  5
Killdeer  1
Double-crested Cormorant  3
Osprey  1
Golden Eagle  2
Swainson’s Hawk  2
Red-tailed Hawk  1

Golden Eagle (c) Brandon Trentler

Belted Kingfisher  2
Downy Woodpecker  1
American Kestrel  1
Western Wood-Pewee  2
Say’s Phoebe  1
Western Kingbird  1
Black-billed Magpie  7
American Crow  1
Violet-green Swallow  13
Black-capped Chickadee  10
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
House Wren  2

Golden eagle (c) Brandon Trentler

American Robin  11
Gray Catbird  6
Cedar Waxwing  5
House Finch  5
Lesser Goldfinch  4
Song Sparrow  1
Spotted Towhee  2
Yellow Warbler  2
Wilson’s Warbler  1
Western Tanager  2

Hudson Gardens: Aug 25, with Chuck Aid

Wood Duck female (c) Bill Schmoker

Saturday was a wonderfully mild morning for August, and six of us had a great time strolling through the peaceful environs of Hudson Gardens and along the South Platte.  The male Mallards were all clearly still in eclipse plumage – that time of year when male plumage is very like female – and the only way to tell who were the boys, and who were the girls was to look at the bill color – males = yellow-green and females = orange with black splotchiness.  The only other ducks we saw were a family group of a female Wood Duck with four juveniles.  These youngsters had not quite attained adult size and their bills were slightly smaller than mom’s.

Before getting into the highlights of the morning, we need to discuss one of our montane habitats a little bit.  A “carr” is a wet woodland or shrub area, generally dominated by willows, alders, and birches, and is often in an intermediate successional stage as a beaver pond transitions ultimately to becoming a montane meadow.  Often that intermediate stage is characteristically a saturated area of willows.  These willow carrs occur in Colorado’s mountains from about 8000 feet up to timberline at about 11,500 feet.  Got the picture?  So, with regard to birds, these willow carrs are prime breeding habitat for Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, and Wilson’s Warblers.

Wilson’s Warbler (c) Bill Schmoker

The point of all this habitat stuff is that you don’t necessarily need to go up to the mountains in order to see these species – just come to Hudson Gardens during fall migration. And, one of our highlights on Saturday was a beautiful Wilson’s Warbler.  Each fall migration these guys move down out of the mountains and can commonly be seen for a few weeks in the Denver area.

 

 

Cedar Waxwing juvenile (c) Bill Schmoker

Another highlight of the morning was the large number of Cedar Waxwings.  Most of these birds were juveniles and we even got to see an adult feeding its fledgling.  We also got to watch a group of waxwings gleaning insects out of a large spider web.

 

 

 

Cooper’s Hawk (c) Rob Raker

The birds of the morning, however, were the Cooper’s Hawks.  We got to have great looks at four individuals and had the opportunity to really break down all the physical features to look for in discerning Cooper’s from its very similar congener the Sharp-shinned Hawk, as well as telling juvenile and first-year Cooper’s from adults.  It was quite the seminar!  I’m not going to reiterate all those features here, but I will tell you that over the past five years the grove of cottonwoods just downstream from Nixon’s Coffee House has been a pretty reliable place in which to locate Cooper’s Hawks and they have had nests in there at least three of those five years.

Fall migration is happening, so I hope you’re able to pick up on a few species that you haven’t seen all summer.

Good Birding!
Chuck Aid

Hudson Gardens, Aug 25, 2018
26 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose  11
Wood Duck  5
Mallard  48
Mourning Dove  1
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  1
hummingbird sp.  1
Ring-billed Gull  5
Double-crested Cormorant  4
Great Blue Heron  2
Turkey Vulture  4
Cooper’s Hawk  4
Swainson’s Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  4
Northern Flicker  6
Blue Jay  1
American Crow  1
Barn Swallow  6
Black-capped Chickadee  12
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
American Robin  1
Cedar Waxwing  18
House Finch  6
American Goldfinch  11
Yellow Warbler  1
Wilson’s Warbler  1

Wildflowers and Birds atop Guanella Pass – Aug 4, 2018 w/ Chip Clouse & Kimberly Beck

Whipple’s Penstemon © K. Beck

Our group of 13 intrepid high-elevation birders and wildflower enthusiasts enjoyed the FRBC Birder’s Breakfast (featuring Birds ‘n’ Beans Organic, Shade-Grown, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center-certified “Bird-Friendly” coffee – always for sale at FRBC!) before car-pooling up to join Kimberly Beck, our wildflower expert, atop Guanella Pass.  Guanella Pass is certainly popular with hikers on summer weekends as it is easily accessible from I-70 and Georgetown and from Hwy 285 and Grant.  It is the gateway to Mt Bierstadt and other above timberline hikes and the parking situation definitely showed it.  We were finally able to all get together under the tutelage of Kimberly and begin identifying alpine wildflowers and looking for birds.

 

Watching diving Mallards at Deadman’s Lake © Kimberly Beck
Interior West White-crowned Sparrow © Bill Schmoker

Avian diversity is always a bit lower at altitude but we were excited to see a few more species than I anticipated. White-crowned Sparrows were our most common sighting but a few Wilson’s Warblers were also working the willows.  We had a few hummingbird flyovers (including one definite male Broad-tailed) and a Clark’s Nutcracker also flew by.  After just commenting about the usual lack of ducks on small alpine lakes, we were surprised to find 4 Mallards.  Even more surprising was their behavior!  These dabblers were diving!  I was beginning to think I was in upside down world but this is actually the second time I have seen dabblers diving this year.  Subsequent research revealed that, though rare, dabblers do occasionally dive for food.  Another nice surprise was a juvenile Spotted Sandpiper.

 

Sneezeweed © Kimberly Beck

 

Wildflower numbers were a little off this year due to the dearth of winter snowfall (and snowmelt) and overall heat and dryness.  Nonetheless, Kimberly knew where to find a few and wanted us all to be able to describe what we saw before putting a name to them.  I, for one, really enjoyed her methods of asking you to observe first, compare to what else you have seen and place together in families before revealing the genus and the species (where possible.)  Kimberly is from Relational Rewilding Nature Guiding.

 

Fireweed © Kimberly Beck

Several folks were heading off toward I-70 and Georgetown as we concluded up top but 7 of us stopped at the Three Mile Creek Trailhead on the way back toward Hwy 285 en route to FRBC.  The mixed coniferous/aspen habitat revealed 7 more species in our relatively short stop.

Steller’s Jay, Common Raven, Violet-green Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet

All in all, a good time was had by all as we continued to offer our annual high elevation wildflower walk (with some birding thrown in.)  Special thanks to Kimberly Beck for her expertise and refreshing enthusiasm.  The mission of Relational Rewilding Nature Guiding is to foster mutually enhancing relationships between people and nature that inspire healthy ecological actions as well as personal growth.  I only wish we had we had more time with her!

Chip Clouse – FRBC Manager