Sandstone Ranch, February 13–with Aron Smolley

 

American Tree Sparrow. Photo by Jamie Simo.

It was an honor and a pleasure to lead my first bird walk for Front Range Birding Company this morning. Although the temperatures never quite got above 4 degrees Farenheit, our small group had a fantastic time braving the elements in search of birds at Sandstone Ranch.

A lone American tree sparrow greeted us at the bottom of the hill, and we started off scanning the mostly frozen river for waterfowl, and mostly turned up Canada and Cackling geese as well as mallards, but we did get some great views of the local muskrat going about it’s day on the ice like it was no big deal. As soon as we crossed the first bridge we dicovered a pair of American kestrels, a male and female sitting side by side, feathers puffed up for warmth, and shortly after that we had a pair of red-tailed hawks soaring

Northern Pintail drake. Photo by Jamie Simo.

in the distance in what appeared to be early courtship behavior. An adult bald eagle sat perched next to a partially completed nest as black-billed magpies fluttered by.

Scanning the river we managed to turn up a few gadwall among the mallards, and a Northern pintail was a “lifer” for one of our participants. We also found some more bonus mammals- a small herd of white-tailed deer and a mink! A little further upstream we had a female hooded merganser ducking and diving beneath the icy water. At this point, we made a group decision to start making our way back to the parking lot, stopping occasionally for interesting waterfowl such as a common goldeneye, as well as some little brown birds that had to be left unidentified (I blame fogged-up, iced over binoculars and shivering hands!)

When we got back to the main trail we had a soul-satisfying view of an immature bald eagle that flew low and slow over our heads, and at that point my falcon senses started tingling so I started scanning the sandstone cliffs. To my delight, a prairie falcon (a lifer for ALL the partipants of this bird walk!) was perched in plain view at the edge of the cliff so we took a small detour so that everyone could get a closer look. The final bird of the day- a special bonus I might add- was a merlin that zipped by, giving us all of 3 seconds to confirm it’s identity before disappearing over the horizon. Our third falcon species and the perfect ending to a wonderful, albeit frigid, bird walk.

Here is our complete list of (confirmed) birds seen:
Canada goose-110

Merlin. Photo by Jamie Simo.

American crow- 17
Am. tree sparrow- 1
Mallard- 48
Cackling goose- 37
American kestrel- 2
Black-billed magpie- 3
Red-tailed hawk- 2
Gadwall- 4
Western meadowlark- 3
Northern pintail- 2
Bald eagle- 2
Hooded merganser- 1
Common goldeneye- 1
Prairie falcon- 1
Merlin- 1

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