Waneka Lake/Greenlee Preserve, November 13th–with Jamie Simo

European Starling in June showing mostly worn feather edges. Photo by Jamie Simo.

It was a gusty morning this past Saturday at Waneka Lake and Greenlee Preserve, but thankfully that didn’t keep us from seeing some great birds, including some small songbirds that tend to hunker down deep in the brush on windy days. We were immediately greeted in the parking lot by a flock of European Starlings. I have mixed

Male Red-winged Blackbird showing brown feather edges in December. Photo by Jamie Simo.

feelings about these invasive birds, but they are very adaptable and quite beautiful. The name “starling” comes from the white speckle pattern they wear in the winter. Rather than molting into new plumage in the spring, abrasion gradually wears the pale tips off their feathers leaving behind the irridescent green- and purple-black feathers they wear during courtship. Male Red-winged Blackbirds’ glossy black appearance in spring and summer is also due to abrasion rather than molt.

One special song bird we briefly saw was a White-throated Sparrow. This chunky little sparrow is common in the Eastern U.S., but is relatively rare here in Colorado, though it’s shown up at Waneka Lake the last few winters. White-throated Sparrows have head stripes like our usual White-crowned Sparrow, but it has yellow lores (the space between the eye and the beak), and, obviously, a white throat. On their regular wintering grounds they’ll often practice singing just like our White-crowned Sparrows will. Their song is often mnemonicized as “Old Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody.”

Winter along the Front Range is prime duck and goose season and Waneka Lake/Greenlee Preserve didn’t disappoint. At Greenlee Preserve were were able to get great looks at both dabbling ducks such as Mallards and American Wigeon, as well as diving ducks like Buffleheads and Ring-necked Ducks. Dabbling Ducks are surface-feeding ducks. Rather than diving under the water to find food such as fish, they can be seen with their butts tipped up in the air while their heads are busy underwater sucking up aquatic plants or small insects. Because they feed on the surface, dabbling ducks are more agile on land with feet more in the center of their bodies while diving ducks have legs and feet placed well back on their bodies to act as little rudders when swimming underwater. 

The highlight of our trip was the 3 most likely hybrid Canada x Snow Geese we saw in a large flock of Canada and Cackling Geese on Waneka Lake proper. These geese were distinguished from “blue phase” Snow Geese by their uniformly dark bodies with no white on the tertials and by their greyish-pink bills.

Hybrid Canada x Snow Goose. Photo by Jamie Simo.

A great day for birding!

Waneka Lake/Greenlee Preserve

27 species (+1 other taxa)

Cackling Goose  100

Canada Goose  400

Snow x Canada Goose (hybrid)  3   

American Wigeon  5

Mallard  66

Ring-necked Duck  3

Bufflehead  5

Common Goldeneye  1

Eurasian Collared-Dove  3

American Coot  2

Ring-billed Gull  9

Sharp-shinned Hawk  1

Bald Eagle  2

Red-tailed Hawk  1

Northern Flicker  1

Blue Jay  3

Black-billed Magpie  1

American Crow  3

Common Raven  1

Black-capped Chickadee  7

White-breasted Nuthatch (Interior West)  1

European Starling  30

American Robin  3

House Sparrow  3

House Finch  3

White-crowned Sparrow  4

White-throated Sparrow  1

Red-winged Blackbird  30

 

Waneka Lake and Greenlee Preserve, March 9–with Jamie Simo and Special Guest Ted Floyd

Ted Floyd, birder extraordinaire

It was a beautiful, but blustery, morning when we set out for Wanaka Lake Park and Greenlee Preserve where we were joined by Lafayette resident and expert birder, Ted Floyd. The wind ended up being fortuitous because it broke up the thin skin of ice on Wanaka Lake. That meant we got to enjoy ducks and geese that would otherwise have been elsewhere, including Gadwall, Mallards, Northern Shovelers, a male Common Goldeneye, a group of Common Mergansers, and both Canada and Cackling Geese. The latter is distinguished from the former by their much smaller size, daintier bills, and stubby necks.

Cackling Goose (c) Jamie Simo

After surveying Waneka, Ted led us to Hecla Pond, which is a short walk from Waneka. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Lafayette, CO was a big coal mining town and Waneka Lake Park used to be the site of a power plant that operated from 1907 until 1957. There are remnants of this history in the large ore boulders we passed on our walk to Hecla. We spent a few minutes admiring the lichen growing on the surface of the boulders.

Though small, Hecla Pond was no less interesting than Waneka. We were able to get good looks at a pair of Hooded Mergansers and compare them to the larger, sleeker Commons we’d seen earlier. We added American Wigeon to our list for the day there, as well as Ring-necked Duck (named for the faint, almost invisible ring around its neck rather than the much more obvious ring around its bill!).

Cooper’s Hawk (c) Jamie Simo

The wind kept our numbers of songbirds down, but back at Greenlee Preserve we logged Red-winged Blackbirds, Dark-eyed Juncos, and American Robins. We even had a Cooper’s Hawk fly over us!¬†Lafayette hosts bird walks at 1:00pm from Greenlee Preserve on the first Sunday of every month, so stop by if you’re in the area then.

Our final species count was 27:

Waneka Lake/Greenlee Preserve
Number of Taxa: 27
100 Cackling Goose
49 Canada Goose
5 Northern Shoveler
3 Gadwall
3 American Wigeon
14 Mallard
10 Ring-necked Duck
3 Common Goldeneye
2 Hooded Merganser
7 Common Merganser
4 Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
8 Eurasian Collared-Dove
1 Mourning Dove
32 Ring-billed Gull
1 Cooper’s Hawk
2 Red-tailed Hawk
5 Northern Flicker
4 American Crow
1 Common Raven
5 Black-capped Chickadee
7 American Robin
13 European Starling
27 House Finch
1 American Goldfinch
3 Dark-eyed Junco
3 Red-winged Blackbird
8 House Sparrow