Bird Chasers #19 Colorado 2015

white tailed ptarmigan


#693-696  Colorado March 27-30

700 is beckoning me and I needed to do some serious bird research in Colorado for activities next year.  I had 4 missing Colorado species all in the Quail and Grouse family.  I had a plan to work out a monster three day loop.  It was ambitious, some would say crazy but I wanted to see if it could be done.

I landed at Denver at 8 in the morning and Barry picked me up.  He is a birder from the Northeast South Dakota Birders club who accepted my invitation for anyone who wanted to come with to Colorado.  he drove my car down from South Dakota while I flew which is a bit of a story I’ll leave unsaid and we headed towards west side of Denver to a parking lot for a reported Dusky Grouse.

Mount Lookout Nature Preserve

I’m used to being the Skua birder letting others do the heavy work and pick off birds, they found but on this one I needed to be the guide.  There were birders on patrol around the visitor center but no grouse and so we scoured and then when others looked but didn’t see, I pointed the bird out to everyone, sitting in a tree.  Now I was the penguin and everyone else was the skua.  This bird was a female but not being sexist it was still a life bird, it wasn’t 10 am yet and I had bird one of the four in the bag

#693  Dusky Grouse

dusky 1

we scouted around for other birds around Mt Lookout Nature area and found some good year birds and in general pretty birds

Pygmy Nuthatch


Mountain Bluebird

mountain bluebird

Western Bluebird

western bluebird 1

In general it was a nice spot for normal common birds and the grouse.  The male had been chasing people in the parking lot and was notably absent but we found the female and luckily we had been in Denver for a little over an hour and had bird one of the target birds.

Hwy 285 South to Gunnison

We headed south to Numerous passes and switchbacks, finding a Barrow’s Goldeneye along the way at a place that I got to claim as an Ebird hotspot, “Fishing Bridge had 9 Barrow’s at it. but my best photo was of my trusty Volvo making it over the divide for the first time.

carMy birding machine, Volvo XC60 the best birding car I’ve ever owned

One step up may be this machine but I think the ride might be rough


I like old snow removal equipment, they dont make stuff like this anymore.

We stopped by to search feeders in Fairplay Colorado, and generated the suspicious guys casing the town with binocular’s treatment.  The cops came and the owner of the feeder we were casing rushed to check us out for nefarious activity which if counting Cassin’s Finches and tallying red crossbills is a crime…well we were guilty, and I even saw a couple of Rosy-finches but they had largely left.

Red Crossbill

crossbillThis and the Cassin’s Finches were lifers for Barry and so we were knocking off birds for him, too.  We left town before more welcoming treatment and free lodging in the courthouse and headed to Gunnison.

At one pass, Barry didn’t know which way to go.



We scouted out the Classic lek for Gunnison’s Sage Grouse, a very threatened bird only found in certain parts of Colorado and Utah and tallied up some birds.  Barry spotted a life list Sagebrush Sparrow and we went to eat.  We returned at 0515 in the morning to get the prime spot for this incredible display at dawn, only one thing went wrong.  They didn’t show up.  Well first, let me say I didn’t read a message fully that Doug Kibbe sent me more on him later.  The lek apparently moved but alas no one posted it.  Bored and disgusted, I scanned the ridge top under 60x and then, clear as day, I saw them three in all maybe 1100 yards away, It was a haul, but I had them and here is a very grainy photo of a male but it is a life bird!

#694 Gunnison’s Sage Grouse


I’m sure the lady from Wyoming also there having arrived in the middle of the night without proper scoping equipment left empty handed.  We saw four fly over back of my car siting there and she didn’t even see them…oh well. I wasn’t guiding for her.

The Alpine Inn in Gunnison is my pick as best birding lodge in Colorado, cheap clean and comfortable.

We drove around and found things, mule deer and some birds

Sage Thrasher

sage thrasher 2b

Black Canyon of The Gunnison

We scouted this forelorned National Park for signs of Sooty Grouse and found none despite my expert guiding like here pointing out something rare…well maybe not.

olaf black 2

The canyon is really a stunning landmark, I may add and the place is overrun with spotted towhee, so many, I neglected photos

gunnisonOur trip to find Dusky grouse let me to find a naked European woman in the campground, it was a laughing diversion and caused me to think, I could have nude birded here, and it was a nice and sunny day too.  The things I run into.  Barry didn’t notice, he was looking for towhees.

If Barry has one draw back is that he always gives me exact distances, like we are now 1.3 miles from a turn.  Then he apologizes.  Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a place to Barry’s dreams, the trails have exact distances and I mean exact.

gunnison sign

all the signs are measures to the exact yard.

While on one of these trails I think one that advertised High Point 787 yards we stirred up some Clark’s Nutcrackers, this one didn’t like me much.

clark nuthatch1

We drove down into Montrose and found a Family Friendly Brewery and I remain confused about the term despite someone giving me a link on Facebook


Colorado National Monument

In my first stop to scour up a Chukar, we went to Colorado National Monument going in the wrong entrance and getting behind a funeral procession.  Then we had to find out what habitat they preferred.  I also almost killed us both stopping short for a canyon wren on a much too busy a rim road.

We went to the visitor center to regroup.  It has quite a view


We also spotted a Pinyon Jay

pinyon jay

No Chukar and so we descended and went to a hidden canyon east of Grand Junction, we still had a couple of hours,

Cameo Wild Horse Preserve

In this barren god forbidden landscape, we saw two horses that looked to have nothing to eat but rocks and brush…this poor stallion only had one mare in his harem.


Then I got that feeling, Barry thinks I can either subtly hear the birds and don’t realize it, or I have acute hunting eyes and can sense movement,  IDK I am lucky though, and like normal stopped and looked up right at four Chukar…Yea!  Barry and I fist bumped, life birds all around!  This is a great Chukar spot, close to I-70 and they are all over in here, I’m certain this is a lock spot for this species.

#695 Chukar


We decided to drive hard into the night to Silverthorne to preposition for the assault on the last quarry of ours, but I got a warning on my dashboard of my trusted birding maching, low oil, in the middle of nowhere in the dark along the Glenwood Canyon.  we limped into a gas station and it was just a quart low, and I added a quart and “whew!”  I said.  Then we drove on two hours up and over a snowing pass to Silverthorne.

Wildernast Residential Area

We drove the neighborhood that looked like the home of the rich dude Steve Martin character in “The Big Year”  We found the hoard of Rosy-finches, well it is technically a “Bouquet” of Rosy-finches, all three varieties in about three trees in one very busy feeder.  This is Rosy-finch central and this location will be revisited by me


Two lifers for Barry and the sun wasn’t even above the mountains.  Initially we were going to snowshoe Guanella Pass for ptarmigan with a very nice local birder named Doug Kibbe, but we had 2 hours and so Loveland Pass was on the way and so we decided to scout that out first on the way to Georgetown

Loveland Pass

Gosh I hate heights, I get jelly kneed and up here like my previous Mt Evans experience in my book I just hated it.  This and it was cold and icy going up to 12,000 feet and all the oil trucks by-passing the Eisenhower tunnel were making my life scarier.  At the pass like everywhere in Colorado were hoards of hikers all going east to climb a scary looking ridge.  instinctively Barry and I went the other way climbing a more modest knoll and then I heard a cluck.  What happened next is something like finding God or an angel but suffice it to say we got the best looks of a white-tailed ptarmigan possible.  Maybe if it had landed on Barry’s head and I took a picture I could have topped the moment

#696  White-tailed Ptarmigan

white tailed ptarmigan 2

ptarmigan 3 ptarmigan tracksWe even got track photos, wow!  I got this bird even photoed on my Iphone, it was that close and that tolerant.

mountian 2

Well we went down and before I could call off Doug they had arrived in Georgetown early. It was pretty extreme up at 12,000 feet and having got the bird we didnt want to do it again. I hope they understood.  I gave him and a birding friend Eide, a copy of my Boobies Peckers and Tits book as a thank you.  I hope I didnt burn a very good local resource but we really were still in ecstasy of bagging the ptarmigan

it took 48 hours to complete all four targets and hard targets and nearly 800 miles so with nothing left, We went into overtime birding for bonus birds

Stauton State Park

After finding but not photographing an American Three Toed Woodpecker, at a open spaces park which I dont know what it was named, we went searching for a second life-lister for Barry, the Williamson Sapsucker at this newish state park

Now it seems things happen to me but this trip was pretty tame more or less but then I had an encounter with this squirrel.  I got accused in Squirrelese about stealing pine cones and he let out the loudest and longest alarm call I had ever heard, it lasted for minutes going on an hour.  He charged me once.  But apparently this squirrels attachment to his possessions was well known…


He really loved that pine cone, so much so apparently the whole forest came to his aide and then all the squirrels barked at me and then all the woodpeckers came in to see what was going on and you guessed it, the sapsuckers came too, so we were not disappointed, we found the prime spot, they were plentiful and it was all thanks to this squirrel, that damn squirrel. Lucky a cougar didn’t come and get me for trying to take his precious cone.

williamson 1

williamson2Thor, my BC birding friend was out getting all the potential splits for White breasted nuthatches as they do not look alike, this is the “slender billed” version, or is it?  It looks like one, but aren’t those just in the Pacific NW?  I am not so excited about this quest to see the three as I have already seen them all and I am not sure this split needs to happen, but I took this photo for Thor

White-breasted Nuthatch

white breasted nuthatch-slenderbilled

Barry completed his draft for fantasy baseball while I worked on photos and then we went to listen for owls into the evening hearing a few Northern Pygmy Calls and a rather unique Dusky grouse call….eerie is the word

We were smoking hot birders and so hot, the fire alarm went off at the holiday inn in Denver and we had to go outside to cool off and the fire trucks came


I still had a day to go, but I had nothing left to see, even the bonus birds were done and counted.  I have no Colorado birds on my life list, none.  With both police and the fire department apparently looking for me, I did something I have never done before, I moved up my flight and jumped a plane home early.  After a very idiosyncratically bombastic flight steward who was overly and generously verbose, I got back to Minneapolis to catch flight to Aberdeen. Then I ran into Senator Thune in Delta Sky Club.  I always like Senators, they always look so dapper, and since he is a couple inches taller than I am he is above the lot of us.  I did vote for him, so I guess that is good and I have met him before.

It was a monumental trip and Barry added 19 lifers, I added 4, now I have just 26 breeders in North America to complete my list, and only 4 below an ABA milestone of 700 and all this in like 60 hours.  I might have killed Barry but not his enthusiasm but then again when one runs with Olaf, one has to run fast.  It was a pretty tame trip in terms of strange adventures and odd things happening to us, we were birding too fast and too hard to really notice.  The two Lesbian Oregonian Wiccans at the overlook in Colorado National Monument would have been an interesting diversion but we had barely time to eat and we still had Chukars to find!

Thanks again to Doug Kibbe, I am entirely grateful, I have to come back in 2016 and the ptarmigan may not be so willing at Loveland Pass

Now a member of the two mile high club for ptarmigan finding



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