Tuesday, March 23, 2010

From the Prairies to the Rockies

Yesterday was so wild that I didn’t even get around to blogging though you can get the daily update over at my brothers blog “slow birding“. We were up before dawn again and headed back out to the site where we saw the Common Crane on Sunday night. We came to a place where what seemed like 10,000 Sandhill Cranes were resting for the night and watched and waited as the sun rose. Groups of cranes numbering 10 to 20 flew over head, coming from other night time resting locations along the river and heading out for their daytime cornfields. Some landed in the flock we were watching, some took off from the flock while we looked on.

Look closely and you can see hundreds of birds in the air near the horizon

The sound coming from this massive crowd of cranes was phenomenal, a cackling, cooing murmur. Occasionally a pair of birds jumped above the mass, spreading their 8 foot wings into the air, danced with each other, then settled their long legs back to the ground. We watched until the sun was up then headed west along the Platte River into Colorado.

We visited the Pawnee National Grasslands where we drove many miles through scenery like this. I tried to imagine what it must be like to live in a place so barren, so desolate, your nearest neighbor miles away. It was peaceful, and beautiful in its way, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

We were searching for longspurs and did finally find a couple of McCown’s Longspurs that stayed still long enough to get a good look at them. At the end of our time at the prairie Chris spied a bird swooping past, and shouted at the top of his lungs, banging on the dashboard “It’s a Prairie Falcon, it’s a Prairie!” He was hoping all day that we would find one and finally we did. It perched on the top of a transmission line and let us get a nice long look at its pale, understated coloring. Less showy than its cousin the Peregrine, but a lovely bird all the same and yet another to add to my life list for this trip.

We spent the night in Fort Collins Colorado. I looked over the map of the town and discovered a walking trail that I went to and got in a good 40 minute brisk walk along an urban stream where I picked up a kingfisher and two Cooper’s hawks to add to my list and worked out my ya ya’s from another 12 hour day in the car. We had an awesome Indian meal at a place called Star of India where we stuffed ourselves with tandoori, palaak paneer, dal and nan, washed down with a pint of the local brew.  I slept hard.

Today it was out before dawn again to try and beat a snowstorm as we drove over the Rockies today to Steamboat Springs. We had to drive through two 10,000 foot passes and were nervous about the impending weather. No problems driving and we got here about 1:00 PM, but the birding was not so productive in the mountains along the Poudre River because the weather was very lousy, but we did manage to pick up a Gray Crowned Rosy Finch which was not only a life bird for me, but one for Chris which has become a real challenge for him.

Crossing the mountains we found this large herd of antelope at the end of a road near a reservoir where we tried for birds near the town of Walden, but the lake was frozen over and covered with snow so there were no ducks or shorebirds to be had there.  We also saw a small herd of bighorn sheep walking along the road.

After lunch we drove up a valley north of Steamboat in search of more birds and the views were just tremendous.  Snowy mountains, farms scattered through the valley, horses and cows roaming in the pristine white. Black-billed Magpies, a stunning bird with a long tail and distinct black and white markings, were the main bird out braving the cold.

I’m happy to report we are currently chilling in our room here at Steamboat, we’ll actually be staying here two nights and I’m thinking of checking out the pool and hot tub for my R&R. Chris is researching the locations for us to try and find Sage, Sharp-Tailed and Dusky Grouse early tomorrow morning, it’ll be another one out before dawn. Slow birding my ass.


C. Kay said...

Did you really think Chris did anything "slow"? He is having fun though. xox

C. Kay said...

P.S. Had a great garden tour today at your place. All those camellias and fruit trees in bloom ~ gorgeous! xo

Perry Haaland said...

Haha. That is so funny. Great descriptions of the trip. What scenery! Thanks for keeping us up to date.