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 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.
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.