.......and Reflections

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rocky Mountain National Park; The Spine of the Colorado Rockies; and McPhee Recreation AreaRocky Mountain national Park; The Spine of the Colorado Rockies; and McPhee Recreation AreaRocky Mountain National Park; The Spine of the Colorado Rockies; and McPhee Recreation Area

This trip is planned around my attendance to an annual Summit of the Association of Nature Center Administrators (ANCA) in Huntington Beach, California. Although I am retired I still enjoy catching up on the nature center field and spending time with great professionals and people.
With that said, late August isn’t the best time to see many birds since most breeders are done and the adults and young birds are dispersed. Singing has ceased for the most part and birds are often elusive in the heat of the late summer.
Birding in Iowa and the plains was really pretty slow. The same could be said for the Rocky Mountains. But post breeding dispersal provides more opportunities to find the birds that have left their nesting habitat.
Make no mistake, the grandeur of the Rockies is unparalleled. Rocky Mountain National Park is the signature of the Rocky Mountain State, Colorado. The east face of this park is better than the west face simply because the natural diversity is greater. I stayed in Moraine Campground on the east side.
Again the birding was disturbingly quiet. Then I ran into a flock of mixed species and I realized that most of what I had hoped to see was there, but I just had to find the flocks. These flocks were made up of representatives of various habitats. I had Yellow, McGillivray’s , Townsend’s, Wilson’s, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Western Tanager, Mountain Chickadees, and Stellar’s Jays, sometimes in a single flock.
I looked for two species that are togh to find. The first was Northern Three-toed Woodpecker. I found it in an area known for breeding in Quaking Aspens.
The second was White-tailed Ptarmigan, a bird of the tundra above tree line. I tried several places above 10,000 feet with no luck. I finally went to a trail on Medicine Bow Curve  where they are known to breed. I had no luck and was not surprised. This is a bird I have seen only once and searched for many times and places.
The next day I tried again. No luck with the bird but I and a research student studying the Ptarmigans  got run off the trail by an approaching high elevation thunder storm. She was tracking two broods of Ptarmigans with broods that were moving and feeding up and down the slopes.
The storm broke and the sun shined as if it had never happened. I went along the trail again. But there were no Ptarmigans. So I slowly worked my way back to the parking area and I saw some movement in the very short tundra grass. It was a WT Ptarmigan chick! Then there was 2 and then 4 and eventually I counted 6 chicks with a very disciplinary hen. I was elated!
On this same trail I also saw a patrolling Northern Goshawk trailed by a Prairie Falcon. The Ptarmigan is difficult to find because it is difficult to survive in a harsh and hostile environment where predators are a real threat especially to innocent and inexperienced chicks. A bonus was a Brown-capped Rosy-finch, the only one I saw in all the Tundra.
From RMNP I traveled the spine of the Rockies more or less along the Continental Divide where the birding was more of the same as RMNP without the specialties. I moved on to McPhee Recreation Area in SW Colorado not far from Mesa Verde National Park.
I picked McPhee by default on line because my choices were already booked. I t is in the Middle of Nowhere and the scrubby arid landscape wasn’t all that inviting. However, what do I know? IT was the BIRDIEST PLACE I HAVE BEEN TO since May at Magee Marsh.
I did some pishing in the Pinyon Pine/ Juniper in the evening and I had about a dozen Black-throated Gray Warblers, Virginia’s Warbler, Grace’s Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, Rufous Hummingbird, Gray and Plumbeous Vireos, Gray Flycatcher, Spotted Towhee, and Western Wood Peewees to mention in the juniper and pine.
I also visited Mesa Verde National Park where the birds were similar as was the habitat. It was a very interesting place with a rich Native American Pueblo theme. The structures that adorn the cliffs are incredible. I intend to go back to satisfy my interest in archeology.
The highlight of my stay in SW Colorado was being serenaded by a surprising Ferruginous Pygmy-owl at my campsite. This is a tropical owl that I know well from my time in Central and South America. I played the vocalizations of other “tooters” that are known in this habitat and it wasn’t Northern Pygmy-owl, or Saw-whet Owl.
I am writing from Grand Canyon National Park and I have some exciting experiences to share and I’ll start sharing the wonderful things that looking for birds can produce in exploring little or well known places in the middle of nowhere.

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