Monday, 30 April 2018

Greater Sage Grouse & More!!

Another day, another chicken lek and this time we drove along icy, snow-covered roads to a high plateau with snow-capped mountains all around to view Greater Sage Grouse. The birds were already present when we arrived just before daylight and we were treated to an amazing display from these gorgeous birds as the males inflated their air sacs, threw their heads back and called. We were here for maybe 90 minutes and there were maybe 30 birds opposite us and quite close, as well as another mini-lek further along the road with up to 6 birds. What a privilege to see these birds doing their thing….

Watching Greater Sage Grouse lekking is one of the tour highlights

We watched the lek from our van

Greater Sage Grouse lek

The scenery here is stunning

Then we drove back into Walden for breakfast before heading up the mountain to some feeders, where amongst a winter wonderland scene we enjoyed Grey-headed Junco, Pink-sided Junco, Mountain and Black-capped Chickadee, and finally 2 Brown-capped Rosy-Finches appeared. 

Black-capped Chickadee

Brown-capped Rosy-Finch

Grey-headed Junco

Mountain Chickadee

Pink-sided Junco

It was a winter wonderland here...
On the way we also had Swainson’s Hawk, Bald Eagle and a pair of Moose


Leaving here we drove down to the lakes just outside of town and had a great time with Black-necked Stilt and Marbled Godwit found and both are scarce in these parts. 

Black-necked Stilt

Wildfowl was well represented with Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, American Wigeon, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal and all the other more familiar ducks. A longish drive took us to some feeders where several Brown-capped Rosy-Finches, a Grey-crowned Rosy-Finch and a couple male Cassin’s Finches were the star birds. 

Grey-crowned Rosy-Finch

Leaving here we stopped to look at a Red-shafted Northern Flicker before checking out the lakes again. 

Northern Flicker

This time we found 24 Snow Geese, a few Common Mergansers (Goosander), Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and all the same wildfowl.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Greater Prairie Chicken lek

We returned to the Greater Prairie-Chicken lek before sunrise and had the most amazing experience watching up to 31 chickens performing. The sounds they made were incredible, from cackles to a constant musical booming, combined with their display antics of jumping, wing stretching and chasing a couple of inquisitive females around the arena.

Greater Prairie Chicken

After breakfast we drove to the Pawnee National grasslands and spent most of the day in gale force winds getting distant and brief views of Mountain Plover for a couple of the group. With some rain and the strong winds, birding was practically impossible and we stuck at it all day without much joy. Then our route over Mackenzie Pass at dusk was enlivened by a heavy snowfall that made driving interesting, but we saw a silhouetted Moose in the forest as we drove by. We eventually reached Walden a little before 9pm.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Kansas, Nebraska and the Chicken Hunt

Up and at ‘em early doors, and headed out into the prairie from Dodge City to a new location in our search for Lesser Prairie Chicken. We bowled up at the allocated spot and began scanning, but only the call of a Great Horned Owl could be heard. All of a sudden the distinctive call of prairie chickens wafted our way on the breeze and we strained our eyes, moved along the road and all of a sudden Brian spotted them. They were far away but in the scope the views were ok, but fortunately there seemed to be a road running behind the lek and we hot-footed it there. Although slightly looking into the sun, the views were much better and we were treated to a fine display of up to 16 birds strutting their stuff. 

Also here was a singing Lillian’s Meadowlark (a likely future split) and Savannah Sparrow. Once the prairie chicken activity died down we drove slowly along the roads that criss-cross the prairie and found Grasshopper Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, and a male Yellow-headed Blackbird. Then we began driving north and came across a large flock of Brewer’s Blackbirds, then a flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, a dark morph Rough-legged Hawk, and Great-tailed Grackle at a rest stop.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Our route took us across the corner of Nebraska where some roadside ponds yielded a flock of White-faced Ibis, 5 Greater Yellowlegs, Wood Duck, and a perched Cooper’s Hawk around some ponds. Once back in Colorado we checked out a small lake with loads of waterfowl. There was a pair of Lesser Scaup, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Black-necked (Eared) Grebe, American White Pelican and other commoner waterbirds. The nearby trees held an Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Phoebe and Chipping Sparrow.

Greater Prairie Chickens at dusk

At 4.30pm we headed out to a nearby ranch where we had an introductory talk by the owner before driving out into the prairie where we had up to 32 Greater Prairie Chickens around a lekking area. Only 12 or so came into the lekking arena and a few began displaying by puffing out their throat sacs and raising their ‘ear’ tufts. It was a great look at our second prairie-chicken species of the day in our third state of the day.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Heading to Kansas

We targeted Gunnison Sage Grouse this morning and left the motel at 4.15am, getting settled into the hide by 4.50am. We then had to wait for sunrise before scoping two males on a distant ridge and both were in view for over an hour. We returned to the hotel for breakfast before heading back towards Monarch Pass, stopping along the way to check out the sagebrush flats where a Brewer’s Sparrow was the only new bird. 

American Three-toed Woodpecker

Up in the mountains we had a pair of American Three-toed Woodpeckers without too much hassle and enjoyed crippling views right in front of us. After a stop at the souvenir shop on the pass, we headed out on the long drive into Kansas that took around 9 hours. We checked out our long shot for Lesser Prairie Chicken and had a Short-eared Owl quartering the fields at dusk to end our day.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Colorado Tour: Day 2

We drove out into the desert towards the Arkansas River Valley and once away from the highway spotted a few Scaled Quails beside the road. One individual was extremely confiding and showed very well, even calling form a fence right in front of us. 

Scaled Quail

Continuing on we searched the Junipers for any sign of life in the gale force winds but it was hard work, although a Rock Wren gave point-blank views. 

Rock Wren

We finally found ourselves at an overlook with a grand view of the Arkansas River below us. A Mountain Bluebird was quite close, whilst some Chipping Sparrows and a Canyon Towhee gave fleeting glimpses. A flock of Franklin’s Gulls appeared, along with American White Pelicans, and we scoped Clark’s and Western Grebes side-by-side. Also on the water were American Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Double-crested Cormorant, and other common wildfowl. Hirundines were plentiful and included Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow and a few Violet-green Swallows.

We returned to the motel to collect our luggage before setting out on the drive west, and this took us through a scenic river valley. A stop along the river produced a pair of American Dippers feeding young at a nest, plus a male Audubon’s Warbler, and a herd of Bighorn Sheep a little further on. Another roadside stop was made to view a flock of 20+ Pinyon Jays that performed very well although it wasn’t great photo opps. 

Pinyon Jay

The road then wound ever upwards to Monarch Pass (11,321 feet). A quick stop at the gift store for some souvenirs and even ice-cream for some was followed by a few stops where we searched for American Three-toed Woodpecker without luck, and our best find was a Townsend’s Solitaire.  

Townsend's Solitaire

Then we drove out into the plateau and found a pair of Sandhill Cranes and flocks of wildfowl before reaching our motel in Gunnison.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Colorado at Last!

For those folks who arrived early we visited xxx, a large lake complete with breeding Bald Eagles – always a great bird if you’re from the UK. There was a mas of waterfowl here with Lesser Scaup, American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, 300+ Ruddy Duck, Green-winged Teal, 250+ Western Grebes, 6 American Avocets, 1 Bonaparte’s Gull, a few flyby Ring-billed Gulls and at least 9 summer-plumaged pink Franklin’s Gulls.

We had arrivals spread all over lunchtime and by 3.00pm we were on our way south to Pueblo. Upon arrival we headed along a dirt road out into the desert scrub where we met up with Rick Bowers who had been scouting the area for us. Thanks to him we quickly notched up the first of several Sage Thrashers along here, plus there was also a covey of 6 Scaled Quails, Loggerhead Shrike, Curve-billed Thrasher, Say’s Phoebe, 3 Coyotes, lots of Black-tailed Prairie-Dogs, and a herd of Pronghorn Antelopes. Not a bad start to our Colorado adventure.

Pronghorn Antelopes