The year without Sands Lake, only 1 “ringer”—and Eastern Bluebirds!
I bought a heated dog bowl for the CBC day; I always worry that their water will freeze. Not a problem this year—it didn’t even get below freezing the night before. But I liked having it. This year, I made Z promise to keep Coda on a leash the morning of the CBC, which he did. Whew! We got up around 5 and left around 6:20—a good time to leave, getting us to Division of Wildlife (DOW) about 6:50. The Compiler gave us our regular area (#4), minus Big Bend, to give us more time at the cemetery. We’ve never really seen anything at Big Bend, so that seemed fine. The big problem this year was the fact that DOW was dredging Sand Lake, as required every 10 years, so waterbirds were likely to be a challenge. Also, D ended up being the only “ringer” at the count—T had hurt himself and S was heading off to search for Ivory-billed Woodpecker (good grief—isn’t the CBC more important?).
We first stopped at the bridge at the Arkansas River on the way to Frantz Lake. D found an American Tree Sparrow and several Song Sparrows, as well as 2 Killdeers at the hatchery, but not much else of interest. Frantz Lake was mostly frozen, with only Mallards and a couple of peach hybrid weirdos. Unlike last year, there were no interesting birds in the trees across the road—whoever had been feeding the birds last year didn’t seem to be doing so this year. Of all the nerve…
At Mt. Ouray State Wildlife Area (SWA), we struggled to get a Swamp Sparrow, but D eventually heard one. I was able to hear the call note and I could tell it was different—clearer, more musical—from the myriad Song Sparrows calling and “tsip”ing (a contact call, D called it). That made me feel good. (I had also listened to the differences on the Eastern CDs that I had. The Western CDs don’t even have swampies.) We heard 2 Virginia Rails as well (the wetlands bird pressure was off!!!) and saw some American Goldfinches. We also saw/heard 2 Marsh Wrens—a first for the count!! (and our only write-in of the day) I should refresh my ear about them next year before we go; the habitat seems just perfect for them, although we’d never found them before there. We also flushed at least 3 Wilson’s Snipes, much to our surprise—we’d not had them there before either. We spotted a nice Red-tailed Hawk in a tree and 4 Red-winged Blackbirds there.
We stopped at the place we had seen the Rusty Blackbird last year but only saw 1 Killdeer there. An older man put birdseed out at his feeders on the hill while we were there; mostly just Dark-eyed Juncos, House Finch, Black-capped Chickadee, and Mountain Chickadee.
We stopped at the cemetery just before lunch, but not much was happening there—a few White-breasted Nuthatches, some chickadees, and a couple of really noisy Black-billed Magpies (and lots of deer lolling around). D had expected a Red-breasted Nuthatch, since it’s forested and shady; he was surprised with the White-breasted Nuthatches, since they generally don’t prefer that habitat. We headed into lunch with 37 species; I was hoping we’d at least meet our last-year’s quota of 40 species, but it seemed a tad bleak. We’d gotten most of our good birds already, it seemed.
The group as a whole had 65 species at lunch—pretty far off our record in 2004 of 80. Waterfowl remained the target of the rest of the day. We headed out after lunch to spend more time on the river. D really wanted to find a Barrow’s Goldeneye, which no one had had yet.
We weren’t having much success with anything new. We walked around the bridge just off CR 291 again; Z spotted our one and only Western Scrub-Jay. Up to 38! D had thought that we ought to be able to get a Downy Woodpecker in that area, but no luck. We started to prepare to tromp along the fish hatchery fence up to Frantz Lake—probably an hour’s commitment or so—when D got a hunch that that might not be worth it. (He had looked down the river about a mile and just couldn’t see anything.) As we were standing at the car, the Compiler called from Sand Lake and said that she needed help with a positive ID on what she thought were a couple of female Eastern Bluebirds. We drove over there and, indeed, there were 4 Eastern Bluebirds at the slough behind Sand Lake. There was also a female Northern Shoveler there, so both were good for the count (although not in our area, so we couldn’t take credit for them). We talked with her and the DOW manager for a long time there; it felt like we were done for the day, even though it was only 3 p.m. when we left. But we headed back to the Arkansas River, past Frantz Lake, where D spotted some ducks from the road. With the scope, he found a large group of Buffleheads and—at last—a male Barrow’s Goldeneye!! And we’d now tied last year’s count. Hurrah! We parked at a parking area further along and scrambled up a ridge to look around; D found a Northern Shrike (shrike)—#41!! We backtracked off the ridge and followed the access path/road down to the river, where we walked along for quite a ways. (We ended up opposite the kiosk at the SWA when we turned around. In the morning, we had pretty much just focused on the wetlands areas, I guess.) We found 3 Common Mergansers—first for the day for the group—and even a Hairy Woodpecker and a Downy Woodpecker in the tall trees away from the river—the latter, another first for the day. Amazing—up to 44! And it had felt like we weren’t going anywhere after we left the bluebird site. Maybe the Eastern Bluebirds were an omen for our turn of luck. Just goes to show ya—don’t give up and always follow D’s hunches.
The species count will still probably be low, compared with last year; the Compiler wasn’t sure she could get to the habitat to find Saw-whets or other owls in her vehicle (which T had always helped with in the past). But maybe the group as a whole got to 70 for the day’s species count—better than most of us had feared, given the lack of the Sand Lake waterfowl. Interestingly, the Penrose CBC—the next one to the east—had 10 Great-tailed Grackles for the first time in its history. Personally, I think they were the Sand Lake Great-tailed Grackles. The DOW manager predicted that they’d never be back at Sand Lake, once they left. That would be sad. (NOTE FROM THE FUTURE: This would turn out not to be true.)
All in all, another really fun time. It got up to about 47 (by the car’s thermometer) No one fell in at the SWA, although the wimpy board was still there (but not frosty or slippery). It’s amazing that we bested our old record by 4—up 10%! And we really got a feeling for how well we’re getting to know that area. (ANOTHER NOTE FROM THE FUTURE: Just about a week after the count day, 6 Trumpeter Swans were seen and photographed in our very own Area 4. The local paper even wrote a story with a photo about this first sighting in the county: http://www.themountainmail.com/main.asp?Search=1&ArticleID=6940&SectionID=4&SubSectionID=4&S=21. Geez—hard to believe we could tease out a hidden swampie calling in the wetlands but we couldn’t find 6 humungous white behemoths. I mean, really…)
© 2008 Tina Mitchell