The CBC that almost wasn’t
Oh, man—what a trial getting to this CBC was. We had 3 snow storms in 3 weeks; the first hit the day before the original date of the CBC (12/21). When D called the morning before to see what was what, it was snowing madly in C’dale. I had already called the Compiler to see if she would reschedule at least to Friday; she apparently hadn’t even thought of it. It turned out that Denver (read, T) was totally snowed in, so he couldn’t make it. D sent her an e-mail suggesting that she reschedule and she polled the counters. It was rescheduled to January 2.
Another storm hit Denver on Thursday, 12/28 but it had cleared enough for us to travel from Lakewood to C’dale on 12/31. D’s area—the eastern plains—was walloped by that storm, with > 3′ of snow; but D was able to make it on Monday afternoon. Whew! I had been boning up on my Swamp Sparrow calls, just in case.
The morning was very cold—14 when we left C’dale at 6:30. (Z had shoveled a path for the dogs in the run and built an “ice cave” around the dog houses; he also put the house dog beds in the dog houses.) We left about 15 minutes later than I had wanted—the snow and extra cold gear seemed to slow us down. But we were the first to arrive at Division of Wildlife (DOW). We got our old “hood;” and as we were preparing to head off, a woman (F) introduced herself as a friend of D’s and asked if she could join us. Of course! Three Trumpeter Swans had been seen in Area 4 the week before; we had a mission. The 4 of us headed out to the road to the fish hatchery.
Our first stop produced nothing—not a peep or a tseep or a chip. The river was shrouded in fog and it was 2o. 2o?!?!? My face was super-cold and my toes and fingertips got a bit nippy as well; the rest of me was okay. We left that area quickly and headed off to Frantz Lake—we had heard that the swans had been seen there in the cattails away from the road. Didn’t see them. And again, it was bitterly cold and not a peep or a tseep or a chip to be heard. We decided we should go where the sun was and hope that the birds were there too (even if not, at least we’d be a bit warmer), returning to the river when the fog had lifted and the sun had hit the trees a bit. We headed to the cemetery.
Lots of Song Sparrows and Mountain Chickadees in the cemetery . We heard an interesting dry trill twice, but we weren’t able to find the singer. We had a nice view of a Red-tailed Hawk (the first of 12!), but not much else.
We headed to Mt. Ouray State Wildlife Area, where we figured the sun was probably hitting by now. We had 4 Virginia Rails there—all 4 feeding completely out in the open, soaking up the sun and finding open water. (Hard to imagine a better view. In the past, we’ve only heard them there.) A number of Song Sparrows were calling (I could discern the “chimp” as opposed to the Swamp Sparrow’s “chip”) but no Swamp Sparrows. A large flock of American Goldfinches were in the trees by the parking area as were a couple of Black-capped Chickadees. I heard a Downy Woodpecker on our way back and we all heard 2 Marsh Wrens calling. Z & I headed for the car while D and F kept trying for Swamp Sparrows. D finally got a look at a non-calling one—at last! NOTE for next year: Bone up more on what Swamp Sparrows look like and how they differ from Song Sparrows. If I’d had to ID that one by eye, I probably wouldn’t have been able to.
At some point in the morning, we checked the Rusty Blackbird seep—nothing, not even a Killdeer. But there were 36 Eurasian Collared-Doves in the trees by where the old guy has feeders above that seep. Wow—the invasion has begun. (We saw only 1 last year.)
We then drove to Big Bend (Bald Eagle in the tree; Belted Kingfisher calling up the river) and past the farm pond where the Trumpeter Swans had been reported earlier. At least the part of the pond that we could scope from the road was completely frozen. We checked the seep beyond it, but no Trumpeters. As we started back to DOW for lunch, D caught a glimpse of the 3 Trumpeters flying down the river and the chase was on. (Our fear was that they’d head to Sand Lake and some other area would get to claim them!) F spotted them standing in a frozen field (still in Area 4!) with some cattle southeast of the fish hatchery. Score!
After lunch, we added the triangle between CR 291 and US 285 to our area and we headed out to find a Rough-legged Hawk or 2. (Z & I had seen 2 on the power poles on our way in on Sunday.) D was busy chatting with F and I had to yell to get people to see the Rough-legged Hawk on the power pole on CR 291—score! From the moving vehicle, D spotted a female Mountain Bluebird on a fence post—a first ever for the count! (Did you catch that? He spotted and ID’d a Mountain Bluebird FROM A MOVING VEHICLE.) We saw another unusual hawk to the north of the road and turned onto CR 155 to check it out. D several times said that it seemed odd for a Red-tailed Hawk and kept trying to figure it out. As it flew, we realized it was a rufous-morph Ferruginous Hawk! A first for us, although not for the count. We checked out Stone Bridge and found 2 (and probably 3, but we only counted 2) American Dippers by the bridge and across the river. We turned south off CR 291 onto CR 150 and spotted what D thought was a Red-tailed Hawk that turned into a Rough-legged Hawk when it flew—#2! Driving along a frozen field, D spotted a group of Horned Larks working the bare ground between snow drifts—haven’t had those since 2003! Back at Big Bend, we counted over 100 American Robins flying in (and a total of over 200 for our area that day). D spotted a far-distant flock of Red-winged Blackbirds—score yet again! A good afternoon, adding 7 species after lunch. That made 40 for our group. Not too shabby for such a cold day with so much frozen water.
We headed back for wrap-up. Looked like the group had at least 70 species, with Wild Turkeys still a possibility and perhaps an owl species or 2 that night.
© 2008 Tina Mitchell