The year of Bohemian Waxwings
This CBC went off as originally scheduled, although a large Pacific storm headed our way and made me anxious for several days before. It turned out that we had only a couple of hours of light snow on Friday and about 2″ overnight into Saturday (CBC day). But the canyon road was very icy in the morning on the way in. We got up at 4:45 a.m., just in case it had snowed more than expected overnight; but that was no problem. We worried about leaving the dogs out all day; but it was about 15o when we left the house; the wind was calm with a predicted high of 30o. So we decided we’d leave them out. Z again shoveled out the path to the dog houses, put the indoors dog beds in the houses, and made sure the dogs went in once; we put out the heated dog water bowl. When we got back, we found that it had gotten down to 10o with a high of 29.8—but both dogs were fine. Whew!
We arrived at the Division of Wildlife (DOW) office just after 7 a.m. after white-knuckling the 18 miles through the canyon. F showed up and we happily invited her along. It was -1 at the bank when we left DOW, and the river and other water areas were socked in with fog, so we first headed to the Rusty Blackbird seep, to look for Wilson’s Snipe or Killdeers—neither. The older guy at the top of the hill didn’t have feeders out, so very few birds there. But a house just before the seep had new feeders out, where we got a White-crowned Sparrow (along with Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco and Eurasian Collared-Doves). We then headed to the cemetery. Very little there, although we tallied the only American Robins found all day by anyone—what a surprise that no one else found them. We then headed to Mt. Ouray State Wildlife Area, where it was also quite quiet. Even with a thorough search, and with D and F walking all the way down to the east exit road, we couldn’t find—not even hear!—a Virginia Rail. D heard a Swamp Sparrow, at least. The whole area seemed very, very quiet except for a goodly number of Song Sparrows. Boooooo. The one good find was that D flushed a female Northern Pintail—new for the count.
We stopped back at Frantz Lake, where D and F decided to walk behind the fish hatchery to the steep access at east end of the hatchery; we picked them up there. No birds at Frantz Lake—not even at that once-grand hillside and wash where someone had had feeders. D found some Barrow’s Goldeneyes and a couple of Common Goldeneyes on the river. Once when we stopped the car for D to check out the river, Z spotted a gray bird in a tree—Northern Shrike! (Its mask was much, much narrower than Sibley showed—more of an eyestripe, I’d say. But the odds of a Loggerhead Shrike in this area in winter are very, very tiny.)
We headed to lunch with 35 species—not great, but not awful for such a bitter cold morning. Everyone at lunch (Amica’s pizzas!) commented on how few birds they were finding. I felt especially down as we headed out after lunch—we didn’t have Virginia Rail or Red-winged Blackbird, R had seen 150 Red-winged Blackbirds in the trees across from Frantz Lake (not us!), no Rough-legged Hawks. Some folks had spotted a couple of swans flying over Poncha Lumber as they headed out in the morning, but we hadn’t seen hide nor hair of them in our area. The Compiler sent us out to try to find raptors—no more concerns about poaching on someone else’s area. We drove up to the road to Hecla and back, finally spotting a Rough-legged Hawk on a power pole south of the CR 291/US 285 intersection. Off US 285, we found a Cooper’s Hawk—unusual for the area in winter and beautiful views. We decided to try Mt. Ouray one more time around 3; Z spotted 1 Virginia Rail and, just beyond it, a Wilson’s Snipe. Hooray! And I, then D, heard the chatter of a Marsh Wren–double hooray! (D said it was quite unusual to have a Marsh Wren there last year, so we hadn’t been expecting it this year.) We got back in the car feeling quite vindicated and happy to have reached 40 species for the day. We stopped at Sands Lake and easily saw the Eared Grebe there, just for our edification. Driving back to DOW to turn in our checklist, we spotted several trees laden with Bohemian Waxwings—450, by D and Z’s estimates. (The count as a whole had >3000—beating the Boulder CBC’s mere 1100 by a mile!)
We headed back to C’dale around 4:30; it was still light when we got home at around 5.
© 2008 Tina Mitchell