August 23, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Road Trip 2009: The Birds of August

It had been several years since the last time I was in the Rocky Mountains, and I made the best use of my brief time in Colorado two weeks ago with two day-long visits to the upper elevations. Perhaps the most unusual bird I saw was the Three-toed woodpecker, which was, coincidentally, reported in this area just last month. (False alarm.) Altogther I saw nine (9) life birds during my trip, all of them in Colorado. I have updated my Life Bird List accordingly, making a few small corrections to the previous annual totals. I managed to get a fair number of decent photos, which are previewed below; see the Birds of August photo gallery page. My life total now stands at 398.

Aug. 2009 bird montage

CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: Great egret, Bushtit, Red-breasted nuthatch, Clark's nutcracker, Gray-headed junco, Yellow-rumped warbler, Three-toed woodpecker, Mountain bluebird, Bald eagle, and in the center, Mountain chickadee. CLICK ON that image to see the full-size photos of these and other birds.

Magee Marsh, Ohio

My first birding stop was at Magee Marsh (see photo camera), in Ohio, where the Augusta Bird Club had made a very successful long-distance field trip last May; I was unable to attend, unfortunately. It is renowned as a stopover point for thousands of warblers and other neotropical migrants every spring. It happens to be adjacent to the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, which Jacqueline and I visited a few years ago. Here are the highlights:

S.E. South Dakota

I didn't spend much time in South Dakota on this trip, and with one exception, the following "highlights" were thus rather ordinary:

The Rockies, Colorado

The terrain and habitat in Colorado is extremely varied, and most of the birds listed below are restricted to either the highlands or the lowlands. All nine of the "life birds" were seen on Monday, August 10 at Brainerd Lake (see photo camera). It is located about 20 miles northwest of Boulder, at an elevation of about 10,500 feet, near the town of Ward. Later that day, I stopped at Hall Ranch, southwest of Lyons, and was surprised to see a number of interesting grassland-dwelling species. On Tuesday morning, I walked around Walden Ponds, a nature preserve northeast of Boulder. It quickly became very hot, however, and I would have seen more birds if I had begun earlier in the day. On Wednesday, my father and I drove through Rocky Mountain National Park (see photo camera), stopping frequently at the scenic overlooks on the way up to the Alpine Visitor Center, our destination. I saw a few more bird species along the way, but none of the tundra-dwelling Ptarmigans, unfortunately. Because there was so much overlap from one location to the next, I just decided to lump them all together in the list below. I have included ordinary species that are routinely seen in the east, but one might not expect to see in such a different habitat. Besides the first-ever sightings ("life birds") I have indicated which species I had not seen for several years, of which there were [twelve] altogether. Here is the combined list, in rough chronological order; click on the camera icons (camera) to see a photo:

* (asterisk): Bird species that I had probably seen before, but was not certain.
# : Subspecies of birds that are common in the East.

Platte River, Nebraska

Driving across Nebraska can be rather dull, but birders know that millions of Sandhill cranes congregate along the Platte River every year during spring migration. So, late on Thursday afternoon, August 13, I decided to take an exit from I-80 near the town of Alden where a nature center (see photo camera) is located, and it was wonderful. Highlights:

In sum, it was a very successful trip in terms of bird-watching, but I wish I had had more time to spend at some of the places I passed by. Maybe next time...