January Birding

Brrrr... it has been particularly windy this January. But we've gotten out a few times, primarily in order to check out some birds not usually seen around Colorado.

Click on any image to see a larger version of it.

Snowy Owl east of Barr Lake; a little too far for a decent picture
At least two Snowy Owls have been seen in the vicinity of Barr Lake State Park in Denver this winter. This is more evidence of the irruption of this species into more southerly areas that has been noticed in several states this year. We did find our young "Snowie," a new species for our life list! But he was so far away that without a tip from another birder down the road, we might not have found him. We were able to more clearly appreciate him with the help of yet another birder's spotting scope. The owl sat perfectly still out in a field the whole time we watched, with only his head turning now and then.

Can you spot the bird that's different? (the Blue-morph Snow Goose)
Earlier that day we walked along the south side of Barr Lake and spotted Bald Eagles galore and a few Snow Geese, including what we believe to be the blue morph or "Blue Goose." Around the nature center were songbirds, most notably American Goldfinches on the feeders. We'll have to go back and walk the entire 8.8 mile trail.

On another day we drove out to Nunn, CO where, for the first time, we didn't see any Burrowing Owls. We did enjoy seeing a flock of Horned Larks and we also saw our first Eurasian Collared Dove. We then went on to Pawnee National Grassland where we saw very little bird activity, even at the Crow Valley Recreation area. But we did see some Pronghorns and a coyote.

Horned Lark near Nunn, Colorado

Another wayward bird, the Long-tailed Duck had been spotted at Denver City Park and we got a good look at him this past Sunday. In spite of terrible wind gusts, Mike managed to hang onto our camera and get some nice shots of the duck formerly known as Oldsquaw, and his Duck Lake cohorts. We especially enjoyed seeing several Hooded Mergansers up close.

Long-tailed Duck (M) at right with Common Goldeneye on left

Hooded Merganser (male)

Speaking of life lists, we have been reading two birding books this month -- The Big Year and Kenn Kaufman's Kingbird Highway. What fun to compare what we were doing in 1973 with the hitchhiking adventures of a teenage birder!

We have been tracking sightings on the iBird app for iPhone and updating our Bird Brain software to manage our life list as well as start a new list for 2012. As I type, we are at a meager 57 species for the year, but we have high hopes of increasing that number greatly with our upcoming trip to south Texas.

Christmas Count

This holiday season we traveled to four states in 3 time zones in order to connect with important people in our lives who live across the miles. Along the way we tried unsuccessfully to see some vagrant birds (Emperor Goose in Portland, Hooded Crane in Tennessee) but did manage to spot 2 juvenile Whooping Cranes wintering at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge near Birchwood, Tennessee.

Juvenile Whooping Cranes at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee

We had productive birding and pleasant walking at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, and enjoyed visiting the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge and the Audubon Society of Portland again. In the end we added 35 birds to our 2012 list and our Life List is now at 265. My favorite new bird on our list is the common Red-headed Woodpecker, but we also enjoyed seeing Anna's Hummingbird and were surprised to learn that they winter in Oregon.

View of the Columbia River from the Astoria Column
We also spent a great day exploring Fort Clatsop in the Lewis & Clark National Historic Park, then on to charming Astoria, OR where we had lunch, and undoubtedly the best onion rings ever, at the Wet Dog Cafe.

After a quick foray into Washington to see lighthouses at Cape Disappointment and North Head, we headed back to Portland via Camp 18.

Mike and Susan at the North Head lighthouse

Here's the rest of our trip count:
3 parents
2 brothers
2 sisters-in-law
1 niece
4 nephews
2 friends
1 puppy
Too many dinners, treats (especially Mom's peanut butter cookies), and calories to mention!
Thanks to everyone for their hospitality, conversation, games, gifts and making our trip memorable in so many ways.

Happy New Year!