Friday, May 30, 2014

Cedar Waxwings

The Cedar Waxwings have taken over our yard. We see dozens of the beautiful birds everyday. This morning, Bill counted 30 birds on the pond. Our bushes come alive and limbs of the local trees strain under the weight of so many birds.

I can't stop taking pictures - so this is my tribute to the Cedar Waxwings.



 According to my books, we are in the winter range for the birds but they stay year-around in the northwest parts of the state. They couple up in late Spring and early Summer. I expect we will wake up one day soon - and they will all be gone - so I'm enjoying the show while it lasts.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Birding at 70 Miles an Hour

Bill and I took an impromptu 24-hour trip to the NE corner of the state. I read about the birding mecca that is Pawnee National Grasslands and specifically the Pawnee Pioneer Trail, a 128-mile scenic highway through the area. We left Colorado Springs mid-afternoon and headed to Sterling Colorado in Logan County to spend the night. The trail heads west out of Sterling, a small agriculture-rich town of about 14,000 people. We stayed at the new Best Western and ate at the town's gathering place - the J & L Cafe. The people were friendly and the service was great - but they needed Bill to help them back in the kitchen.

The Barn Swallows were plentiful - especially at the intersections looking for the Miller Moths which are just beginning their annual invasion.

There was a large open area behind the hotel that we explored at dusk (hence the terrible pictures). This Brown Thrasher was singing his heart out.

It was quite dark when I took this shot of a Lark Sparrow. I knew there was a bird on the fence post but it wasn't until I lightened the picture that I could identify the sparrow.

Early the next morning we headed west on Scenic Route 14. We were expecting a picturesque, meandering country road through public lands where you drive slowly and frequently pull off to enjoy the plentiful birds. In reality, the road is a major truck route with 70 miles-per-hour speed limits and very few places to even slow down, never mind pull over! Barbed wire fences protect the private properties on both sides of the road. Birding at 70 miles-per-hour takes talent and really hones your skills!

We turned off onto a dirt road and slowly drove through some of the farmland. We had no idea there was so much agriculture in the state north of Interstate 70. We actually saw more birds where there were fences than where there were not. Pictures are two Kingbirds; the black and white one is an unusual (around here) Eastern Kingbird and the gray and yellow one is an extremely common Western Kingbird.

Since I was taking pictures, we drove very slowly and stopped frequently along this dirt side road - passing farms along the way. Before long a farmer pulled up along side of us in his pick-up truck and wanted to know what we were doing. Why did we stop in front of his house? Apparently, they don't take kindly to strangers!

This is a Horned Lark. You can see the "horns" that give him his name.

The State Bird is the Lark Bunting - and they were EVERYWHERE! It's hard to get a decent picture as they do not sit still very long!

Another bird that was WELL represented was the Western Meadowlark. Their song filled the air everywhere we went.

After our "friendly" farmer begrudgingly left us to our bird watching, a Killdeer walked along the side of the car...

...and Bill spotted this wonderful Swainson's Hawk sitting on a phone pole.

What a fabulous bird!!

Heading back to Route 14, we drove with the trucks for a while before turning north at the small town of New Raymer and headed towards the Pawnee Buttes. Driving along, I was thrilled to see this adorable Burrowing Owl perched alongside the road.

We passed a lot of farms - we were really remote (or so we thought). This isn't really a good picture of a Lark Bunting - but I thought his back was really pretty.

This is a typical view in the area. We couldn't figure out why so many of the trucks followed us on this back road. They passed us in both directions.

Then we started seeing HUGE industrial structures. They looked way out of place and they were everywhere.

Energy is apparently a huge business in the Grasslands with enormous wind farms that stretch for miles, and ugly natural gas and oil drilling operations. We were on a dirt road with trucks, cranes and industrial machinery. Lots of the operations looked new. We could see the Pawnee Buttes in the distance but the view was obstructed with the oil and gas rigs. It was sad but understandable.

Since it looked like rain, we decided to try and find a paved road. We did not make it to the Buttes, large geological formations rising out of the grassland with promises of many different species of birds. The trails are closed from March 1 to June 30 to protect the many nesting species of hawks and falcons.

Once we found our way back to Route 14, we set our GPS towards home.

We saw lots of Antelope - but not nearly as many as we saw in Wyoming.

Prairie Dogs were also out in numbers. I had to keep checking the burrows in case there were more Burrowing Owls. (There were not)

Typical scenery...

We really enjoyed hearing the songs of the various larks that populate eastern Colorado...

...especially the Meadowlarks.

It was an interesting trip - but not what we expected.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Goldfinches are Returning!

I can't believe we are still seeing the male Western Tanager - but we are. I'm really hoping that he is nesting near by.

He's one of the most colorful I've seen.

The goldfinches are beginning to return. This is the more colorful American Goldfinch - the ones we also see in Florida.

 And this is a Lesser Goldfinch - our first of the season.

This one seems to be especially yellow which makes me wonder if it's a hybrid - mixed with American Goldfinch. That sometimes happens where their ranges overlap - like here.

The Cedar Waxwings have been around on and off every day. On Thursday afternoon, Bill and I headed to Sterling Colorado - in the northeast corner of the state. We spent the night and headed out first thing in the morning to drive the Pawnee Pioneer Trail through the National Grasslands. It was not what we expected - but that's a blog for another day!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Migration Numbers are Fewer and Fewer

The Cedar Waxwings returned on and off all day. They travel in a large group, so when they arrive, the yard is alive with activity!

The longer they are around, the less shy they become - venturing out of the bushes and into the yard.

Beautiful birds!

 We had another visitor - a White-crowned Sparrow. Although not a new Life Bird, he is a new bird for the yard.

Our Black-headed Grosbeak also made several appearances.

The Western Tanagers are still around - but we only see them 2 or 3 times a day in very small numbers. The Bullock's Oriole made one appearance only. Our fabulous migration is almost over. I really need to get back to quilting!

Cedar Waxwings, Plumbeous Vireo, Black-headed Grosbeak and more Adventures!

We continue to see quite a few Western Tanagers in the yard every day - but not in the numbers as last week. The males that are here seem to have less red on their face. Perhaps they are younger or non-breeding. We are seeing as many females as males.

Yesterday we again walked at the Fountain Valley Nature Center. The Red-winged Blackbirds are pretty - but boy are they noisy!

This is a lousy picture - but it is proof that we saw a new Life Bird - a Plumbeous Vireo. I would not have had a clue what it was but there were a couple of other birders in the area who identified it for us.

The House Wrens were thick. They have a beautiful song and I really enjoyed watching them flit around in the trees.

The Yellow Warblers were also out in numbers. They too have a wonderful song. The woods were alive and it was wonderful.

There were more White Pelicans on the lake. This one must be a pre-breeding adult as indicated by the growth (keel) on his bill (culmen}.

With so many birds in the yard, I put out another feeder - but it only lasted a couple of hours before it was discovered by one of our little 4-legged friends. Our other feeder has a squirrel and raccoon baffle that keeps them away from the goodies.

Another first for the year in the yard - a Black-headed Grosbeak. Bill raised the dome on the feeder for him...

...and he quickly came over to investigate.

This is a Eurasian Collared Dove (see the black collar on his neck?). I only took the picture as reference. They are loud and obnoxious birds.

What a wonderful surprise last night! We were overrun with Cedar Waxwings! We haven't had them in the yard for about 9 years - so this was a real treat.

We had about 3 dozen fly in.

 They are so beautiful! Look at the yellow on the tail and the red on the wing.

The group sat in the tree for the longest time while I sat on the patio waiting (hoping) they would come down.

While I waited, I enjoyed the flowers in the yard.

The male Black-headed Grosbeak came back for a snack.

And the waxwings stayed in the tree. I continued to wait not-so-patiently, camera in hand at the ready.

We always see lots of Chipping Sparrows.

...still in the tree.

FINALLY, my patience was rewarded!! The waxwings came down for a drink!

Dozens came down to the pond and filled the bushes.

I snapped away.

They are gone today - but maybe we will see them again.

 I don't know what these bushes are that we have in the yard - but the birds love them.

...and I love the birds!