Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dusky Grouse at Black Canyon of The Gunnnison NP, Thursday, May 16

I finished the previous entry at home in Cincinnati.  The grouse trip required being in the field before sunrise and until sunset.  There was little time for blogging. 

On Thursday, May 16, after picking up some pastries from a Shell Quick Stop, because McDonald's does not open until about 7:00 am, I arrived at the entrance at about 5:30 am and started to slowly drive the South Portal Road, looking carefully for Dusky grouse.  Within a few hundred yards or so, I found my target bird sitting by the road on the left, east side.  It was too dark for photos right away, so I stayed parked on the road and watched this great bird.  I could see the dark reddish-purple color of the sacs on the neck as the bird expanded them.  This is one field mark that distinguishes Dusky Grouse from its more western counterpart, Sooty Grouse.  Only once when the bird flew a short distance, because I moved my car to maintain favorable viewing, did the bird expand its tail and spread it briefly in display.  Eventually, after 15-20 minutes as sunrise approached, was I able to get a few very dark photos, adjusted in Adobe Photoshop (See photos). 
Eventually, the inevitable occurred.  Two guys in a pick-up truck came up behind me and stopped between me and the grouse to ask if I had trouble.  I explained that I was watching and photographing a Dusky Grouse right next to the road, so they moved on and out of the way/my view.  However, this disturbed the grouse and moved it down the berm hill of the road towards the brush.   I drove further down the East Portal road to a maintenance barn to give the grouse some space, to turn around and came back toward the entrance.  The Dusky Grouse had recovered somewhat from the disturbance but remained down the hill of the berm and was now
less visible.  The light was much better, and I risked some disturbance to the grouse by getting out of my car for some better views and additional photos.  However, by about 6:30 am, the Dusky Grouse show was over for the day, and the grouse disappeared into the brush.

I stopped at the campground to look for birds in the early morning, and walked the entry road and the A, B and C loops.  A few but not many campers were up and about.  I managed a photo of a Gray Flycatcher (See photo), and saw more Yellow Warblers, a few Warbling Vireos and at least one Gray Vireo.  There was a lot of chasing by the Gray Flycatchers and they had raised

crests as a result of the competition.  The photo of the Gray Flycatcher shows mostly the top mandible of the bill, but at close range I could see the yellowish lower mandible.  I heard several different calls by flycatchers, but was not able to pick out any different species.  Dusky Flycatcher is a summer resident here, but I could not pick one out.  Some or maybe many of these flycatchers were still migrating through this area.  The Warbling Vireos were recognizable by their song, which I am familiar with in the east, but with a western dialect .  I walked the nature trail for a short distance and found Western
Scrub Jay, another new bird for the year (See photo).  I drove the South Rim to the High Point to look for birds.  On the way, I stopped at Tomichi Point and on a somewhat distant pinnacle, I saw a distant, perched Golden Eagle, with the morning sun emphasizing the golden hackles on its head.  On my way to High Point, I saw a soaring large falcon, and stopped to ensure that it was a Peregrine Falcon and not a Prairie Falcon.  This falcon was very dark gray on the upper wings and back and looked dark on the head and without dark patches in the axillaries of the under-wings; therefore, a Peregrine falcon and not a Prairie Falcon.  Too bad!  I continued to High Point, because it seemed like a good  place to find Mountain Chickadee on the south rim drive due to the larger amount of pines and higher elevation.  There was a Wild Turkey walking and picking in the picnic area when I arrived.  I was soon joined by Evan/Evon (not sure of the name), who was looking for place to cook breakfast and his small puppy Charlie.  Evan/Evon had moved recently to Colorado from the Chicago area was enjoying the area camping.  I walked down the Warner Point nature trail from High  Point parking area and soon found several Mountain Chickadees (See photo), new for the year and a cooperative Townsend's Solitaire (See photo), not new and seen yesterday the first for the year.  The Mountain Chickadee with just visible white eyebrow was hammering on a pine nut still between its feet on the branch and is calling.  I also found a Hairy Woodpecker.

I drove back toward the Visitor Center with my windows down listening for bird song and calls.  I stopped to investigate some interesting calls, which I thought might be sparrows, but were probably just towhees.  In the process, I found a MacGillivray's Warbler, a new bird for the year.  I stopped by the Visitor Center to thank the lady who recommended the East Portal road and to report my success.  On my way out of the Visitor Center I heard a different phoebe call, investigated and found a Say's Phoebe, new bird for the year, in the bushes west of the Visitor Center.  I returned to the East Portal road to walk some of the road edge to look for new birds for the year, but did not find anything new.  In the process, I saw several flocks of finches, apparently Cassin's Finches flying northwest, possibly migrating.  I was hoping to turn them into rosy finches but could not. Sometime between 12:00 noon and 1:00 pm, I left the national park and returned to Montrose for brunch, to fill my

gas tank and to drive to Loveland Pass.  I needed to visit Loveland Pass (10660 feet) to try for White-tailed Ptarmigan during the week when there would be fewer skiers and hikers present.  I arrived at Loveland Pass at the parking area at about 4:30 or 5:00 pm.  There were general sight-seers present and increasing numbers of skiers and snowboarders.  There was one hiker who went up the slope to the first peak and then up to the left to the highest peak, Mt. Sniktau.  A second hiker went up to the nearest first peak directly up from the parking area.  It seemed like he had some difficulty, because he stopped frequently.  A skier was up the western slope and later walked up the road to the parking area.  I talked to this skier about the area.  He confirmed that the eastern continental divide sign was indeed the stone base and frame
that I had guessed was the eastern continental divide sign, now damaged.  My instructions from the Colorado Birding Society web page were to scan below this eastern sign and up to 1000 yards up-slope for White-tailed Ptarmigan.   I told him why I was there, seeking to see White-tailed Ptarmigan.  He said he has seen them there frequently but had not seen them today.  I scanned the east side and the west side of the pass area, but found no White-tailed Ptarmigan.  I stayed until about 7:30 pm as the sun was setting behind the western peaks.  The only birds seen during this late afternoon stay were a Common Raven scouring the parking area for tidbits or left over hand-outs from the general public, an American Pipit or two and several White-crowned Sparrows.  Before I left the area, the skier told me of his plans to use a kite to aid in his skiing, which he did just before I left.  I saw him disappear up the eastern slope and saw his kite in the air as I left the area.   This skier also told me of a recent tragedy of an avalanche that killed five experienced skiers with avalanche experience.  I later read on the internet that this had occurred on April 20 after a heavy snowfall.  The skier  told me that the snow conditions had seemed to have stabilized since then.  Also, the distant hiker that went to the top of Mt. Sniktau was rapidly hiking down.  I also talked to the second hiker, a younger man of Germanic descent, who drove from the state of Iowa, about eight hours according to his story, and then donned his gear and hiked up to the first summit from the parking area.  He confirmed that he was having difficulty, because the conditions were so severe with very high wind.   I planned to return early in the morning and returned to I-70 to find a motel in nearby Georgetown or Iowa City.

Dusky Grouse, Western Scrub Jay, Mountain Chickadee, MacGillivray's Warbler and Say's Phoebe yields a total of 438.               

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