Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Wednesday, May 15, Gunnison Sage Grouse

I arrived at the Waunita lek viewing area at 4:30 am.  There was no one else there.  The website had stated that the viewing area closes on May 15; therefore, I took no chances and went directly to Gunnison first after arriving in Colorado to try for the Gunnison Sage Grouse.  Recent information about the grouse at this lek was that they were leaving the lek before sun-rise.  That's why I arrived a half hour earlier than the latest recommended time of an hour before sun-rise.  It was quite dark as I started to scan with binoculars.  The cloud cover left over from yesterday's thunder showers also reduced the light.  This lek does not get direct early morning light, because there are mountains and hills to the east that keep the direct sunlight off of the lek until the sun rises above the mountains and hills.  I continued to scan with binoculars until about 5:23 am, because I thought that with the higher power telescope, even at 20X, there would not be enough light.  However, at 5:23 am, I decided to scan with my Swavroski 80HD telescope.  I started scanning from left to right and low and behold I found three Gunnison Sage Grouse.  I could see the white breast and throat and the dark/black slit of the face and head in the middle of the puffed out white breast.  As I scanned right, I found another.  When I scanned back to the left again, the original three had disappeared and the fourth one had also disappeared.  Apparently, I started scanning with a telescope just in time as the four birds apparently had left the lek.  I continued scanning and found one more grouse and tried several photos but it was too dark and could not be adjusted in Adobe Photoshop.   As I watched this bird, it started flying out of the lek toward the west and up into the sage covered hills to the west.  As it flew, I could see by telescope view the white banding in the closed tail.  Gunnison Sage Grouse has more white in the tail than Greater Sage Grouse.  In two previous visits in the past to this viewing site, the grouse left the lek in the same manner by flying west up into the sage covered hills.  All of the grouse had left the lek by 5:30 to 5:45 am at least 15 to 30 minutes before sunrise, which was 5:56 am.  However, in previous visits, the birds stayed until at least sunrise or after sunrise.  I felt very fortunate that I succeeded in seeing these birds. 

Before returning to my motel for breakfast, I drove a short distance up the dirt road toward Waunita Springs, and in rapid succession found a singing Green-tailed Towhee, a male and female Mountain Bluebird (see photo, adjusted to reduce shadows) and a Townsend's Solitaire, all new birds for the
year.  On the way back to Gunnison, I stopped and confirmed my previous distant and flying identification of Brewer's Blackbird.  There was a displaying male next to a female along the road.  A great start to this Colorado trip.  I returned to Gunnison to the Super 8 motel for breakfast.  After breakfast, I found a singing male Cassin's Finch (see photo) and a Violet-green Swallow, both new birds for the year, in the immediate vicinity of the motel.  I could see and got a photo of the brown back of the crest, a distinguishing field marks of male Cassin's versus Purple Finch.  Then I drove north on SR 135 to go to Crested Butte to look for other local birds and maybe a late rosy finch or two.  On the way, I stopped at Evelyn Lane to check the feeders.  This location is described on-line at the Colorado Birding Society website, and I had visited this site back in 2009 when I got my lifer Dusky Grouse at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  At Evelyn Lane, I first found Red-naped Sapsucker in the trees in the neighborhood, then up to four beautiful male Western
Tanagers (See photo), a Broad-tailed Hummingbird giving its metallic wing whistle as it flew and a Rock Wren singing and visible (See distant photo.) on the rocky hillside that borders Evelyn Lane.  I looked at the Red-naped Sapsucker carefully in my telescope and could see that the red on the throat penetrates the black frame, one of the key identification field marks for this species.  All of these are new birds for the year.  I also saw Yellow Warblers, the ubiquitous Yellow-rumped Warblers (Audubon's sub-species with a yellow throat) and Bullock's Orioles at Evelyn Lane.  On the way to Crested Butte, I stopped at the bridge near the Roaring Judy Fish Unit, where in 2009 I saw American Dipper, but dipped this time on the dipper.  I heard and saw a Fox Sparrow singing, the slate colored sub-species of the Rockies, which at some point in the future may be a separate species.  On my way to Crested Butte, I found a very dark grayish tawny hawk the size and shape of a Red-tailed Hawk but without a reddish tail.  The tail had a dark band at the end with a lighter whitish color at the base of the tail. 
This is a potential candidate for a Harlan's Hawk.  I'll have to do some research when I get home.

In Crested Butte, I checked the area around Fourth and Whiterock Streets where there are feeders in the winter time and early spring that attract rosy finches, but not today.  I had seen Brown-capped and Black Rosy Finches at this location in 2009.  It is probably too late in the season.  I did find a large flock of finches up the hill from this area and drove to this development to look for the flock.  The flock had disappeared.  I suspect that the flock was a
mixture of Cassin's and House Finches, which were common at this location.  I found a Steller's Jay, a new bird for the year, in the development up  the hill and at the Fourth and Whiterock Street location (See photo).  Also, a cooperative Green-tailed Towhee in the development (See photo).  I walked around the neighborhood and adjacent location looking for birds and found a beautiful male Lazuli Bunting, new bird for the year, at a back-yard feeder visible from an alley.  I also found a male Evening Grosbeak, a great bird but not new for the year.  In addition, I found a cooperative
Black-billed Magpie, not a new bird (See photo).  Other birds seen  in Crested Butte and not mentioned previously were house Sparrows, American Crow seen carrying a stick and disappearing into a conifer (apparent nest building) Common Raven, Black-capped Chickadee, House Finch and Red-tailed Hawk (this time a regular one).

I headed back to Gunnison and stopped again at the bridge at the Roaring Judy Fish Unit.  As I walked on the bridge without my camera this time, of course, an American Dipper flew out from under the bridge.  As I returned to my rental car, I heard a mellow warbling song, similar to Rose-breasted Grosbeak in the east and looked up to see a beautiful male Black-headed Grosbeak.  I stopped one more time at Evelyn Lane and found a cooperative male Bullock's Oriole, not new for the year (See photo).   After stopping for lunch, I filled my gas tank and headed to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to try for Dusky Grouse.  There were two construction delays of about 10-15 minutes each on the way to the national park from Gunnison.  I was planning to stay the night in Montrose not far
from the national park and would try for Dusky Grouse at dusk on the western end of the South Rim drive, as stated by Richard Stevens (see Colorado Birding Society and Richard's blog (Coloradobirders.blogspot.com).

I arrived between 4:00 and 4:30 PM with plenty of time for birding until dusk.  I drove the South Rim with my windows down listening for bird song and very quickly found Spotted Towhee (See photo).  I stopped at the Visitor Center and talked to a lady who told me that the best place to see Dusky Grouse is along the early part of the South Portal road near the entrance booth.  I bought a Falcon Guide, Colorado Birding, written by Hugh Kingery for future reference for birding in Colorado.  I met Hugh by letter and in telephone conversations, never in person, when I lived in Norwich, NY.  I was the Region 4 Atlas Coordinator  for the first New York State Atlas
(1980-1986) sponsored by the then, New York State Federation of Bird Clubs.  Hugh and his wife, Urling, visited relatives in Otsego County and participated in the NYS Atlas project.  Soon after leaving the Visitor Center, I quickly started adding new species for the year.  The first was a Golden Eagle soaring quite low and visible just above the canyon rim, showing the dihedral wing position and the golden patches on the upper wings and the golden nape when it turned.  I  
heard a two part call, described in field guides as "chi-wip" and saw the source, a smallish gray flycatcher, and was able to identify this as a Gray Flycatcher, due to its call, gray color and propensity to dip its tail down slowly when perched.  I heard the twittering of White-throated Swifts.  At first they were too high to see the details, but eventually they came low enough to see the white throat and white along the sides of the rump.  Then I picked up on a small warbler that was mostly gray with a white eye-ring.  When it flew I could see the yellow under-tail coverts and caught a glimpse of the
yellow rump--a Virginia's Warbler.  Then I heard a slow vireo song and with some effort was able to find the  source, a Gray Vireo.  The song is somewhat like a Solitary Vireo is structure but the individual notes are more burry for Gray Vireo than for Solitary Vireo, for  which the notes are clearer and more melodious.  The Gray Vireo has a longer tail than most eastern vireos and is all gray (See photo).    (Note:  This will be corrected to Plumbeous Vireo.  It is not a Gray Vireo.  See future blog entry with explanation.)  I chased after and photographed two gnatcatchers, at first mistakenly thinking that they were Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, but discovered later by looking at my photos that they were only Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, not new for the year.  Blue-gray Gnatcatchers breed in the park (I got a bird list at the Visitor Center.) and the birds had the field marks of Blue-gray and not Black-tailed Gnatcatchers.  I also saw a male and female
Western Bluebird (see photo) and at the end of the South Rim road, High Point, a Clark's Nutcracker.   While waiting for sunset at high Point I managed to get a telephoto shot to the northeast toward Pike's Peak, showing some of the awesome scenery of the South Rim (See photo).  I stayed at High Point until all visitors had left and until the sun had set.  I scanned the last 200 yards of the road to the High Point parking lot looking for Dusky Grouse on the road or the sides of the road (as per Richard Steven's description).  No luck.  I had tried this technique back in 2009 and did not have any success then in finding Dusky Grouse at the western end of South Rim road.  Then I drove very slowly toward the entrance but never found a Dusky Grouse.  I drove to Montrose where I stayed the night.  It was only 15 to 20 minutes to my motel from the entrance to the national park.

Gunnison Sage Grouse, Green-tailed Towhee, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend's Solitaire, Violet-green Swallow, Cassin's Finch, Red-naped Sapsucker, Western Tanager, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Rock Wren, Steller's Jay, Lazuli Bunting, American Dipper, Black-headed Grosbeak, Spotted Towhee, Golden Eagle, Gray Flycatcher, White-throated Swift, Virginia's Warbler, Gray Vireo (actually Plumbeous Vireo), Western Bluebird, and Clark's Nutcracker make the total 433.   (The identification of the vireo will be discussed in a future blog entry.)  

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't tell by your description vs the closest photo but the smaller towhee with the rust colored head is the Green Tailed Towhee, which you don't mention, and the larger one farther down your page with the black hooded head, white belly, rust sides and spotted black and white back is the Spotted Towhee. I live in the north east suburbs of Denver and have had both in my back yard. Very cool birds with their odd digging habit.