Monday, 19 April 2010

Lewis's and Clark's

From top: displaying male Sharp-tailed Grouse; male Mountain Bluebird; Gambel's Quail; Western Grebes; and the quirky Lewis's Woodpecker.

Dawn began as dusk had ended - in what seemed like only a few hours later we were again watching charismatic gaggles of Sharp-tailed Grouse going about their business on the prairie, only this time in full display mode, with jumping, chasing, fluffing and fighting. Maybe 30 or more birds were involved, including three which approached our vehicle closely to allow perfect views.

Colorado feels vast at times and, after refuelling with coffee and waffles, we were on the road again, this time heading for the dry slope of the state. Here the avifauna has a distinctly more south-western feel, as evidenced by our first Black-throated Sparrows and Rock Wrens at Coal Canyon. In this barren, scrubby setting the introduced Chukar seems firmly at home, even if more easily heard than seen, but our biggest success was a Grey Flycatcher - a target bird I didn't expect so early in the season.

We clocked another one of these migrant empids the next morning at the absolutely spectacular Colorado National Monument, where Juniper Titmouse and Pinyon Jay also gave themselves up. Retreating from the heat to the high ground once more, we scored a female American Three-toed Woodpecker near Grand Mesa before heading down to lower levels, where arguably the most beautiful example of that family in the country, Lewis's Woodpecker, also performed on cue.

With Clark's Grebe on a nearby reservoir, along with much larger numbers of Westerns, the pioneering namesakes of these birds were brought to mind, their legacy living on through the names of enigmatic species of the west. By contrast our own journey, though exciting, thankfully lacks the danger element of Lewis and Clark's; instead, travelling through the Rockies and finding new birds has been remarkably straightforward. All of the group - Trevor and Ben, Sara and Denise, Annette, Jerry and Barbara and myself - have been enjoying lifers at a rate of knots, and we're having a blast at the same time. More anon.

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