Day 1 (Dec. 30, 2009)
I spent most of the day on planes, getting up at some ridiculous hour in the morning to make my 6 am flight out of Chippewa County International, and after getting held up at the border and then again on the plane (forgot to put my gels in a baggie...), made my way to Grand Junction, CO, via Detroit, MI, Kansas City, MO, and Denver, CO. Lots of planes, and very few birds in airports - the highlight was 4 Northern Harriers drifting around the Denver airstrip. After a short delay in Grand Junction (my luggage didn't make the plane in Denver), my new friend Jacob Cooper and I hopped in a van and headed to his house via the mall. Along the way, I scored exactly one year bird - Eurasian Collared-Dove, a species that would prove to be very common, and I think it was seen every day of the trip. After the first of many amazing dinners, we headed out with the spotlight and tapes in hand to try to find a Western Screech-Owl. After a few minutes of taping, we managed to disturb a pair of roosting Bald Eagles and set the coyotes off, but had no owls. Then, we heard one somewhere nearby, which quickly turned into 4 owls - 2 territorial pairs that starting hooting at each other. We had great views as they sat in the trees right above us. After a few minutes of watching them we decided to leave them alone, and headed home for the night. My first-ever seen Screech in the bag, lifer #1 of the trip!
Day 2 (Dec. 31, 2009)
We decided to have a fairly easy day, as anything we saw now wouldn't count for our 2010 yearlists. So, we headed off to Colorado National Monument, to see if we could find any rosy-finches flying around the cliffs. We got quite a few birds along the way, including Black-billed Magpie, Townsend's Solitaire, Western Bluebird, House Finch, and Western Scrub-Jay, among the more common species. We failed to find any rosy-finches at the monument, although we did just check out the entrance road as there was a little too much snow to bring the van any further. Our next stop was Horsethief Canyon, to look for Juniper Titmice. There weren't many birds in the canyon except for a couple juncos, but on the way back down we managed to find a single Titmouse, another bird I'd only heard before (AZ in 2007). With lifer #2 under the belt, we drove around some backroads near the canyon and managed to pick up Hermit Thrush (a good winter bird for here), Mountain Bluebird, Ring-necked Duck, and a ton of sparrows, mostly Song and White-crowned. Then it was back to Jacob's house for lunch, and to get our stuff together to head over to Utah. Along the way, a flock of Pinyon Jays (lifer #3!) flew across the highway, unfortunately we couldn't stop for better looks. Along the freeway to Utah, we had a Ferruginous Hawk (my last year bird of 2009, #250) perched on a sign beside the road, and many flocks of Horned Larks. On the Utah side, we saw a few Golden Eagles, one of which was perched on a sign pretty much on the highway! Then we were in Arches National Park, with only a few hours to go till sunset. The arches were amazing, and we managed to see both Delicate Arch and Double-O Arch, along with almost all the ones along the trails to these. It's too bad it was an extremely cloudy and foggy day, so we couldn't see much more than 100 feet in front of us. The fog made for some interesting shots however, when the sun was a barely visible disk low in the sky. We made it back to the car just as it started to get dark, and headed back to Jacob's for the night. A Merlin near Delicate arch was the only bird of interest in the park, and an Oregon Junco beside the van was my last bird for 2009.
Day 3 (Jan. 1, 2010)
Happy New Year's!! This was also the content of a few texts I got at random times during the night from friends back home, unfortunately I was using my cell phone as an alarm clock as I'd forgotten my actual one at home, so I was awake for midnight (and also 1:30 am), despite our 5 a.m.-ish wake up call the next morning to kick off our 2010 year lists. We certainly managed just that, although not with the birds we'd hoped for. We had it planned out so we would head down to Connected Lakes and get a Western Screech-Owl as bird #1 for 2010. An American Robin thought differently however, and took the #1 spot, quickly followed by a White-crowned Sparrow - damn. The screech-owl ended up in the #4 spot, after we heard a Great Horned Owl hooting off in the distance. Targets achieved, we headed off to Mesa to help with the Christmas Bird Count. First however, was a trip up the Grand Mesa to score a Boreal Owl as bird #5 for 2010, one individual near 7 am and at around 9000 feet in elevation. Back in town, new year birds added up quickly as we waited at the CBC meeting spot - Red-tailed Hawk, Common Raven, Black-billed Magpie, American Dipper, Mallard, European Starling, and Common Goldeneye were all seen before the CBC even began! We ended up on the Jerry Creek part of the circle, and somehow managed to find almost all the highlights of the CBC. Our first stop was the reservoir itself, which was mostly frozen and only had a few ducks on it - mallards, green-winged teal, common goldeneye. Some juncos (oregon and pink-sided subsp.) and a Western Scrub-Jay were pretty much the only other birds around. This was made up for by the great scenery and the first sunshine of the trip (yep, it took 3 days for the sun to make an appearance). On the way back down, me and Jacob took our time, using the switchback road instead of the steep grade on the side of the reservoir (which we had taken on the way up). Off in the distance, I heard some cheeps and chirps, and looked up to see a giant flock of small birds headed my way. When they got a little closer, I yelled at Jacob, and he came over the crest to see me surrounded by a flock of around 200 Rosy-Finches, with all 3 species (and the Hepburn's subsp. of Gray-crowned) present. Needless to say, we were pretty excited, and we yelled at the guy who was driving us (whose name I have forgotten and who had already made his way back down to the car, and had to run all the way back up) to come see. We had great scope views as the flock fed on some bare patches on the hillside, eventually leaving after 15 mins or so, never to be seen again. Lifers #4 and 5 for the trip! (I had seen Gray-crowned in 2005 in Ontario, one of the few records for our province). After that excitement, we cruised around the area, adding Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Gadwall, Redhead, American Coot, Barrow's Goldeneye, ten Juniper Titmice, some Golden Eagles, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, and Northern Flicker to the day list. We then headed back to the reservoir to see if we could find the finches again - with no luck - however a Prairie Falcon that allowed fairly close approach made up for the lack of rosy-finches. After a failed attempt at finding Canyon Wrens, our part of the count was over, so Jacob and I cruised around for a bit before we met up with the rest of the teams for a late lunch, managing to find a Rough-legged Hawk that another group had missed. At the tally, it was discovered that the rosy-finches, prairie falcon, and rough-legged hawk were the best birds of the day, as was the boreal owl (which ended up being just outside the circle, I think). But, the day was not over, so Jacob and I decided to try to find some of the birds seen in the other areas of the count that we didn't have for 2010. We managed to get a Virginia Rail to respond, although it never came out into the open - another highlight of the count day, and found Mountain Chickadee and Wild Turkey that we had somehow missed on our section. Then, in the last bit of daylight, we headed up to Powderhorn Ski Resort to try for the famous pygmy-owl that is fairly reliable there. After a few minutes of waiting, we had success! A single Northern Pygmy-Owl perched in a tree across the road, then flew over the road and out of sight down the hillside. A great end to the day, with lifer #6 of the trip.
Day 4 (Jan. 2, 2010)
We got a bit of a sleep-in today and had a late start, as today was just a travel day to prepare for the Jan. 3 Hotchkiss CBC. Our first stop on the way was Escalante Canyon, to try for Chukar. Not a mile in, we had a group of 5 wander across the road right in front of us, and then they ran up the hillside, successfully evading having a decent picture taken of themselves. We also ran up the hillside after them, but by the time we made it to the top they were already a hundred yards away and we were completely out of breath - I'm blaming it on the elevation (~5200ft at this point). Lifer #7 for the trip, and my only one of the day. On our way to Delta, we also manged to see a few Golden Eagles and a Harlan's Hawk. In Delta, we stopped at Confluence Park, where we added Rough-legged Hawk, Mountain Bluebird, American Coot, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Sandhill Crane, Cackling Goose, American Pipit, and many species of duck to the day list. At a trailer park across the road, we added American Wigeon, Canvasback, Red-winged Blackbird and Great Blue Heron to the yearlist. Then it was off to Gunnison to try to find some sage-grouse. Along the way, we drove through Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (north rim), and Jacob's sharp eyes picked out another Northern Pygmy-Owl sitting at the top of a tree. That was the higlight of our trip to Gunnison though, as we failed to find any sage-grouse. On the way back to Hotchkiss, we spotted 2 Northern Saw-whet Owls as they flew across the road, and managed to spotlight them to confirm - our fifth owl species of the year! Just outside town, we pulled over to see if we could see the milky way as the skies had cleared up, but there was too much light pollution, although we could still see an incredible number of stars.
Day 5 (Jan. 3, 2010)
Another early morning, as we attempted to find some owls for the Hotchkiss CBC, with some success - only one species being Great Horned Owl, but we did have up to 10 individuals! Then it was back to the house we stayed at for a bit of breakfast and feeder-watching before we had to go meet for the CBC. At the feeders, we had 4 subsp. of Junco - Slate-colored, Oregon, Pink-sided, and Gray-headed, along with Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers. At the CBC meeting spot, we had flocks of robins and blackbirds flying over, along with a few crows and ravens. Then it was off to our spot, a private ranch at the bottom of a canyon whose name I can't remember. After a slow start, the birds started picking up as we headed further down the canyon - Black-billed Magpie, Cooper's Hawk, Golden Eagle, Canyon Wren, Townsend's Solitaire, Spotted Towhee, Brown Creeper, Rock Wren, Wild Turkey, and big flocks of juncos. We also found some fresh cougar tracks, which led to a fenceline and out of the canyon, so we unfortunately didn't get to see it. Once we had exhausted the canyon, we headed back up to open ground and managed to find Western Meadowlark, Western Bluebird, and Rough-legged Hawk before heading back into town. At what I think was called the fairgrounds, we wandered around, adding Green-winged Teal, Yellow-rumped Warbler (both Myrtle and Audubon's), and Cedar Waxwing. Then the count was over, and we headed to Paonia to visit Jason Beason's house, the guy we did the CBC with. At his house we managed to find the Harris's Sparrow that was overwintering, along with a few Lewis's Woodpeckers. With those found, we decided to head back to Delta to boost our day list, managing to find all the ducks and geese we had seen previously there and adding Bufflehead and Bushtit to the year list. Then it was back to Grand Junction, where a post-sunset wander found us Gambel's Quail almost in Jacob's backyard. Today was our highest single-day species count, with 56.
Day 6 (Jan. 4, 2010)
After a late start, we headed to Denver via Loveland Pass for our longest driving day of the trip (~900km). It's a good thing Colorado speed limits are fairly high, otherwise we wouldn't have made the trip in one day and still had time to bird. On the way to Loveland, we added two new birds to the trip list - Common and Hooded Mergansers. Some other highlights were American Dipper, Rough-legged Hawk, and Bald Eagle. At the top of the pass (elevation 11, 990 ft), we only had one goal bird, and that was ptarmigan. After a short hike up a small hill by the parking lot to get over 12, 000 feet, I took a couple panoramas and then it was a long hike up to around 12, 500 feet to look for the ptarmigan. Despite the wind and fairly cold temps (windchill ~-25C), we managed to get one ptarmigan to respond to a tape (lifer #8), although we never ended up finding it despite it being (seemingly) right under us. After about a half hour of wandering around, we gave up as we were both getting cold and I was starting to feel the effects of too much walking at high altitudes. We then headed off to the lowlands of Red Rocks Park (elev. 6300 feet) to meet Holly Garrod and find a Golden-crowned Sparrow. After a bit of a wait, the sparrow finally showed up - lifer #9 of the trip, and my last one before heading home. Some other birds at the feeder were Western Scrub-Jay, House Finch, and 4 subsp. of Dark-eyed Junco. We then headed to Chatfield State Park, where we failed to find the Green-tailed Towhee that had been reported there. We did however add American Tree Sparrow to the trip list. Then it was a long drive back to Jacob's house, most of it in the dark.
Day 7 (Jan. 5, 2010)
We decided to head up and over the Grand Mesa (elev. 10, 800 feet) to find some high-elevation species for the list. Along the way to the Mesa we found only the common species that we'd seen many times during the trip. A stop at some feeders near the top of the Mesa got us both Mountain and Black-capped Chickadees, along with Gray and Steller's Jays. We also had a close encounter with an American Dipper that allowed us to within 6 feet as it swam around eating fish eggs. We tried to lure the Steller's Jay in for pictures with some Pop Tarts that we were snacking on, but only succeeded in getting the chickadees and Gray Jays to come in. Further up the Mesa, we failed in our attempts to find crossbills and finches, but did have a few Clark's Nutcrackers flying around. Then it was down the other side, where we had Golden Eagle, Western Scrub-Jay, House Finch, Cooper's Hawk, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. In Delta, we found Lewis's Woodpecker, Western and Mountain Bluebirds, and the same ducks and geese as before. Our reasoning for coming to Delta so much was that there were reports of Snow, Ross's, and Greater White-fronted Geese from the lake, although they never made an appearance for us. Then it was back to Jacob's, where a quick stop at the monument got us Cassin's Finch for the yearlist. An after-supper journey to the Utah border scored us a Long-eared Owl, our sixth owl species for the trip.
Day 8 (Jan. 6, 2010)
My last day in Colorado, we spent the morning doing a quick run around Grand Junction to pick up some last year birds before my flight home. We had some success, getting Great-tailed Grackle and Ferruginous Hawk as my last new birds for 2010 from Colorado. Then it was off to the airport for another long day of plane rides - Grand Junction, CO - Dallas, TX - Detroit, MI - Sault Ste. Marie, MI was the route I took, and I got home shortly after midnight. Overall, it was a fun trip and a nice getaway from Ontario/Michigan birding, my first since July 2008. A big thanks goes to the Cooper family for putting up with me for a week and making sure my trip was enjoyable, and to the many birders I met who gave us advice on where to find some species or for letting us stay at their house.
The trip list is below, lifers in bold, heard-onlys denoted with a (h) - all but 3 species (Hermit Thrush, Pinyon Jay, and Merlin) were seen in 2010 and all but the Merlin were in Colorado.
White-tailed Ptarmigan (h)
Great Blue Heron
Virginia Rail (h)
Great Horned Owl (h)
Long-eared Owl (h)
Boreal Owl (h)
Northern Saw-whet Owl
American Tree Sparrow
Cassin's Finch (h)
Number of Species: 91