Colorado weather has been kind to us; we began day two under bright sunny skies, temperatures in the 30’s and light wind and finished the day in the mid 60’s. Our first stop at Windsor Lake yielded few gulls, but great looks at Western and Clark’s Grebe, providing good comparisons. Other waterfowl included shoveler, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneyes, Bufflehead and Horned Grebe. We stopped to view a large flock of gulls in a field on our way into Fort Collins, comprising of Franklin’s, California and Ring-billed.
A pair of White-winged Crossbills (above – male), an uncommon breeder in Colorado, were raising two chicks at Grandview Cemetery in Fort Collins. We got amazing scope views of the nest high up in the dense boughs of a tall spruce tree. A Red-breasted Nuthatch and Pine Siskin also enjoyed that corner of the cemetery.
It wouldn’t be a birding trip without a stop at a landfill! (above). In North Weld County we viewed thousands of gulls soaring and swooping around the active garbage trucks, but none of the reported white-wings. We did find one Lesser Black-backed Gull – a first for the Colorado trip – among Ring-billed, Franklins, Herring and California.
We spent the remainder of the morning birding in the Pawnee National Grasslands (above) in northeast Colorado. The shortgrass plains spread out for miles of gently rolling hills, cut by dirt roads and lined with barbed-wire fences. Western Meadowlarks sang melodiously from fence posts, as dozens of Horned Larks flew nervously in the grasses. Our first scope search produced a pair of Mountain Plovers, distinctive but hazy in the distant heat shimmer – a life bird for many in the group! Burrowing Owls posed atop Prairie-dog mounds, while Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks and a Ferruginous Hawk soared overhead.
The first of many Thirteen-lined Ground-squirrels (above) scooted through the grass, then stood up straight to peer at us. It took a while, but we finally fulfilled our quest for longspurs with a nice pair of McCown’s stalking around a debris-filled area that was apparently quite popular with clay-pigeon shooters. Near the highway, an large area of cow dung attracted 7 Mountain Plovers in close view, and a pair of Killdeer.
The Crow Valley campgrounds in Briggsdale proved popular for birders, as word quickly spread about a Yellow-throated Warbler (above) in a shady grove. We appreciated the bird as well as the bathroom break. In our last pass through the Pawnees, at Murphy’s Pasture, the freshly-graded dirt roads attracted many Horned Larks and longspurs, giving us good looks at McCown’s, including a displaying pair (below), but no confirmed Chestnut-collared. A Loggerhead Shrike perched predictably on a wire, adding to our growing list.
The two-and-a-half hour drive east to Wray was surprisingly void of birds, but we managed to get two great views of Rough-legged Hawks, one soaring right over the vehicle. Several Ring-necked Pheasants were seen close to our destination. Mostly we saw acres of monotonous fields dotted with grain silos, oil pumps, windmills, dusty pick-up trucks, weathered farm buildings, and expansive feed lots where beef cows awaited their fate in huge pens. The “All-America City” of Wray greeted us with a giant banner reading, “Welcome Prairie-chicken viewers.” After a quick dinner at Subway, we attended an orientation about the Greater Prairie-chickens, and what to expect at the leks. Tomorrow promises to be another exciting day!