Saturday, April 22, 2017

My Spirit Bird! - 13 Apr 2017

I was thinking that seeing the Swainson’s Hawk soaring overhead was the highlight of the morning. I was wrong.

I continued on Co-120 E to Co-69 S when I spotted a large raptor soaring a ½-mile away to my left. Thinking it was a Turkey Vulture I paid it little mind until it paused to kite over the field now a ¼-mile away. Rough-legged Hawk!  It continued moving in my direction so I sped up to try to catch up with it when it passed the road up ahead. I would be stunned to see it stop 10 feet over the car and begin kiting next to the road. I had time to grab the camera and take dozens of photos as it hovered just a few feet away. 

The show didn’t end there. The bird, a juvenile, then dipped over the windshield of the car and landed on the wooden post on the passenger side of the car. I was able to turn the car in the middle of the road and photograph it just a few feet away from the driver side.


The young Rough-legged Hawk preened for several moments, then scanned the ditch for prey, all while I was just a few feet away shooting away w/ the camera. I was able to see what it was thinking I was that close!

When it flew back up the road to the next post I decided to grab the scope and get some digiscoped images. I managed to get several frames before it flew to a few more posts. 

Since I needed to turn around I drove back the corner of Co-120 and Co-69 and took a few more photos before leaving it to (hopefully) find prey.

I always worry about seeing Rough-legged Hawks in April and May, as it reminds me of the one I found several years ago at Pt. Mouillee SGA in May 200? It also circled close to me before continuing to hunt, only to be found 2 days later dead of starvation. So, as I drove off I said a quiet prayer that it will survive to see many more seasons in the Pawnee National Grasslands.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Pawnee National Grasslands - 13 Apr 2017

I was out the door at 6 am and off to Pawnee National Grasslands located in Weld Co. about 2 hrs NE of Denver. US-25 N to Co-14 E to Co-77 N and then W on Co-96, which was labeled w/ a “Bird Tour” sign. While driving east on Co-14 I passed a large Prairie Dog colony and managed to find a pair of Burrowing Owls among them. The other highlight was seeing a Bald Eagle on a power pole out in the middle of nowhere!

As soon as I turned onto Co-96 I was in the short-grass prairie and immediately surrounded by hundreds of Horned Larks and singing Western Meadowlarks. I was hoping to see McGown’s Longspurs in this stretch of the Grasslands, as I had the last time I visited. But, there would be now longspurs today. I’m guessing that its still too early for them, Mountain Plovers, Lark Buntings and sparrows. No problem though, as I had plenty of Western Meadowlarks to photograph.

A Prairie Falcon flushed from the grass next to the road, but flew out of sight before I could get the camera on it. I would see it a second time, but still would not get any pics. An American Kestrel was a bit more cooperative, but kept flying before I could get close enough to photograph it through the passenger window. I would have to settle for pics of Pronghorn Antelope foraging near the fences.


My route through the Grasslands was west on Co-96 to Co-57 N where I found a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes

A Vesper’s Sparrow was the first sparrow of this trip.

From Co-57 I then took Co-106 W to Co-45 N to Co-122 E then Co-120 S and E. The route was uneventful, but the scenery was beautiful. Things are really dry here. Rains are needed.

Things turned around on Co-120, though. I spotted the silhouette of a large hawk sitting in a tree ¼ mile from the road. The bird took off and began soaring. I quickly surmised a Swainson’s Hawk based on wing shape. What I didn’t expect was the bird flying toward me in order to check me out. I was a bit surprised when it soared directly overhead and circled several times before continuing on.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR - 12 Apr 2017

After dropping Robin off at the DaVinci Institute I headed 8 miles away to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR. Situated just east of Denver this former bombing range is now a grassland preserve that is home to Western Meadowlarks, Prairie Dogs, Bison and Mule Deer

I arrived at the 64th Street Entrance and drove into the NWR, stopping by the pond on my left and seeing Cinnamon Teal (8), American Avocet (4) and Mallards. I would return to the pond to digiscope the birds once I made an initial loop around the place. Western Meadowlarks were all over the place, as were several pairs of Black-billed Magpies

I spent some time photographing the numerous Prairie Dogs. Although the ladies at the Visitor Center said that Burrowing Owls were all over the place, I failed to see a single bird during the morning and evening hours. 

The Bison area had signs indicating that they are present and possible hazards. I found one standing in the middle of the road and blocking traffic in both directions. Several more were on either side of the road and quietly enjoying the mild morning.


At the Visitor Center I found a Say’s Phoebe.

I then went over to the pond and spent some time digiscoping Prairie Dogs, Horned Larks, and the American Avocets. The Cinnamon Teal were too far to get any real closeup images. 

Back in the car I made another loop, this time to Rattlesnake Hill to see if any Burrowing Owls could be seen. No luck. But, I did get some images of soaring Swainson’s Hawks, a closeup of a Western Meadowlark, Black-billed Magpie.


I found the Wildlife Drive a bit too late. I was supposed to have lunch today w/ my old boss, so I had to forego the drive until later this afternoon (w/ Robin). But, along the way I did get some shots of an American Kestrel, saw/heard an Eastern Phoebe, and saws dozens of American Coot, Mallard, Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, American Wigeon, Gadwall, and Hooded Mergansers on the small lake and larger reservoir near the entrance to the Wildlife Drive.

The evening drive through the Wildlife Drive was fairly uneventful. The Prairie Dogs were out in force, and beside three Swainson’s Hawk I saw little else. Just as well, as I did not have any camera equipment this time.

It was wonderful catching up w/ Dr. Glenn Martin, my old boss, colleague, mentor and friend after 10 years. We had a great lunch at Saltgrass Steak House near the hotel. Good times!

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