Sunday, August 23, 2015

Colorado Canyonlands

I spent some time at the western edge of Colorado where the landscape is very dry and the canyons are very deep.

MacGillivray's Warbler

In addition to the scenery, there was an opportunity to search out some birds that are representative of the region, a few of which I hadn't seen before.

Painted Wall, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

In Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park my target bird was Green-tailed Towhee. After hiking the southern rim of the canyon for about an hour I was successful, but in the heat of the day the bird remained mostly concealed in the shade of the junipers so I was unable to get a photograph.

Gray Vireo

In Colorado National Monument my target birds were Gray Vireo and Virginia's Warbler; two range-restricted songbirds that are more-or-less confined to the "four corners" region of the southwestern United States.

Virginia's Warbler

Rim Rock Drive, the main road that traverses Colorado National Monument, is an excellent vantage point from which to view Golden Eagles and Turkey Vultures as they soar along the canyon rim.

Golden Eagle

Independence Rock, Colorado National Monument

On my return to Denver, I stopped at Vega State Park mid-way up the western slope of the Rockies where I was fortunate to observe a very obliging Dusky Flycatcher; a bird that I had somehow missed on previous trips out west.

Dusky Flycatcher

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Black Swifts of Box Canyon Falls

Nesting Black Swifts tend to be difficult to observe as they typically occupy nest sites behind inaccessible mountain waterfalls. An exception is the well established nesting site at Box Canyon Falls in Ouray, Colorado where I visited recently.

Black Swift

Box Canyon Falls is itself a natural wonder; over time the rushing waters of Canyon Creek have eroded a deep tunnel or "box canyon" through a layer of fault-weakened limestone. The resulting waterfalls, surrounded by canyon walls on all sides is ideal for nesting Black Swifts. The site is easily accessible by a short trail and the canyon walls can be directly accessed via a metal scaffold and suspension bridge.

The State of Colorado is the stronghold of the breeding range of the North American race of Black Swift, and Colorado has been extensively censused for the breeding locations of these birds. Information about the life history as well as details about the efforts to record the nesting sites of these birds has been documented here. North American Black Swifts are migratory, however there is a separate Caribbean race of Black Swift that is non-migratory. It is noteworthy that Black Swift was the final North American migratory bird to have its wintering grounds confirmed; a discovery that was not made until 2010.*

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Other birds in the vicinity included Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Cordilleran Flycatcher, American Dipper, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak and Cassin's Finch.

"Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler

As a side note, Ouray is a mountain town that attracts various tourists and adventure seekers. The most prominent activity in the summertime is off-roading and there were abundant jeep rental agencies in the area.

Ouray, CO

*Beason, J.P., C. Gunn, K.M. Potter, R.A. Sparks, and J.W. Fox. 2012. The Northern Black Swift: Migration Path and Wintering Area Revealed. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 124:1-8.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

BMW Birding on Mount Bierstadt

I visited my best friend in Colorado last week and we had a blast of a time. Although birding was not the main purpose of my visit, I was still able to get a few photographs of some great Colorado birds.

BMW 1-Series Convertible

Getting around together was made considerably more exciting in Matt's bimmer. Let's just say it gets a lot more attention than my Honda Civic.

We decided we should hike a mountain, and Mount Bierstadt was a nearby choice. Mount Bierstadt is not far from Denver in the front range of the Rocky Mountains and is one of Colorado's 14ers (mountains that exceed 14,000' elevation). We huffed and puffed our way to the summit and were rewarded on the way back down by a sighting of a hen White-tailed Ptarmigan and her two chicks.

White-tailed Ptarmigan

Hen & Chick


There is not a great variety of birds likely to be encountered at this elevation but we did see Clark's Nutcracker, Common Raven, White-crowned Sparrow and a recently fledged American Robin. It was odd to see the Robin at several thousand feet above the tree line, and I'm not exactly sure what it was doing there.

We were also fortunate to see a nice assortment of alpine mammals.

Mountain Goat

Bighorn Sheep

Yellow-bellied Marmot