The Loggerhead Shrike – Threatened in Minnesota but Living Large in Kandiyohi County

Loggerhead Shrike along Co. Rd. 118 about 2 miles east of MN Hwy 9

Though it looks a lot like its Northern Shrike cousin which can be found pretty regularly in the winter months all over Minnesota (they’ve even been in my yard couple times), the Loggerhead Shrike is a summertime bird that is tough to find in Minnesota.  Really tough. Other birders in the county often recall Loggerhead sightings in the county as a rate in birds seen per decade.  It’s a rare event indeed.  In fact, the Loggerhead Shrike is scarce throughout the state and was deemed a Minnesota threatened species by the DNR in 1984 and is now being considered as a Minnesota endangered species.  Recent surveys by the DNR have found fewer than 30 nests in the state.  This species used to be more common.  Its decline in population has been attributed to grassland habitat loss through more rural development, more intensive row-crop farming, and the encroachment of brush and shrubs on grasslands.  Additionally the increased use of pesticides may be cutting down on the shrikes’ food supply since they prey on insects.

I have had the good fortune of seeing Loggerhead Shrikes a couple times in Minnesota – twice at Felton Prairie in Clay County and once along a roadside near Herman in Grant County.  But I had been wanting to see one in Kandiyohi County.  Joel Schmidt found one earlier this spring, but it was probably just passing through because I was never able to get on it.

Jeff Weitzel also had seen one in the county by Willmar High School this spring.  I chased after that one a couple times but could never locate it.  Then, a couple weeks ago I got a text from Jeff that he saw one again at the high school and I later found out that he’d seen a shrike off and on there throughout the summer.  I went out that day several hours after I got the text and was able to get my Kandiyohi County Loggerhead.  A great bird to see anywhere in the state, but especially fun to see one just a few miles from home.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Joel Schmidt went to see the bird the next day and amazingly he found three shikes! Better yet was that two of them were juveniles.  This was an historic find because the Loggerhead Shrike has never been known to nest in Kandiyohi County before.  It was a banner day.

I went out the following day to hopefully see all these birds to document this finding for eBird.  I lucked out.  Not only did I see Joel’s three, but I found one more for a total of four birds!  The three juveniles obliged me by posing together briefly in the same tree.  How do you like that photo documentation, eBird?

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

I enjoy this bird a lot. To not only see one close so to home but also to know there is a little Loggerhead factory going on is quite special.  The habitat at the high school is ideal because there is nearly a half square mile of undeveloped prairie land interspersed with tree rows and sporadic shrubs.  Much of this land is owned by the school or is part of the Willmar Wildlife Management Area.  Because Loggerhead Shrikes have strong site fidelity when it comes to nesting and because this land will remain undeveloped, I am hoping that we will have many Loggerhead Shrikes for years to come.  The more I bird the more I have come to understand how fragile certain species are and how important conservation is for the maintenance and revival of such species.  This little success story is encouraging for future birds and birders.

This Crew Breaks for Lifers

It’s not done.  Nope.  Home improvement enthusiasts will be let down while birding aficionados will rejoice that we have not let some silly bathroom remodel stop us from birding rather than the other way around.  But I’ll throw a bone to the former group by saying that we are getting there.  Like a jigsaw puzzle nearing its completion, the bathroom’s starting to fall now with rapid, visible changes taking place daily.  The truth is that I used to enjoy such work, but now it’s a chore — a horrible, dirty, dusty, cementy, go-to-the-eye-doctor-to-remove-a-foreign-object-embedded-in-the-cornea kind of chore. Each day that I go to my little 7x7x7 cube to endure such misery, I secretly hope that call or that email will come in alerting us to a birding emergency.  Last weekend as I was getting set to start working on mudding and taping the drywall, such a call came in.  It was Joel.  He had a Black-crowned Night Heron for us.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  Time to roll.

Our list of life bird needs for our area is so short that all the guys here know it fairly well. All that remain are a handful of elusive and reclusive birds as well as a few shorebirds. The Black-crowned Night Heron is one such needed lifer.  And one such needed work break.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

The photo is not much to look at, but we were fighting some serious distance.

Evan MarinIt’s a good thing Joel came out to point it out to us.  Even with the right location, I doubt I ever would have found the heron.  Evan felt the need to point this one out to his sister. It was pretty cute.

Evan Marin

After this we went to Kandiyohi County’s main shorebird spot, Carlson’s Dairy just west of Pennock.  We were after another lifer Joel had for us, the Semipalmated Plover.  We couldn’t find one at Carlson’s though. Try as we might, we just could not turn this young Killdeer into our bird.

Juvenile Killdeer

Juvenile Killdeer

Besides the little life bird excursion, the Blue Grosbeak searches, and all the in-state and out-of-state trips, I’ve been procastinating the bathroom project by hunting locally for another would-be lifer, the Wood Thrush.  A couple weeks ago Evan and I went to a spot marked out by Joel north of Sibley State Park.  We were successful in hearing our bird, two of them actually. It was another story seeing this brush-loving understory dweller. I guess we can only count it as a heard-only lifer, an oxymoron in the language of birders.  It’s tough to be so close but so blind.  At least I knew the song well now – owned it in fact.  So much was the case that as I was sitting by Melissa on the couch that evening while she was playing Hay Day on her iPad, the background farm sounds reached out and grabbed me.  I hollered for her to turn up the volume as I put my ear to the speaker.  And there it was, clear as a bell. Mixed in with the farm animal noises was a singing Wood Thrush.  Awesome, but also very cruel to be taunted by this repetitive bird song.

Wood Thrushes must love farms because another birding friend, Brad, called me a week or so later saying he had a Wood Thrush at his farm place. Off we went instead of doing work on the bathroom.  This time, though, we neither heard nor saw the bird even though we were hot on its tail. Argh.

But this story of procrastination does have a good finish even if the bathroom does not yet have the same thing.  Randy was at Carlson’s the other day and said there were Semipalmated Plovers all over the place.  Sweet.  Evan declined to go with me — he’s been burned by this bird too many times at this spot which is nearly a half hour away.  He had a farm to build on Hay Day and Wood Thrushes to listen to.

So I went to Carlson’s solo and put the Semipalmated Plover to rest.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

As a bonus I was able to use a recording to lure in one of several calling Soras, another heard-only lifer at this point. It was magical as I watched the ditch grass move like a snake where a Sora was sprinting his way toward me.  And then, he poked his head out in a small clearing allowing me to see his bright yellow beak.  He sized me up and then quickly disappeared once again into the grasses.  Two more life birds on the books. The wish-list for local stuff is really getting short now.

I suppose, though.  It’s time to get that bathroom knocked out.  But even if I find myself distracted by going out on the roads chasing a migrant, a vagrant, or a hermit, I’m still doing bathroom research.  The ingenuity of this farmer proves I have so much more to learn.

IMG_0415

By-product Birds of a Blue Grosbeak Search

As much fun as it’s been to find Blue Grosbeaks, I’ve had some other fun bird sightings while prowling the countryside looking for those blue birds.  This is a quick post (a quick post is a fun post) where I’ll display these bonus birds in ascending order of rarity.

First up is an adult male Orchard Oriole.  Prior to this summer I had never seen a mature male.  Now I seem to run into them regularly, and this one even let me take a couple pictures before it disappeared.

Adult male Orchard Oriole

Adult male Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole

What could be better-looking and more rare than an Orchard Oriole?  How about this fine Red-headed Woodpecker.  Seeing these guys never gets old.  I have to stop for every one.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

But what could possibly top a Red-headed Woodpecker? Read on, and you’ll see. Randy and I were out driving the southern part of Kandiyohi County checking out a probable Blue Grosbeak site (at least it looked that way on the satellite photos).  It turns out the site was a bust, far from Blue Grosbeak habitat.  It was a huge marsh.  All was not lost, though.  Since Randy was driving I was checking out all the hawks we’d see. Normally I don’t check hawks too closely because we basically just have Red-taileds. I’m sure glad I took the time to look up at this hawk though because it was a Swainson’s!  I couldn’t believe it.  I just saw one for the first time ever a couple weeks prior and now I see one in Minnesota, in my own county no less!  Randy can only recall seeing a Swainson’s Hawk four or five times Kandiyohi County in his 25 years of birding.  It was a magnificent sight.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

The Blue Grosbeak hunt goes on.  Finding Blue Grosbeaks has been fun, but with birds like these it’s fun even if we don’t find any.  But the Blue Grosbeak hunt isn’t the only thing that’s been going on bird-wise around here.  Coming up, we’ve even managed to squeeze in a couple lifers and document a historic nesting record for Kandiyohi County.

Investigating a Probable Range and Population Expansion of the Blue Grosbeak in Minnesota

Blue Grosbeak

Though we racked up double-digit lifers in Colorado, that trip is a distant birding memory.  The birding back home has been incredibly exciting.  More is at play than just adding a life bird or getting that beautiful photo.  Instead, there’s been some serious citizen-science going on.

Let me get to the point.  I believe that the Blue Grosbeak is expanding its range in Minnesota and growing in numbers, so I have been doing some investigating to back up my theory.  I can remember when I first became a birder how I badly wanted to see a Blue Grosbeak. Imagine my surprise then, when I learned that they are a rare, regular species in the very southwestern corner of Minnesota.  Specifically, Blue Mounds State Park in Rock County is the place to see them.  That’s where we got our lifer last year.

pass_caer_AllAm_map

Range map of the Blue Grosbeak from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/blue_grosbeak/id

But then I saw them further to the northeast at Cottonwood in each of the last two years when they were discovered by Garrett Wee.  I started to get curious about this species growing in numbers when Garrett reported them two years in a row.  Additionally he found a nest this year.  The site fidelity was intriguing.

Randy Frederickson furthered my curiosity when he said he was hoping to someday find a Blue Grosbeak in Kandiyohi County.  I could hardly believe that he would think it was possible, but then he told me how he and Joel Schmidt found a family of Blue Grosbeaks in Renville County just six miles south of the Renville-Kandiyohi county line in 2012.  So last week I decided to head to this location in Renville County which was the Olivia compost site.  I wanted to see if the Blue Grosbeaks were still around a couple years later.  If they were, I wanted to document them for eBird.  Some birders have been documenting their Blue Grosbeak sightings, and it is apparent that the Blue Grosbeak has gone beyond its normal Minnesota home of Rock County, the very southwestern corner of the state.

The red dot is where we live.  Blue Grosbeaks have traditionally been found in just the very southwestern corner of Minnesota which is much less territory than what this sightings map indicates

The red dot is where we live. Blue Grosbeaks have traditionally been found in just the very southwestern corner of Minnesota which is much less territory than what this sightings map indicates

I did not find any Blue Grosbeaks at the compost site where Randy and Joel found them two years prior.  Not wanting to waste a trip, I had scouted satellite imagery of the area ahead of time looking for any gravel pits or waste areas as Blue Grosbeaks prefer this type of habitat.  In our sea of green, these areas are habitat islands.  Unlike the arid southwest, this type of desert-wash habitat is rare here and makes for easy places to look for the Blue Grosbeak.  If they are in the area, they are going to be in one of these pockets of habitat.

Blue Grosbeak

I checked out the gravel pit pictured above just a mile from where the Blue Grosbeaks were seen in 2012.  Almost immediately upon arriving I heard a singing male Blue Grosbeak. I was absolutely thrilled, even more so when I finally got to lay eyes on it.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak at NE corner of gravel pit on west side of 300th St. just south of 840th Ave.

I was pretty pleased with the find and reported the bird to the listserv, MOU-net, so other birders could see it.  But after I was at home and studying satellite images again, I realized I didn’t fully explore the area.  It turns out that the pit I stopped at is part of about a four-mile tract of old gravel pits. I went back two days later intent to check out more of the area.  When I got to the site of the Grosbeak pictured above, I ran into Ron Erpelding and Herb Dingmann who had just seen the bird and were listening to a second bird nearly a mile away from the first one!  Now I was really excited to get my search underway.  I took every north-south road that intersected this tract of gravel deposits.  And on each road I found a singing male Blue Grosbeak!  With Ron and Herb’s bird, that made for five male Blue Grosbeaks. It was unbelievable yet believable because of the habitat I was exploring.

Locations of where I found Blue Grosbeak males; the bottom-right marker is the bird found by Ron Erpelding and Herb Dingmann

Locations of where I found Blue Grosbeak males; the bottom-right marker is the bird found by Ron Erpelding and Herb Dingmann

Blue Grosbeak at the Danube Brush Site

Blue Grosbeak at the Danube Brush Site just north of Danube on Co. Rd. 1

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak on 280th St. south of 840th Ave. where 280th intersects the gravel pits.

Blue Grosbeak sub-adult male on 270th St. in the trees just south of 840th Ave.

Blue Grosbeak sub-adult male on 270th St. in the trees just south of 840th Ave.

Several birders have made their way to Renville County to find some of these Blue Grosbeaks.  What has been phenomenal is that they are turning up more Blue Grosbeaks at these sites and in other counties while en route!  One was found in Chippewa County by Ron and Herb that same day, and a family of three was found by Ken Larson to the west in Lac qui Parle County.  With this volume of Blue Grosbeaks so far from Rock County, it seems that this species is definitely making its home further north and east than where it is “supposed” to be.  Any bit of suitable habitat in the southern half of the state should be investigated by Minnesota birders.  I have been studying satellite imagery for any hint of gravel or waste areas in area that is dominated by agricultural fields.  I’m particularly interested in finding one here in Kandiyohi County.  We are hopeful that one will make the jump six miles north if one hasn’t already.

The green line is the Kandiyohi County and Renville County Line - Blue Grosbeaks are only six miles away!

The green line is the Kandiyohi County and Renville County Line – Blue Grosbeaks are only six miles away!

The only problem, though, is that we have no gravel pits to speak of in the southern half of our county.  The best and closest habitat, a very large area of several gravel pits, is about 30 miles northeast of all these Grosbeaks.

Blue Grosbeak

We have already been getting a lot of the necessary permissions to enter these lands to begin our search.  Hopefully we can turn one up.

It has been very exciting to not only see Blue Grosbeaks, but to be a witness to a potential range expansion.  Evan asked me the other day, “What’s the big deal about the Blue Grosbeak anyway, is it because it has that red wing-patch or something?”  Yeah, something like that.

Coming up: cool by-product birds from the Blue Grosbeak searches.

Swainson’s Redemption and Nebraska’s New State Bird

All good things must come to end as they say, and this Colorado story is no different. Except this story needs to come to an end because more hard-hitting birding stories have been brewing back home since we got here.  It’s been intense. We’ll catch up on all that later, but for now we must finish the tale of birding Colorado.

Having taken four hours to get to Colorado Springs from Uncle Jon’s (a trip that takes non-birders two hours), we were now ready to hit the plains of eastern Colorado where the birds and landscape would be less inspiring and allow us to push the pedal down and get home. When driving through Colorado you learn that elevation is a big deal as it’s posted on every city’s population sign.  Undoubtedly this was the brain-child of the much cooler mountain cities, and it’s the scourge of those self-concious eastern towns who must display to the world just how elevationally-challenged they are.  The drop in the cool-factor of birds is directly correlated to the simultaneous decreases in elevation and town self esteem.  But what the eastern birds lacked, they made up for with great vigor. Case in point – Western Kingbirds.  They were everywhere and perched boldly on any kind of wire proudly displaying their awesomeness.

Cruising along on U.S. 24 I had a beautifully patterned Swainson’s Hawk come sailing high over the road.  Evan dipped on this bird in South Dakota and pouted about it since I saw it.  Because of this debacle, I kept my mouth shut when I saw one while driving through Denver earlier in the week.  But this time I couldn’t help myself, and I hollered that we had a Swainson’s.  Of course this jarred Evan out of his backseat activities, and he couldn’t get on the bird in time, setting off a fountain of tears.  Apparently he really wanted to see this hawk bad. I turned the car around to chase after it, but it had vanished.  Nuts.

Thankfully, though, that’s not how the Swainson’s saga ends.  As I drove east out of some non-descript town (sorry town, I only remember the names of the cool, high-elevation cities), a Swainson’s Hawk shot up out of nowhere from behind a grassland hill flashing his white wing linings and reddish brown chest as he soared across the road a mere 20 feet off the ground. I hollered. I couldn’t help it.  Evan was panicked.  I pulled over.  Thankfully this bird cooperated and gave Evan his sought-after lifer as it circled on thermals right by the road.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

So it took four Swainson’s Hawks before Evan finally got his lifer and I got my photo documentation.  Then a funny thing happened – or not if you are a birder: they were everywhere.  I bet we saw close to a dozen Swainson’s Hawks by the time we finished out Colorado, nicked Kansas, and then got into Nebraska.  And Nebraska? Well, when I was filling up with gas at some podunk town in the east-central part of the state, Evan was getting out of the car to go into the convenience store and he looked up and said calmly, “Hey Dad, a Swainson’s Hawk.” Sure enough another Swainson’s was cruising low over the gas station canopy!  The Swainson’s no longer had power over Evan, but it was still having an effect on me.  Gas still pumping, I reached for my camera to get try to get a shot of a Nebraska Swainson’s.

Swainson's HawkAre you sick of Swainson’s Hawk photos yet? Too bad!  It’s probably the coolest hawk I know, and there’s even more coming in a future post!

The Swainson’s Hawk alone would have made Nebraska a worthwhile state to drive through as far as birding goes, but surprisingly Nebraska put up another cool bird and lots of them.  No, it wasn’t the Western Meadowlark that holds the title of state bird in Nebraska and like a half dozen other western states (the meadowlark is a cool bird, but really the states all should have drawn bird names out of a hat).  Instead it was the Red-headed Woodpecker. Interesting side note about state birds on the trip – we didn’t see a single Ring-necked Pheasant in South Dakota and only one Lark Bunting in Colorado.

It’s kind of funny how things play out.  After spending a night in Kearney, Nebraska, I missed my road that angled to the northeast.  This forced me to have to go north and east but not northeast – something that aggravated me as a traveler and as someone well-versed in the Pythagorean Theorem.  Compounding the issue was that we hit road construction where we were stopped with a whole long line of cars waiting for the flag lady to let us have our turn to proceed.  Except there was no visible road construction for miles.  We had been waiting for quite awhile with no end in sight.  When the guy in front of me got out of his car, lit up a smoke, and leaned across his hood while jawing with the flag lady, I couldn’t take it any more.  I peeled out of the line and headed back west to go south just to be able to go east and north again.  It was awful and made worse because we were now traveling on gravel roads.  In the flat land of Nebraska, the gravel roads are laid out perfectly on a grid with an intersection every mile.  And they can really grow corn tall in Nebraska, so I was forced to stop at every intersection to avoid a collision.  The agony!

But there is a silver lining to this miserable cloud that seemed to follow us on our journey home.  We spotted a couple Red-headed Woodpeckers.  It is such a pretty bird that is declining in numbers.  It’s a good day any time you see one.  As we kept driving, though, we kept seeing them! Ten in all! It was crazy and fantastic and made the miserable travel worth it.  Melissa said it best when she said this was truly the way to experience Nebraska if you have to experience Nebraska – tall corn, dusty roads, and Red-headed Woodpeckers. Good save, Nebraska.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed WoodpeckerWe also saw a couple of Brown Thrashers, and I even spied a Loggerhead Shrike in a bush as we flew past.  I was too frustrated with the stop-and-go travel to make many voluntary stops for pictures, though.

So, there you have it.  We got home to Minnesota without incident, and the birding has not slowed down a bit since we got here.  Who knew that late July and August could hold such bird wonders back home of all places?  Stay tuned.

Custer’s Last Stand

As I packed the car that last morning in Colorado, the Western Tanager was weighing heavily on my mind.  Yes, I had seen it earlier in the week, but the quick looks and obscured photos were unsatisfactory. Additionally Evan wanted it too.  There would be time for one last play. But I doubted that play and felt that Custer County was going to defeat us as it had us surrounded with Western Tanager-less mountains (or so it seemed).  Custer was the last option to see WETA as we’d be heading east out of Colorado into lower elevations and windswept grasslands.

I had been debating two options for that play – back to Forest Service Road 383 by Bishop’s Castle where six WETA had been reported or back to Greenwood Road where two had been reported.  I got skunked on 383 earlier, and it just didn’t give me a good vibe overall.  I finally settled on Greenwood Road; it wasn’t as much of a detour, and I had previous success there. Statistically speaking it was the worse bet, but sometimes a birder has to follow his gut.

With that decision made, we said our goodbyes and began descending the mountain to the Wet Mountain Valley below.  As I drove away, fear of not seeing the bird mixed with doubt about my decision.  All this was churning inside when I spotted a larger bird at the top of a Ponderosa while that mountain home was still visible and looming large up on the mountain behind us.  I had quickly become acclimated to the new species at Jon and Carol’s house and this one didn’t fit any of the profiles. Even as I reached for my binoculars on the floor of my car I had a strong suspicion of what I was about to see and could hardly get those bins up fast enough.  And my suspicion was right for I was looking at a Clark’s Nutcracker! Oh yeah!

Clark's Nutcracker

Clark’s Nutcracker

Evan looked up to get his check mark while I hopped out to follow this bird around a bit and get some photos.  I had hoped I would get this bird in Colorado, but I had read it’s a high elevation bird near the timberline.  Needless to say I was quite surprised and delighted to find one at 8,300 feet.  The whole time I observed it, it made this rasping, croaking sound.  I had heard that sound the past couple days but didn’t know what was making it.

Clark's NutcrackerClark's NutcrackerThis was quite the thrill seeing this cool bird.  Every new western species I find is a double bonus – it is one more for the life list and one less vagrant to chase in Minnesota.  I missed out on a Clark’s in Minnesota just before I really got serious about birding.

Now the prospect of potentially losing out on Western Tanager was easier to stomach. We eventually left the Clark’s to do his croaking and eating in peace, and we later arrived at the Greenwood Road for the moment of truth.  This road is a few miles long with very few inhabitants.  It was a nice, quiet, birdy-kind-of-road.  Not wanting to make this trip agonizingly long for the family, I was traveling around 25 mph – slow enough to bird but not too slow to keep us from making decent progress on our way home. Melissa then told me I’d never see anything going that fast.  (Isn’t she great?) Ok, then, so I dropped it down to 5 mph.  Melissa asked me what we were looking for so she could help.  Some of you may remember that she found all five of those Aitkin County Great Gray Owls and that bevy of Burrowing Owls in Arizona.  Anyhow, I explained the red, yellow, and black pattern to her of the tanager.  I no sooner said it and she pointed and said there was a bright yellow and black bird in the pine just ahead of us.  No binoculars were needed to see we already found the Western Tanager!  Of course, Evan couldn’t see it and the pressure or exhaustion was getting to him and the tears started coming.  I hopped out to grab a photo while Melissa was able to get him on the bird.  But that sneaky WETA was using his best goldfinch disguise.  I only got this shot before it flew across the road and down to the ground.

Western Tanager

I watched and watched the spot where it flew to the ground.  What in the world? They’re supposed to be birds who prefer the tops of conifers.  Eventually I figured it out as the now soggy Western Tanager flew up to a bush after bathing in the quiet mountain stream that was running alongside the road.

Western Tanager

The bird continued to sit in one spot, preening itself.  Even though it was still, the distance was too great and the bird too wet for any remarkable photo.

Western Tanager

Eventually it flew, and I couldn’t relocate it.  It was nice to get this one for Evan.  I was also able to improve my photo of the bird just a little, so I was content.  Even still, we kept birding.  There could be more Western Tanagers around.  We saw some empids, and based on eBird reports they were probably new birds for us.  I didn’t care though.  I will fight the empid identification battle in retirement when I have more time.  Time was precious right now, and I wanted to see more Western Tanagers with our last remaining minutes in the mountains.

Evan and I searching for WETA on foot on Greenwood Road, Custer County, Colorado

Evan and I searching for Western Tanagers along Greenwood Road, Custer County, Colorado

Reaching the end of the short Greenwood Road, we turned around to drive down it and back one more time.  Good thing we did because I saw another(?) Western Tanager fly across the road.  I got one photo before it was gone for good. Not a crush, but it was enough to defeat Custer.

Western Tanager

Western Tanager

Though I was still ignoring empids and the like, there was a bird I couldn’t ignore because its size, its numbers, and its awesomeness wouldn’t allow it. From a streamside Willow Tree, a half dozen big birds flushed high into the pines above.  From the same eBird report I had read earlier, I knew these were Band-tailed Pigeons!  And they kept pouring out of that tree.  We must have seen 20.

Band-tailed Pigeons

Band-tailed Pigeon

Band-tailed Pigeon

Band-tailed Pigeon

Two big bonus lifers (three for Evan) and the number one target nailed – I think we beat you, Custer.  In the last post I had said this would be the final Colorado post, but leaving the mountains is a natural break in the story and a good place to stop.  The story of the rest of the journey home will be a short and sweet post and will truly be the last one. Colorado had one more big gift for Evan, and Nebraska surprised us.

Raising Birding to a Whole New Level in Custer County, Colorado

After racking up 11 lifers from a mere two hours of dedicated birding and even less time from happenstance birding along the highways and biways, this trip had already been phenomenal.  Now if the opposite were true, one could use the oft-quoted phrase, “There’s nowhere to go but up.”  But this is Colorado, after all, so that phrase is still applicable whether you’re on a mountain-top high of birding or just on an actual mountain-top.  And we proved it so in Custer County where my Aunt Carol and Uncle Jon live, our final Colorado destination.

As I had done previously, I did a fair amount of eBird scouting for this new terrain we were about to traverse.  In particular I wanted one bird more than any other – the Western Tanager.  A bright yellow and black bird with a red face is something I just had to see for myself.  Some life birds are more than just checks on a list; their mind-blowing beauty haunts you until you’ve finally put them to rest.  Though I tried, I could not spot this conifer forest dweller in the Blackhills of South Dakota.  My next attempt would have to be in the mountains of south-central Colorado.

It turns out that one eBird report by Rich Miller of two Western Tanagers was conveniently located along the Greenwood Road which paralled our highway as we made our way through the Wet Mountains along the Hardscrabble Pass. I nearly missed this unassuming road but saw it at the last minute and did what any birder would do – swerve hard and jolt the non-birding occupants.  As we puttered along this road, I really didn’t expect to see the tanager.  It was just a chance I was taking.  I knew that I’d probably have to search for it properly once we got settled at my aunt and uncle’s place. But then it magically happened – almost too perfect.  A flash of brilliant yellow and black cut across the road interrupting – or rather accentuating – our sky blue and forest green vista.  Unbelievable!  The car was immediately rendered immobile and the hunt was on.  I hopped out and watched and watched where it landed but did not see it.  Evan was still in the car at this point waiting for me to do the heavy-lifting of finding the bird.  He wanted to see it bad too, but he apparently needed a sure thing in order to take his attention off his iPad. As luck would have it, though, the bird flew back to the other side of the road!  I motioned for Evan to come out.  Now I had to do two things at once – point out the bird and try to get a photo.  I was not very successful at either.

Western Tanager

Western Tanager

How does a bird hide in a dead tree?  Moreover, how did I not see a yellow, red, and black bird leave a dead tree with a blue sky background?  Evan claimed he could still see it up there and I believed him.  But five minutes later after I couldn’t find it and he still claimed he was looking at it in the exact same spot, I had to break the news to him that he was not looking at the bird or even a bird at all.   Then the tears set in – not necessarily because he didn’t see it, but because Dad had seen it and he didn’t.  That’s a stinging feeling that every birder has felt at some point.  The “You should have been here 5-minutes ago” or “You just missed it” phenomenon.  We’ve all been there.  Evan is at least honest enough to cry about it like the rest of us want to but can’t.

But we were moving on and moving upward and Evan calmed down. On this same road I saw an interesting bird checking out a hole in a dead tree.  I had seen reports of Lewis’s Woodpeckers here, but I was really hoping it wasn’t a Lewis’s Woodpecker.  Getting one that easy would have been frustrating since I woke up at 2 AM to make a 14-hour round-trip to the Canadian border to see one last November.  Looking through the binoculars, I saw that it wasn’t! Even better was that it was a Western Bluebird lifer. Unfortunately Evan didn’t get a look and I couldn’t get a photo before it was gone.  This one didn’t seem to bother him.  Funny.  Perhaps I’d been hyping that Western Tanager a little too much.

We eventually did make it to that lovely mountain home where the accomodations, the company, and the birding would all prove to be excellent.  Oh, and the constant view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains across the Wet Mountain Valley wasn’t bad either.

JonThe yard-birding was fantastic here.  I smiled as I heard and saw more Spotted Towhees than I could count, many of them cheerfully hopping just a few feet from me.  Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were heard more often than seen as their metallic buzzing would alert you to their presence.

I was excited to get up early that next morning and poke around to see what I could find. Excited isn’t really the right word.  I was like a 5-year-old on Christmas Eve.  Morning finally came after a short, fitful sleep.  The sounds were everywhere and new!  I heard a grosbeak-like song and found its source at the top of a Ponderosa Pine, another Black-headed Grosbeak.  The Spotted Towhees were sounding off everywhere.  I tracked down one of the metallic buzzers to get this photo of the Broad-tailed Hummer who sat still long enough for me to get a couple shots.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Among the many Broad-taileds doing aerial acrobatics, there was an orange-looking dude that was getting chased by the others. Hello! It was a Rufous Hummingbird!  I got a quick look at one in Arizona last March, but this fella obliged me by letting snag a couple of up-close photos of him.  I won’t even complain that the sun didn’t shine on his glorious red-throat.  To see what that looks like, check out the header image at Butler’s Birds.

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous HummingbirdIts throat is really not black.  To show you what I mean, here is another shot of that same Broad-tailed pictured above.  It looks black here, but you can see above how red it really is when the sun hits it.

IMG_0176

But in this land of flashy birds, there is also a dark side that tempers the excitement. I’m, of course, referring to those drab, confusing, hard-to-ID flycatchers.  Based on vocalization and ruling out empids, I’m pretty sure I’ve got a Western Wood Pewee here. I hope any western readers will correct me if I’m wrong; I’m not proud.

Western Wood Pewee

Western Wood Pewee

Western Wood PeweeI did get an empid that I felt was a pretty solid ID with that yellow tinge and tear-drop eye-ring.  This one is a Cordilleran Flycatcher.  Life bird.

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Cordilleran FlycatcherThen there was a life bird that was not hard to ID and whose name is not soon forgotten by birders or non-birders alike – the Bushtit!  And the bushes, or Pinyon Pines rather, were hopping with these tiny Bushtits.

Bushtit - It's okay to giggle.

Bushtit – It’s okay to giggle.

BushtitBushtitAunt Carol kept giggling over the name when she asked what birds I saw.  She even said she wanted to see some Bushtits for herself.  At this point I’d like to take an aside to say that I’m glad Evan is learning all the “dirty” bird names now before he hits upper elementary.  Names like Bushtits, Blue-footed Boobies, Brown Boobies, and some others are just bird names to him, no different than Northern Cardinal or Pine Siskin. Some day the dam will break, and he will soon be giggling too. But for now it’s just science to him.  I’d like to take a second aside to say that I’ve never seen such Boobies, just Dickcissels.  Sad, no?

Anyhow, venturing out that morning and driving around a small mountain, I saw an eagle perched on a snag up near the top of the mountain.  It looked like a great candidate for my Golden Eagle lifer, but one must always exercise due caution with a Golden Eagle ID as juvenile Bald Eagles are all brown in their first year.  The differences can usually be seen when examining wings and tails during flight.  This bird wasn’t flying, though.  So I grabbed some pictures, filed it away as a “maybe” Golden, and birded on.

Mystery Eagle

Mystery Eagle

When I got home I sent my pictures off to Randy.  He wasn’t comfortable making the call.  Then I sent them off to the big guns at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota.  Education director Scott Mehus excitedly confirmed that I had, in fact, got my Golden Eagle lifer!  More than that, he went on to explain subtle differences in beak coloration, leg feathers, and nape color that distinguish a Golden Eagle from the look-alike life stage of a Bald Eagle. Awesome!  That made for three big (literally and figuratively speaking) lifer raptors for the trip!

Golden Eagle!!

Golden Eagle!!

Evan was sound asleep while I was spotting and photographing these birds in the early morning.  You can’t sleep in and expect to see the same things.  I knew he wanted to see some of these birds, but birds move on.  He seems okay with it.  But when I told him I was waking up early the next morning to hunt for Western Tanagers again, he said he was in.  He wasn’t going to miss another chance at this cool bird. I had another eBird report by Rich Miller of six of them on one forest service road in the San Isabel National Forest just north of Bishop’s Castle about 45 minutes away.

It was nearly impossible to wake Evan up that morning, and he promptly fell asleep in the car for the entire drive.  The ride was incredible as I made my way south along a curving, climbing Highway 165.  Conifer-studded mountains rose steeply on both sides of this road.  I almost forgot I was bird-watching.  In fact, I missed Forest Service Road 383 and had to turn around to find it.

I was excited to take this road.  With a report of six individuals, the Western Tanager would have to be a sure thing.  I decided to let Evan sleep until I saw one or something else that was good.  The optimism of seeing one of these gorgeous birds started slipping the further I drove and the higher in elevation I went.  I wasn’t seeing anything.  Eventually I decided to give up and turn around.  I stopped to check out some bird activity near a streambed.  A roving flock of Mountain Chickadees was noisly chattering as they foraged for food.  I woke Evan up so he could get this lifer.  He lifted his head, saw one fly about 100 feet away, and said, “Yep, I saw it.”  A similar scene played out later back at the yard when we picked up our Lesser Goldfinch lifer.  Evan seems to be content with check marks for the sake of check marks instead of getting a good look at a bird.  Not me.

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain ChickadeeMoving on from this spot I kept up hope that we would see the tanagers on the way out. One bird I stopped to check out was interesting for me to see here in Colorado even though I’ve seen hundreds in northern Minnesota, a female Evening Grosbeak.

Evening Grosbeak Female

Evening Grosbeak Female

As cool as this was, Evan and I really just wanted to see that red-faced bird.  Despite probability being in our favor by being on this road, it was not meant to be.  Now hope was slipping that there would be no more Western Tanagers for this trip.  As fun as it was to watch birds back at my aunt and uncle’s yard, like my aunt’s Mountain Bluebird pair that nest under the eaves and come out when she whistles, the habitat just wasn’t right for WETA.

Aunt Carol's "pet" Mountain Bluebird

Aunt Carol’s “pet” Mountain Bluebird

But just when nearly all hope was gone and the car was all loaded to leave Colorado for good, Custer County saved its most exciting birding for the very end when we drove away from Jon and Carol’s house.  So hang on for a wild ride (figuratively speaking, of course) in the next and final Colorado post.

Birding Colorado Springs – Blodgett Peak Open Space and Garden of the Gods

After our brief visit to the Badlands and Black Hills, we were headed south to the Colorado Springs area where we were going to meet up with two of my cousins that I hadn’t seen in years. The fastest way to the Springs was to shoot down through Nebraska, but common sense prevailed and we opted for a slightly longer route that would take us down through Wyoming. We were in the west after all; we might as well see some of it and tally a new state for the kids.

The beauty of the Black Hills and the Oglala National Grasslands in western South Dakota continued to amaze us.  And the birds were pretty great too.  At one point, three Black-billed Magpies flew across the road.  Good birds but nothing new.  Lark Buntings continued their ubiquity along the fencelines of Oglala.  I also spied a Common Nighthawk perched on a fence post.  I almost hit the brakes for that photo op, but I couldn’t risk being late in the Springs, and one must limit the number of birding emergency stops for fear of making the non-birding family members weary.

Instead I spent one of my limited emergency birding stops on this guy – the Ferruginous Hawk!!  A spendid and thrilling life bird indeed, a birder’s hawk for sure.

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk

There were more raptors perched on poles, but we were in a hurry and couldn’t afford to stop anymore even if I did need to find a Swainson’s Hawk for Evan and for my photo collection.  After all, there were relatives to catch up with, good barbecue to eat, and lizards to catch.

Evan lizardEvan’s cousin Andrew showed him the ropes for catching these cool lizards, and Evan caught this one all on his own.  As someone who had cages full of lizards as a kid, I wanted to keep this one in the worst way.  Even Melissa said it was cute. If Evan had asked, I couldn’t say no.  But he didn’t ask, so there was no moral dilemma of the lizard variety.

As Evan played with lizards, I checked out the birds hanging around my cousin’s house. I saw many of our species from back home, but we did pick up the Broad-tailed Hummingbird which would become probably the most common bird of the trip.  Its metallic buzzing could be heard almost everywhere we went.  Otherwise, Mountain Bluebirds, which would also become quite common, were still captivating at this point.

Female Mountain Bluebird

Female Mountain Bluebird

Male Mountain Bluebird

Male Mountain Bluebird

As fun as it was to hang out with my relatives, all good things must come to an end as they say.  So we grabbed a hotel room in town before our journey into the mountains of south-central Colorado near Westcliffe. As I had done in Hot Springs, I was up that next morning before first light so I could do some solo birding before everyone was awake. eBird was again very helpful in finding me a birding locale within a short drive from our hotel. I went up the side of the mountain on the very western edge of the Springs where I birded Blodgett Peak Open Space.  This big fella was there to greet me.

Mule Deer Buck

Mule Deer Buck

Once again the first bird to greet me of the morning was the Spotted Towhee.  I was hoping for better photo ops, but the day was too young and not very accommodating with its early-morning light.  It’s too bad because this bird was everywhere and close.  I really wanted that killer photo to solidify my first sighting back home in Minnesota last April.  But it wasn’t to be.  Not yet anyway.

One of the first lifers I heard that morning but took awhile to see was the Mountain Chickadee.  The song I was hearing was definitely chickadee in origin, but definitely different from our Black-capped variety back home.  Eventually, though, I was able to lay eyes on this spastic seed-eater.  This was a hoped-for lifer of the trip.

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain ChickadeeFrom reading the eBird reports I was expecting to find Western Scrub Jays.  It took me awhile, but I found a couple of this life bird.

Western Scrub Jay

Western Scrub Jay

On my quiet walk with no other people around I also found a lifer Virginia’s Warbler.  In typical warbler fashion, it wasn’t posing for any photos, and I just wasn’t up for chasing down a good photo of a bland bird.

Virginia's Warbler

Virginia’s Warbler

Walking in the mountains is always a good way to start the day, even more so when you tally three life birds in the process.

Getting back to the hotel I was greeted by one of the literal trash birds of the west, the Black-billed Magpie.  It’s such a shame that such a good-looking bird lowers its standards to the likes of gulls and jays by eating things one can only find in parking lots and such. There must have been a dozen hopping through the parking lot, standing on dumpsters, walking the rooflines of the hotel, and disappearing into the pines across the street.  It was fun to actually photograph them up close and in good light – something I have not been able to do in the Sax-Zim Bog.  I had never really seen the blue tint on them before, and I also discovered that their eyes are blue too!

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

After enjoying the magpies and getting the family assembled, we headed to Garden of the Gods.  We visited this National Natural Landmark five years ago, but with its other-worldly rock outcroppings it is a must-see each visit.

Central Garden at Garden of the Gods

Central Garden at Garden of the Gods

If you can look past the artificial hand-holding, you can see that the natural beauty abounds.IMG_0129

And the birds are beautiful here too as this brazen and audacious Western Scrub Jay shows while he prowled the parking lot for picnic leftovers or eyeballs of tourists napping in chairs.  It was good that Evan got to tally this lifer too since I had got mine earlier that morning.

Evan's Western Scrub Jay lifer

Evan’s Western Scrub Jay lifer

Melissa spied this Violet-green Swallow perched conspicuously on a snag.  It was fun to see its true colors as its namesake implies.

Violet-green Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

While Evan tried to climb rocks,

Evan

I tried to photograph missiles with wings, known as White-throated Swifts.

White-throated Swift (if you squint)

White-throated Swift (if you squint)

Neither of us were very good.  But we both had fun trying.

At one point I heard a Spotted Towhee singing its song.  I was still on the hunt for a good photo of this bird.  I dragged the family to the spot, and we all looked unsuccessfully.  Finally I decided to pull the plug.  Then Evan cried out, “But Dad, I’ve never seen one!”  I completely forgot he needed this lifer!  I never was able to get him on the bird in our own county, so apparently it had been gnawing at him that I had this bird and he didn’t.  Alright, so now it was more than just getting a photo; it was a genuine life bird hunt.

We still couldn’t see this particular bird we were looking for, but it didn’t matter because we eventually heard another one singing his heart out from the top of a juniper.  Evan got his lifer. I got my photo. Whew.  It felt doubly good.  I could finally put that great sighting from back in April to rest.  And so could Evan. Little did I know that the Spotted Towhee would be obscenely common for the rest of our trip.

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Colorado Springs held a nice cache of life birds (and relatives) for us.  After Garden of the Gods, we were headed up to the mountains in Custer County.  Coming up will be perhaps the best birding we would experience the whole trip.

The Colorado Trip: Birding South Dakota’s Badlands and Black Hills

BadlandsFinally. After an eight-year hiatus, the great American road-trip was reborn in our family.  There’s something liberating about heading out on the open road putting hundreds of miles under our seats, crossing numerous state lines and seeing new sights.  Our kids are to the age where they are now able to tolerate such intense travel and enjoy it too.  This summer we were headed to the mountains of Colorado to visit my aunt and uncle in their beautiful mountain home.

Though not the quickest route, we opted to head to Colorado via Rapid City so we could see Mt. Rushmore.  It would be a first for Melissa and the kids, so it was a must-stop. The scenery and the birding was most unimpressive until we crossed the Missouri River at Chamberlain.  But then, as soon as we made it to South Dakota’s better half, a western bird ambassador was there to welcome us.  A gorgeous, no-doubt-about-it Swainson’s Hawk soared over the freeway while I was cruising along at 75 MPH.  I involuntarily hollered, “Swainson’s Hawk!” Of course, soaring birds and speeding cars do not lend themselves to photo ops or good viewing.  Evan panickingly asked, “Where?!”  But it was too late and he didn’t see it.  Then the porch-lip came out in the back seat, and I was reminded by my wife to not draw attention to wildlife sightings on the road because the kids inevitably miss them.  We’ve been down this road before. Though I could now firmly claim this lifer, I tried to console Evan by assuring him that there would be more Swainson’s Hawks on this trip.  Boy, was I right, but that’s for another post.

Though not part of the original travel plans, we opted last-minute to dip south of I-90 to drive through Badlands National Park.  Growing up in Montana and then moving to Minnesota, I don’t know how many times I’ve traveled the I-90 stretch, but I have no memory of ever driving through the Badlands and seeing them up close.  I only remember distant views from the interstate.  I am so glad we decided to take this detour.  The Badlands are truly impressive with their beauty and other-wordly look.  And we were there on a beautiful day with cool temps.

Badlands

BadlandsThe expanse of the Badlands goes for miles, and I could have photographed them all day, but I was distracted by the birds.  When we stopped at one of the first scenic overlooks I caught sight of a blue bird.  It turned out to be our Mountain Bluebird lifer.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

This was a hoped-for lifer and not one that I expected to get so soon in the trip.  It turns out that there would be even more life birds at this little stop. Buzzing around the cliffs and rocky outcroppings were several Violet-green Swallows.  My photo in the harsh afternoon sun doesn’t fairly show its namesake, but I can assure you that this is probably the finest-looking swallow there is.

Violet-green Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

I expected this bird and was able to identify it easily because of my eBird scouting. That scouting also helped me identify another fast-flier, the White-throated Swift! Photographing swallows and swifts is a daunting task under normal conditions, even more so when you are trying to keep children frum plummeting to their deaths. Needless to say, I didn’t get any photos of the swifts.

EvanI could not believe how accessible death was at this place.  Sure there are fun hills to climb like pictured above, but the other side is a doozy. This canyon was well over 100 feet down.BadlandsIt was fun to look at the bottom of this barren piece of earth and see a family of Say’s Phoebes, another good western bird.

Say's PhoebeWhat a good little stop this was – three quick lifers and a fun place to stretch the legs after a long drive.  But we had more Badlands to see and hopefully more birds too, so we continued on our drive through the park.  We spied Western Kingbirds wherever there were trees on which they could perch.  Such a fun bird.

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

As we made our way out of the park on Sage Creek Road, I was watching the fences for more WEKIs as well as Lark Buntings.  This potential lifer was reported as “ubiquitous” on this road in one eBird report.  I was very hopeful. We did stop to be entertained by the myriad of Prairie Dogs as they popped up and disappeared like a real-life whack-a-mole game for as far as the eye could see.  The whole family enjoyed the antics of these cute, pudgy rodents.

Prairie Dog

Prairie Dog

But doggone it, I completely forgot to check out the Prairie Dog Town for Burrowing Owls.  I had seen reports of them being with the Prairie Dogs.  One of those dogs poking its head up could just as easily been one of the Burrowers.  We’ve seen them before in Arizona, but one should never pass up an opportunity to look for a Burrowing Owl.

We continued our drive, and I was getting frustrated that we were not seeing the “ubiquitous” Lark Buntings.  Finally as we pulled out of the park, Evan pointed to a group of birds on the fence and asked what they were.  Mixed in with dozens of Mourning Doves were two Lark Buntings!  But they were a long way off and not letting themselves be photographed well.

It didn’t matter because as we kept driving on Sage Creek Road on the outside of the park, the Lark Buntings truly were ubiquitous.  I guess I should have read that report a little more carefully.  In case you are a birder and are looking for the Lark Bunting, the birds were on the wires on the north-south stretch.

Lark Bunting

Lark Bunting

Lark BuntingLark BuntingAfter securing a tidy haul of life birds and enjoying the scenery, it was time to make our way to the Black Hills of South Dakota to meet up with the presidents at Keystone.  The most notable bird seen along the way was a Red-headed Woodpecker – always a treat to find.

The stop to see Mt. Rushmore was brief.  It was basically a tick on the bucket list for many in our party and nothing more.  To us it just did not compare to the natural beauty of the area and its wildlife.

IMG_0032

Great Faces

With their pine covered mini-mountains, the Black Hills are absolutely gorgeous.  Our destination for the night was Hot Springs, a great small-town without the tourist trappings of Keystone.  But on the way to Hot Springs we passed through Wind Caves National Park.  Nothing new in terms of birds, but this guy right by the road was startling, a little scary, and very cool!

Bison

We eventually made it to Hot Springs where we settled in for the night.  But being in new lands with new birds does not lend itself to getting rest.  I was up and at ‘em at first light to check out a local city park, Lower Chautauqua Park, located near a water park called – get this – Evans Plunge.  I was going to this park because it was very near our hotel and there had been eBird reports of Black-headed Grosbeaks among other notable western birds.

The first bird I heard and saw was the Spotted Towhee.  It was quite a thrill to catch up with this old friend after finding my lifer as a Kandiyohi County first official record back home in April.  In the early morning light I was only able to moderately improve my photograph of this species.

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Eventually I had the good fortune of bumping into the reported Black-headed Grosbeaks. Despite my best efforts of following them through the trees, I only managed to get one decent photo.  Regardless, I was pretty excited to get this lifer.  It was such a cool-looking bird.  I don’t think I’ve met a grosbeak I didn’t like.

Black-headed Grosbeaks

Black-headed Grosbeaks

I wish I could have hung out longer to get more photos of these birds in better light, but I had to head back to the hotel so we could get ready to venture through Wyoming on our way to Colorado. South Dakota was good to us with several lifers and spectacular beauty, but it was time to get to Colorado to see what avian treasures awaited us.

Boosting the Life Lists – A Colorado Send-off

Purple Finch - female

Purple Finch – female

As you read this, we are currently on the road – again.  This time, though, we are headed to the great state of Colorado.  Our route will take us through Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota.  Birding is not the focus of this vacation as we are going to visit relatives and show the kids the likes of Mt. Rushmore and the Rocky Mountains. But one does not step foot in new biomes without pulling out something special birdwise. You can bet we’ll have a few souvenir sightings to show you and tell you about. Our life lists will surely expand.  Speaking of life lists, I’ve been hard at work renovating our life list pages on this website.  I finally got around to adding the Arizona birds, and I’ve added dozens of new photos – replacing old ones or adding them where they didn’t exist.  It’s a constant work in progress that I’ve been quietly tinkering with the past few weeks.  My taste for which single photo to display for each species has become more refined (picky).  Not even Mrs. Purple Finch here made the cut.  So come back to the blog to see what we dug up in Colorado and check out the lists as they will surely expand and change.