My Not-So-Secret Spot - Fruitgrower's Reservoir

You know what they say, "One gal's irrigation source is another gal's birding paradise." Right? Anyway. Fruitgrower's Reservoir, or Hart's Basin, is probably my favorite place to bird on the western slope of Colorado. If you're my mom or some other long-time subscriber, you know that I have posted about Hart's Basin before: Hart's Basin (Part One) and Hart's Basin (Part Dos). As I mentioned, Fruitgrower's Reservoir is a hot spot for the Sandhill Crane migration. In fact so many cranes stop into this area that the nearby town of Eckert has a yearly celebration called Eckert Crane Days.  What else is Eckert known for? Orchards. Many many fruit orchards.

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And this is the reservoir. It is a long skinny body of water with many surrounding wetlands and pasture.

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As for the birding part of the trip, it was one of the best times I've had. I took my Granny, another lover of birds and photography, and we made our way around the reservoir looking for cranes. We were slightly early, so we only saw the first arrivals but we did see a few.

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Sandhill Cranes, standing tall, can reach a height of about 4 feet (or 120 cm). At this height they only weigh about 8 pounds. These cranes, at their cleanest, are light grey all over their bodies. The brown tinge you see--which deepens as spring turns into summer--is a mud stain.

The photo below will throw you for a loop. Check out my bird chimera! The head of a Great Blue Heron and the body of a Sandhill Crane. What are the odds?!

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Actually, this Great Blue Heron was kind of stealing the show for a while with his majestic poses. Or maybe it's just that I really love herons.

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The most common water bird at the reservoir on this day was, without a doubt, the Canada Goose.

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In many of these photos you can see heat waves in the background. It was actually quite warm and sunny. I appreciated this very much coming from wintry Newfoundland.

To finish off the water birds, we must take a look at these American Coots. Again, looks like a duck but is not a duck. This guy has enormous lobed feet rather than the classic duck feet that you're picturing in your head. Also, a very short tail.

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Much like the Western Meadowlark (don't worry, we'll get to him), the American Kestrel is a bird that I associate with home. I see them every time I visit and I think they are perhaps, the most underrated falcon of all time. Look at this beautiful male.

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And if ever there comes a trip when I return home to Colorado and fail to see a Western Meadowlark, I shall be quite disappointed.

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A quick note before I post: WordPress experienced some sort of glitch and has removed photos from many of my old posts, ugh. I hope to have everything fixed soon (hopefully in the next week). Thanks!

Sincerely,

The Management ;)

Hart's Basin (Part Dos)

I thought I might start the second part of my Hart's Basin birdwatching trip blog off with some information. Fruitgrower's Reservoir is actually considered the best water-birding location in all the western slope of Colorado. When the reservoir gets low on water, it exposes mudflats. These mudflats are perfect nesting ground for shorebirds (Willets, American Bitterns, etc.) and waterfowl. The mudflats also attract animals besides birds. Muskrats, cottontails, jackrabbits, coyotes, foxes, minks and mule deer also access this unique valley watering hole. And the lizards, don't forget about them. 20130515-DSCN0193

This one was trying to hide from me, a Plateau Striped Whiptail. His striped back camo mimics dry grass which is found in abundance at Fruitgrower's Reservoir. And while previous photos may have led to the illusion that this unique place is right on the brink of the Rocky Mountains, it isn't. It's somewhat of an oasis really. For miles around Hart's Basin is an adobe desert full of anthills and sage brush. Beautiful in its own way but not necessarily an environment one would associate with lush green marsh land.

Recent estimates say that about 500 people per year visit this spot. I would recommend it to anyone, birder or not. And speaking of birds, let's get back to them.

I'll start with a classic little guy that I've found flitting around in a multitude of places. He's never picky and always has a sweet song to sing. He's the Song Sparrow, of course.

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When I was very first learning about birds, I recall that my ornithology professor told us that there existed a large category of songbirds which some people like to refer to as LBB's. Really, this category belongs to sparrows because they comprise nearly all the LBB's (Little Brown Birds). This is a joke. Because they get tricky to ID when the only difference is a slight hue of brown. But my next new bird sighting contestant made it easy on me. This sparrow has an interesting facial pattern that doesn't leave the mind's eye. A Lark Sparrow.

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Marinate this phrase in your mouth for a second: tyrant flycatcher. It's another group of songbirds that all boast the talent of being incredible acrobats in the air. And all just to follow the (seemingly) unpredictable flight patterns of their favorite cuisine, insects. This beauty is often found sharing power lines with Kestrels and Mourning Doves in CO, the Western Kingbird.

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And I'd like to close on the little guy I would refer to as pocket-sized if I was generous enough to give him lots of wiggle room in that pocket. The Black-chinned Hummingbird. I miss these birds greatly during the Newfoundland summer because, alas, they have not made this island their home. I think, secretly, hummingbirds believe that they're peacocks. They always sit just as stoic and proud as possible and even though they're micro, they're every bit as colorful.

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Keep an eye out for more bird photographs from my visit home to Colorado!

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Hart's Basin (Part One)

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While I was home visiting Colorado, I took a little drive over to Fruitgrower's Reservoir (more commonly known as Hart's Basin) in Orchard City to check out some birds. This place is known for being a prominent landmark in the Sandhill Crane migration. I was a few weeks late for that but no matter, Hart's Basin never disappoints when it comes to water birds, raptors, songbirds and lizards, actually. Loads of lizards all over the place. I had just gotten a new camera before I went so, admittedly, I went buck wild taking pictures of birds and various other things. So many, in fact, that I'm splitting this blog into two parts. One for the water birds (this one) and one for the other fellows who like water but not really for swimming. Just hydration. I'm very excited to take credit for all the photos on these blogs because generally I'm pirating off of google, as you all well know.

First contestant: Western Grebe. In nice terms, this bird looks like a geometrically elegant "S" on the water, pleasantly split into black(ish) and white plumage. In honest terms, he looks like a skinny hipster swan. And yes, the eyes are naturally inferno red which makes them a biggie for identifying this species if you've never seen it before. While Western Grebes may look like ducks, they aren't. They're kicking it stag in their own category. Here are some of those beauties:

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You would think that all grebes look somewhat similar but instead, they comprise a pretty diverse continuum of shapes and sizes. The Black-necked Grebe was also present in numbers. Excellent hairstyle on these guys if you ask me.

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The American Coot also looks like a duck but is not one. To me, this guy is very easy to distinguish because of his white bill (uncommon in ducks) and stubby little butt. He doesn't have ornate tail feathers (retrices) like a Northern Pintail or curls on the tail like Mallards. Just straight, short feathers. With all the sensible ways that I could have organized these birds (i.e. chronologically, phylogenetically), I chose to organize them by eye color. Keeping with the tradition, the American Coot also has naturally red eyes.

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Finally, a duck. I've only seen this duck one other time so I was quite pleased to see it again (if it's the same one, I'll be damned). This Ruddy Duck is either a juvenile, an adult female or an adult male in summer non-breeding plumage. Look up the adult male if you feel like seeing a duck with a sky blue bill. Beautiful. To answer your next question, yes, his/her tail is supposed to look all scraggly.

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I think I have mentioned this before but American White Pelicans are sort of special to me. They are both a fond memory from birding during my undergrad and a surprising spectacle every time I see them. I could watch them fish for hours, patience I don't even have for my own lake fishing attempts.

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I'm going to throw the Ring-billed Gull in with water birds for obvious reasons. They are a very common species in North America and I see them all summer long in Newfoundland as well.

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And what kind of birder would I be if I had been to this reservoir and not seen a Great Blue Heron or three. I love the plumage on these birds. Pink feathers on the neck which serve (probably) no other purpose than making the birds sexy to mates. A rat-tail like hairdo off the back of the head. And hello, the bird is actually blue (or grey in some lights, shh). How cool is this guy?!

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NEW BIRD SIGHTING ALERT. I've never seen White-faced Ibises before. Just about couldn't contain myself when I saw this sweet couple. It would be hard to say what color they actually are because they're iridescent all over and so look red at times, purple at other times and sometimes just brown. Check out that bill. The tip is innervated for finding food underwater.

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Stay tuned for other birds I saw in Hart's Basin!

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