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.



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




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.







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?!


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.




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



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.



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.




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.



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!


The Management ;)

Over the mountains again

There's nothing like the hot, dry Colorado sun to melt the ice out of your bones after a long Newfoundland winter. I recently journeyed across the state starting in Conifer, CO and ending in my hometown of Hotchkiss, CO. It was wonderful to show someone around who had never seen the western slope of Colorado before because it opened my eyes to many details that I had missed altogether or had taken for granted. My home state is as beautiful as she ever was with only a few notable changes: a couple new bends in my favorite creek on the planet (Currecanti Creek), some rather scary changes with the mountain pine beetle in the lodgepole pine forests and, of course, some other plants are legal now that certainly weren't before. 20140623-DSCN2179

This is Buffalo Mountain near Silverthorne, CO in Summit County. The dead trees (brown in the foreground and grey-blue on the side of the mountain) are all "beetle kill". On the bright side though, there's still a lot of snow at this elevation and there are even snow drifts present about 4,000 feet lower. This year marks a spike in precipitation for Colorado which will help to prolong irrigation and hopefully battle the cycle that consists of trees killed by beetles, drought and ultimately, the pathogen that is fire.


Here's a cloud-burst falling on the mountains beyond Lake Dillon between Dillon and Keystone, CO.

Now for the main event:


Before I bring this guy into focus, I want you to take a good hard look at those colors. This is a favorite high elevation bird of mine, the Steller's Jay. This jay takes the grey from the Grey Jay and the blue from the Blue Jay and packages it all neatly into one little bird. Dunk the head into some black paint and there you have it. These birds are omnivorous (berries and bugs) so when you see a tiny flock of them like I did, you know that they have found a plentiful food source. Otherwise, they mostly hang out in pairs. The Steller's Jays in the following pictures were all observed at Sapphire Point on Swan Mountain above Lake Dillon.









This is Swan Mountain:


See if you can spot a Least Chipmunk or Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel in the next picture.


I'll give you a hint on the squirrel:


They're very friendly in this part of the world.


Here's the Least Chipmunk having a snack:


This is just one tiny finger of Lake Dillon:


Perfect habitat for Canada Geese and gulls to hang out.



Moving over to Garfield County, check out this Purple Finch seen from the balcony of my hotel room at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs.


Glenwood Springs, CO sits below Red Mountain (below) and is very near one of Colorado's most iconic peaks, Mount Sopris.


Near Glenwood Springs is an incredible hike up to Hanging Lake. It takes about 1-1.5 hours (if you're moving quickly) to get to the top of the trail where the lake is. In that hour, you gain 1,000 feet of elevation so the hike is straight uphill. Dippers and Black Swifts make the stream along the trail and the canyon walls their home. I wish I had pictures of those birds but I have failed you. All I have is this snap of a whistle pig (Yellow-bellied Marmot).


Here's the lake and its life blood, the spouting rock waterfalls.





With a much abbreviated in-between, I ended up on River Ridge Farm in Hotchkiss, CO where I grew up. This place is as classic to me as this House Sparrow is.


And as I have mentioned before, a trip home is not complete for me without a Western Meadowlark.


BONUS ROUND: Wild Turkeys seen on a drive through Barrow Mesa.




Related articles

Birds of River Ridge Farm, My Home

While River Ridge Farm is, of late, garnering more attention for its miniature donkeys (cue adorable baby born just last month)... 20130519-DSCN0337

...I have found that the diversity of birds that live here share an almost equal intrigue. Colorado is a great spot for birds. Period. It lies on the border of the Pacific and Central flyways and has many great bird life events like mass migrations, leks and a large-scale altitude coverage with many ecozones. And growing up in the Rocky Mountains had its perks, let me tell ya. I could (and still can) look out the window of my home on River Ridge Farm and see ten different passerine birds in the willow tree out back. This is overstimulation for me. Too exciting.

Resuming my coverage of my trip home to Hotchkiss, I thought I would share some pictures with you of birds that frequent the farm where I grew up.

Let's get back to those Black-chinned Hummingbirds. They are stunning, are they not?





Later in the summer, a handful of other hummingbird species will make this valley their home. I was once swarmed by hundreds of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at Black Mesa Lodge, a beautiful cabin in the mountains where folks throw parties and weddings. One of the clumsy little fellows smashed into a large picture window and I recall my exaltation as I picked him up, stroked his tiny belly and watched the sense come flooding back into him. He sat perched on my index finger for some time until I placed him on the branch of a tree and watched him speed away. The entire bird seemed to weigh less than a robin feather, if you can believe it.

And what's this trying to sneak a sip out of the hummingbird feeder but a Bullock's Oriole. Beautifully colored birds but frankly, lousy singers and petulant souls when their bill fails to fit into the feeder slot for the millionth time.





In taking a brief recess from the birds, I would like to share two wonderful things with you. First, a picture of my backyard, as it were. That is Mount Lamborn.


And second, a photo of the quirkiest guy I know. Dundee, our Westie. I could write volumes on the life of Dundee but I would like to dedicate an entire post to that. Here is Dundee's blue steel face:


I digress. A Yellow Warbler should get us back on track.





And take a look at the iridescent head and neck feathers on this Common Grackle (I think Great-tailed Grackles have a bit longer tail than this guy but I could be wrong, both species exist in this area of CO).


Before you think that songbirds are stealing the show, take note of this female Ring-necked Pheasant that frequented our hay-field every morning that I was home.


I ended up calling this next American Robin, "Fatsy Cline" because he/she is fat and that's what I call everything that is cute and fat.


And last, the bird I seek out every time I'm in Hotchkiss for even a day, the Western Meadowlark. One of my all-time favorites because I attribute its song to crisp Sunday mornings in the summertime at home.


Plus, what's not to love about a round yellow chest sporting a thick black necklace...on things that are not human.

Enhanced by Zemanta

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.


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.


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.



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.




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

Enhanced by Zemanta