Saturday, January 07, 2006

All in a day's birding

Last Thursday I had one of my best birding days since Costa Rica. And I didn't even have to leave town.

At the crack of dawn I headed over to Rachel Hopper's home to see a Pine Warbler that's been a regular visitor at her feeders the past couple weeks. She had advised a prompt 7:30am arrival (I arrived at 7:20), since that's about when the bird always seems to show up. When I got there we went to her back window and she said to wait for the American Goldfinches first, which always presage its arrival. And sure enough, as if on parade, the Goldfinches showed up, and made their way down from the treetops slowly to the feeders. They even did so despite a Bald Eagle roosting higher up in the branches. We then waited for the Pine Warbler to make his entrance down low, and after about 10-15 minutes, there it was, a hardy male. A State bird for me. Woohoo!

Eurasian Collared-Dove, Jan 5, 2005, Fort CollinsNext, I headed over to Prospect Ponds, about 3 miles away, to look for Barrow's Goldeneye. I found a huge raft of waterfowl on the pond closest to Prospect Rd, but no Barrow's. I did spot a Green-winged Teal and a pair of Wood Ducks. And as I went down the road later to check out the other ponds, I came across a Eurasian Collared-Dove perched on a branch above the bike trail. "Just" a Year bird, of course, but still, it was close and easy to see, and I got my best shot of this species for my photo collection.

By 9ish I headed over to Mulberry and LeMay to look for the Northern Waterthrush, originally found by Cole Wild about 3 weeks ago along the Poudre River Trail and re-found right after New Year's by neighbor Nick. I had only a rough idea of where to find this bird, so I had to employ my bird intuition. "If I were a Waterthrush, where would I hang out?" A short ways up the trail from Mulberry, there was a discharge outlet on the far side of the river next to the water treatment plant, with relatively warm water cascading out of it. The water flowed by some riprap rocks and there was a dead branch jumble at the waterline about 5-10 yards downstream of the outlet. "Hmmm, that seems like a good place for a waterthrush. This must be it." So I parked my scope there and waited to see if something might show up.

I saw a flutter over on the far side near the riprap. I looked anxiously - could that be it? The bird had gone behind the dead branches. A minute later the bird revealed itself to be...a Song Sparrow. Harrumph. Stupid Sparrow. Had me going there for a minute. That's just so weird - it seems like a great place for a Waterthrush to be. Where is it? Why just a boring ol' Song Sparrow? I waited a little longer, still scanning the riprap. Then, in the lower corner of my field-of-view, another flutter. Oh my god. There it is! Northern Waterthrush, a new Life bird for me! And here it is, in Fort Collins, in the first week of January. I strung together a stream of expletives, as I often do either when I'm upset or deliriously happy. I was thrilled to have found this bird by myself, based on just some intuition (and well, reasoning) on where it might be. A personal accomplishment in any case.

High off the success I'd just had, I headed home and unpacked all my birding toys. I went online to read the COBirds mailing list, and what's that? Chris Warren reported a Black Brant in the softball fields of Poudre High School just a mile or so north of my house! I've been looking for a Brant for about 3 months now, with no luck. "It's so close, it's worth a shot." So off I went again, repacking my birding toys into the truck.

Now, he'd reported the bird a couple hours ago, so I knew it wasn't likely to still be in those fields. Geese tend not to tarry too long in any given field. And sure enough, when I got there, no geese. Hmmm. Time for more of that bird intuition. "If I were a Brant, and I'd been in this field a couple hours ago, where would I have gone?" Well, after some feeding in a field, I'd look for some open water. The fact that I'm well inside an urban area suggests that I'm not likely to fly all that far to find it, and the closest ponds around are College Lake up in the foothills, or City Park Lake just a mile from here.

Now, College Lake is closed off to the public, so I could only try City Park Lake. I got there and saw about 300 or so geese on it, which was promising. I got the scope out and started scanning, hoping that it would jump out at me. After about 5 minutes, it did! Brant, Jan 5 2006, Fort Collins Beautiful - about the size of a Cackling Goose, but with that gorgeous chocolate brown neck and head, and white necklace. Another new State bird for me, that had eluded me several times back in November and December. The day was just getting better and better.

Brant, Jan 5 2006, Fort CollinsI hauled the scope a little closer to its mid-pond island hangout, by which time it made its way to shore with about 60 other Canada/Cackling geese to feed. I digiscoped this shot of it for a nice closeup, to cap off this terrific birding day. It was a gorgeous weather day, but I decided not to bird anymore - I wanted to end on a very high note, and not run the risk of disappointment after so much success. I don't get days like that too often, so why tempt fate and spoil it?



meekshell said...

Greetings from a fellow birder... I wandered across your blog from the cobirds mailing list, and it's kept my attention. :) I have a small request... I photographed this bird outside of my apartment. I'm stumped on identification, and I wondered if you'd take a peek. :)

Thanks so much. :)

Norene said...

Wow! What an incredible Saturday of birding. You were smart to end on an up note!

Thanks for finding my blog and leaving a comment so I could find yours. I'll be visiting again.

Eric said...

Hi meekshell...

That's an interesting-looking bird! I'm not quite sure what to make of it. It definitely looks like a goldfinch to me, and with the wingbars as prominent as they are, I'd guess American Goldfinch. It may also be a young male whose black forehead feathers are just beginning to come in. I dunno, I'm not really an expert on these things, but that's what I think.

madgeneral said...

I'll second Eric's assessment, if only by virtue of elimination, the cat-tails in the background, and the ubiquity of the bird.

Sakes alive, you'd think a goldfinch would be obvious -- but alas, far from it!

meekshell said...

I thought I'd give a quick update... I believe my mystery bird to be an adult American Goldfinch in non-breeding plumage, although I'm still stumped on the sex.

Thanks for you help! :)