Thursday, September 28, 2006

500 miles. 1 bird.

Yesterday I made a trip down to Cañon City to see the Common Black-Hawk that's been reported frequently over the past few weeks. I've only seen one of this species before, in Costa Rica about 4 years ago, so I was eager to see another and to see it here in North America. The bird has been hanging out along the Arkansas River near the Mackenzie Avenue bridge (SeEtta Moss at SEColoradoBirding blog describes the situation in detail here). There'd also been Black Phoebes seen in the area too, and those weren't yet on my Colorado State Life list.

And if that weren't enough, there had also been a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher reported about 30 miles east of Pueblo, at the Otero/Pueblo county line. I had visions of having another terrific Colorado birding day like the one I had several months ago, so I set out at 4:50am to make it happen. One wrinkle though - I had to pick up my brother-in-law from the Denver Airport around 2pm, so I had to be efficient and see the birds in a timely manner if I was to get them all in, especially considering the driving involved. In other words, I needed to go 120 miles to Colorado Springs, go another 40 miles to either Cañon City or Pueblo first, and get to both the Pueblo County line (far eastern Pueblo county) AND to Cañon City (in Fremont County, 50-60 miles west of there. Either way was going to be tons of driving.

I made a decision to look for the STFL first. It took 3 hours total driving to get there, and I realized that I really only had about 20-30 minutes to look for the bird before I had to leave, if I wanted to get to the Black-Hawk spot by 10am or so. It was a calculated risk, but having had success finding a STFL last May in Arizona in a short time (hey, I haven't talked about that trip yet, have I? That's a story in itself), and knowing that the bird was seen in a very limited area, and that it should be easy to spot if it's anywhere nearby, I thought it would be worth it. Well, in the end it wasn't, because the bird was nowhere to be found. By 8:40am I was back on the road steaming toward Cañon City, hoping to get there before 10.

I made it, but it was feeling late in the morning, like I'd missed the bird already. Apparently many have seen the bird around that time, so realistically it was as good a time to be looking as any. But there weren't any other birders around, so I couldn't help but think that the Black-Hawk train had left the station. In 2+ hours I did actually see the Black Phoebe, which is a great bird for Colorado of course, and even a Western Tanager flew by. But no Black-Hawk showed up, and in general the area was very quiet, except of course for the lumbering cement trucks crossing the bridge every couple minutes. By 12:20, I had to leave, and drive 100 miles or so to the airport, and from there, another 55+ miles back to Fort Collins.

So when all was said and done, I'd bagged one new state bird, and dipped on two others. Nearly 500 miles of driving, and $30+ dollars in gas. That's pretty nuts, isn't it? Especially since I'm already thinking of trying again next week!

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yooperprof said...

I've driven 400 RT in a day to go a shopping mall - so 500 miles for a bird isn't quite so strange to me.

Eric said...

Perhaps....but would you drive that many miles if you were unsure whether or not you'd even find that mall in the first place?