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USA Tour June 24 - July 24 2005,
My wife and I spent one month in USA from June 24. We landed in Denver Colorado where a Chevrolet waited on us. It served us so well all the 9600 km – no problems, no accidents. We had a great time in every respect, also due to the fact that the weather was on our side – almost no rain for a month. But there was a slight “problem”, it was too hot, as a heat wave followed us part of the time, even at high altitudes. Denver is situated on about 1650 meter, and there we had around 40 degrees (104 Fahrenheit) for several days, beating all the previous records.
Our tour was not planned to be a birding one, as my wife is not into birds, but I tried to take a couple of hours most mornings and a few minutes in the evening to watch birds. I planned the route mainly because of the scenery, which is some of the best you find in USA. But we also went for a convention/congress in St. Louis Missouri, which we attended for 5 days and gave us a good time, even without birds.
I find it unnecessary to tell about the more practical things that you so easily can find elsewhere/anywhere. We brought a tent, in which we slept half the nights, the other half in motels, and 3 nights in the car. We did not book anything in beforehand, and found it to be no problem. Only a couple of campgrounds where full, like in Yellowstone (we got the last site) and at Grand Canyon, where we instead slept in a wood – together with a few others. You are more free if you don’t book beforehand, even if we mostly stuck to our itinerary. In the end we experienced that we were ahead of time, which meant we got 3 days in Denver, doing very little.
My goal for the trip was 100 lifers – every species above that would be a bonus. So even if I missed on species like: Black-backed Woodpecker, Lewis` Woodpecker, Band-tailed Pigeon, Say`s Phoebe, Bewick`s Wren, Canyon Wren, Yellow-breasted Chat, Evening Grosbeak, Lark Sparrow and a couple other Sparrows, I am still happy with the 112 Lifers I got. But how I could miss Say`s Phoebe, I find it hard to explain. It is supposed to be common so many places. The same goes for Lark Sparrow.
I used David Sibleys “The North American Bird Guide”. I also brought with me Roger T. Petersons “Western Birds”. Where to find birds I had “A Birders Guide to Colorado” by Harold Holt, and took copies of relevant pages of the old book “A Guide to Bird Finding west of the Mississippi” by Olin S. Pettingill, jr. I also brought with me a few bird reports found on the Internet, which were useful, as they always are.
I won`t go into too many details, basically I`ll give a day to day report. The birds I mention are only those that are not so common. Most of the birds that are not mentioned in the text you will certainly see anyway almost anywhere. Please see the species list for all the birds and where I observed them.
Here is our itinerary: Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado.
Saturday June 25 Barr Lake – Latham R. – Greeley – Estes Park 320 km 30
We landed Friday evening June 24 and at the time we got our rented car, it had become so late that we decided to sleep in the car at the parking lot. The next day we started early to Barr Lake (just north of the airport), which is a good start for the more common birds, even if there were very few waterbirds at the time. Good birds here were: Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Grosbeak, Common Yellowthroat, Am. Goldfinch, Bullock`s Oriole and Orchard Oriole. Bald Eagle breeds on the northern bank of the lake. Close to the lake we observed several Swainson`s Hawks as well as Red-tailed Hawks (the most common raptor in this part of USA).
Later that morning we went to Latham Reservoir outside Greeley, including a wetland to the southwest. Here I saw both Western and Clarks Grebe, Neotropic Cormorant, Snowy Egret, White Pelican, Redhead, Northern Harrier, Am. Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Spotted Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Wilson`s Phalarope, California and Franklins Gull, Horned Lark, Yellow-headed Blackbird. I was taken by surprise when one Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs was flying in front of me (not supposed to be here)
Before we went up to Rocky Mountains National Park we visited a distant relative in Greeley. We arrived Estes Park in the afternoon and spent our first night in a motel, which was much more expensive up here at this tourist place than elsewhere (70 US$).
Sunday June 26 Estes Park – Winter Park 220 km 26 degrees
We did some sightseeing in Rocky Mountain N.P. The paved road goes as high as about 3700m above sea level – few birds that high. For me it is fantastic to see that trees are growing above 3000 m. I didn’t do intensive birding here today, neither yesterday, but still got some birds: Hairy Woodpecker, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Steller`s Jay, Gray Jay, Clark`s Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, Mountain Bluebird, American Pipit, Green-tailed Towhee, Vesper Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Brewer`s Blackbird, Pine Grosbeak, Brown-capped Rosy-Finch (one on snow near the top), Cassin`s Finch, House Finch. A flock of about 800 elks were crossing our way.
We went down to Winter Park tonight, where we slept in the car at a ski resort. But first we stopped along the road for birds and found Red-naped Sapsucker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch and Wilson`s Warbler.
Monday June 27 Winter Park – Mt. Evans – Evergreen – Colorado S. 320 km 30
Our goal for today was Colorado Springs and Garden of the Gods. Before leaving the place we slept I had to check out the birds there: Cordilleran Flycatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Wilson`s Warbler and Vesper Sparrow. The Empidonax Flycatchers are extremely hard to identify, nearly impossible. The habitat is often the best criteria (in the breeding season) to tell the one from the other. They often gave me a hard time and sometimes I had to give up, even if I saw it rather well - very frustrating.
Mt. Evans is known because of the fact that USA`s highest paved road is leading up to the mountain (4356 meters). It was cold and windy up here, but almost no snow. The thin air was felt when we walked to the top. No problem for the car – it didn’t get hot here or anywhere else we went up in the mountains. Birdlife was rather scarce, but plenty of Am. Pipit, Mountain Bluebird and 1 Brown-capped Rosy-Finch. On the top we were lucky to see 26 Mountain Goats and a few Big Horns.
En route to Colorado Springs we stopped at Red Rocks and the Amphi Theater, but didn’t do any birdwatching. Found Spotted Towhee at the entrance and the White-throated Swifts were soaring overhead.
We stopped to eat at a nice place east of Evergreen and found it to be a very good place for birds, even in the heat of the day: Gray Catbird, Black-capped Chickadee, Lazuli Bunting, Indigo Bunting, Western Tanager, Lesser Goldfinch.
In the afternoon we arrived at the Garden of the Gods, and found immediately Prairie Falcon, White-throated Swift and Western Scrub Jay. Later we saw Bushtit, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Spotted Towhee. This night we slept in the car.
Tuesday June 28 Colorado Springs – Kansas 490 Km 33 – 38 degrees
I birded the eastern part of the park early morning and saw many of the same birds, but new were Belted Kingfisher, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Savannah Sparrow.
We had a look at Colorado Springs before we headed east into Kansas, where we observed a few Chimney Swifts. We slept in a motel along the highway in Kansas.
Wednesday June 29 Kansas – Missouri 690 km 38 degrees
We were heading for St. Louis Missouri on Interstate 70, so today was a transport leg. I did some birding at the rest areas we stopped and were surprised to find some of them rich in birdlife: Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Warbling Vireo, Purple Martin, Flycatchers, Scarlet Tanager, Baltimore Oriole.
At a camping site about 200 km west of St. Louis we put up our tent. Here and along the highway in Missouri these birds were found: Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Blue Jay, Carolina Chickadee, Eastern Bluebird, Brown Thrasher, Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark.
Thursday June 30 – Monday July 4 St. Louis 400 km 28 – 38 degrees
Today we reached our destination – the Dome (American House) in St. Louis. We found a motel on the other side of Mississippi (in Illinois), where we stayed for 5 nights. It was days free of birding except for Sunday morning when I went to one of the biggest parks in any city in USA, called the Forest Park. Here I had hoped to find some of the many warblers breeding in this part of USA, but I didn’t see one. It was really a nice place with plenty of dams and paths through the forest, but unfortunately not many birds around. Green Heron, Wood Duck, Tufted Titmouse and Carolina Wren were new species.
3 nights we witnessed fantastic fireworks sent up from a boat on Mississippi River in connection with the National Day, July 4. It is said that it is the best fireworks in all US.
Tuesday July 5 St. Louis – DeSoto N.W.R. (Iowa) 800 km 30 degrees
We hit the road again – in northwest direction in order to reach our next destinations: Badlands and Black Hills in South Dakota. Before we started I spent a couple of hours at Horshoe Lake Park (Illinois) just 10 km from our motel. It is a good place for waterbirds. Pied-billed Grebe, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, but also Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-headed Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee.
In the evening we ended up in a National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa, called DeSoto, (north of Omaha), where we slept in a tent. A too lovely day to spend in an airconditioned car.
Wednesday – July 6 De Soto – Badlands N. P. (S. Dakota) 720 km 30 degrees
Also today we had a transport leg. We reached Badlands N.P. in the evening and camped there. In the morning I birded De Soto state park and added new species to my list. During the night I heard Owls/Nighthawk/Whip-poor-will, but half asleep I am not sure which. There were plenty of Red-headed Woodpeckers around. Along Missouri river I
discovered a Red-bellied Woodpecker nest. In the tree next to my tent there was another nest belonging to an Acadian Flycatcher, which I was able to identify through my scope after a long while. More Gray Catbirds and Brown Thrashers, Eastern Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing, American Redstart, Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, Baltimore and Orchard Oriole, Am. Goldfinch were other birds I saw here. Outside the park I found 6 Dickcissels on the lines.
Badlands National Park is a very strange/surrealistic place – more like the moon or something. Unfortunately we didn’t stay long, so I didn’t do much birdwatching: Rock Wren, Grasshopper Sparrow, Lark Bunting. Mountain Bluebird was very common.
Thursday July 7 Badlands N.P. – Black Hills (Custer S.P.) 280 km 31 degrees
Our destination today was the tourist spot Mt. Rushmore in Black Hills. It was too crowded, but absolutely worth a visit. Interesting enough it was the Norwegian guy, Borglum, who got the job of forming the faces of the four presidents. He and 1000 others worked for 14 years to finish them in 1941.
The day started so well, sunny and 31 degrees, but after noon we got a very long shower. Because of that we didn’t enjoy Custer State Park as much as it deserved, but we saw at least 150 Buffaloes. Of birds today these were of greatest interest: Ferruginous Hawk, Ring-necked Pheasant, Wild Turkey. Right by the motel in Custer town I saw a Common Yellowthroat, a flock of Red Crossbills at the churchyard and at a feeder together with House Finch.
Friday July 8 Custer – Story – Cody (Wyoming) 650 km 38 degrees
We were heading for Yellowstone National Park, so we passed through Wyoming from east to west. (Interstate 90, heading west on road 14 close to the border of Montana and then on to 16/20). In the evening we found a campground at Buffalo Bill State Park by the dam, about 60 km from Yellowstone.
I tried to do some birding at Story, but what can you expect in the middle of the day with a temp. near 40? Close to the town of Cody (east) there is a shallow lake (Becks Lake?), which was extremely good for waterbirds. Here I saw most of the ducks and 60 Wilson`s Phalaropes. During the day I saw these birds: Ring-billed Gull, Wood Duck, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Am. Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Sora, Sandhill Crane, Mountain Plover, Spotted Sandpiper, Common Nighthawk (flying over the car in the afternoon), Red-naped Sapsucker, Dusky Flycatcher, Veery?, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Sparrows (I often found it very difficult to decide which was which, and many a time I was very uncertain identifying them). Along the road (not far from Cody) Lark Buntings were very common.
Saturday July 9 Cody – Yellowstone N. P. 290 km 29 degrees
Today we were driving through Yellowstone N. P. The road between Canyon Village and Tower Junction was closed (the whole year actually) due to road work. Still we ended up watching 3 black bears in less than an hour very close to Tower Junction after driving east from Mammoth Hot Springs.
Even if we didn’t take the Blacktail Scenic Drive Trail (untarred), I will recommend it for species like Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpecker, Brown Creeper and the Nuthatches. Many people see them here.
During the day we saw about 200 buffaloes and a lot of elks. In the afternoon we found the last vacant campsite at Norris. I didn’t do much birdwatching today, but part of Yellowstone Lake before reaching Lake Village was good for waterbirds.
I asked one of the rangers (a young lady) where I could find the Harlequin Duck, so we went there and found it – beautiful creature. The Am. Dipper was supposed to be at the same place, but I didn’t see it (too many people here). It is always smart to ask the Park Rangers about the birds you want to see. Often some of them are very knowledgeable and always willing to help. Checklists of the birds in the different N.P. and S.P. are very often available – either free or costing up to one dollar. These lists are very useful.
Noteworthy birds today: Many species of ducks including a male Harlequin, Barrow`s Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked Duck, 2 male Bald Eagles, Golden Eagle, Sandhill Crane, Spotted Sandpiper, Longbilled Curlew, Gray Jay, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and more Flycatchers.
Sunday July 10 Yellowstone – Grand Teton N.P. (Jackson Hole) 200 km 22 degrees
We woke up to a little rain, but it got much better later this morning. Still, this turned out to be our coolest day and a day with little sun. We were on our way south to Grand Teton N. P., but first I desperately wanted to see the Am. Dipper. It is supposed to be rather common in streams. I stopped a couple of places I found suitable, and soon I had got two.
I knew the place where to find the Trumpeter Swan, so we went on road 20 not far from the border of Montana and saw five of them in the river close to the road. We also saw one Am. Avocet and later 3 Ospreys.
Old Faithful is the worlds most famous Geysir. It is very regular, therefore the name Faithful. Every 88 minutes you can see it at work together with a few 1000 other visitors at this time of year – a fascinating sight. But it is not the only one having eruptions.
A few miles south of Yellowstone, Jackson Hole is looked upon as one of the country`s most beautiful places, contrary to the burned out forests (more than 70%) in Yellowstone. Here you also find aspen, so there seems to be more birds around, other birds. About 340 birds have been recorded here compared to about 310 in Yellowstone.
According to trip reports found on Internet, I understood that Christian Pond was a good place for birds, especially ducks, so I went up there in the early evening and found – among others - a few Ruddy Ducks and a pair of Redheads as well as a pair of Trumpeter Swans, Western Grebes, Am. White Pelicans and Sandhill Crane plus plenty of Yellow-headed Blackbirds and 2 Gray Jays. A very good place! Other birds today in Grand Teton: California Gull, Calliope Hummingbird, Red-naped Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, Willow Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, Common Yellowthroat and 5 species of Sparrows.
We decided to sleep in the car at a rest area by the river/dam, but about 10 p.m. the ranger put his car lights on full and asked us politely to find a site at the campground that was not full. We had no choice, found a site, and slept in the car there. It is absolutely illegal to sleep in National Parks outside campsites, something we knew. We were able to test the system if it “worked”, which it always did, according to the ranger on duty.
Monday July 11 Jackson Hole – Idaho – Logan (Utah) 360 km 28 degrees
Our destination today was somewhere close to the border of Idaho/Utah. Early morning after having done some birding at Willow Flat and added Fox Sparrow to my list, I wanted to go back to Christian Pond, which I found to be an anticlimax. But my plan was to go up into the mountains beyond the lake which I had read should be good for birds I hadn’t seen yet. After following one of the paths, I ended up very frustrated/disappointed
I had missed out on Red-breasted Nuthatch so many times/places, so I thought this would be my last chance to see it. I pressed hard, but no luck – until I came back down to Christian Pond. I went a few steps into the wood and heard and saw a small bird on top of a rotten tree. It turned out to be the one missing. It made my day. I didn’t see it later either. This bird is supposed to be common.
It was a beautiful day, and we enjoyed the great scenery on our way to Jackson town, but didn’t go birding, not even to National Elk Refuge.
We drove south on road 89 into Idaho, where a White-faced Ibis crossed the road in front of our car. We passed a couple of passes before we found a very secluded campsite in Utah just before dark. Immediately I birded the place and found at once two new lifers: Swainson`s Thrush and MacGillivray`s Warbler – right by the tent.
Tuesday July 12 Logan – Salt Lake City- Heber City 270 km 42 degrees
In the morning I did less than half an hour birding around the campground. It looked promising, but the time was too short. No more birding today, as we later spent a couple of hours at the Latter Day Saints headquarter – quite interesting and very luxurious. I skipped both Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and Antelope Island S.P. From Salt Lake we went up to Park City and Deer Valley where we had a brief look at Stein Eriksen`s Lodge. He is a Norwegian Alpinist that won an Olympic Gold medal in Oslo in 1952, and probably more famous in USA than Norway. We passed the mountain on an untarred road going down to Heber City, where we found a cheap motel for the night.
Wednesday July 13 Heber City – Las Vegas 690 km 44 degrees
Bryce Canyon N. P. was on our list today, but when we finally headed unto Interstate 15, we soon found out that we could just as well go to Las Vegas. It wasn’t that far. It was 44 today in the south of Utah, and Las Vegas in the afternoon was very, very hot. There were many more people here after midnight than in the afternoon. It was a fascinating place – casinos and luxurious hotels all over. But one night here was more than enough for us. Never once did we play in any of the casinos. Even the motel we stayed had a big casino. But at least you had to be 21 in order to gamble. Just inside the border of Nevada there are plenty of casinos – strange system.
No new birds today, but we saw 33 White-faced Ibises flying overhead south of Provo, Utah.
Thursday July 14 Las Vegas – Mesquite – Zion N.P. 330 km 46 degrees
This day turned out to be the hottest day in my life: 46 in the shade at Mesquite. I have experienced days of more than 40 degrees in Spain, Israel, Australia, Namibia and South Africa, but the former record was 44 - in Sevilla in 95.
We left Las Vegas at noon back to southern Utah and Zion N. P. Valley of Fire S. P. is a desolate place where I had hoped to find a few “new” desert birds, but even if I stopped several places I didn’t see any, except for one Turkey Vulture. Before reaching Mesquite I saw two Gambel`s Quails at the roadside.
At Mesquite I stopped at one of the Golf courses, which normally is a good place for birds and saw two more Gambel`s. I very much wanted to see a Greater Roadrunner. A guy at the course told me he saw one around the house there every day, so he took me for a ride. We saw a few birds, even if it was in the middle of the day, but no Roadrunner. He asked me to walk the outskirts of the course, which I did. Soon I heard some strange sounds and found a Roadrunner up in a tree 5 meters away. Shortly after his “wife” also appeared. A great moment for me! Great-tailed Grackles were common here.
In the evening we reached Zion N. P. where we found a site for our tent. But before that I birded an area just outside the Park and found Black Phoebe to be common - along Virgin River.
Friday July 15 Zion N.P. – Grand Canyon 240 km 40 – 27 degrees
From the campground there go free shuttle-buses about every 10 minutes (not so often in the evening) that stop many places on their way to the Temple of Sinawava, where the road ends. From here and many other places there are paths leading up into the mountains. We took the Riverside Walk, but found not too many birds around because it was already noon and strong heat. But to compensate for the lack of birds, we had one great experience along this walk. I was more than surprised to find a Painted Redstart, a bird that is not supposed to be here – very rare in the summer. It put on a display for us, and we saw it quite long – an unmistakable bird.
Even in this heat birds were singing, but hard to find. Never once on the whole trip did I use a tape recorder playing songs, and I didn’t know one bird by its song before I left. Therefore I had to do it the hard way, trying to find the birds by following their sounds. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were common here.
Before taking the shuttle I birded along the Virgin River, which turned out to be very productive. Black-chinned Hummingbirds were very common as well as Ash-throated Flycatcher. I also saw Belted Kingfisher, Hairy Woodpecker, Gray Vireo, Plumbeous Vireo, Black-capped and Mountain Chickadee, Western and Mountain Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, Summer and Western Tanager, Song Sparrow, Black-headed Grosbeak, Bullock`s Oriole and Lesser Goldfinch. I should have liked to spend more time in this N. P. watching birds, even if Zion is by far the most visited N. P. in Utah. When we left the park, it was already about 40 degrees in the shade.
We were on our way to Grand Canyon – 2670 meters above sea level and “only” 27 degrees there today. On our way we saw a Golden Eagle. I made a stop and found Townsend`s Solitaire. I pished it into the open. Pishing in Norway has little effect, but not so in USA. I learned that from one of Bill Oddy`s books. I used it from time to time and it almost always worked, even if not all species reacted to it.
Grand Canyon from the northern side is even more majestic than the southern rim. There had been a fire going on since June here, and the firemen were still around. We saw the smoke, but the wind was leading the smoke away so we had a fantastic view over the Canyon. Unfortunately I didn’t do much birding here, but found Steller`s Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Hermit Thrush, Spotted Towhee, Black-headed Grosbeak.
Saturday July 16 Grand Canyon – Monument Valley – Mesa Verde 640 km 35
In the morning I birded a small area around the tent and found it to be very rich in birds. They were singing and flying all over the place, and I was able to identify only a few of them. I was delighted to see 3 Williamson`s Sapsuckers. A bird was singing all the time, but it was hard to see, so I had to work hard in order to identify my first Virginias Warbler. Mountain Chickadee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Western Tanager, Cassin`s Finch were other birds I observed.
We went back to Grand Canyon only to find that the wind had turned and it was smoke all over the place. You could both see it and smell it long before you reached the Canyon, so we didn’t stay long. Instead we stopped at a desolate farm/cabin. It was a beautiful day for other things than birds. But I had an encounter with a bird that is hard to believe exist here. However, I can`t understand how it is possible to mix this bird with any other bird. I saw it for such a long time: Gila Woodpecker – juvenile/female. Black and white stripes on the back and head and neck of one colour. What else can it be?
The roads 89, 98 and 163 were leading us to Monument Valley. The Navajoes like to call the Valley the eight wonder of the world, and it is absolutely a majestic experience to travel through the valley with its strange formed rocks (monuments). Many of the (old) cowboy films are made here, where John Wayne had his own room/cabin.
This afternoon we drove all the way up to Mesa Verde in Colorado, where we found a campground and a family of Western Bluebird. I managed to do a little birdwatching just before dark behind the campground. Here I saw a Wild Turkey and a WarblingVireo, but not much else. Then I tried the pishing again, and within a few minutes I had attracted more than a dozen birds out in the open close to me. It was like a miracle. Around my head flew 4 Juniper Titmouses and 2 Lesser Goldfinches as well as more common birds – even when it became so dark that it was hard to see.
Sunday July 17 Mesa Verde – Durango – Delta 350 km 35 degrees
Early morning I tried the same place and in addition to the birds last evening I saw many Hummingbirds (Black-chinned and Broad-tailed), 3 Pinyon Jays, 5 Plumbeous Vireos and 6 Black-throated Gray Warblers. Further down the road I saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk on a line. Later I walked the Point Lookout Trail, which was full of birds: More than a dozen Hummingbirds, Hairy Woodpecker, Rock Wren (5), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Green-tailed Towhee, Spotted Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow and a Rattle Snake.
Now it was time to have a look at what Mesa Verde is so famous for – the Indian settlements 800 years ago. I admit it was very special in a hostile environment. What I life they had. This is a tourist spot, so Sunday in summer is not the best time to go. Our sightseeing was over at about 2 p.m.
We passed Durango, where Lewis`s Woodpeckers hunt for insects over the town in the afternoon, I have read. But we didn’t see them, so we travelled on further north. We passed 3 passes and ended up in Delta in the evening, where we paid 31 $ for a motel.
Monday July 18 Delta – G. J. – Aspen 220 km 36 degrees
Late up and too hot to go birding today. We went to Great Junction, and even if I was only about 10 miles from Colorado National Monument, I didn’t go there – a good place for some special birds. I also skipped Black Canyon, where I could have seen Canyon Wren, which I had missed so far. We spent some time at G. J. before we headed onto Interstate 70. At Rifle rest area along the highway I took some time to check it for birds - in the middle of the day. Along a lake I heard a loud call and my attention was drawn to it. Imagine my reaction when I saw a Virginia Rail at close range completely out in the open, where it stayed for some minutes. The only one I saw on the whole trip. Great-tailed Grackles were common here.
Aspen is a very famous place – a hot spot for celebrities during the winter season. We wanted to go up to Snowmass, but it was fully booked. We ended up on the east side of the town, where there were several sites vacant. Unfortunately not many birds around, but one of them was MacGillivray`s Warbler. I got a glimpse of a Black Swift just outside town.
Tuesday July 19 Aspen – Golden Gate Canyon S. P. 320 km - 30 degrees
The area nearby the campground looked promising, so I spent the morning here – before the sun had reached the valley. It was only 6 degrees this morning, the coldest we had. There were birds around (more Sparrows), but not much of interest at this stage.
Independence Pass is more than 12000 feet high and the area along the road up to the pass is very good for flowers. White-crowned Sparrows were singing at the top and on the other side of the pass other Sparrows were heard along a creek.
Leadville is an old mining town and is still alive – absolutely not an ordinary town. Not far from here we parked at a ski resort to relax. Relax to me is to go birding, so I went searching the area. After having seen some common birds, I happened to find 3 Wilson`s Warblers, one Virginia Warbler and one Orange-crowned Warbler.
We also stopped at Vail, where some of the Norwegian alpinists have done it so well the last years, including the World Championship. Unfortunately the campground was closed due to bear attacks, so we headed onto road 72 leading to Estes Park. Close to Golden Gate Canyon State Park- along this road - we found a campground with plenty of vacant sites. I did some birding here in the evening, but nothing new – not even a Mountain Lion (has been seen here).
Wednesday July 20 Golden Gate S.P. – Estes Park – Longmont 240 km 33
After birding the campground in the morning with possible Brown Creeper and some difficult Sparrows plus both species of Chickadees, we went up to Estes Park – again. We did this because we had plenty of time, but also because I dipped on some of the species last time – in June. We only spent 2-3 hours here before we went down to Longmont, finding a motel for the night at 48 $.
I took a short trip to Moraine Campground for Brown Creeper, but no luck. From there I went up to West Horseshoe Park for the Creeper. It was definitely the right place, and I think I heard it. I wished I could stay here longer, but my wife waited. I got a great surprise when I went out of the car. Locking it, I turned my eyes up the road. In the middle of it there was a Blue Grouse with at least 5 chicks. I followed it a short distance, passing the ditch, to be certain which Grouse it was. Then it tried to scare me by attacking, so I left them in peace.
My last stop was the YMCA Conference Center where they have put up feeders to attract birds, especially the Hummingbirds. At this time some of the Hummingbirds have returned from the north, and I was delighted to see several Rufous together with Broad-tailed. The Rufous male was very aggressive chasing away the others. I also saw one Red Crossbill. Double-crested Cormorant, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Black Swift, Western and Mountain Bluebird were other good birds today in RMNP.
After having found a place to sleep in Longmont, I wanted to check out a couple of lakes/reservoir. In Little Gaynor Lake I was surprised to find Northern Shoveler and Ruddy Duck. At the big Union Reservoir (Calkins Lake) both Western and Clark`s Grebe were present – about 100 altogether. Here I had the chance to compare the two and really see the difference, as I came very close at one place. I was driving around the reservoir and noted Pied-billed Grebe, Am. White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Spotted Sandpiper, California Gull, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Grosbeak and 60 Yellow-headed Blackbirds (almost only males) plus one Great-tailed Grackle. It was definitely worth the visit. The day`s result was 65 species without much effort.
Thursday July 21 Longmont - Denver 160 km 37 degrees
The birding trip was now over. We went to Denver and found a nice hotel at 45$ a night until we were going back home Sunday July 24. Weather was fantastic every day with temperatures between 36-39. These days we didn’t go far from the hotel. On Saturday we went - with a family we met - up into the mountains northwest of Denver. I saw several raptors here, but unfortunately I didn’t bring my binocular as we hadn’t planned going there. It was a very nice place and few people around.
We delivered the car at Alamo, for which we had paid 1200$. We flew British Airways directly to London from Denver and paid 1000$ each both ways. It had been a great trip in every sense of the word. We had spent 500$ in Petrol, 700$ on Motels and 150$ on Campgrounds. More than 200 species of birds and 110 Lifers was worth every Dollar.
PS My wife read out 5 books while waiting for me to see all these birds, which tells a lot about her patience. Thank you, Wenche!
3812 Akkerhaugen, Norway
Full Species List