Tuesday, December 3, 2013

High and Empty-handed with the Birds

There has too much inactivity on this site, or rather, not enough activity. At any rate, there certainly hasn't been enough rambling with some birds and junk thrown in the mix. I spent this past weekend up in the Denver area with some friends, enjoying a brief respite from work and trying to fit in some high-elevation birding on the side. Pine Grosbeaks, White-tailed Ptarmigan, Gray Jays, and maybe a Redpoll all taunted me in my sleep preceding the trip, but when I arrived at the mile-high city there proved to be little time and little cooperative weather for much actual, hard-nose birding. There are just so many micro breweries and other neat spots, plus we scored free tickets to a Denver Nuggets game...

Sloan Lake, right next to where we stayed for a couple of days, was awash with the many common varieties of brown, black, and white geese. The Canadas were to be expected--after all, it was a big park with a lake and nicely manicured grass--but I was surprised at the high number of Cackling Geese, who outnumbered the Canadas in many areas of the lake.

We have a few Cacklers turn up in Phoenix every winter, but I have not had the opportunity to photograph them before and Sloan Lake provided a welcome, easy opportunity. They didn't cackle really, but then it was a fairly quiet morning with little to cause a row.

There were some Flickers and Kestrels around the park, but other than these and the geese the only birds were Ring-billed Gulls who settled down into the grass like they were nesting on some remote arctic island instead of in suburban Denver.

Rather than driving directly back to Phoenix, we detoured for a day in Las Vegas to visit some other friends, which allowed for a bit of car-birding and, much more impressively, amazing views of the Rocky Mountains on a gorgeous drive through Colorado and Utah.

As we snaked across the Colorado River, I was able to pick out some Goldeneye in the run-off lagoons. We also had some nice looks at the ever colorful and entertaining Black-billed Magpies, but these specimens would not tolerate any sort of approach for photography. I probably set the trip back an hour trying to snap shots of these frustrating birds.

I was hoping to make some stops to scan for Ptarmigans or any birds that could be found in montane forests as we gained altitude, but the fog rolled in so thick and reduced visibility so much (not to mention the temperature) that seeing birds of any sort became a pipe dream.

The birds were taking cover, but this eerie, frigid landscape certainly held its own allure...just not one the human body could tolerate for very long outside of the car.

Even having seen more birds or gotten some satisfactory Magpie shots, I think the scenic drive would have still been the highlight of the trip, at least as far as nature-ventures go. The descent into Utah was equally gorgeous, and I spent the next day recovering from a severely strained jaw that had been hanging open for entirely too long.