My trip out to the Rocky Mountains for my family reunion was not as productive as I had hoped for my life list, but it was still a good birding experience. I added 8 species to my ABA list and 7 to my life list: Great-tailed Grackle (ABA), Swainson’s Hawk, Violet-green Swallow, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Band-tailed Pigeon, Sage Thrasher, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Upland Sandpiper. Of these, only the swallow and hummingbird were birds I saw while out birding, and not as a drive-by while traveling – although I did get better looks at Swainson’s Hawks on the 4th at Windy Gap Reservoir. The Sage Thrasher was sort of an iffy look at a rest stop as we were getting in the car but I’m about 98% certain that’s what the bird was. The Band-tailed Pigeons I saw weren’t cooperative either, as I had a very brief look at a pair flying away as we drove up the mountains on our first day, but luckily one of the species’ major diagnostic marks is best viewed on a bird flying away – the banded tail, which is what I saw on the birds. That field mark plus the habitat pretty much cinches the identification.
Violet-green Swallow - The only life bird I was able to get decent photos of!
One of the reasons I think I missed a lot of life birds, besides the fact I was doing family activities and only had an hour devoted to nothing but birding, was the fact that there was a lot of active logging of lodgepole pines at the YMCA ranch we were staying at. The logging was to remove trees killed by the pine beetle infestation, which is on track to eliminate 90% of the lodgepole pines in Grand County in two years. Considering that most of the forest in Grand County is lodgepole pine, this is a major disaster. To get an idea of the scope of the infestation, take a look at the picture of the mountain below. Normally, that mountain should look green but instead is rust-colored from all the dead trees.
Anyway, the logging at the ranch was concentrating on removing dead trees from the property as a fire prevention measure, which I am sure has driven out a lot of birds. Still, I had a lot of good birds at the ranch, including Violet-green Swallows, Red Crossbills, Mountain Bluebirds, Northern Goshawk, Spotted Sandpiper, Green-winged Teal, American Widgeon, Pine Siskin, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, and others.
"Red-shafted" Northern Flicker (note the dead pines in background)
Pine Siskin, Rocky Mountain National Park
Female Mountain Bluebird
We only spent a little time in Rocky Mountain National Park, and it wasn’t very birdy where we stopped, unfortunately. I did get some spectacular shots of some bull elk browsing at 12,000 feet, thought, and a good moose photo!
Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park
Cow moose, Rocky Mountain National Park
All in all, it was a good trip, and just a taste of the birding that awaits me on future trips out there…