Sunday, June 15, 2014

June 14 (Day 165) - Pinned by Wind, Finch redemption, town of Silverton

I decided to stay in Silverton, CO today rather than ride to Ouray to look for Black swift and then onto Montrose to sleep. I did this for a number of reasons. First, I will have to climb back up to 11,000 feet (from 9,300) en route to Ouray. My legs are a bit beat after yesterday, so I figured it best to give myself a light day today before I do this climb. Second, the strong winds forecasted for today could make riding on these narrow mountain roads more dangerous than it otherwise needs to be. Third, after I top out at 11,000' early in the ride,  I will drop 3200' to reach Ouray at 7,800' before I drop an additional 2000' feet to reach Montrose at 5,800'. In losing this altitude, I will be leaving the high elevation zone that I spent so much energy to reach. I reasoned that since I have worked so hard to get this high, I may as well spend an additional day trying to pick off high elevation species before I give that elevation back as I drop to Montrose. 

Given all of this, I set out on the unloaded bike this morning with the hopes of tracking down a few of the high elevation finches that eluded me yesterday. I actually decided to retrace my steps back up to Molas Lake which I passed on my descent into Silverton yesterday. With an unloaded bike, a climb of 1,300 feet over 5 miles would be no problem!

View looking south

Molas Lake

Today was certainly better birding than yesterday. I found Pine silken, White-crowned sparrow, Lincoln's sparrow, Chipping sparrow, Western tanager, Wilson's warbler, and 2 more Gray jays. By the time I reached Molas Lake, the winds were a steady 20 MPH. This birding had cooled down s the winds had increased. Just as I was about to start my descent back to town, a got a very brief look at what I was 95% certain was a female Red crossbill. However, at that same moment a huge wind gust went through and pushed the bird off the tree before I could solidify the ID. UGH - so close! I decided to just wait around and see if the bird would return. It did not. However, about 10 minutes later a male Red Crossbill landed in the top of a nearby tree for year bird #475! He lifted off just as I raised the camera, and a female flew out of the same tree behind him. These Colorado birds really don't want to be photographed! This was an extremely satisfying find for me since I felt like I should have found this bird yesterday. I put int the time today and nailed this bird on a day when I did not make any miles along my route. Sure I will probably see this again somewhere else, but at least now I don't need to worry about it if I don't!

But wait....there's more! As I started back towards town, I ventured down a dirt road that looked interesting. I ditched my bike in the woods and walked about a mile down the road before turning around. On my way back, I flushed two birds from the same tree. The first was what I think was a young Townsend's solitaire. I got a crappy photo of it before it bolted. The second bird landed right above my head. I figured it would be another solitaire, but I decided to check it out anyway. After staring into the pine tree for two minutes, a bit of movement revealed a Pine grosbeak for year bird #476! Whoomp there it is! I even got a photo of this bird! This, like the crossbill, was a bird I had hoped to find yesterday. I was super stoked at this stage; The decision to stay at elevation in/around Silverton was validated!

A nice chipping sparrow from today

Townsend's solitaire (I think)

Pine grosbeak from today

Here's a better shot of one of these I took in 
Massachusetts a few years ago.

The winds really shut down any birding that might have happened this afternoon. I decided instead to check out the town of Silverton. Is is an old mining town that now survives mainly on tourism in the summer and skiing in the winter. There is a very fun old school steam train that connects Durango to Silverton. This train runs through some of the same terrain through which I biked yesterday. It seems as though most folks who visit Durango take the mountain train ride up to Silverton for a day trip. My host, Calvin, works at the small bike shop in town during the summer. His winters are spent as a ski guide. He has actually started doing combination biking-skiing day trips during his free time in the winter months. Here is a really cool video of one of these stunts. He executed an filmed the entire thing by himself! Its really impressive. 


Durango-Silverton steam train

Calvin on bike

Calvin at the bike store

My next ride!

OK, time to hit the hay. Tomorrow I will bird Ouray for Black swift. This would be a life bird for me, so stay tunes to see how it goes!


  1. Beautiful country! I know it well. Rode the Silverton-Durango steam train when I was about 5 years old. A great memory, although nowadays it costs a mint to ride. (Don't know if you remember but my mom is originally from Colorado.)

    Went down there with Mandy back before we were married to visit my CO relatives...maybe 2006?. Went to Chaco Canyon, 4 Corners, Durango, and such points of interest. Camped at a beautiful campground a few miles outside of Silverton. Freezing at night, even in July, but a beautiful spot!

    I enjoy reading about your progress and adventures. P

  2. Great blog! I check in every 2-3 weeks to check in on your adventures.

    Finches are funny species. I live in Victoria, BC and last year the Red Crossbills were everywhere, Pine Grosbeaks made a brief appearance and we even had a pair of Common Redpolls. This year the Crossbills took a pass on Victoria and only a few have been turned up in the area.

    Your shot looks good for a Solitaire to me.

    Keep up the good work!