Wednesday, July 16, 2014

July 14 and 15 (Days 195 and 196) - Sage stomping, lightning storms, new friends

My plan yesterday was to re-bird Arapaho NWR refuge in the morning and then head to Steamboat Springs in the afternoon/evening to meet Sonia. This was going to be a challenging day, but as you will see, circumstances beyond my control forced an alteration of this plan. I was able to make it to the NWR early in the morning. There was no shortage of birds, and despite the fact that I did not find the target bird of Greater sage-grouse, it was a really nice morning of birding in a truly beautiful place. It is clear that this refuge in under visited, and I really hope it stays that way into the future. I would like to return here with my real camera at some point as I think I could really do some photographic damage. Here are a few samples from today. Some of these would have been killer with my 500/1.4/1DIV. I just need more/better pixels on the subjects to get sharper images and more detail.

American avocet

Wilson's phalarope

Canvasback with chicks

The plan for the afternoon was to cruise some of the back, dirt roads en route to Steamboat Springs to look for Sage-grouse. These detours were to take me through the Coalmont area where there are several well-known Sage-grouse leks. I was hoping that I might kick one up off the road as I biked along. This ride was quite pleasant, but as I started later in the day than normal, thunderheads started to build to my west as I crept along these back roads. By the time I climbed this road up this hill (see photo below), there was quite a bit of thunder and lighting in my vicinity. 

32 miles + 3 from a second loop at NWR for 35 total

Photo of the hill that yesterday was getting peppered with lightning

Just as I reached the top and was deciding what to do, CRACK! - right behind me. A large lightning bolt hit way too close for comfort. There was a house about a quarter mile behind me back down the hill. I quickly scampered down to the property. I had planned to shelter in the garage until the storm passed. However, a large dog started barking as I approached the house. The owner appeared in a few seconds, calmed the dog down, and asked if I needed a place to ride out the storm. To make a very long story very short, Becky and I really hit it off, and after 1.5 hours of chatting, I asked if Sonia and I could camp in her yard for the night (Recall that Sonia was coming to meet up with me today. It was just as easy for her to meet me here as in Steamboat Springs). Becky said it was no problem at all. We could sleep in the house, and she even offered to make us dinner! It turns out that one of the best-known Sage-grouse leks in the state in actually on her property. Becky and her husband Pat watch the birds out of their living room window! I figured that I could bird the area around her house both yesterday evening and again this morning. I thought this would give me a great shot at actually finding the Sage grouse. This was the first time I have had to ditch into a random person's house this year. Becky and Pat were incredibly friendly and showed a level of hospitality that would have impressed a close friend let alone a complete stranger. It was a truly incredible encounter.

Sonia and I spent lots of time both yesterday (after the storm cleared) and today stomping around in the sage. Despite incredible effort, we were unable to turn up a grouse. Becky, a fairly accomplished rider, even joined us on horseback. She says she regularly flushes grouse as she rides around her property. However, today was not our lucky day, and even the presence of Lucky, Becky's dog and sidekick, was not enough to kick up a grouse from the seemingly endless sage. When all was said and done though, I think I will remember Becky and Pat just as much as any bird I'll see this year. Sometimes when the birding slows down a little, its good to put the focus on people instead.


 and more sage!

Sonia, Hondo, Becky

Better kisser than Sonia! 

Sonia tackles the sage

Becky on Hondo, Lucky

A morning in the sage

I did observe a life mammal yesterday when a badger came running across the top of a hill where I was birding. I was able to snap a few quick photos of the beast before it disappeared into its hole not to be seen again. I took a few another photos yesterday. I am VERY pleased with the Rock wren - mainly because of the rock! 

Swainson's hawk

Rockin' Rock wren!

After today's morning romp in the sage, I hopped on the bike and pedaled the ~50 miles to Steamboat Springs. Sonia left at about the same time. She reached Steamboat Springs well ahead of me and anchored in a cafe to work while she waited for me to arrive several hours later. Highlights of my ride included 2 Bald eagles and my first moose of the year! We spent the afternoon hanging out, eating, and doing errands in Steamboat Springs. Tomorrow we will head to Craig. I will leave very early and try to make a few stops to look for Sharp-tailed grouse. Sonia will work from Steamboat in the morning, then head to Craig in the afternoon to do more work and wait for me. We've got this down to a science at this stage. Hopefully I'll have some good news on the bird front. I figure that Greater sage-grouse and Sharp-tailed grouse will be 2 of the hardest birds for me to find for the rest of the year. At this stage I would totally settle for one out of two! 

49 miles from Coalmont to Steamboat Springs today


  1. Did Sonia punch you yet for your comment about the horse being a better kisser? If you don't find the sage grouse, Antelope Flats in Jackson Hole is good for them. You still getting over that way?

  2. "Badgers?!? We don't need to show you no stinkin' badgers!"