Thursday, July 17, 2014

July 17 (Day 198) - Gggggggggggggrrrrrrrr-ouse in da house! BONUS commentary from Queen Sonia!

The title says it all! Today was a huge success as Sonia and I were able to observe 2-3 Sharp-tailed grouse just south of Craig, CO. I was even able to grab a record shot of one bird that flushed after I nearly stepped on it.

Year bird #501 - Sharp-tailed grouse!!!

How we came to find this bird takes a bit of explanation. We would not have found this bird without the help of Forrest, an employee of the Trapper Mine just south of Craig, CO. My now well-developed Colorado birding network put me in touch with Forrest. He is an environmental manager at the mine, and he agreed to take us out onto the mine grounds to look for the birds. There are several Sharp-tailed grouse leks at the mine, and he correctly figured that by walking the grassy hillsides around the leks, we could kick up a few of the birds. Sonia actually flushed the first bird; It came over a rise, and I had a very brief look at it. I could not in good conscience count this individual, so we pushed on in search of more birds. Forrest soon flushed another, and I got a serviceable view of it as it flew over another rise. I flushed what I think was this this same bird 5 minutes later. This time I got a nice look as the bird burst forth from the grass. After I secured the look at my lifer, I reached for the camera to capture the photo above. It's not great, but there's no doubt about it! I really owe Forrest a huge 'thank you' for his assistance!

Forrest and me

Scouring the hillside!

We spent some additional time tromping around the hillside after our grouse triumph. During this time Sonia nearly stepped on a small Prairie rattlesnake ( < 2 feet long, but the grass was too thick for  a photo). She handled the scare very well and did not let it rattle her for the rest of the ~6 mile walk. At some points we were in neck high grass!

We returned to town around midday. I decided that since we had already put the grouse into our pockets, we should stay at the Craig Best Western again. Our stay last night was great, so why move 30 miles down the road to the next town to pay for a hotel not nearly as nice? Like West Texas, I am currently tightly constrained by the distances between towns. Maybell is only 30 miles, but to the next town, Dinosaur, its another 60. Moving the 30 to Maybell does not get me much since we can stay here for free. After such a light day today, I can bang out the 90 miles to Dinosaur tomorrow since the wind is supposed to be relatively quiet. I will have my first crack at Sagebrush sparrow tomorrow, and Sage grouse remains a constant possibility. I'll fill everyone in tomorrow night. Now for some words from Sonia. If you're ever in Craig, may we suggest a visit to the Ocean Pearl Chinese Restaurant. Lots of good food at a very reasonable price!

SONIA: So, let me tell you what it's like to Grouse hunt as an unbirder. I spent a good amount of the 6 mile hike having a mental conversation with myself. It went a little something like this:

[to self]. 
Wow, it's nice sunny day today. Beautiful landscape. So natural and untouched.
Oh look, a pretty butterfly. Awe, nice butterfly. Go to the pretty flowers.
I wonder what kind of other wildlife live out here? I bet a family of deer prance through these fields.  Maybe they are friends with the skunk. Awe, how cute. Deer and skunk friends.

....Ummm wait, Forrest said to watch out for rattlesnakes. Seriously?! Snakes?!
Ok, time to plan. I wonder what I do if I see a snake? Step on it? Grab it and throw it? Run like a lunatic... yes, lunatic. Good call.
Ok, its starting to get hot out here. Man, these hills are a lot steeper than they look.
Wait, what if it takes hours to find this bird?... Oh my gosh, what if we DON'T find this bird?! Hold it together. We'll find one.
Time for a game. Let's count my steps. One step, two step, three step, four step... ok, this is stupid. What next.
HOLY CRAP! A bird just flew out from under my feet. There it is! There it is! We found the grouse! And the angels sing...Hallelujah!

Wait, what?! Dorian said he didn't see it good enough?! WTH! Can't he just take my word? It was a bird, with big wings. It flapped and dove back into the grass. What more is there to see?
Oh, great. Dorian wants to press on. Ugh. Now we're climbing even further up this hill...scratch that, these are mountains. Yes, damn mountains. I'm climbing up Mount Everest.
Ok, I can do this. I'm strong, I am woman, hear me roar.
AHHHHHH! What the hell was that?! Oh my God, it's a snake. A SNAKE! Don't step on it. Run! You already told yourself to run. Why aren't your feet moving?!?
Awesome. Now the boys want a closer look at the snake. That's right, they think it's cool. It almost bit off my face, but you know, that's not important or anything.

Moving on. You survived. ....woah! What was that?! Yes! YES! Another bird! Flap, flap, dive...yes, and Dorian saw this one. We're done. Grouse, check!
Ummm, what? Forrest flushed that one so now Dorian wants to flush one himself?! Why God, why?! 
This mountain is never going to end. 
WOAH! Bird number three!!! And Dorian flushed it!!! Yes!!!!! Ok, time to go down the hill now. 
What?! What was that? Forrest said we should now find sage grouse. Dear God, how many grouse are there?!
Awesome, more mountain. Sure, yeah, that's cool.
Photo break. You think if I push the guy on the right over the cliff this will end? 

...pull yourself together, girl. You're not Cody Johnson.
Ugh, this is never going to end. Sweet, now we're in mile high grass. There are literally thorns in my shoes. Please make this stop.

Yeah, yeah. Take a photo of me. Why I otta.....

I'm dying.  What has my life come to? Please, someone plant a sage grouse right here. Where is Dorian's mom when I need her?
Ahhhhh! What was that?! Holy heart attack. It was a deer that was hidden in the mile weeds. Yeah, you better run like Bambi's mom. Escape while you can! 
Woah, that dear is moving pretty fast. Wait, on second thought, come back! I could hitch a ride with you!
Dorian seems mesmerized by the whole thing. He just asked "isn't this fun?". Oh, yes. Hmmm, other fun things? Let's see... root canals, coloscopies, watching Rocky #563. Seriously, why is Sylvester Stallone even allowed to breathe?! 

Oh, wait. What was that? Come again?! Yes! Thank God! Dorian said we can start heading back. No more grouse hunting. Finally.
I can see the car! Yes, run! o happy to see you, little car. I love you.

Wait, what? Dorian said we'll keep searching tomorrow??? Awesome. I need a drink. 

Ok, Ok, I kid. It was actually a lovely day. I did have a great time and so happy we saw the grouse. But seriously, everyone... how many grouse are there?!


  1. Another grouse triumph! Congratulations! No pressure with Sagebrush Sparrow as they're easy to find in winter along your AZ/NM route!

  2. Triumph! Oh joy! So glad you got the bird! And that Sonia is a super trooper! Well done!!! So much fun to read this post, I'm sitting in a hotel room at a convention in New Jersey cheering out loud!

  3. Birdergirl, I am reading this in a hotel room at a convention in Portland! And also am cheering for Dorian. Sonia, I loved your account of the day also.

  4. Sonia - my wife would absolutely mimick your account of bird watching. Every time she sees an egret... "I just want to snap its neck!". Birding is hard to understand. It's a treasure hunt, and what boy doesn't want to find treasure? But your boy is doing it for the sake of conservation, and you're a good woman to support him on those efforts. But seriously, go find a sage grouse and throw it on the ground in front of him when he's not looking. And then head to the local Sizzler to celebrate. Yes, Sizzler.

  5. Yay!!! Great find. Sonia - you are a gem - I've been there holding the sunshade for dear boyfriend while he takes YET another picture of the same flower, in 100 degree heat..... So glad you didn't step on that rattler!

  6. Dorian

    Why don't you let Queen Sonia write ALL of your daily reports. She adds an interesting, colorful and humorous perspective to your daily reports. Also you are very photogenic when you smile with your mouth CLOSED. I'm rooting for you every day and look forward to your daily reports. (also I pledged $25 for EVERY 3 months of your travels).