Monday, June 30, 2014

June 29 (Day 180) - Leaving the mountains behind (for now), Williamson's sapsucker for 489!

Today marked my last day in the mountains for a number of weeks. Yesterday peaked at 14,060' on the summit of Mt. Bierstadt and finished at around 7,800' in Genesee. Today I dropped yet further as I biked off the Front Range; I am currently sitting at ~5,300' here in Louisville (about 10 mins east of Boulder - by car). I will be birding around here tomorrow before I head to Boulder on Tuesday and Wednesday to search for Flammulated owl. After that it's north and east to the Pawnee National Grasslands to look for McCown's and Chestnut-collared longspurs, Mountain plover, Ferruginous hawk, and Ring-necked pheasant. After that I'll be done in Colorado! Not 100% sure of the route after that so stay tuned.

44 miles today

My host last night in Genesee/Golden was perhaps the most die hard biker that I have met this year. Frosty Wooldridge has cycled on 6 continents (including Antarctica!) and has probably logged more miles on his bike than many have logged in their cars. He is a very active environmental journalist and adventurer, so we certainly had quite a bit to talk about last night and this morning. He is actually preparing for a tour down the pacific coast this summer and a second one through Italy later in the year. He writes books about his incredible adventures. You can check out more about his trips at Frosty was kind enough to escort me on the the first half of my ride today. He rode his fully loaded bike basically for the hell of it. He claimed it was for training purposes, but I believe he just looks for any excuse to get back in his touring frame of mind. Biking for him appears to serve a meditation-like function. Everything is the world is right for Frosty when he's on the bike. Its like me when I birding/photographing. I love meeting people who are as wound up about anything as I am about birding/photographing. All the money in the world can't buy passion; You gotta find that for yourself.

Frosty with his set-up

I did make one brief birding stop at Genesee Park this morning. Several people had recommended this spot for Williamson's sapsucker. It was only 1.5 miles from Frosty's house, so I swung through this morning to bird a bit. Chris Rurik of Mt. Bierstadt and Rosy finch fame actually birded this area yesterday on his way home to Denver. He found a sapsucker nest and texted me the location. Many people have been eBirding an active nest at this site, so I wonder if this is all the same family. I could easily hear the chicks were begging for food from within the tree when I arrived. Within 10 minutes both the male and female had made feeding visits to the nest hole that was a mere 4 feet off the ground. The light on the actual nest hole was terrible, but I did get this shot of the male as he climbed a bit higher on the tree. Such a pretty bird....

Williamson's sapsucker #489!

This evening was spent at the new home of my high school friend Kevin to whom I introduced everyone yesterday. It was nice to chat with his wife Laine and meet their 8-month old daughter, Harper. Kevin told me hands down the funniest story I have heard in all of 2014. I laughed so hard that I was crying at the dinner table. I almost needed supplemental oxygen. Sorry folks, the details of the $100,000 cookie scandal are staying between old friends.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

June 27 and 28 (Days 178 and 179) - More high elevation bird hunts, New friends, Old friends

OK, thanks to Sonia for embarrassing me with the conch story in her post from yesterday. Payback is coming.......

These last two days were my one remaining shot at two, much sought, high elevation species, White-tailed ptarmigan and Brown-capped rosy-finch. I have been unsuccessfully chasing them for the past week or so. After this attempt, I would be dropping to lower elevations where these species are not found. Several people had recommended that I try Guanella Pass for both of these birds. It was generally along my route, but would require a very steep and hard climb to reach the best habitat. Luckily, I was contacted by Denver birder and fellow Stanford alum Chris Rurik. He offered to meet me up at Guanella Campground just below the pass. He would bring a tent and a sleeping bag for me. This would give me two days of birding at Guanella! Perfect! 

There was very strong wind in the early morning yesterday (the 27th), so I did not start the climb from Georgetown to Guanella until 10am or so. This climb was very steep and took about 2 hours with all my stuff. I reached the campground, secured a spot, and ditched most of my stuff in the bushes. I actually started talking to a very nice couple, Pat and Ron, while I was getting the campsite squared away. They seemed really interested in my story, so they decided to cook me lunch in their camper to keep me talking for a few hours. We hung out for a solid 1.5 hours. This was very welcomed conversation and helped to recharge my batteries from the climb.

Pat, Ron, steak and cheese, and the five pound bag
of M+Ms that was a four pound bag after I left.

After lunch and rest, I headed up to the actually pass another 2 miles and 800 feet above the campground. The main attraction at the pass is Mt Bierstadt, one of Colorado's 53 14,000' peaks. As yesterday was a Friday, things were fairly quiet at the pass. I decided to skip the main trail that ran east up to Mt. Bierstadt and instead wandered off towards what looked like productive habitat to the west. I hunted around for about 1.5 hours without seeing much. I then heard this big thud in some bushes to the left of the trail. I thought it might be a bear, so I looked around to make sure I wasn't about to become lunch. I did not see anything, so I turned to continue along the trail when BANG!!! A White-tailed ptarmigan was standing in the trail not 6 frickin' feet from me (#487)! I almost lost control of myself. I immediately reached for the camera. I was so excited that I did not remember to remove my sunglasses, and as a result I smashed them against my face them with the camera as I raised it to my eye. The frames cracked and one lens fell onto the ground. Despite this nonsense, the bird did not move, and I was able to collect myself enough to get a few decent shots. The bird did not seem too concerned with me, and over the course of the next 1.5 hours, I followed him around at point-blank range. This single encounter made carrying the camera the last 3 weeks totally worth it! Chances are I will never see this bird this well again! I was able to show the bird to another hiker, Nadja, who was visiting Colorado from France/Germany. I think she likes how obsessed I was with the ptarmigan.





Nadja and me

Finding this bird was probably that highlight of the year so far. The Black-throated blue warbler that I found in Texas was probably the single most exciting birding moment of the trip, but the fact this this guy was so cooperative when it came to photos really put this over the top. You all know how hard I looked for this bird, so it was incredibly satisfying to finally find it with great effort yesterday! The Black-throated blue warbler story is a really good one. For those that missed it in April, you can find it here. For those that did not understand Sonia's "owl sanctuary" remark from yesterday, this should help clarify things (read to the end).

After this incredible find, I dropped back down to the campsite to find that Chris had already set up the tent and was busy preparing dinner. We had a really nice evening getting acquainted. It was fun to hear that he also played ultimate frisbee at Stanford! We hit the hay relatively early. There were massive thunderstorms all night. We lost quit a bit of sleep to nearby thunder and lightning, but awoke energetic enough to head back up to the pass where we would take a hike to take one last stab at finding Brown-capped rosy-finch. 

We decided to try an area north an west of Mt Bierstadt, but a large gully that would have been unsafe for us to cross thwarted this plan. We instead decided to hike up Mt. Bierstadt proper. As today was a Saturday, the trail was incredibly busy. At least 500 people had decided to climb Mt. Bierstadt today, so this essentially crushed any hope of finding another ptarmigan along this trail. There were about 1.5 inches of fresh snow on the trail, and this made the going a bit slippery. We slowly picked our way up the mountain. My focus had actually shifted away from birding and toward my own safety; I did not want to slip and end my year. I could tell that Chris really wanted to make the summit. This actually helped propel me up a hike that I might have truncated had I been there alone. Having other folks along really helps sometimes. 

As we approached the top, Chris peaked over a snow drift and down the steep south face of the mountain. "Dorian, come over here" he said rather calmly. I peered over the edge to see 2 rosy-finches bouncing around on the rocks 50' below us (#488). Suddenly, the birds flew right up to the ridge line and landed on some rocks 25 feet from us. I quickly scrambled around and peeled off a few frames before the birds lifted off, were joined by two others in flight (4 total), and headed off to the east not to be seen again. We had a total of about 45 seconds of viewing, but man, did we make them count! We continued up the the summit where a young woman was kind enough to lend us her sign for our photo. We had found the birds only 50' below the summit. This meant that we had to make it to 14,000' to tick this bird. It was actually a life bird for Chris. This is really funny since he was so calm when he called me over. I would have been yelling excitedly and smashing sunglasses into my face! He's got a good poker face, so watch out for him if you meet him at the tables......

Brown-capped rosy-finch #488!
So glad I lugged the camera up the mountain. 

Celebrating the summit and the rosy-finch!
Note: Chris made the entire hike in 
Converse Chuck Taylors!

Looking east from Guanella Pass.
Mt Bierstadt (14,060') is right of center.
Photo taken looking east on afternoon of 27th 
with sun behind me to the west.

The plan for the afternoon was to say goodbye to Chris after the hike and to decend to the town of Idaho Springs to meet up with my 2 best friends from high school, James and Kevin. They both live in the greater Denver area. They had planned to climb another nearby 14,000 peak, Mt. Gray, and then meet me at 5pm in Idaho Springs for an early dinner. Somehow they got lost driving to Mt. Gray and ended up at Guanella Pass instead. The decided that Mt. Bierstadt would serve as a viable substitute. Chris and I ran into James and Kevin on the decent. It was a hilarious and fortuitous meeting! We all hiked down together, Chris took off, and the remaining 3 of us headed into Georgetown where we spent several hours reminiscing about our teenage years and how far we have come since then. Both Jamie and Kevin are now parents. Me? Not so much. I will extract photo from them in the next few days. My phone was long since dead at this stage. In the late afternoon, I rode the another 30 miles or so to reach Genesee/Golden.

42 miles today

I will probably see Chris again if he can sneak out to meet me for some Pawnee National Grassland birding next weekend. Between then and now, I will head towards Boulder were I hope to track down Flammulated owl on Tuesday/Wednesday nights. Kevin lives just outside Boulder, so I will probably stay with him for a night. This will give me a bit more time to hear about his life as it currently stands. Its really important to remember that birds are only part of the story this year. The people, both new and old friends, are just as exciting........

Saturday, June 28, 2014

June 27 (Day 178) - Camping out in the Mountains

Hey all, Sonia here. Dorian is once again disconnected so you're stuck with me. He's currently camping out in the Guanella mountains with a friend, once again hoping to see the oh-so-allusive ptarmigan. It has been really difficult for me to hear how disappointed he is day after day. Dorian's mom and I joke that we are going to go to a zoo....or wherever you might find a pet ptarmigan...steal it and plant it somewhere along his path. He is so fixated on finding this bird that I am seriously considering this. You should know that Dorian's persistent and obsessive behavior apparently dates back to his childhood. His mom, Bea, confessed a story to me that I thought was too funny not to share (I hope you don’t mind Bea!). Around day 3 of Dorian’s ptarmigan hunt she sent me an email titled “A Mother’s Confession”. Here you go:

"I may have told you this but if not: When Dorian was little he was obsessed with finding an intact conch shell on the beach in Ocean City where we had our beach house. Week after week no success, so I bought one and buried it the night before our next morning hunt... Not sure how I can pre-position a bird."

I rolled with laughter when I read this since it says so much about Dorian (and his mother's love). He has this way of focusing on something so intently that he just isn't happy until it's completed. He's like this with his birding, photography and even DJing (which makes him excellent at all three). It's really an incredible character trait and something that I personally admire. It's what allows him to press on with this trip when most people would have given up. That said, please ptarmigan gods, let this poor man find this bird!

While I'm sure most of you know how difficult it is to find a ptarmigan, I thought we could play a little game of "Where's the Ptarmigan?". Check out the photo below. Believe it or not, there is a ptarmigan in this picture. Can you find it?

Oh where, oh where can he be?

It amazing me how this bird camouflages. Seeing this photo really helps me understand exactly what Dorian is up against. A few years ago he and I took a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and we spent a good amount of time searching for this bird. We covered miles and miles by car and foot and we found nada. I think about doing all that we did by bike and I'm bewildered by how he is managing to keep it up. We're all rooting for you, Dorian!

Ok still can't find the ptarmigan in the photo? Here you go. Seriously, how does anyone find these birds?:

Yep, to the left of center

With that, I will leave you with a video I shot here in Nashville of a local bluegrass band. I spend a good amount of time listening to live music here since this city attracts so many talented musicians. It's such a treat. This particular venue is something special. It's a charming, unassuming little place that serves up some very delicious crepes and awesome live music. Oh, and the owner also happens to be very easy on the eyes which makes my visits all the more fun. Hey, if Dorian can frequent "Owl Sanctuaries" it only seems fair that I can have weekly visits to hottie McCrepe Man. Anyway, if you're ever in the Nashville area take some time to stop by this place. It's called Sonny's Music and Cafe Creperie. The handsome owner is Sonny himself. 

Now, say a little prayer for the ptarmigan!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

June 26 (Day 177) - A great ride, but no birds....

The rest day yesterday worked wonders today. My legs felt incredible on my ride to the top of Loveland Pass this morning. I arrived at 8:30am, stashed the bike, and began a 7-hour, fruitless search for ptarmigan and rosy-finch. I birded the entire area around the pass, climbed 3 different peaks, and traversed a mountainside's worth of tundra - not a thing. I know these birds are hard to find, but this is getting incredibly frustrating. Tomorrow I will bike up to Guanella Pass (another monster climb of  > 3,000' in ten miles) where I will likely be spending the night camping with a Colorado birder with whom I have been corresponding. This will give me two days (Fri, Sat) during which I can not find these birds. After this, I will fold my hand on these birds and move onto fight the next painful battle, Flammulated owl.

Steep, winding road to the top

Great view

Highest I've had the bike this year!

I hiked the peak on the right, 
the peak on the front left, the
peak in the way back left rear, 
and traversed the front mountainside 2x.
I climbed to @13,400 feet on foot - ugh.

I am sorry if this post sounds incredibly pessimistic, but this is how I feel at the moment. I could potentially push a week into these two birds and not find them. This would be a colossal waste of time, and it would be a big blow to me personally. I do not do well with failure. The tough thing about birding is that I have only so much control over the outcome of any given search; If the birds aren't present, there's absolutely nothing I can do about it. Maybe I shouldn't pin so much of my definition of success and failure on whether or not I find the desired birds. I know intuitively that I should just relax and enjoy the entire journey on which I find myself. It's just hard for me to do this when I have such a specific goal in mind for a day like today. Everyone has different definitions of success and failure, and everyone has to find a way to exist within his/her definition without driving himself/herself crazy. After Saturday, these birds will either be ticked or they won't. The adventure will continue with or without them, and ultimately they will have little bearing on my overall experience this year.

American pipit - no shortage of these today.

OK, that's it for now. Fingers crossed for tomorrow....

June 25 (Day 176) - Much needed rest.....

I did a whole lot of nothing today. Most of the day was spent relaxing in my Best Western hotel room.  I spent last night here and I am spending tonight here as well. The best thing about this place? The name! I am hoping this is a good omen for the next few days. As per usual, I attacked the free breakfast this morning. The waffle hat trick happened as per usual. I felt like Luis Suarez as I ripped and tore my way through the fluffy breakfast treats! Since I plan on leaving before breakfast officially starts tomorrow morning, the hotel staff have made special arrangements to set out some food early for me tomorrow morning. Can't beat that!

I did take a short ride (~10 miles) by some feeders that some folks recommended, but those turned out to be largely uninteresting. On this ride, my go-to, thread-bare pair of shorts finally bit the dust; A huge rip along the leg basically splayed them fully open and non-funtional. I managed to find a new pair (and some ice cream) at the Silverthorne/Dillion factory outlets on my way back from the feeders. This ride also served to get my blood moving a bit, and afterwards I sat in the hotel hot tub to help soothe my aching legs. They do feel better tonight, so I guess that bodes well for tomorrow. 

The entire ride for tomorrow is scheduled for ~34 miles. The first 16 are uphill, and miles 9-16 will the incredibly challenging. I will gain over 2,600 feet during these 8-miles. This will be very similar to the Monarch Pass climb I did the other day. I will pass by both the Keystone and Arapahoe Basin ski areas as I climb, so readers who have visited these areas will understand the challenge that I face. Loveland Pass is basically at 12,000' (11,991, officially), and this will be the highest elevation that I have reached on the bike this year. I will surely be puffin' when I finally reach the pass. Luckily, I have just to roll the 18 miles down the hill on the other side of the pass to reach my place of refuge for tomorrow night. I hope to spend the middle part of the day birding the pass for ptarmigan and rosy-finch. A big issue is that I will have the fully loaded bike with me. I am hoping I can find somewhere to hide the bike, or I will be stuck birding from the road. Walking far away from the bike and all my stuff for extended periods of time is only possible when I can find a really good hiding spot. Another major headache I face that car-based birders do not........ugh.

I'll be puffin........thank you, thank you, I'll be here all year.

Lastly, someone posted this on my Facebook page the other day and I wanted to share it with you. I have been dreaming about something like this for years! I am so glad it is finally going to Germany. I doubt this would ever work in the States since everyone is so unnecessarily hyper-parnoid about cleanliness and sterility, but it is nonetheless encouraging to see that the idea is being tested somewhere. Here you go!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

June 24 (Day 175) - A very hard ride today, not much birding, fundraising update

Today was a moving day as I rode 72 miles from Buena Vista, CO to Dillon, CO. This ride was designed to set me up to take a few more cracks at ptarmigan and rosy-finch. The ride today was very painful for two reasons. First, the 45 of the first 47 miles were uphill (4300' total climbed in that stretch). This wore me out very early in the day. Second, there was a north wind that came and went over the course of the day. As I was headed north, this made life additionally painful at times. When I finally did reach the downhill section of the ride, the wind was hammering at 15-20 MPH. This was enough to make what should have been a nice coast into town a bit of a headache. The only real bird of note today was a pair of Osprey along the Arkansas River near Granite, CO. I am always surprised when I see these guys along rivers that are surrounded by otherwise incredibly arid areas.

Roadside lake and view from today

A great bike lane in Silverthorne/Dillion this afternoon!

I survived today, but I am I really, really beat up at the moment. I am not sure what to do about this. My ride out of Dillon will require a big climb to reach Loveland Pass, and I am not sure if I can do this ride tomorrow. This would mean a recovery day in this area. The general pattern that is emerging is that I need to 2 days to recover from the these monster climbs up to 11,000' plus. Today I topped out at 11,300. Loveland pass is at 11,500. It's only 15-16 miles to reach it, but I'll gain almost 3000' in about 10 miles of that - UGH. Right now, I will say that I am really questioning my decision to try for these 2 birds. It might have been more advisable to ride to ride east from Gunnison onto the Front Range where I could potentially have spent more time looking for birds that aren't going to ruin me. The flip side of this is that there aren;t to many mountain bird to find, so I can invest lots of time in each. My only way out of where I am now is over Loveland Pass, so that has to happen. Unless I get some serious help with Guanella Pass (i.e. someone meeting me with a tent and sleeping bag so I can get two days of birding for doing the monster climb to reach it), I will probably scrub it at this stage. I am just so beat up right now. Maybe I'll feel differently, in a day or so, but who knows.

OK, enough pessimism. Let's switch over to good news. There has been an incredible response from folks after the announcement of the the $2,500 matching gift from Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (VENT). In case you missed it, VENT has graciously offered to match up to $2,500 of the donations made between June 23 and July 7. If you have been thinking about making a donation, this incredible match offer makes today the perfect time! A huge thank you to everyone who has pitched in at any point this year. I think the fundraising needle is really starting to move in the right direction in a big hurry.


On another bright note, it looks as though I am going to get to see my two best friends from my boarding school days. The both live near Denver, and they are going to come meet me for an afternoon this weekend. It will be really good to see two of my oldest friends.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

June 23 (Day 174) - MacGillivray's joins the party, but ptarmigan + rosy-finch still fashionably late.....

Today I decided to take an extended hike above tree line on Mt. Yale to look for ptarmigan and rosy-finch. I had to bike about 11 miles and 1,800 feet uphill fro Buena Vista, CO to reach the trailhead. Part of this ride paralleled a very nice creek. It was not long before I had a MacGillivray's warbler fly across the road (#486). Soon thereafter, I had two more singing right next to the road. One of these afforded decent views and actually sat still long enough for a record shot. It was nice to finally catch up with this species after almost 2 weeks in the state!

MacGillivray's warbler #486

This short but moderately hard ride got the blood moving before I swapped the bike shoes for the hiking boots. The trailhead was at 9,900', and over the course of the morning I climbed to around 13,500'. The first 2,000' feet or so where in a really nice mixed forest with lots of beautiful, clear streams and creeks. Eventually the trees thinned out and gave way to the alpine tundra where I would focus my search for the ptarmigan and the rosy-finch. There was no point in my climbing the last 700 feet or so to the summit at 14,200' as it it was just bare rock with no snowy patches. The habitat just below this last 700' pitch looked really good, but despite several hours of slowly picking my way around this area, I was unable to find either of the sought species. The incredible views from my temporary aerie more than made up for the miss species, and on the whole it was a really nice morning of biking, hiking, and birding.

Lower part of Mt Yale hike

View from near the top

There was no shortage of Yellow-bellied marmots above tree line. It seemed as though everywhere I looked the fat, furry little beasts were waddling around foraging or just snoozing in the sun. I was able to grab a bunch of shots of these guys. The last guy surprised me as he ran up over a rock. He didn't stick around long, but I was able to get a very funny shot of his snout.



Will the real fat marmot, please stand, please stand up!

In my face!

There were also lots of Pikas on the rock slides

Even though I was unable to find the ptarmigan or the rosy-finch, there were still a few nice bird surprises beyond the MacGillivray's warbler. The first of these was an immature Gray jay that appeared on my walk up. This was only the third Gray Jay I have seen this year. I also had a flyover group of 12 Red crossbills, but the highlight of the day was surely the male Pine grosbeak I found on my decent. I saw a female earlier in the trip, but this is the first time in many years I have seen an adult male. Even in the great northeast finch invasion of winter 2012-13 where I saw many pine grosbeaks, all of these birds were females and immature males. Finding this bird today was a real treat.

Immature Gray jay

Mountain chickadee

Adult male Pine grosbeak

The ptarmigan and the rosy-finch are starting to become headaches. I have now searched for and missed these species on several occasions. Granted I have not yet reached the best areas for either of these birds, but it is discouraging nonetheless. It is just so logistically, temporally, and energetically expensive to reach on a bike the very high elevations where these birds reside. I will have at least 2 more cracks at these species in the next 3-4 days. I will search Loveland Pass when I cross it on Wednesday en route from Silverthorne to Georgetown. Should that also yield nothing, I will also search Guanella Pass from Georgetown on Thursday. I could also try Mt Evans if both of these fail, but I would not be surprised if I am too beaten down at that stage to make that attempt. We'll see. I knew these birds would be tough, as will Dusky grouse and Flammulated owl. However, getting these species with a bike would take a great big year and help make it an incredible one! I just have to be careful not to use up all my time and energy searching for these 2 birds. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

June 22 (Day 173) - TREMENDOUS fundraising opportunity, today cut short but not a problem

I am exceptionally pleased to announce that Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (VENT) has offered to match up to $2,500 of the donations made between Monday, June 23 and Monday, July 7th. This window spans the midpoint of my journey, and has been selected by VENT and myself as a way to really kickstart the fundraising for the second half of the year. Many people stepped up and made contributions after my last fundraising plea (thank you for that!), so hopefully even more folks can rise to the occasion knowing that the value of any donation will essential be doubled by VENT. Perhaps those that are waiting for a final species count could manage to donate at least a portion of the money for the species I have already found (485 as of today, 6/22). The end of the year is hectic with the holidays and whatnot, and I hope and imagine that folks will be busy with friends and family in late December.  If we could capture some of these end of year donations now it would be great! For those new to the blog, I am fundraising on behalf of The Conservation Fund and the American Birding Association. Everything is explained in great detail here.

I am thrilled to announce this partnership on a more personal level as well. I have had a long-standing relationship with VENT not only as a client, but also as close friend of Victor Emanuel and many of his staff. My experience with VENT started in 1991 when I attended Camp Chiricahua in Arizona. It was my first time birding west of the Mississippi, and the first time I met a group of other young birders who were as enthusiastic as myself. It was a fantastic experience, and I am certain it would be similarly great for any young birder you might know. In subsequent years I attended 3 additional VENT camps in Washington, Mexico, and Texas. My mom and I subsequently took a birding/ranching tour of the famous King Ranch in South Texas. Even as a novice birder, my mom had a fantastic time. Victor co-led several of the camps himself, and we have been close friends ever since. We did a good amount of birding together earlier this year at High Island in Texas! VENT runs tour all over the world at all times of the year. Some of these are aimed at hardcore birders, others at general wildlife enthusiasts, and still others towards scholars of history and culture. No matter what your focus, I am sure you can will find a VENT tour that excites you!

As for my adventures today, The original plan was to ride ~60 miles from Salida, CO to Fairplay, CO. The first issue that came up was that I could not find a cheap/free place to stay in Fairplay. The second issue was that my legs were feeling a bit weak after yesterday. Lastly, a couple people have suggested Cottonwood Pass and Mount Yale for Dusky grouse, ptarmigan, and rosy-finch. With all this in mind, I retooled my plan to ride 27 miles north to Buena Vista where I was able to find a place to stay. I thought about doing some local birding this afternoon, but thundershowers and very strong winds crushed this idea. The weather tomorrow is supposed to be much better, and from here I can attempt one of two day trips with the unloaded bike tomorrow. Option A is to climb 1,800' feet over 10 miles to the trailhead and then take an extended and challenging hike up Mt Yale. Option B is to ride right by the trailhead and climb an additional 2,400' feet over another 8 miles to reach the pass below Mt Yale.  Each option has pluses and minuses. Option A will let me hike through some really good Dusky grouse habitat, but as a result it will take me longer to get above treeline and reach the ptarmigan/finch zone. I am not sure which option I will exercise yet so stay tuned.

Today's route, just 27 miles

Sunday, June 22, 2014

June 21 (Day 172) - A nice ride with a new bird trifecta!

I had a very pleasant ride from Gunnison, CO to Salida, CO today. The day was overcast which helped to alleviate some of the discomfort stemming from a sunburn on my snout and lips. I have to remember that I am at altitude here in Colorado, and sunburn can actually happen a lot faster than at sea level. The entire ride today was very nice. There was one very challenging 9-mile, fairly steep climb that took me to the top of Monarch Pass and the Continental Divide at 11,312 feet. I managed to complete this stretch without a stop, so I was very proud of myself for this minor victory. My body is adjusting well to the altitude. I almost died climbing the 6-miles to 10,900' a week ago, and today I had at least a some gas left when I peaked at 11,300' after the 9-mile climb. This bodes well for the even higher elevation climbs that will come as I search for White-tailed ptarmigan and Brown-capped rosy-finch in the next week. I even had the energy to do the 1.5-mile hike up to Monarch peak after I reached the pass on the bike today.

68 miles today

View from the top!

As for birding, I was able to add three (3!), new birds with relatively little effort today. The first of these was Cinnamon teal (#483). There were 2 males in a pond right next to the road. This pond also held several Yellow-headed blackbirds including the first adult males I have seen this year. I saw several females and immature males in Junction, TX earlier in the year. Between the teal and the blackbird, there were some seriously attractive birds at this roadside stop. Now I need real photos of both of these species for my collection......

Cinnamon teal #483

Yellow-headed blackbird

The next year bird that surfaced was Willow flycatcher. I have been keenly listening for his "fitz-beew" call anytime I bike near riparian areas and creeks. Today I almost fell off the bike when I finally heard one just off the road. I jumped off the bike and located the bird for #484! This is a bird that I missed during spring migration in East Texas. It was nice to finally nail this guy down today.

Incredibly distant shot of the Willow flycatcher #484

Here is a better photo I took of this species
in Massachusetts a few years ago. 
Eastern and Western birds have slight differences.

The third year bird of the day appeared on my short hike to Monarch Peak. Clark's nutcrackers always make their presence known with their characteristic calls and associated antics; Today was no exception. Two of these guys appeared downslope from me as I hike towards the peak (#485). One of these guys spent several minutes using his long beak to extract moths from a crack in a dead tree. He worked with a purpose and efficiency reminiscent of my performance at the Pizza Hut buffet yesterday. Corvids (jays, crows,  magpies, etc) are some my favorite birds. Members of the family Corvidae are generally very social and they tend to travel in groups. Most of them are loud and raucous; They seem to command the attention of all within earshot. They are also some of the smartest birds as they can solve problems and use tools to accomplish specific tasks. Check out this incredible video

Clark's nutcracker #485

Here is a better photo I took of this species
in Rocky Mountain NP a few years ago

OK, a bit on the short side today since the last few days have been rather involved. Tomorrow I am going to head north towards FairPlay and onto Silverthorne the following day.

Unbird from today - cuz why not?