Monday, June 16, 2014

June 15 (Day 166) - Ouray and Black swifts!

The plan for today was to head to Ouray, CO where there is a very accessible nesting site for Black swift. After I collected the swift, I had planned to ride another ~40 miles north to Montrose where I would spend the night. As you will see, this plan required some major adjustments.

The day started out with an 1,800' foot climb to reach Red Mountain Pass at just over 11,000' This ride was incredible beautiful. The climb was slow and steady and did not take too much out of my legs. As I crossed the pass, I noticed a dirt road that led up the mountainside. I decided to ditch the bike in the woods and hike up this road to get above tree line to look for 2 high altitude species, White-tailed ptarmigan and Brown-capped rosy-finch. Finding either of these species now would mean much less riding later, so I figured it was worth a few hours even if finding these birds was a long shot. I did not find either bird, but I did have a great 2 hour hike that took me well above the tree line.

23 miles - short day, not by design!

Leaving Silverton this morning

The bottom of Red Mountain Pass

 The view south from the top of the pass

The higher elevation area to which I hiked

From the pass to Ouray was a 3200' drop. I do not recall having to pedal once the entire 13 miles. I made a video of the descent, and I will get that up as soon as possible. I arrived in Ouray and headed right to the Black swift nesting site at Box Canyon Falls. I thought picking up this bird would be a snap, but it turned out to be a bit more of an effort than I thought. By this date in other years, the birds have already laid and are now incubating their eggs. This means that one of each pair of the birds must be at the nest at all times. It is normally possible to just walk up and see the birds sitting on nests. However, this year, the birds are running a few weeks behind schedule. Apparently, it took them about 2 weeks longer to return to Box Canyon this year that previous years. Consequently, none of the birds have yet laid eggs. This meant that there were no Black swifts to be found when I arrived at 1pm. I was informed that the birds were out flying around and would return at sundown. This meant I would have to spend the entire day in Ouray. It also meant that I would not have sufficient daylight to ride to Montrose after I collected the birds at the very end of the day. This forced me into a motel in Ouray for the night. I did manage to find a Cassin's finch at Box Canyon for bird #477. 

I spent the afternoon dealing with logistics and then returned to Box Canyon at 6pm. While I was waiting for the swifts, I saw two large birds soaring high over the cliffs. I thought they might be Turkey vultures since they appeared to be flying in a slight dihedral, but a binocular inspection revealed them to be eagles. They appeared very long-tailed and small headed. These marks, coupled with the high-held wings, would make these Golden eagles for year bird #478. I could also see the bold black and white tail pattern of a juvenile Golden on one bird. I took some incredibly distant photos (barely) showing all these features. 

A single, distant shot (barely) showing tail 
banding pattern of juvenile. You'll need to click
the image to see it a bit larger.

Shot showing relatively long tail and small head

Finally, around 8pm, a group of swallows and swifts appeared overhead. I was able to pick out several larger swifts that looked good for Black swifts (#479). Slowly, these birds descended into better view, and individual birds coasted into the canyon to roost for the night. Entering the canyon with my flashlight, I was able to find 6-7 roosting birds just as the sun set. I really needed a third hand today. I needed one hand to hold the flashlight, one hand to manually focus the lens (it was too dark for auto), and a third hand to hold the camera and press the shutter. It took a bit of fumbling around, but I eventually got a few OK shots of the roosting birds. Some roosted directly on the rocks while others set up shop on what looked to be ready-to-go nests! This can be a very difficult bird to find, so this is a very good addition to the year's list. These guys are certainly incredible fliers. Their aerial acrobatics prior to roosting were just amazing. Oh yeah, this was also a life bird for me - WOO-HOO!!!

Evening grosbeak at Box Canyon

Inside Box Canyon Falls - The swifts
nest right on the vertical rocks above the water!

An empty nest that I photographed at 1pm when the
swifts were out and about

That same nest shot at 8:30pm once the swifts
 returned - ISO 6400 on 7D! (plus flashlight!)

Another swift on a nest right next to the catwalk!
Again, ISO 6400 even with flashlight!

I also made a new friend today! Graham Floyd and I
spent a solid hour talking bird shop while we waited
for the swifts to return. His family was really nice as well.

Tomorrow is going to be a bit interesting because of today's changes in plans. I only have ~37 miles to cover to reach Montrose. I will also drop 2000' over this distance which will make the short ride even easier. I can really take my time as I descend, so maybe I can pick off a few additional species (Gray flycatcher, Ring-necked pheasant among others). 

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that was quite the coast downhill! Lucky that the traffic seemed to be mostly going the other way. Did you have to hit the brakes for those hairpins, or are you such a seasoned rider now that you could take it all in stride? The scenery was fantastic. I'd have found it hard to keep my eyes on the road! Lots of other bikers heading up the hill. I know the birders are fascinated with your journey. Are you getting similar interest from the bikers? Birds or no, you are doing an EPIC trip!