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. 

1 comment:

  1. Sorry you missed the 2 target birds, but you had a nice hike! I went to a wilderness camp for 5 weeks in CO back in '93, the summer before I attended Camp Chiricahua. Climbed Mt. Yale and several other fourteeners in the vicinity. The only W-t Ptarmigans I have ever seen were seen while hiking down from the summit of Mt. Harvard. Beautiful country!