Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Looking Back: Colorado 1

On August 21st I followed up my early morning encounter with an angry mommy elk by driving into Rocky Mountain National Park. As on my previous visit in 2010, birds were few and far between. However, this time there were plenty of mammals around.

My first sighting was of several deer wandering near the road.


Higher up I kept seeing marmots, sunning themselves on rocks.

This one was doing some stretching exercises to prepare itself for the day ahead.

Pikas were easy to recognize because of their large pale-colored ears.

Chipmunks, of course, were even more distinctive. 

I saw only a few elk until I reached the Alpine Center. From there it was possible to see two large herds, each comprising 200-300 elk.

If mammals were plentiful, birds were not. On my 3-hour drive I saw only: one Steller's Jay, one American Pipit, three Chipping Sparrows and four Black-billed Magpies (below). 

However, on my way out of the park I dropped in at Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, where I was a little luckier. American Robins (below) were everywhere, as were Mountain and Western Bluebirds. 

There were a few Lesser Goldfinch and Yellow Warblers, and lots of Cedar Waxwings.

A Broad-tailed Hummingbird disappeared too fast for me to get a photo but I had more luck with this Mountain Chickadees.

So certainly not great birding but definitely much better than in the park itself!    


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Back Home!

I got home yesterday afternoon and was surprised to find that Houston was just as hot as it had been when I left.

There was one nice surprise waiting for me, though. Our yards have several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. 

It will take me a couple of days to sort through my photos of Montana. In the meantime, here are some pictures of those hummers.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Notes from Montana

.Not doing as well as I hoped for new birds up here in Montana but the landcapes are incredible - and it's quite a bit cooler than Houston.

Glacier Park yesterday was impressive.

Didn't see any bears but lots of Bighorn Sheep.

Some of the mountain goats were not at all shy.

I always confuse American Crows and Common Ravens. Unitil I see a Raven. Then I remember how huge they are. (This was one of only four bird species that I saw in Glacier in 7 hours!)

Currently in Karispell, where Wood Ducks hang out in the town parks.

Heading back to Missoula early today, stopping off at some birding sites long the way. Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Parking Lot Birding

.Monday morning I was sitting drinking coffee in front of the hotel where I was staying in Denver. The view wasn't exciting - rows of cars, lines of lampposts and a few small trees - so I didn't have my camera with me.

Suddenly a rabbit hopped across between the cars and passed by within 3-4 feet of me. Then three Magpies flew down and searched the edge of the lot for food. As I turned to leave, I saw another bird out of the corner of my eye. It was largish and brown and/or grey, and as it flew I thought I glimpsed a white rump and blackish tail. I couldn't think what it was.

The next morning I was in front of the hotel again, but this time I had my camera. Luckily! A loud call from on top of a lampost made me look up to see - a male Northern Flicker. What an odd bird to see in an urban parking lot!

A few minutes later his mate arrived.

I realized this was the bird I had glimpsed the previous day.

She proceeded to do her morning grooming.

Turning back to enter the hotel, I looked up to see a Double-crested Cormorant cross the sky above, followed a moment later by an American Crow. Then I noticed a bird on the corner of the hotel roof. An American Kestrel.

It just shows that even the most unlikely places can produce interesting bird sightings - and that you should always carry a camera.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Estes Park, Colorado

I arrived in Estes Park on Sturday evening, just in time to watch the day ending over the Rockies.

I was up early the next morning to explore a bird sanctuary near the town's golf course. In fact, except for some Canada and Cackling Geese, I didn't see any birds.

However, elk were everywhere. The path through the sanctuary had several females and I and other walkers had to come within 3-4 yards of them to pass by. The elk seemed totally unconcerned and it was wonderful to be so close to them.

Across a small stream, the golf course had a mixed herd. One male looked particularly imposing.

He and other males occasionally did a bit of practice jousting.

One of the females near me decided to cross the stream to see the action up close.

After an hour of watching elk and passing by them only three yards away on the footpath, I got careless. I noticed a female grooming her calf and took a couple of photos.

Without any warning, the mother charged me. I yelled "Stop," threw up my arms and prepared to be trampled. Luckily, she stopped perhaps 4 feet from me. I swear I could feel her breath on my face. Then she turned around and went back to her calf. I kept my distance as I passed by on my way back to the car!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Watching Elk in the Rockies

When you read this, I should be in Colorado, visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. I won't be home until Tuesday. In the meantime, here's one of my posts from a visit I made to the park last fall. This year I'll probably be too early for most of the elk action but I'm hoping that I'll see plenty of birds instead.

I drove into the Rocky Mountain National Park at 6:45 on Sunday morning and immediately came across a group of elk grazing by the roadside. Suspecting that these might be the only elk I would see in the park, I grabbed a couple of quick shots in the low dawn light.

I needn't have worried! Over the next 6 hours I was to see a lot of elk: dozens, perhaps scores. My second sighting came as I was driving up to Upper Beaver Meadows and pulled into a picnic area to let another vehicle pass. To my surprise, three more elk were wandering among the picnic tables.

When I arrived at Upper Beaver Meadows, I was greeted by the sight of another group. Several does grazed peacefully while two young males practiced butting heads and the bugling calls of older bulls echoed eerily all around.
After leaving Upper Beaver, I drove around several different areas of the park and saw (and heard) many more elk. Some, like the doe below, were in groups.

Several were lone males.

After driving up to the Alpine Center and back, I returned to Upper Beaver Meadows just after noon. Following a small path into the woods, I hadn't gone 50 yards before I found I had strayed right into the middle of a group of resting elk.

None of the does seemed to notice me but a young male made me a little nervous when he showed some interest in my presence, stood up and walked over to check me out. I sat quietly down beside a tree and he seemed to forget about me.
BTW, until this point I had always thought of elk as being just like deer. However, seeing this young male up so close made me realize that elk are big - really big. In fact, they're at least a foot taller at the shoulder and more than twice as heavy as white-tailed or mule deer.

It wasn't until the young male wandered away that I was able to examine the group more closely - and to realize that he was not the animal I should have been worried about. The one that I should have been nervous of was a large bull sitting with a doe perhaps 40 feet away.
He looked me over quite carefully but must have decided that I wasn't a threat because he didn't even bother standing up.After I had been sitting with the elk for a while, another bull started bugling loudly from the edge of the trees. This really agitated "my" bull, who stood up and started bugling back.
Then he got to his feet and led his herd away, stopping every few yards to bugle back at the unseen male.

Deciding that anything else I saw in the park was going to be an anticlimax, I headed back to the car.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Over the past week or so I have been reading reports about the presence of migrant warblers and flycatchers in different areas around Houston. Unfortunately, I've been too swamped with work to visit the places mentioned in the reports. (I hate it when my college work intrudes on bird migration!) However, on Thursday morning I did manage to fit in a quick walk along the nature trail on the CyFair campus.

On my way to the trail, I passed by several Northern Mockingbirds and was overflown by a Black-bellied Whistling Duck.

At the trail entrance I was pleased to see that sunflowers were attracting both wasps and bees.

The trail itself was very quiet, except for a few Northern Cardinals and Mourning Doves and a several rabbits. 

The only sign of migration was a couple of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers working through the trees.

Walking back to my office, I spotted this Great-tailed Grackle hurrying away with a prize catch.