Grand Junction Audubon Society birders

Follow local birders in pursuit of their life lists. For more visit audubongv.org.

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NOT ANOTHER TURKEY STORY

By Nic.Korte
Sunday, November 17, 2013

     I know, “Tis the season!” How many times are you going to have to read how stupid domestic turkeys are, and how smart are the wild ones? My story is different. Perhaps, a turkey as a human predator would have been better for Halloween.
     It started with my son yelling, “Dad, dad, there’s a huge bird here.” We were at Upper Tapeats campsite in the Grand Canyon. It was 6PM in early June. Our thermometer showed 120 degrees in the sun. Tapeats is a narrow canyon, and although a cold creek was roaring; we could feel the rock walls radiating heat as the sun set. Though tired and hot, I ran to where Adam called and there was the “huge bird”—a turkey. “What the heck,” I thought. “Turkeys on the rim for sure—even down in the oaks, but all the way down here in the cactus where it’s so hot?”
     “What an inquisitive turkey,” I thought, as it came toward us. Soon, it was walking around us. “What’s it doing?” It followed us. It stalked us. We realized it wanted a handout. All we had was a simple meal of bean burritos. We had just hiked more than ten miles. It was so hot! But, we couldn’t sit down. We ate standing with a burrito in one hand, and a long stick, for fending off the turkey, in the other. 

     After we finished eating, the turkey continued to harass us. Finally, in the twilight, the turkey roosted in a large tree above our camp. Having spent almost five months of my life in the Grand Canyon with a variety of companions and weather, the turkey was just a reminder that “things happen.” I don’t like to eat turkey, but I did wish mayhem on that one. 

     There are five subspecies of Wild Turkey. Ours (and Arizona’s) are Merriam’s, whereas Eastern Colorado has the Rio Grande variety. There may be a zone of hybridization west of us in Utah.
Turkeys are an amazing success story. For those who doubt the efficacy of conservation regulations in the US, consider: Game managers estimate that the entire population of wild turkeys in the United States was as low as 30,000 in the early 20th century. By the 1940s, they were almost totally extirpated from Canada and were found mostly in localized pockets in the US. Hunting was banned and conservation efforts began. These activities included protection, trapping and re-location. By 1973, the estimated population had rebounded to 1.3 million and hunting was resumed. Current estimates place the population at 7 million (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_turkeys).  Unfortunately, this remarkable success story is under some stress.  Population declines are being noted once again--especially in the east and southeast.  Loss of habitat, and climate effects are being examined as possible causes.  

     Grand Valley birders will be looking for turkeys around Christmas time. We won’t be looking for any to eat, but to count. We have two annual Audubon Society Christmas counts in the area. One is the Grand Valley count which encompasses an area more or less from Fruita to Fruitvale and the same distance north-to-south. That “count” will occur on December 15. On January 1, we have the Grand Mesa Count. For all but a few species, we find more in the valley than in the mountains. On which do you think we’ll find the most wild turkeys?

    Last year we had zero turkeys in the valley and 71 in the mountains. Last August I saw a turkey on top of Elk Mountain at more than 10,000 ft. Earlier in the summer, we saw a hen and seven nearly-grown poults below Elk Mountain at 8400 ft. Turkeys may migrate 40 miles from high elevations where they breed, to lower elevations where they spend the winter. Which is why, if you want to see turkeys, check out the area around the town of Molina. 

(Photo by Jackson Trappett)

     Drive in and around Molina early some morning. The roads between there and the Grand Mesa are excellent for seeing turkeys in the winter. You might also try driving Peninsula Road (highway 330) from Collbran to Vega Lake. Check out the pastures down along Plateau Creek as you drive along.
     If you want to explore the types and numbers of birds seen on our Christmas Counts, here’s how. Go to http://birds.audubon.org/data-research and Click on “historical” and follow the directions. If you want to help us do the counting (we always need help!) this year, check our website (audubongv.org) or send an email audubongv@gmail.com).
     This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to nkorte1@hotmail.com]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, send an email to audubongv@gmail.com and “like” us on Facebook!]
 

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Quack! Quack!

By Nic.Korte
Sunday, October 27, 2013

     I have a brother and sister. A family joke is that among us we have far more mechanical ability than most families--but my brother took all of it. As for birding, that’s me. My sister, the glue that holds the family together, showed her birding skills one time when I asked her what she had seen at a lake. At first birds didn’t occur to her. Then she realized she’d seen ducks. “What kind?” I asked. “I think one had a green head,” she replied. She didn’t even know she’d seen a mallard!
     How about you? Do you want to learn how to distinguish a mallard from this gadwall?

(Photo by Jackson Trappett)

     Join Grand Valley Audubon Society’s annual waterfowl field trip on November 23. Meet at Corn Lake State Park at 8AM. We will travel from east-to-west ending at Highline Lake in mid-afternoon. Everyone is invited. We collect $5/person except for youth who are free. You will need a State Parks Pass. This is a great trip for beginners because most of the birds are stationary and there will be several spotting scopes to share for long looks. Bob Bradley is the trip leader, and there will be other knowledgeable birders along to help. You can join us for all or part of the day. Expect to see some eagles and hawks as well as waterfowl.
     

     The subject of ducks can bring up the subject of hunting. Some folks are surprised to find that the National Audubon Society (NAS) is not anti-hunting. NAS supports scientific management of wildlife and realizes that hunting is part of that proper management. Some of birders favorite places are National Wildlife Refuges (NWF) where hunting is permitted. Consider nearby Browns Park NWF in Northwest Colorado. It is an easy place to see eagles, moose, and many types of waterfowl. Hunting occurs, but without the refuge, much of this wildlfie might not have a place to live. One way to support National Wildlife Refuges is to purchase a Duck Stamp. Dave Buchanan wrote in the October 20 Daily Sentinel that “when you buy a $15 Duck Stamp, as much as $14.70 goes to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which supports wetland acquisition for the National Wildlife Refuge System.” The Duck Stamp also covers your admission to the refuges. So, even if you don’t hunt or plan to visit a refuge, a duck stamp is money well spent. They are available at most sporting goods stores. I purchased mine on line at www.duckstamp.com. Buying a duck stamp provides more places to live for birds such as this Common Goldeneye—a bird we will see on our November 23 field trip.

(Photo by Jackson Trappett)

This post provided by Nic Korte with photos by Jackson Trappett, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to nkorte1@hotmail.com]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, send an email to audubongv@gmail.com and “like” us on Facebook!]

 

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EXOTICA

By Nic.Korte
Tuesday, October 15, 2013

     Any film buffs out there? Not that I’m one, but I do know the 1994 movie of this name which garnered a number of awards such as best Canadian Film. I’m not thinking of film, though. I am thinking “foreign.” And, as you’d expect, I’m thinking of birds. Exotic birds! I have been lucky enough to visit Central and South America nearly twenty times. The marvelous diversity of the American tropics has brought us some amazing creatures.
     How about a falcon that laughs—and dines almost exclusively on snakes? Here is a laughing falcon. It has a loud call that to some sounds like Haa Ha.

Or maybe a bird whose digestion system is more like a cow—and smells like one (http://www.discoverwildlife.com/animals/hoatzin-meet-stink-bird). And, it has a punk haircut. That would be a hoatzin. Or a bird that lives for 50 years and mates for life, like this scarlet macaw.

Or this bird in the cuckoo family (a smooth-billed ani) that may have invented the commune. (All the females in a group lay their eggs in a single nest. The entire group feeds and cares for the young.)

There are more remarkable stories, such as the sungrebe, where the male bird has special pockets. He can stuff a chick under each arm—and fly away with them. If you would like to see more photos—many from better photographers than I am, and hear me tell a few more of these stories, please attend the Grand Valley Audubon Society’s next membership meeting. The meeting is free to all. The next meeting, with the topic, “What’s Up with Tropical Birds?” will be held at the First Presbyterian Church, 3940 27 ½ Road at 7PM, October 21. This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to nkorte1@hotmail.com]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, send an email to audubongv@gmail.com and “like” us on Facebook!]

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WEST SLOPE PENGUINS

By Nic.Korte
Friday, October 4, 2013

“I thought they were penguins!” Could anyone really say that in Western Colorado? One of our nephews was visiting with his new girlfriend who had never been in the Rocky Mountains. Waking up in a campground near Ouray, Becca looked from their tent, and saw a couple of large black and white birds strutting about. The color scheme...of black-billed magpies...reminded her of penguins.

(photo by Jackson Trappett)

Magpies have an uneven reputation. With their striking black, white and iridescent green colors and long tail, they are beautiful. Unfortunately, some of that beauty is offset by their querulous nature and some nasty habits. The latter refers mostly to their penchant for dining on eggs and nestlings of other birds. One friend has referred to a tree in his yard as a magpie feeder because it usually has a robin’s nest which is, in turn, usually raided by magpies.

Magpies, as with crows and ravens are in the family called corvidae or corvids for short. The corvidae are among the most intelligent of birds, and are known to make simple tools and learn commands and tricks (http://fwp.mt.gov/news/specialFeatures/outdoorsExtra/archive/011411.htmlhttp://fwp.mt.gov/news/specialFeatures/outdoorsExtra/archive/011411.html).

This is also why birds from this family can be so maddening. 

Just this week I had some crows eating nuts from my walnut tree. They permitted a closer approach than any other bird probably because they were intelligent enough to know I wasn't a threat. But, try carrying something that looks like it might be a weapon and they are gone…fast! Their intelligence (http://crows.net/project.html) has resulted in many specific research initiatives to examine how birds think.

Becca's misidentification says something about bird distribution. Climate and geography separate species. Magpies don’t migrate so they haven’t been able to cross the plains or the mountains. Besides, to judge by winter roadsides, there is enough carrion to satisfy a lot of magpies every winter. That’s why Becca had never seen one in Illinois, and why first-time visitors are often enthralled. If you doubt that a magpie is exotic to some, how about this? Some years ago I visited the City Zoo in Kansas City, Missouri. They had a separate cage and prominent viewing area... for magpies! This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Black-billed Magpie photo by Jackson Trappett. Send questions/comments to nkorte1@hotmail.com. To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, send an email to audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook!] YOU ARE INVITED TO (1) FAMILY DAY OF OUR ANNUAL BIRD BANDING PROGRAM-8 UNTIL NOON OCTOBER 12, CONNECTED LAKES S.P., KINGFISHER PARKING AREA, AND (2) OUR NEXT MEMBERSHIP MEETING, OCTOBER 21, 7 PM, 1ST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (27 1/2 ROAD AND CORTLAND). SEE SOME GREAT PHOTOGRAPHS AND LEARN ABOUT TROPICAL BIRDS. 

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LEADERS OF THE PACK

By Nic.Korte
Tuesday, September 24, 2013

    “Did you know birds have language?” I was asked this question by a friend who was relatively experienced in the outdoors—a successful big-game hunter and hiker of fourteeners. I was surprised. Of course bird calls mean something, but she had been to some recent outdoor training and the idea that birds communicated was a revelation.
    Most bird calls are territorial—essentially, the bird is telling other males to “bug-off” while providing a “come-on” to stray females. Learning calls is a great way to find and identify birds. In the spring and early summer that’s the best way to find birds. You can walk along and, for some common birds, hear the next one on territory and the next and the next as you walk along a trail.
    But what about in the fall when birds aren’t on territory? How do you find migrant warblers if they aren’t singing their characteristic, territorial songs? One of the best ways is to listen for chickadees. In a patch of aspen woods that I know well, I hear chickadee territorial calls in the spring and then I don’t hear the birds at all. They become furtive while nesting. Once it is autumn, however, the woods are either silent, or there is the incessant nasal “de-de-de” emitted by a group of black-capped chickadees.

    My question was “how do you find migrant warblers?" What does that have to do with chickadees?  Simple, chickadees are active and noisy. Usually, their calls serve the purpose of telling the rest of the group “I’m here.” “Now, I’m here.” “Now, here.”But, if a hawk is spotted or a noisy human, the calls become strident. The chickadee alarm call is well-known to most people, and it certainly is to other birds. So, it makes sense. If you are a migrant warbler having just flown in from Canada or Montana, attach yourself to a group of local chickadees. They know where to feed. They make plenty of noise so you can stay with the group in unfamiliar terrain, and they collectively sound the alarm if there’s something amiss.
    Back to the walk in the woods…it is quiet…nothing singing, nothing moving. Then you hear some chickadees. Check it out. Here they come—often 4 to 6 or more, just talking away. The trick is not be entertained too much by the chickadees hanging upside down and flitting quickly from bush to bush. Instead, look for the other birds in the flock. They are there. On a recent walk, I saw orange-crowned, yellow-rumped and yellow warblers with a flock of chickadees.
    Another flock had only a large group of Wilson’s warblers—the little guys with the black cap that breed in Colorado’s high mountains and further north into Canada.

Any time of year it is worth checking out a group of chickadees. Several of our year-around residents also travel in chickadee flocks—especially downy woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches. This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to nkorte1@hotmail.com]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, send an email to audubongv@gmail.com and “like” us on Facebook!]

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