Grand Junction Audubon Society birders

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Page 4 of 15


JAYBIRDS

By Nic.Korte
Sunday, February 22, 2015

Many birds are migratory. In the Grand Valley, we have summer visitors such as hummingbirds, orioles and tanagers. We have winter visitors such as Rough-legged Hawks and certain subspecies of Juncos and White-crowned Sparrows.

Now that it's late winter, it is appropriate to celebrate permanent residents such as our jays. Of the four species that reside here, you may be surprised to learn: we don't have any Blue Jays, but we do have Jays that are blue. I will explain.

The Blue Jay of the Eastern US, also common in parts of Colorado's Front Range and the mascot of baseball's Toronto Blue Jays, is correctly called a Blue Jay. That's its name. It is the only jay that lives in most of the Eastern US.  It is occasionally, but rarely, seen on our side of the mountains.

The Western Slope, however, does have three "jays that are blue." These are the Stellar's Jay, Scrub Jay, and Pinyon Jay. Our fourth jay species is the Gray Jay. Gray Jays hang around your hunting camp in the high mountains.

You might have enticed one to sit on someone's head if you put some peanuts there while cross-skiing on Grand Mesa.  Often they are called Camp Robbers or Whiskey Jacks.  (photo by Jackson Trappett)

Sharing habitat with Gray Jays, but mostly living a bit lower in elevation is the bird most often incorrectly called a "blue" jay. This is the Stellar's Jay. It is mostly blue and crested like the East's Blue Jay, but has a mostly black or brown crest and has almost no white on its body.

(photo by Jackson Trappett)

Named after the German naturalist who first described them, I usually begin to see them in mid-summer in the aspen woods. Although a beautiful bird, I spy them with mixed emotions because they are hunting for nests of smaller species so they can devour the nestlings. Most jays are like this, that is, they are omnivores and will eat practically anything.

Below is a Western Scrub Jay. 

(photo by Jackson Trappett)

The easiest way to identify them is by their whitish throat with a blue necklace. Scrub Jays live in the greatest variety of habitats, including pinyon-juniper, Gambel Oaks, and desert scrub. These are the Jays most likely to visit your backyard feeder if you live in the Grand Valley.

Similar to the closely-related Gray and Stellar's Jays, Scrub Jays will eat almost anything and like most species (e.g. magpies, ravens, crows) within the Corvid family are known for their intelligence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corvidae).
In fact, "Scrub Jays are the only non-primate or non- dolphin shown to plan ahead for the future" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_scrub_jay). They store, and recall locations of their food caches.


My favorite among our jays is the Pinyon Jay. Steely-blue with a short tail, these are often observed in noisy flocks in their characteristic PJ (pinyon-juniper) habitat. These are the most specialized of our native jays, feeding nearly exclusively on pinyon nuts and juniper berries. Also being omnivores, they may eat nestlings, but are more dependent on nuts, seeds and berries--especially pinyon nuts. I find their raucous voice difficult to describe, but I love hearing it. The great naturalist/writer Aldo Leopold, who called this species "piñaneros," wrote that their call was the characteristic sound of the juniper foothills. That's why I like their call so much. When I hear one, I know I am home.

I didn't include a photo of a Pinyon Jay. I suggest you find one yourself. Good locations include Little Park Road or the lower portion of the Monument Canyon Trail. Find them. Listen. Learn the call (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8QdX_SQPF0) of this most characteristic bird of the PJs.  Take a mid-winter drive or walk and go find some!


This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to audubongv@gmail.com  To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook!]
 

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PIZZA! WITH CORN AND BACON!

By Nic.Korte
Thursday, February 12, 2015

The little village, site of a drug-war gun battle some fifteen years ago, was mostly dark and dusty. A couple of dogs were growling and fighting in the street until a bystander threw something to quiet them. The scattered lights from a surprising number of restaurants and bars were filtered by various palms and vines.

We sat in the little outdoor restaurant with a big screen TV showing social unrest in neighboring Venezuela. The Columbiana beers were cool and tasty as the seven of us discussed...what else? The best bird of the day? Not at all! Another round? Por supuesto! And, which pizzas to share? I liked the corn and bacon the most--all with fresh ingredients on crusts made as we watched. What could be better than this?

We were in the village of Minca in the foothills of Colombia's Santa Marta Mountains. It was our fifth and last night in the region and we were in a celebratory mood because the scenery had been great and the birding even better. 

(19,000 FT PEAKS VISIBLE IN THE DISTANCE)

The Santa Marta Mountains are on Colombia's North coast just south of the coastal cities of Baranquilla and Santa Marta. They are isolated geographically from the main portion of the Andes which lie further south. Being near the North Coast of South America, east of Panama, and actually north of Costa Rica, the Santa Martas are rich in endemic species, that is, flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world. The names of many of the birds reflect the area's uniqueness: Santa Marta Warbler, Santa Marta Brush-Finch, Santa Marta Screech-Owl and so on.

(Thanks to the efforts of non--governmental organizations such as ProAves (www.proaves.org) and Rainforest Trust (www.rainforesttrust.org), in conjunction with the Colombian government, nearly 2000 acres of land have been preserved.)

Perhaps, our most fortunate encounter had been with Santa Marta Parakeets. We knew how good our luck was when our guide got really excited and the jaded local drivers jumped up to look in our scopes and take photos with their cell phones. 

(SANTA MARTA PARAKEETS)

We were surrounded by nearly 10% of the world's population of this parakeet.

Apparently, most encounters with the Santa Marta Parakeet consist of brief views as one or two or three or four flyover. Not for us! Nearly 100 of the rare birds swirled around us in mist and sunshine. Consistent with most species in this family, the parakeets were noisy and active. We ate our lunch amongst them as they squawked and bickered, and, in one case, copulated.

What could top this? How about crab-eating foxes? Or a diving Black-chested Buzzard-eagle? Maybe the Buffy Helmetcrest--a bizarre hummingbird that lives above treeline and feeds when perched because hovering requires too much energy in that cold and high climate? 

(BUFFY HELMETCREST)

Those are stories for another time!

This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to audubongv@gmail.com]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook!]
 

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MY WIFE IS AN SOB!

By Nic.Korte
Friday, January 30, 2015


     This blog is dedicated to my wife, Mary. She must love me. That’s why she’s an S.O.B.—which means Spouse of Birder. It would be easier for us if she was also a birder—or maybe she thinks it would be easier if I was not. She has suffered more mud, sweat, insects, early hours (and late) than she ever expected. Fortunately, she loves the outdoors—just not the slow pace of birding or arcane discussions about the relative length of primary projections of nearly-identical olive-brown flycatchers.


     Typical to her good nature, Mary usually tells others, “Nic’s not so bad. He puts the family first. He doesn’t obsess over every bird he could see.” But, at that point, she looks at me knowingly and I feel a bit sheepish and, I say by way of apology, “Well, there was the ‘Great Plain Pigeon Hunt’.” Remembering that affair is how she keeps me in control. (Sometimes!)


     Our daughter Ann, an occupational therapist and bilinguist, was interning in Puerto Rico to solidify her medical Spanish. We came to visit. I had studied the birds I might see. With help from, Ryan, our future son-in-law at that time, we checked a few parks and natural areas. Then, Ann had to go back to work, so Mary and I took a few days to explore the island.


     Island birding has two main features. Usually, there are few species—but many of them are endemic—meaning they are found nowhere else in the world. That’s exciting. I’ve never made much of how many species I’ve seen, but I do love to see and record notes of the sighting of a new species. That’s my priority. Puerto Rico has a good many endemics, and several others confined to Puerto Rico and nearby islands. Many of these were beautiful such as the Puerto Rican Tody which not only “beeps,” but looks like a cotton-ball dyed mostly day-glo green with a bright red throat and bill. No kidding. Look it up: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puerto_Rican_Tody).


     Even Mary enjoyed seeing some of the island specialties. But, then there was an afternoon where we had a little time and no plans. “Let’s go see a Plain Pigeon,” I suggested. (Ok, I know that sounds crazy. In truth, it would have been a lot better if the bird had been named “resplendent pigeon”, or “magnificent pigeon”—but that wasn’t the case—it was simply “Plain Pigeon.”) [Plain pigeons are nearly extirpated from Puerto Rico. A few are also found on Cuba, Hispaniola, and Jamaica.]


     First, a little more background. I have driven in bad traffic both in the US and in some foreign large cities. Ann and Ryan had told us the traffic in Puerto Rico was “unbelievable.” Mary and I shrugged it off—until we drove in it. I’m convinced the entire island’s population will arise some morning, get in their cars, and all die of starvation while in gridlock. Highway shoulders were consistently used as just another lane of traffic. If there was a two-lane street and someone had an errand, they would park in the street even if that meant stopping a line of traffic. Once on a gridlocked four-lane, a car drove the opposite direction—simply forcing its way through the stopped cars. In the midst of the chaos, police cars drove around with lights flashing and sirens blaring, but, it was all for show. They never stopped anyone.


     So, deciding to embark on even a short trip required some consideration. In this instance, I looked at a map and convinced Mary we could avoid major traffic jams on our way to see a Plain Pigeon. Didn’t happen! We ended up in a town we didn’t want to visit. We couldn’t get out. We couldn’t cross enough lanes of traffic. Did I add that street signs were often missing? Or that many streets would suddenly switch to one-way? Yes, you would finally get on a road taking you the correct direction, only to find that you had to get off of it, and blindly find another route.


     As fast as gridlock permitted, we slowly circled (three times!) through the center of this small city as we tried to find a way out of traffic. We marked the revolutions by counting sightings of a park in the town’s center. Mary’s patience was wearing away. “Nic, there’s that park again!” Don’t forget that park!


     Finally, I managed to get out of the traffic, and onto a side street. We were now headed the wrong way. We’d already wasted two hours. Mary wanted to give up. I studied the map. “Here’s a long way around,” I said. “We can avoid the town. This route is twice as far but without the traffic, we’ll still arrive before dark.”


     Off we went. We arrived in the area where Puerto Rico’s remnant (<1000 birds) Plain Pigeon population was supposed to thrive. I checked all of the locations the guidebook recommended. There were no pigeons. Finally, a homeowner was attracted by my spotting scope on his sidewalk. In my broken Spanish, as twilight gathered, I asked about the pigeons. “They are in the park,” he said. “What park?” I asked. And, he explained that the pigeons did, indeed, nest in the area around his house, but after nesting, they all roosted together in the park—in the town where we had been gridlocked—in the park we had circled three times. There was even an annual festival celebrating the pigeons return to the park. It was a month ago!


     OK, now I was desperate. I’d spent four hours trying to see a Plain Pigeon, and I was going to see one. Mary tried to dissuade me, but I wasn’t having it. “We can make that park before dark. It is late enough that the traffic will have dissipated. I can still see a Plain Pigeon.” I raced off—giving no heed to speed limits—not to worry—as I’ve said, traffic regulations are meaningless on Puerto Rico.


     I was worrying about the encroaching darkness, but, as usual, I kept part of my attention on roadsides. Pigeons on a wire! I braked to a stop as Mary shrieked. I turned around on the two-lane road ignoring Mary’s remonstrations about reckless driving, and returned to the wires. There they sat. Four Plain Pigeons. I even got photographs. Success! Or was it? I had just engaged in behavior I said I never did. I’d wasted Mary’s afternoon. Maybe, mine too. Now I wasn’t happy. Fortunately, Mary forgave me quickly, although she did say, she’d “remember this one.” That’s what it’s like being an SOB!
(Plain Pigeons, not to be confused with our common Rock Pigeons!)


This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to audubongv@gmail.com. [To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook!]

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ADVENTURES IN BIRD-FEEDING!

By Nic.Korte
Friday, January 16, 2015

How many bird feeders do you have this winter? I have seven. Why so many? Well, that’s the point of this article.


Birds need three things for winter survival: food, water and cover. I’m doing a good job of providing food and water (I have two small birdbaths.) My neighborhood is in the center of the City meaning that cover, besides my own yard, is not so great. I have to work harder to attract a diverse avifauna.


I want my yard to be as attractive as possible to what I consider to be the most desirable birds, and I want to discourage the undesirables. Those in the latter category are House Sparrows, Starlings and Magpies. The former two species, besides being non-native, have habits that chase away native species. As for Magpies, they simply eat too much, and also intimidate smaller birds. The birds I want to attract are mostly Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Nuthatches, and Goldfinches. The first three, for you Star-Trek fans, are “cling-ons.” These are birds with stiff tails and body designs that facilitate clinging to a tree trunk or slab of wood. Keep that in mind as you read on.


Seven feeders sounds like a lot of expense, but it isn’t if you don’t supply too many perches to less desirable birds. By these I mean, House Finches. The latter are a native Western species. They are abundant and can eat a lot of birdseed. That’s why I only feed sunflower seeds from a couple of small feeders that do not permit more than two to four House Finches at once. These feeders bring birds to the yard, but they can’t eat too much because I only allow a few at a time to reach the food. I want a few House Finches in the yard, because I believe constant feeding helps attract the birds I want--those Woodpeckers, Chickadees and Nuthatches.


Chickadees are attracted to the same sunflower seeds as House Finches, but I make things easier for them by using a feeding station that I have filled with already cracked seeds—sunflower pieces. I can do this, because it is too difficult for the House Finches and their ilk to cling to the feeder, so virtually all of these seeds are reserved for the 2-4 neighborhood Chickadees, Nuthatches, and Downy Woodpeckers. It can take those few birds weeks to empty that feeder even though I may see them every day.

(Downy Woodpecker feeding on sunflower chips.)

House Finches steal a seed occasionally, but the effort involved is not worth their trouble, and they will mostly leave such feeders alone.


Some of the desirable species love suet-based feed, but so do Starlings and Magpies. For that reason, I made a simple log feeder that is too small for Starlings and Magpies to cling to. It isn’t that they don’t try. On occasion I have seen a magpie or starling flutter about the hanging log and even bang into it, in an attempt to gain purchase or knock off some of the suet mixture. Soon they give up and leave it to the Flickers and others. 

(This Northern Flicker wants me to put more suet in the holes.)


Another thing you can do is select the right seeds. For example, I avoid Millet which is a favorite of House Sparrows without being particularly attractive to more desirable birds. Safflower seed, although much more expensive, won’t be eaten by House Sparrows. It is too hard for many birds to use. House Finches eat it at a constant but low rate, and I have seen White-Breasted Nuthatches sample it from time-to-time. Thus, Safflower provides a way to feed a few House Finches without feeling like you have become responsible for every one of them in Grand Junction.


Another useful feed is the seed of the African yellow daisy Guizotia abyssinica, often called thistle, but best known as Nyjer. This seed is particularly attractive to goldfinches. One question though, is how do you keep House Finches from eating all of that expensive Nyjer? In the old days, the word was to buy a feeder that forced the House Finches to feed upside down, which is difficult for them. It didn’t take long for this highly-adaptable bird to learn that trick. For that reason, I again rely on feeder design. A fine mesh feeder without a cup at the bottom is a good deterrent for House Finches. If you don’t want to replace your old feeder, you can try trimming the perches. House Finches are bigger than Goldfinches, and if done carefully (you may wish to experiment with this by doing it little-by-little), you can create a perch just big enough for a Goldfinch, but too much trouble for a House Finch.

(This Lesser Goldfinch barely has enough room to perch on this Nyjer feeder.)


“Bird Feeding” has a different side whenever you look out and notice no birds at your usually busy feeding station. Have the birds eaten their fill? Probably not! Look around in the trees and on the fence, and you may notice a Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawk. It turns out that your feeding station that is so inviting to smaller birds, is also inviting to the hawks that eat them. My feeders are in view outside my office window, and most days I will suddenly see all of the small birds suddenly fly up and away as a hawk swoops in for a visit. Not too many days pass that I don’t find a pile of leftover feathers in my yard. 

(Cooper's Hawk dining on a Mourning Dove in my backyard.)


And that’s OK too. My desire to attract a variety of species must be succeeding.


(Check out Wild Birds Unlimited and my good friend Larry Collins at 2454 Highway 6&50 for a great selection of feeders and seed.)


This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to audubongv@gmail.com. [To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook!]
 

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THE ONES THAT GOT AWAY

By Nic.Korte
Saturday, January 3, 2015

     Several Grand Valley Audubon Society members spent a cold New Year’s Day on and around Grand Mesa performing the Annual Grand Mesa Christmas Bird Count (CBC).


     This year’s count was part of the 115th CBC held in the US with the first Grand Mesa count held in 1996. CBCs were started as a means of learning what birds were out there, how their populations were changing, and as a counterweight to annual Christmas-time hunts which, in some cases, had reputations as wintertime slaughter.  Christmas counts are based on counting all of the birds within the same ten mile circle, year-after-year. The Grand Mesa count is centered at the town of Mesa, and has traditionally been held on New Year’s Day.

     My group of four was responsible for the Jerry Creek portion of the Count Circle—which is good and bad. The good is that the reservoirs often hold some very interesting species, not likely to be found elsewhere in and around Grand Mesa. The bad, well, that depends on the weather. With temperatures hovering around zero, we exercised discretion and decided to drive V-road and look for Rosy Finches.  As one website describes it: The Black Rosy-Finch is a bird of the high mountains in the central United States. It nests above treeline, and is often the bird that nests at the highest elevation on a particular mountain.

(BLACK ROSY-FINCHES, BUT FROM 2012)

There are also Gray-Crowned and Brown-Capped Rosy Finches. While there are a few feeders around the state that often attract “Rosies;” these birds are typically hard-to-find, yet much-desired because of their rosy-pink colors which are relatively rare in the avian world.

     Rosy-Finches tend to be nomadic—typically traveling in large flocks that are here today, gone in the next five minutes.  Lamentably, that’s what happened to us. We had struck out on V-Road, although we did have a beautiful fly-over by a Prairie Falcon—a bird observed only 5 times previously during the Grand Mesa Count. With a little sun peeking through the clouds, it seemed the time had come to hike up to the Jerry Creek Reservoirs. As we left the little parking lot, we spied a cloud of birds (100? 200? 300?) rising up the valley and flying east. They could only be Rosy-Finches. We watched wistfully as they flew up, and over, and beyond. What kinds there were in that massive flock, we could only speculate.
     Fortunately, the Jerry Creek reservoirs were not disappointing. A few minutes after the non-encounter with the Rosy-Finches, we saw a group of Chukar.

(PHOTO BY JACKSON TRAPPETT)

Chukars, which are native to the Middle-East, give their name to the local Audubon Society’s newsletter-the Chukar Chatter. Ironically, no one had ever spotted Chukars on any previous Grand Mesa Christmas Count.


The reservoirs did not disappoint us either. A few minutes later, we had great views of a Tundra Swan—a bird that breeds in the high arctic and only visits the Grand Valley area on occasion. Only once before had one of these been found on a Grand Mesa Count.

(PHOTO BY JACKSON TRAPPETT)
     We also saw Bald Eagles, many Red-Tailed Hawks and a host of beautiful waterfowl including Common Goldeneyes and Hooded Mergansers. Next year, if you find yourself not staying up too late on New Year’s Eve, join us. Surely, the Rosies will cooperate next time.


This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to audubongv@gmail.com. [To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook!]
 

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Page 4 of 15




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