Grand Junction Audubon Society birders

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

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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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THE TRAIL LESS TRAVELED

By Nic.Korte
Wednesday, September 11, 2013

This blog entry was provided by Susan M. Longest, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biology at Colorado Mesa University and Chair of Citizen Science for the Grand Valley Audubon Society (GVAS). Owl photo by Mercedes Yeates. 

Every fall and spring, groups of Colorado Mesa University students arrive on the Audubon Trail. Many residents know this trail as a nice paved trail for biking, walking, and running, but it is equally unknown to many residents and students, somewhat due to it being nestled behind the Albertson’s parking lot at the entrance to the Redlands. As part of CMU’s Biology 101 General Human Biology Lab, an introductory course designed for students not majoring in Biology, students participate in several field trips to expose them to plants and animals in their local environment, as well as relevant local biological issues.


Regardless of which semester students take the course, the Audubon Trail provides a plethora of opportunities to learn local plant and bird species. Professors use this trail to explain the importance of riparian habitats, which line waterways and provide important habitat for plants and animals that you do not find in drier habitats, such as on top of the Monument. As the class walks along the trail, occasionally hopping out of the way of a bicyclist using the path, professors point out different plants and trees that are native versus invasive, the types of seed dispersal used by different species, and general characteristics to identify each species. The Russian olive tree, for example, is an invasive species that was originally introduced from Russia and other parts of western and central Asia to North America. Because it has outcompeted native riparian plants and trees, it is considered invasive, and it depends on birds to disperse its seeds. By explaining the tales behind the plants, students get a better appreciation for the plants around them, as well as the types of plants that are important in different types of habitats.

Classes like Biology 101 Lab enable all of us to open our eyes to the details around us that we may pass every day without ever thinking about.  

Beyond being a great trail for exercise and pointing out riparian plants, there are many bird species one can find in just a short walk along the path. The best time to visit is in the spring because migrating birds are arriving and building nests for the breeding season. In the beginning of the fall, however, many species can still be seen before they migrate south for the winter, and of course, resident birds are reliable as well. A few species that are often found along the trail include robins, house sparrows, starlings, and many LBJs (little brown jobs). If you walk along the water, you may see mallards, wood ducks, swifts, and several species of swallows. The highlight for many during the spring, however, is seeing the great horned owl in her nest with chicks.

This particular female has been returning to her nest for many years. Two years ago, wind knocked one of the three chicks out of the nest, which incited a community effort of wildlife professionals and bird lovers alike to construct a sturdier nest for the owls, and to rehabilitate the injured chick. Usually when I take my students down the trail to see the nest, I pass one or two people along the way who also know of the owl and ask how she is doing.

For the students, many have never seen a great horned owl before, or any owl for that matter. Last year, I brought out a spotting scope to give the students a closer view than that provided by their binoculars. It’s one thing to look at an owl through binoculars, it’s another to feel up close and personal as you see each feather blowing in the wind, and feel her staring straight into your eyes. The students loved it, and I had to take a few looks myself.

As we looked at the female, we could see two chicks in the nest with a third probably tucked further down. There are many attractive animal species in the world. In my own research, I usually manage to study species whose young, if viewed through binoculars, tend to send a shiver down my spine. I won’t say that owl chicks are ugly, but they definitely are unique and share a certain gruff look that one wouldn’t want to mess with. After everyone had a chance to see the owl, we headed back to the van at the trail entrance before heading back to campus.

My hope with every passing semester is that the students realize how much beauty is around them all of the time, not just in the vistas from the Grand Mesa or the Colorado National Monument, but also along the paths they walk every day. I hope that after taking the 101 lab, they see many things with new eyes and their curiosity remains a life-long attribute.

This blog post was provided by the Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to nkorte1@hotmail.com]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please “like” us on Facebook!]
 

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