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By Nic.Korte
Monday, August 24, 2015

No, not “The Birds and the Bees.” “The Bears!”

Have you ever been too close to a bear?  How’s this?

About a year ago, I was standing on the edge of a mountain meadow, being very quiet watching and listening for birds. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a movement—a big movement. A large bear was headed directly for me. My first thought was to get a great photo. My second thought, because the bear never saw me until I jumped and raised my arms, was my safety. That’s why I have a great photo of a blurry hulk.

I thought about that encounter this weekend when I saw this bear cub trotting by the road. Where was Mama? I waited, and the bear dove off into the roadside bushes.

I see bears this time of year because I’m looking for birds. Birds and bears are looking for the same things. The bears want to fatten up for the winter before going into hibernation. The birds need to fatten up for migratory journeys. A favorite food for both is serviceberries.

Serviceberries, along with chokecherries, appear to be in good supply this year. Some years, late frost can decimate the harvest. This year it looks good. I have seen bushes drooping with fruit. Try some. Best to taste a fat, ripe, purple berry. I push them against my teeth for a little sweet juice, and then spit out the seed and skin. They are a nice taste of the outdoors that adds to my enjoyment of the season. Once, I collected enough to make some muffins. They reminded me of not-very-flavorful dried blueberries, and really weren’t worth the effort.

How bears gained weight on them seemed a mystery—until I read that bears eat 16 hours a day in the fall. Hopefully, this year’s heavy fruiting will decrease the bear-human encounters which typically end poorly for the bear.

Birds love serviceberries as much as bears do. This weekend I saw flocks of as many as two dozen robins working the berries. There were also many other birds in the bushes. Some of them may be looking for the many insects attracted by ripening fruit, such as this chickadee. That is a tiny insect it is about to consume.

I have noted previously ( ) that listening for chickadees can be a great way to find migratory flocks of songbirds. Unlike the spring and early summer when birds are on territory, now they are in mixed flocks, probably for safety. A typical flock might hold ten or more species.

Last weekend, very near where I saw the bear cub, I was rewarded with some mixed flocks that held six species of warbler, two species of vireo, two species of sparrow, a couple of kinds of woodpeckers and a white-breasted nuthatch. At times, there were so many birds, it was distracting to decide where to look. The birds were working the serviceberry and chokecherry bushes. Some eat fruit.  Many find it a good place to find insects. As (almost) always, it is a great time to go birding!
(This MacGillivray's Warbler is trying to hide, but is easily identifed by the crescents above and below the eye.)

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



By Nic.Korte
Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Now for the hard times. Earlier this summer, I posted a blog entitled, “Now You See Them, Soon You Won’t" ( ). The idea was that birds were lustily singing from exposed perches as they set up territories and began to raise families. Not only were many birds singing in full view, they were often distracted by their mating urges. At that time, birds are often reluctant to leave their perch lest their performance not be sufficiently noticed by a nearby female.

What makes late summer the most difficult for identification, is not just the lack of singing or the furtive behavior, it is sorting out the juveniles. It is sort of an ugly duckling syndrome. The youngsters don’t look like their parents. Mistakes will be made.

Several years ago, my family and I stopped at a rest stop east of Baker, California. It was a very hot late summer day, but there in the rest stop was this bird. It flitted among the tables, seemingly very tame. It had an unusual tail pattern that was very striking when it fluttered from one handout to the next. Having birded in Europe, I identified it as one of the Eurasian Larks. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera, but once I returned home, I checked the internet and found that there were occasional (but very rare) sightings of some of these larks in California. I would be a hero! But which lark was it?

Tentatively, I reached out to some birding gurus I know. Most were encouraging and gave me suggestions. But one, said, “Well, the de-facto ‘bird on the ground’ that is mis-identified in the Western United States is the juvenile Horned Lark.” Horned Larks are the birds with the white in the tail feathers that fly off when you drive the desert roads west of Grand Junction. Some have suggested they are the most abundant bird in Norh America. Chagrined, I went to my Sibley’s, the most renowned bird identification guide used in the US. None of the thirteen paintings of horned larks looked like my bird. But, I am a sucker for Bird Identification books. I own several. I kept looking, and one of the books had a juvenile-plumaged bird that looked a lot like the bird I saw. That odd tail pattern? It was caused by missing juvenile feathers that had not been replaced by adult plumage. Just because I write a blog about birding and seem to know a lot; that doesn’t protect me from being spectacularly wrong.  

(Adult Male Horned Lark by Jackson Trappett. Google images of juvenile Horned Larks, you will see a difference!)

Last summer, I redeemed myself. I spied a bird near our cabin. After 15 years of birding the area, the slightest oddity immediately registers. Something different! I gave chase. I got closer before it flew away, but not before convincing myself I had seen an oriole. We have one common oriole in our area, the Bullock’s, but it didn’t look like one. It was yellow. It should be more orange.  Bullock’s Orioles also have a black line behind their eye. When we returned, I kept searching for the bird.  To my surprise I found it again, and was able to obtain photographs. Back to the bird books. The entirely black head required of a young male ruled out Scott’s Oriole. Baltimore Orioles needed a black nape.  As I noted above, Bullock’s Orioles all had the line behind the eye and were more orange. Hooded orioles had mostly the right pattern, but even immature males had a much more extensive black throat, and one book even highlighted the fact that the wing bars, prominent on my bird, were “diminished” in juvenile Hooded’s.

What to do? What else? The internet! The search was unequivocal. My bird was a juvenile male Bullock’s Oriole—the most likely species in Western Colorado even if this one was at an unusually high elevation. There were several photos of the precise plumage shown in my photo. There were also several photos of quite a few more plumages—more than can be shown in bird books. I learned this was a hatch year bird—not that long out of the egg. It was growing in its first set of feathers and molting toward adulthood. Two weeks later, it probably had that missing black eye line.

(Hatch year male Bullock's Oriole)

I hope you can take several ideas from my experiences. Even though I have identified birds for decades, I still make mistakes. Most of us do. Indeed, figuring out the odd bird can be fun. Most important, however, is that you should not be discouraged if you can’t find a bird you’ve seen in your bird identification guide book. They show the most common plumages, and if you get a nearly exact match, then you are probably right. But, if nothing quite matches up, then consult more sources. These days, the internet has many photos of birds and a simple search of “[bird name] juvenile images,” will often bring up just what you need. Not finding the bird you’ve seen in the book may, in fact, be a sign that you are becoming a good birder.

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



By Nic.Korte
Thursday, July 30, 2015

You don’t have to go to California to see shorebirds. You can see most of them right here in Western Colorado. Yes, it is a bit more difficult. Timing and location are everything, but shorebird migration has begun. From now into October, shorebirds are passing through. Even if you have trouble identifying some of them, at least spend a few minutes thinking about their life history. Western Sandpipers, for example, breed in the tundra, mostly along the coast of Alaska. They winter along the southern coast of the US and the Northern Coast of South America. Isn’t that an amazing journey? You think so! Theirs is one of the shorter ones. Baird’s Sandpipers nest a bit further north across the Arctic and winter mostly in the Southern Cone of South America. (Western Sandpiper by Jackson Trappett)

But, how can we see shorebirds? We don’t have any coastline! True enough. We don’t have much. At least that fact limits the areas where we can look, but diversity can be exciting. According to (try “Explore Data,” then “Mesa County,” then “bar charts), twenty-one species of sandpipers, plovers and their ilk can be seen in Western Colorado during migration. 

One of the most common is the Western Sandpiper. They are part of a group often referred to as “peeps.” Using the term “peep” is analogous to calling perching birds “LBJs” (little brown jobs) or “LGBs” (little gray birds), because several species are confusingly similar. Fortunately, as with most LBJs and LGBs, a little knowledge goes a long way. In our area, the Western Sandpiper may be the most common “peep.” Note the thick and slightly decurved bill in the photo. Note the dark legs. Finally, you can see it seems a bit stub-tailed, that is, the wings don’t exceed the length of the tail. That’s it. That’s a Western Sandpiper.

The other two common “peeps” in our area are the Least Sandpiper (greenish legs, shorter bill overall), and the Baird’s (wings longer than the tail). Yes, you have to look at them a bit to see these features, but with a little practice, you can confidently identify most of these birds. (Least Sandpiper by Jackson Trappett)

Fortunately, there are always a few shorebirds that are easy to identify—none more so than the American Avocet.
(American Avocet by Jackson Trappett)
Although a few pair may nest locally, Avocets are much easier to see during migration when small flocks stop for a rest on their journey south. Few birds are more beautiful than these.

The best places to see shorebirds are anywhere there are large mudflats. A few birds, however, may stop anywhere there is a small amount of open shoreline. Favorite places in the fall include Vega Lake State Park, Highline State Park, Cheney Reservoir, and, of course, Fruitgrowers Reservoir ( The Colorado Field Ornithologists website ( can be accessed for directions to these and locations all over the state.

Sadly, as with so many common species, most of the shorebirds are experiencing population declines. Declining species include the aforementioned Western Sandpiper and others often seen in Western Colorado: Snowy Plover, Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Pectoral Sandpiper. Worse yet, a pervasive lack of monitoring data (in other words lack of funding) has led a recent shorebird researcher to comment, “we still have virtually no indication of the population trend for 25 percent of the shorebird taxa breeding in North America.”

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



By Nic.Korte
Sunday, July 19, 2015

“Noises Off!” is a stage play—a farce—a “play within a play,” about the staging of a comedy called “Nothing On.” Grand Junction High School produced this play some years ago, and it was hilarious. It is always great to see how much talent there is among the young people of our area.
As described in Wikipedia, the play-within-the-play, “Nothing On” is the type of farce in which young girls run about in their underwear, old men drop their trousers, and many doors continually bang open and shut.” As I said, the play was uproarious—a lot of noisy fun, but would you want to live there? And, do you have an opinion regarding the recent local controversy regarding whether certain Off-Road Vehicle routes should be closed? Birds do!

Researchers at Boise State University “set up 15 sets of speakers in trees along a ridgeline” far from human disturbance. Then they created a phantom road by replicating the sound of a 500-yard long stretch of busy highway. They turned the road noise on and off over 4 day blocks throughout fall migration. They compared usage by birds with a nearby ridge that was not exposed to any noise.

Counting birds at each site showed “more than a one-quarter decline in overall bird numbers.” “Even the most common species were impacted negatively by the road noise. Yellow Warblers and Cedar Waxwings almost completely avoided the ridge when the noise was turned on.” (Both of the latter species, it should be noted, are common near Grand Junction.) (This bright Yellow Warbler won't be singing close to a road!)

This research is the first to show that road noise alone has a negative impact on birds. This is important because until now studies have only shown that roads are bad for birds, and the assumption had been that the moving vehicle was the primary culprit. According to the Boise State researchers, 83% of the continental US is within hearing distance (1km) of a road.

(The Mockingbird on the passenger-side window doesnt' mind a quiet car!)

I find it very unfortunate that roads/routes/trails are so controversial. Consider the play, “Noises Off.” I enjoyed the “farce,” but I wouldn’t want to see such entertainment every night. I own a 4-wheel-drive vehicle and have enjoyed the fact that it has given me access to some backcountry locations for hiking and wildlife viewing. But, to tell the truth, overall, I prefer drama to farce and quiet to noise. At the same time, I understand others feel the opposite. That’s why we need balance. That’s why all of us have to practice restraint. What’s enough for either side will always be a controversy, but I will suggest that birders and wildlife viewers already practice a great deal of restraint.

If one wants to view Sage Grouse on a lek, it requires signing up, often months in advance, to reserve a seat in a blind. Suppose you want to see the vast number of Sandhill Cranes on the North Platte in Nebraska? Same thing. Sign up in advance to reserve a spot in a blind. Maybe you want to go backpacking in the Grand Canyon. Same thing—except there it is usually a good idea to take advantage of the Park Service’s option to select three possible itineraries. Your first choice is often not available, but you might get your second or third.

It isn’t hard to make the same analogy to off-road vehicle use. Restraint is needed. A reservation system might be needed for popular trails. Similarly, there can’t be trails everywhere or we will lose birds, and as other research has shown, deer and elk.
It is clear, other than the common species we find in town, most wildlife avoid noise. Wildlife avoid disturbance. It is no wonder to the birders among us that Sage Grouse are in trouble. When a visiting birder contacts me for advice on viewing some local bird species, I can do a good job, but with the grouse; I have to tell them to call the Division of Wildlife or a local community that sponsors tours. We can’t just go out and see them anymore.

As for the recent research with noise, it is unlikely that anyone is going to tear out a road to protect birds. However, it does suggest that new roads, routes and trails should be limited. It also suggests that measures should be taken to make roads quieter such as changing the road substrate, creating barriers to buffer sound, changing speed limits, or even limiting daily traffic through some areas. There are a lot of us.  We need to share, and practice restraint.

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



By Nic.Korte
Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I couldn't decide which segue I liked better. My wife and I recently watched the biopic about James Brown ("Get on Up!"), the genius rhythm and blues singer who was such an enormous musical influence. On the other hand, Colorado’s newest big-time cash crop also lends itself to a convenient double entendre. Neither James Brown nor marijuana have much to do with birds, although I suppose the silly rock song “The Bird is the Word” may owe something to James Brown. On the other hand, many folks (myself included) get high on amazing birding experiences.

My title double entendres can also refer to climbing and hiking in Colorado’s high country. Are you into climbing fourteeners? Or, maybe you prefer my favorites, high thirteeners, where you can have the fourteener experience without as much company? If you have climbed more than one or two, or if you have hiked or backpacked above timberline, you have seen two special Colorado birds. Maybe you didn’t identify them, but if you saw birds up high, you probably saw these two.

One is the American Pipit. It is the only common representative of the family Motacillidae found in the US outside of Alaska.

(photo by Jackson Trappett)

Most often, American Pipits are seen as one walks across the tundra. A slender brown bird with white tail feathers flutters up from the ground, and with an easy undulating flight soon settles back into the grass or on a boulder. If the pipit is in your path, it may do this a few times before finally doubling back to where you initially flushed it. American Pipits breed throughout the tundra in North America which includes the high Rocky Mountains, much of Alaska and the boreal regions of Canada. They winter, often in small flocks, throughout the Southern US, but also in Mexico and Central America. The Central Valley of California, east and south Texas and Louisiana are all important wintering areas. Right now they are nesting. Often eggs are laid under a small rock practically in the open. On one occasion, researchers studying some nests observed that most of the young survived their nest being snow-covered for 24 hours.

American Pipits are widely distributed, but there is one bird that almost has to be seen in Colorado. These are Brown-Capped Rosy-Finches. When hiking or climbing, look for small flocks of mostly brown birds whirling about remnant snowfields. These guys can often be tame. Once on top of La Plata Peak, a few of them foraged literally within inches of my boot. 

(photo by Jackson Trappett)

Brown-capped Rosy-Finches are a special bird in Colorado because they are a near endemic of our state. They nest in the high-country throughout the length of Colorado but only as far south as Sandia Peak in New Mexico and as far north as Wyoming’s Snowy Range. More than the American Pipits, Rosy-Finches are a true denizen of the highest mountains, only showing up in the valley during and after heavy mountain storms.

So take this opportunity to impress your hiking companions. There simply aren't that many choices in the high country. When you see a bird with white tail feathers take off from the tundra, tell them, “There goes an American Pipit.” When climbing that last thousand feet to the peak, if you see a small brown bird with some pink on the belly, rump and wings, that would be the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch.

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

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