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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. 

(Sharp-Shinned 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 [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
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.


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.


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.

     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 [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, December 18, 2014

Does anyone know the Robert Frost poem: “After Apple-Picking?”

Here are a view verses from the middle:

“My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
And I keep hearing from the cellar-bin
That rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking; I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.”

People who know me well, know that I spend much of this time of year organizing a census of Western Screech-Owls (WESO for short).

(This WESO was the only one we found in a natural cavity. Photo by Carol Ortenzio.)

I've related previously how this little bird, about the size of a soup can, became the Grand Valley’s unofficial “signature” bird ( and

This owl finding effort is part of the Annual Audubon Society Christmas Count which has become one of the largest “citizen science” efforts in the world. Grand Junction has had an official count since the early 1950s.

(Hard-working counters on "Count Day." Photo by Lee Gelatt.)

Our designated day to find all the birds we could within a 15-mile diameter circle centered at H and 24 roads was Sunday December 14.

(Some brave birders even floated the river. Photo by Lee Gelatt.)


The Grand Junction Christmas Count and the WESO census succeed because we have so many willing volunteers. This year we had nineteen teams out well before dawn ready to call owls.
(What else would you do before 6AM on a December morning? Photo by Lee Gelatt.)

How did we do? That’s what made me think of Frost’s poem. For, as I write this, I can hear a little voice inside saying …”I have had too much of Western Screech-Owls; I am overtired of the great [count] I myself desired.” OK, I’m exaggerating—at least a little.

What a great count we had! We tallied 99! I realize that is only a number to most people. You can see a 100 Mourning Doves on a walk around your block. You can see a thousand Starlings at a glance. But owls are predators. Predators always make up the fewest number of individuals in an ecosystem. Moreover, these are owls! And, many of them are living in your neighborhood.

The most we ever found previously was 64. The most any count circle has ever reported before was 66—and that’s from more than 100 count circles in the United States that typically report WESOs. We report more WESOs from the Grand Valley than are reported from some entire Western States.  We didn’t simply beat the old record, we shattered it.

On "Count Day," approximately 40 "owlers" invested a total of 112 hours and drove 358 miles, and collectively gave up something like 100 hours of sleep. Every single one of these volunteers saw or heard at least one WESO. Some had close encounters with angry owls buzzing their heads.  Everyone had a great time. The organizing and the record-keeping have made me a little weary. That’s why I thought of Frost’s poem. But it was fun. Next year, I’ll do it again.

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, December 7, 2014


…We are going to find out which owls are nice!


It is too easy riff on Christmas Carols—…This wonderful Time of the Year…when we all think of Western Screech-owls. (Photo by Jackson Trappett)
At least some crazy birders do!

For a couple of decades now, I have spent an entire Sunday before Christmas counting these little owls for the Grand Valley Christmas Count. In the beginning, I used a “list” put together by my owl mentor, the late Rich Levad. He knew where the owls were. He gave me a “list,” and I drove to every location to see if the owl was “out.” Sometimes I played a call to see if the owl would “pop up” in its hole.

I didn’t have to check every known location, because in the pre-dawn, Rich, myself, and two or three others would have been out trying to “call” the owls by playing their bouncing-ball territorial call (, and listening for a response. “Nice,” owls are those that answer loud and clear, and, hopefully, fly in for a close look.  This owl-detection enterprise has really grown. This year, we will have eighteen teams of two or more folks out calling for owls in the pre-dawn on count day—next Sunday December 14. Volunteers are what make it all work. 

(Eileen and Carol helping install an owl box)


The last three years we have detected more than 50 Western Screech-owls during the Christmas Count. Our count is often the most in the nation, and we are always in the top three. (Grand Junction bragging rights!
Besides the eighteen teams in the early morning, during daylight, two teams will be out with “cameras-on-a-pole” to look into the more than 100 owl boxes scattered throughout the Grand Valley Christmas Count Circle—a 15 mile diameter circle centered at H and 24 roads. So, we don’t even let owls that are sleeping during the day evade detection—so long as they sleep in one of our boxes.

If you are reading this, and aren’t one of our volunteers, I ask two things: first, if you see a couple of people creeping around your yard or on your street next Sunday in the pre-dawn darkness, realize they are part of an important conservation effort—tracking and monitoring an important local species, and second, if you have the opportunity, thank them for their help. (You can also decide to help next year by sending an email to

The owl count has become a major outreach effort for Grand Valley Audubon involving schools and too many individuals to acknowledge. It has provided great pleasure to many people who have owl boxes, and have enjoyed seeing and hearing owls in their yards. Every year I receive calls from people who associate an owl’s appearance with an important occurrence in their lives. 

The effort has become almost year-around in terms of box construction, maintenance and replacement. Monitoring efforts include checking boxes and banding baby and adult owls with public participation. This works because there is a lot of help. I hope all the volunteers for this great effort give themselves a well-deserved pat-on-the-back and have a great holiday season!

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, November 23, 2014

Yesterday (November 22), an intrepid group of birders braved cold winds to survey waterfowl in the Grand Valley. It was the annual Grand Valley Audubon Society Waterfowl Field Trip.
When I think back on it, there seemed to be all sorts of points I could make. First, where would we be without our State Parks? Every stop was at a State Park: three units of the Colorado River State Park, Connected Lakes SP, and Highline Lake SP. I wish our legislature would fund our parks better; I believe even more people would use them.

The day started at the Corn Lake section of the Colorado River State Park where we frightened the attendant who came out to see why all of these cars suddenly appeared. After we assured her that we were only there to check out the waterfowl; she wished us luck and we began our day having “birder fun.” That would be discussing the finer points of identifying a winter-plumaged small grebe. (There are two very similar possibilities.) I think we settled on Eared Grebe, although not everyone was certain; we were just a bit too far away.

A second point I can make is that this year we have had an unusual number of rarities. The most prominent has been two Surf Scoters at the Fruita section of the Colorado River State Park. According to our local bird bible, “Birds of Western Colorado,”(, there have only been about 20 previous records for this part of the State. Indeed, birders from the Eastern Slope have visited to record this bird in Mesa County.

PHOTO OF SURF SCOTER by Carol Ortenzio

A third point is that I wish we could show more people the beauty of some of these waterfowl. At Connected Lakes we had beautiful male Wood Ducks in full sunlight. A few minutes later; we were spying two Common Loons in one of the other lakes. The loons may hang around awhile if they are finding enough to eat. Loons are like airplanes in that they need a runway for takeoff. They need from 30 yards up to a quarter-mile (depending on the wind) for flapping their wings and running across the top of the water in order to gain enough speed for lift-off.
PHOTO OF LOONS by Carol Ortenzio

Sure, it seemed like we saw too many coots, and too many mallards, but that was all forgotten when we had a beautiful male canvasback in the scope, as we did late afternoon at Highline Lake, and then looked up at an adult Bald Eagle sailing by.

Don’t forget our parks in the winter; and if you see a lot of dark looking waterfowl floating out there; grab some binoculars and take a better look. (And, buy your duck stamp:

To keep up with the activities of Grand Valley Audubon Society, check out our webpage at and “like” us on Facebook. Please send any questions to


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