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By Nic.Korte
Wednesday, March 18, 2015

     For many years, Grand Valley Audubon Society has offered an annual “Owl Prowl”—a field trip designed to show folks some of the owls living in the Grand Valley.

     Take a moment, how many species of owls do you think live in the Grand Valley and its environs? Pick a number.

     Most people know the “hoot owl” (actually Great-horned Owl) because they are large and loud and often nest conspicuously. A few people are aware of our dwindling population of burrowing owls which use old prairie dog holes in the desert. That’s two.

(Burrowing Owl by Jackson Trappett)

How many species of owls are there in and around the Grand Valley? Would you believe nine?

     The others are: Western Screech-owls, Long-eared owls, Barn owls, Flammulated owls, Saw-whet owls, Northern Pygmy owls and Boreal owls. The Western Screech-owl is the most common owl but is not often seen because it is strictly nocturnal and small (

    Why do we have so many owls? Diversity of habitat. Boreal owls live in the highest, coldest, wettest, and darkest areas of Grand Mesa. Long-eared owls are widespread and live in tamarisk and pinyon-juniper thickets. As local ornithologist Kim Potter says, “Where you don’t want to go, that’s where they live.” 

(Long-eared Owl)

     Recently, the GVAS Owl Prowls have been less successful for two reasons. The first is that Western Screech-owls may be nesting earlier such that our usual date for viewing them is after the female is on eggs down in a cavity. The male will be roosting nearby, but usually up in some leaves or hidden within the dense needles of a conifer. The second reason we have had difficulty is a dearth of Long-eared and Barn Owls. Both were once easy-to-find. We don’t know the reason(s) we are seeing fewer of these owls. Because they live in accessible public places, it is probably a combination of development, ATVs, and shooting. We have seen all of these activities displace these owls at one time or another.

We at GVAS still want people to experience our owls. For that reason, we have designed new field trips. On the 28th of March, we will have a Montane Owl Prowl where we will look for Northern Pygmy, Saw-whet and Boreal Owls.

(Saw-whet Owl by Jackson Trappett)

    Saw-whets, Pygmys and Boreals have retiring habits.  Combined with mountain living on public land, they seem to be doing fine. We have done a lot of scouting and expect to have some success hearing if not seeing these owls.

    On April 11, we will do Valley Owl Prowl focusing on Western Screech-Owls, Great-Horned Owls, Burrowing Owls, and possibly either or both Barn Owls and Long-eared Owls. This trip should be especially interesting to youngsters. If you would like to participate, information for signing up is through the Grand Valley Audubon Society website at Come along and see some owls. You don’t have to be a member to participate!

[To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon Society, please see our website at and “like” us on Facebook! If you have any questions, please send them to]


Dunnocks, Serins and Shitepokes, Oh My! (And, “White Arses?”)

By Nic.Korte
Thursday, March 5, 2015

Previously, I did a bit of a riff on nonsensical bird names ( It seems we have the “Old World” to blame for many of them. Last summer, I visited France and Italy. It wasn’t a birding trip—but I found occasion to do some searching—and I always have a pair of binoculars. (A trip-mate once asked me, “Do you shower in your binoculars?”)

Learning local species is always a task for the traveling birder. For example, in Central and South America, there are many families unknown in the US such as antpittas, manikins, and euphonias. At least, these birds usually have names such as “Streak-crowned Antpitta, Red-capped Manakin, and White-vented Euphonia. If you learn what a Red-capped Manakin looks like, you probably have a good idea how you would recognize a “Long-tailed Manakin.”

Unfortunately, there is no logic to many names in Europe. There are no families consistent with names like Dunnock or Serin. The former is an accentor--a family unfamiliar to New World birders, but why call it a Dunnock? Apparently, in ancient British, “Dunnock” meant “little brown one.” A Serin is a small finch similar to our own goldfinches. In brief research, I did not learn the origin of its name.

Perhaps the best bird I saw on my trip was a Dotterel. 

According to Wikipedia the English used “dotterel” as a contemptuous label for a “doting old fool.” Dotterels (the bird!) permit a close approach and are easy to shoot. That was my experience. I almost stepped on the one I photographed.

Fortunately, not all of the ancient names have persisted. For example, the term “shitepoke,” commonly used for herons in the early days in the Americas, was a corruption of terms used in Scotland: “shiterow” and  “shitehereon”. These name’s described the birds’ habit of defecating when disturbed.

Another group of European species are wheatears. The name "wheatear" is not derived from "wheat" or any sense of "ear", but is a 16th-century linguistic corruption of "white" and "arse", referring to the prominent white rump found in most species. Although now nonsensical, that name was descriptive once upon a time.

At least Bee-eaters eat bees.  As the name suggests, Bee-eaters predominantly eat flying insects, especially bees and wasps.

Apparently, honey bees are their single most important dietary item.

But, what about the somewhat similarly-appearing Roller? I was unable to find the origin of its name, only that it was assigned by Linnaeus in the 1700s. 

Old World names can be irritating or fun, depending on your point-of-view. What is sad, however, is that populations of many European birds are crashing. Thirty years ago, the Roller nested in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Eastern Germany and the northern part of Russia. No more. The reasons for the decline include hunting and increasing urbanization. 

My travels in Southern France and Northwest Italy gave me some insight into some things Europeans have done well, and some not so well.  There are important lessons to be learned for those of us in the US.  

If you would like to hear more. Please attend the Grand Valley Audubon Society March Monthly Meeting: 7PM, March 16, 1st Presbyterian Church, 3940 27 ½ Road. 

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, 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 (
In fact, "Scrub Jays are the only non-primate or non- dolphin shown to plan ahead for the future" ( 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 ( 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  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, 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. 


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 ( and Rainforest Trust (, 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. 


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? 


Those are stories for another 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
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: (

     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 [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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