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By Nic.Korte
Monday, September 14, 2015

It has been thirty years since the original publication of DEEP ECOLOGY: LIVING AS IF NATURE MATTERED by Bill Devall and George Sessions. This book, a copy of which remains on my shelf, spawned the Deep Ecology Movement ( The truth is, I found the book a difficult read. The book’s only phrase with lasting resonance for me was the subtitle: “Living as if Nature Mattered!”

How do we live as if nature mattered? I can think of lots of things: drink shade-grown-organic coffee, use alternative energy, support conservation issues, etc... But, sometimes it is difficult to stay motivated. As the great writer and ornithologist Alexander F. Skutch said, “What we need is deeper, more grateful appreciation of the wonderful world in which we dwell…” These days “grateful appreciation” often has to take on a quantitative guise such as when we recount nature’s value in dollars of Ecosystem Services or with respect to the economic impact of tourism. So much of my recent thinking had been in those directions that it was a special pleasure to pick up local author Frank Coons’ fine book of poems entitled “Finding Cassiopeia.” The title poem epitomizes writing appreciatively “as if nature mattered.” Here’s the poem in its entirety illustrated by the excellent photography of Jackson Trappett.


I had a couplet in mind when I started this—
something about mist over catkins, how the sharp
stalks were softened in half light, and blackbirds
with red and gold shoulders stood like exclamation marks

(Red-winged Blackbird by Jackson Trappett)

I had a place for a blue heron fishing for sculpins and drew
a parallel to patience. I knew then where this was going. Evening
came all too soon; by the next stanza, crickets, and the wood
rattle of bull frogs calling to a fried egg moon,
shanghaied my poem.

(Great Blue Heron by Jackson Trappett)

That we live less than half the time is clear.
Midnight, a wet meadow, a screech owl with his ping-pong
hoot, the near miss of a deer mouse, all belong to the cool
dark. On rare forays, we might hear them. We might not.

(Western Screech-owl by Jackson Trappett)


We have forgotten the Loon’s call; how the world feels,

how the sky sees with a million eyes what fine threads we are in an infinite universe.

We cannot find Cassiopeia.

We no longer howl at the moon.
(Common Loon by Jackson Trappett)


“Finding Cassiopeia” is available from Lithic Press and Gallery in Fruita. Check out this fine bookstore and gallery for “a fantastic selection of books, art, handmade goods and other curiosities" (

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, September 6, 2015

Imagine this. You are outside. The sky is dull gray. Above you, way up in the sky, there is an enormous swimming pool.

Hold that thought.

I just re-read what I have written the past few months and realized it has been a succession of how much fun it is to go birding, and what birds everyone should be seeing. That made me think: “What about when things go wrong?” “What was my worst birding day?”

It started when our guide and driver picked us up in the pre-dawn from our little hotel in Cuzco, Peru. I could see our young guide, Mari (not her real name), was distressed as soon as she saw me. “You are a birder,” she said.

Later she lamented, “as soon as I saw those big binoculars, I knew.” Through some mix-up, her company had not provided a birding guide, or maybe one wasn’t available and they failed to tell Mari what to expect. (I later suspected her company of assigning her because no one else wanted the job. She was a young guide on one of her first assignments. We were only two, so tips would not be what they could be with a larger group. It was the off-season. Bad weather was a possibility.)

Fortunately, we adapted readily. We didn’t discuss the mismatch. Mari had an engaging personality and was eager to please. Both of us worked hard to get along, and we did. Then a few more things went wrong. Enroute to a famous jungle lodge only reachable by boat, Mari told us she had been in contact with them. There had been a huge storm. The lodge was damaged, but we could still come.

The river, that was the route to our lodge, was in near flood so we had to cancel some birding and leave very early in the morning in order to spend extra time bouncing upriver in the small boat. Nonetheless, this was Peruvian Amazonia. We were exhilarated by the constant flyovers of macaws and the expansive view of massive thunderheads rising above the sea of green jungle. 


We enjoyed the trip even if we had already missed many birding opportunities. Perhaps, because of fighting so much current we needed a fuel stop at the only small village on this part of the river. Remarkably, the proprietor of the small riverside fuel station couldn’t be bothered to fuel the boat during his lunch break. Or, maybe it was our boatmen who conspired with him to lengthen the interval with some food and drinks before we were once again headed up river.

Even though we were amidst truly trackless wilderness, there was a park entrance pass that was needed and a park ranger to be found. So we passed our lodge and motored upstream to find the small thatched roof structure that served as park headquarters. They already had our names on a list. No money was exchanged---that was probably taken care of back in Cuzco. The only reason I could fathom for the check-in was to waste another couple of hours.

At last, in the proverbial gathering darkness, we reached our lodge. The lodge was, perhaps, 200 yards from the river. The lodge dock consisted of a mudbank that required scrambling up 6-7 feet. 

(The "dock" upon our arrival.)

Finally-the Amazonia jungle! Birds and wildlife were everywhere. We saw two types of monkeys almost immediately. I managed looks at some interesting birds. I only wished there had been more daylight. Being so near the equator, sunset comes quickly and we were soon in the dark, but not until we noticed the damage. The previous storm had brought down many trees. Luckily, the sleeping quarters, kitchen, and dining area were not damaged, but the separate bathroom/shower building had suffered a direct hit wiping out one-quarter of it. An outdoor cooking area and some storage buildings were demolished. We also learned that most of the trail system associated with the lodge was badly-damaged so our access to some of the surrounding habitat would be limited. The lodge workers, some of them life-long residents of the area, said it was the worst storm any had ever seen. The lodge was built on concrete pilings, and they had gone out during the storm to hang on to the pilings fearing that a tree would come down on them within the lodge.

We were the only guests, which was good. Rooms were small cubicles. Guests were not allowed to walk outside after dark because of snakes and caimans. [The Black Caiman is the most abundant native crocodilian and supposedly there was a 15-footer in the lake.] As for nature calls during the night, we were handed a bucket. But, there was beer and the food was good. Mari had apologized about her lack of knowledge of birds but she had already proven to be a good spotter and a hard worker. We planned a morning bird walk for 5:15AM. I went to bed expecting a great day.

Just before dawn the rain began. Birders will go out in almost anything. But this rain went beyond “almost.” I told you to imagine you were standing outside under a swimming pool. Now imagine instant disappearance of the bottom of the pool. No wind. Just thick, roaring rain. We didn’t even bother to find Mari to discuss our options. We stayed in bed.

Eventually, the rain let up, and we had some time in the forest. The trails were gone. Where blown-down trees didn’t block the way, the path was underwater so we sloshed rather than hiked. Birding often consisted of Mari spotting the bird which I would attempt to identify. This greatly limited the number of species checked off, but they were all new to me and I had a fine time. I remember lifting a glass of wine to my wife that night as I perused a guidebook on Peruvian birds and said, “What could be better than this?”

But that night, the roaring rain returned, and so, came THE DAY. Anyone with tropical birding knowledge would recognize the area we were in, Manu National Park, as one of the most biodiverse locations in the world. How could it be possible for me to find only three new birds and identify just a handful of birds in an entire day outside? Here’s how.

A prime objective of this trip was to see Giant Otters, an endangered species found only on oxbow lakes in Amazonia. Our lodge was on an oxbow lake, with Giant Otters—until the recent storm. Our original plan had been to watch them from the lodge. The lodge workers speculated that the otters had moved out because the high water had breached one end of the lake. An oxbow lake some miles upriver was considered a likely location. The otters are active in the early morning so we needed to leave just as it was light enough to see. I remember Mari telling us that she and the boatmen had discussed whether it was safe to go, and decided that it was. We should have taken that as a cue after hearing the roaring rain that night.

The trail to the dock was now mostly under a few inches of water. When we reached the “dock,” which you recall was a mudbank, we were shocked to see that the river had risen at least four feet. Instead of having to scramble down a 6-7 ft bank, we had to stand on the edge of the bank and step down about two feet into the boat. My wife and I both stepped in. Then came Mari. As soon as she stepped to the edge of the mudbank dock, it collapsed and she fell into the river. Fortunately, she was able to grab the side of the boat or it would have been a dangerous rescue situation. The boatman was holding the boat in place by gunning the engine against the current. The swift water would have quickly carried her downriver with few places to reach shore.

With the boatman’s help, Mari pulled herself into the boat. She threw her hair back to shake off the water and then turned on her camera. She looked through it and breathed a great sigh of relief. “It’s ok,” she said. But, I had noticed something else. “What about your binoculars?” I asked. She jumped up feeling all around. She had already told us that guides have to supply all of their own gear and that her binoculars were her biggest expense. (Binoculars that can stand up to the tropics, typically cost much more than a “good-enough” camera.) Now, they were gone. There would be no hope of even looking for them. Nothing to do now but head for the oxbow lake and the otters.

Mari sat glumly in the back of the boat, wet and cold in the early morning. I understood enough Spanish to hear her tell the boatman she wouldn’t make enough money from this trip to replace the binoculars.

I had been eagerly looking forward to this boat trip because the boatmen are adept at spotting wildlife, especially birds, and then maneuvering the boat so clients can have easy views. Not this time. The river was in major flood and there was so much flotsam that all attention had to be paid to navigation. Several times there was a loud “thump” as we hit a submerged log. The wild-eyed look in my wife’s eyes didn’t help. I too could visualize hitting something big enough to overturn the boat or break the propeller. The going was slow, but eventually, to our relief, we reached the trail to the oxbow lake. We knew we were a little late to see the otters, but we still had hope. The boatman, after tying off the boat, motioned for us to stay seated. He went off for a few minutes and returned to tell us that parts of the trail were three to four feet underwater.  The boatman and Mari conferred. We understood later they debated whether to return to the lodge or to try another trail. We wished we had been able to vote to return. But, we weren’t asked.

More bumping upstream in the boat found us at a different trail. This trail had only a foot or two of water and we slogged to the lake—knowing now that we were probably too late in the day if the otters followed their normal behavior pattern.

Our conveyance at the lake was a platform balanced by a dugout canoe on each side—a jungle catamaran. Both dugouts, however, were full of water. Imagine my frustration at this point. It was now past noon. The best time for birding was over. I was thinking, “If we had stayed at the lodge, I would have seen 50 new species by now.” I had only seen a couple on the perilous boat ride. Instead, the boatman handed me a half-broken old milk jug for bailing. It promptly shattered. I bailed like a madman with my hands. I wanted to get into the lake to see something. Wasn’t that why we came? The boatman looked at me like I was crazy as he and Mari bailed the other side. Finally, the boat floated, after a fashion. The boat was clumsy and slow—more so now because it was so waterlogged.

Slowly, we turned the boat around and with the boatman in one of the dugouts and Mari paddling in the other, we headed into the lake. Almost immediately, Mari started to describe a bird we hadn’t seen. “Where?” I said. “There,” she said, as she jumped up and pointed. Except. I forgot to say there was an almost identical catamaran at the oxbow lake and lodge where we were staying. We had taken it out the evening before. That catamaran at our lodge lake was identical except it lacked the 2x4 frame over the back of the floating platform, the one into which Mari had just rammed her head.

Now she lay, crumpled on the platform. We tried to help her up. We tried to commiserate. She just kept her head down waving her hand to tell us to stay away. The night before she had described her guide training, and how she was a recent graduate. Now I was thinking, she’s been taught, “you must never cry in front of clients.” After several futile tries to help her, all of which elicited her waving response, she sat up, blinking back tears. She pointed the boatman onward. I said, “I’ll paddle.” She only nodded and sat forlornly on the platform.

(Our Boatman and I paddling the catamaran--and the fateful 2 x 4.) 

You guessed it. We paddled all about the lake. I couldn’t paddle and look for birds and although a few flew by, no one was in any mood other than “to see the damn otters, and get out of here.” But, there were no otters to be seen. Hot and sweaty, we returned to the trail and slogged back to the boat. Mari revived and pointed out a few plants, but mostly we all wanted to get the boat ride over with, and return to the lodge. Our return was enlivened by the loss of the so-called dock, and the river having risen another foot or two. The boatman had to run the boat up near the bank, and with the motor revved, he could hold the boat in place for a few seconds. One person would jump into the arms of one of the waiting workmen. Then another circuit would be made, and then a third until we were all out. The boatman waved good-bye and motored off. Slogging back to the lodge in the near darkness, I was taunted, maybe haunted, by the cries of unfamiliar birds whose silhouettes I could barely make out against the darkening sky. 

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
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!]

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