Grand Junction Audubon Society birders

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By Nic.Korte
Wednesday, November 4, 2015

80%, 70% 95%...Pete Marra, head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, is ticking off population declines for many once-common grassland birds. “This IS the Sixth Extinction folks,” he says. “You are watching it.” These sobering comments were uttered during a recent lecture I attended at the Denver History Center. Dr. Marra’s visit was sponsored by the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies (, a group doing very important work regarding public education, private land partnerships and research regarding bird species under threat.

The status of many grassland birds is truly dire. When you drive through a grassland area—or more likely, a former grassland—that is now heavily grazed or cropped, you may see a bird fly up or sit on a wire. The bird could be a remnant of a once thriving population of native grassland species, but it is more likely a colonist—a bird well-adapted to farming and heavy grazing. To an ecologist or an ornithologist, that bird observation tells a much larger story. To most people, however, it is just a bird.

The great conservationist and writer, Aldo Leopold, referred to “the penalty of an ecological education.” That penalty, he said, was like “living alone in a world of wounds.” He would see wounds on the landscape that were invisible to others.

After the somber beginning, Pete Marra’s talk took on a different tenor. He described how much we have learned in the past few years, and how this knowledge can be the key to ensuring the survival of these species. That was the “We can do this!” portion of his talk. Important examples were provided later in the program when two Eastern Colorado ranchers rather humorously described their initial (quite negative) reactions to learning their property harbored species at risk of extinction.

Their final comments, however, were happy ones. Usually, good stewardship of ranchland can be compatible with protecting a species. One rancher recounted that his family had lived on their property for three generations and never knew they were providing homes for endangered Mountain Plovers. At first, they were far from happy about it. 


What about now? 2016 will see the 10th Annual Karval, Colorado Mountain Plover Festival ( held the last weekend in April. Attendees are invited to stay with ranching families or camp on their property. Authentic ranch-style food and entertainment are provided—as is, of course, ample opportunity to view wildlife, such as the endangered Mountain Plover.

Some especially good birds, besides the namesake species, that have been observed at recent festivals include: Broad-winged Hawks, Nashville Warbler, Cassin’s Sparrow and Grasshopper Sparrow.


There is a lot more to the festival than birds and wildlife. Some of these families have been in place for generations, and have great stories to share. Attendance at the festival combines support for wildlife, with support for a human way of life that most of us admire and hope to see persist. Check out their website and plan to attend. (Check the website for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, which has been instrumental in saving some of Colorado's excellent Mountain Plover habitat. Lend your support to their important work.)

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, October 24, 2015

A good friend of mine, and one of the best birders in Colorado--and the world--told me that he thought, of all the states, Colorado might have more great birders per capita. Why would that be true? 

In my previous post, I talked about favorite birds in Western Colorado. As I write, my wife and I are driving to the Midwest where I have some consulting work near Kansas City. Later, we will visit my family in Illinois. (Many years of car-traveling together to work locations have made me more or less immune to car-sickness, and able to work/write while my wife drives. She also believes she is safer not having to risk my distractibility as I tend to look for birds when at the wheel.)

Although our destination tomorrow is Kansas City, we won't be taking the southward swing of I-70 east of Denver. Instead, we will continue due east on highway 36 heading for the tiny town of Idalia which isn't too far from where Colorado meets Kansas and Nebraska. Last year, south of Idalia, I found a Sprague's Pipit--a declining species of the prairie grasslands. I had some dissatisfying views of one in flight. I am hoping for a better view this time. Two days ago, someone reported seeing six.
(Sprague's Pipit [] Sprague's Pipits have been determined to be threatened or endangered, but are not listed because of lack of funding.)

Sprague's Pipits nest along the US-Canadian border and in Canada's Prairie Provinces. They mostly winter south of the US, and only pass through Colorado during migration. For several years, a reliable location during September and October has been a small hill on heavily-grazed state land a few miles from the Kansas border. The location even goes by the informal name of Pipit Hill. For some reason, the east side of this small hill has not been pulverized by the cattle, and consists of short-grass prairie and a tussock-like environment of tiny shrubs favored by the pipits.

In previous posts about our Grand Junction area, I mentioned birds that are difficult to find elsewhere in the state such as Chukar and Western Screech-owl. In between these Western species and my hoped-for pipits, are the mountains with their own complement of birds ranging from alpine obligates such as White-tailed Ptarmigan and the near-endemic Brown-capped Rosy-Finch ( to lower elevation specialties such as American Three-toed Woodpeckers, Flammulated Owls, and Hammond's Flycatchers. 

(This American Three-toed Woodpecker was photographed on Grand Mesa.)

Thus, it is Colorado's considerable biodiversity, ranging from high mountains to desert canyons to prairie grasslands, that accounts for the many expert birders choosing our state as a home base. The state's large reservoirs, perhaps a topic for a future blog, also provide habitat for many annual rarities.

How many species have been officially accepted on Colorado's state list? An impressive 499! Compared to the rest of the country, only Alaska, coastal states such as California and Oregon, and states with some tropical habitat such as Arizona, Texas and Florida exceed Colorado. Arguably we have as much or more diversity of landscape than virtually any other state; no wonder birders flock here.

Like most birdwatchers, I keep track of what birds I find, so I know how many species I have seen in Colorado--313. A quick perusal of ebird ( shows me that the leader in the state has 468 (and counting!). I barely make the top 100, and there may well be 100 or more additional birders who don't use ebird, or haven't had time to update their records. Fortunately, birding is never a competition for me, but it is fun to live where I will always have the possibility of seeing something new.

Postscript: The Sprague's Pipits did not disappoint. I saw, perhaps a half-dozen identified by their call, their undulating flight, and their habit of folding their wings and dropping out of the sky when landing. Best of all, after many tries, I had some good views of one on the ground.

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, October 8, 2015

I was lying awake a recent night. As I often do, I thought about potential topics for this blog. It occurred to me that most people have a favorite bird. Edward Abbey famously preferred vultures. I can think of other folks who prefer fried chicken.
So, what’s your favorite bird in Western Colorado? I suspect it won’t be a Magpie—probably the most conspicuous bird in our area. Colorado citizens have shown so much love for magpies that they have been the subject of bounties and even used in racial slurs. 

(Black-billed Magpie by Jackson Trappett)

How about the state bird, the Lark Bunting? Well, although common on the Eastern Plains of our state, they are rare in Western Colorado and were supposedly selected as the state bird only because the males are black and white which saved printing costs for stationary and brochures. (Our lawmakers haven’t changed very much, have they?) 

(Lark Bunting by Jackson Trappett)

Many people love hummingbirds, but here it is, early October; any additional sightings in 2015 can be considered unusual. Most don’t even arrive until May. I suggest your favorite Western Colorado bird ought to live here more than three or four months. By that criteria, I’ve now ruled out the beautiful Western Tanager and most of the warblers. (Only a few winter-drab Yellow-rumped Warblers spend the winter in Western Colorado).

How about ducks? There are many beautiful ducks. At least, they are about to be beautiful. They molt into a dull brown after breeding and are drab brown until late fall. Many can’t even fly during this period. So, ducks don’t make good candidates either.

My personal favorite is the Western Screech-owl ( Some have referred to it as the Grand Valley’s “signature bird.” The downside is they are nocturnal. We have been introducing more and more valley residents to them, but a bird that is only active in the dark seems an unlikely choice.

Our year-around residents include Black-capped Chickadees, American Robins, Bald Eagles, and several species of woodpecker, but all of these are more representative and more common in other parts of the country.

I know! The local Audubon Society! They should have an opinion on Western Colorado’s favorite bird. Grand Valley Audubon Society was formed in the 1950s in my pre-school days. The founders developed a newsletter and named it the Chukar Chatter. Chukars are a very interesting species. They are year-around residents and seem to be uniquely adapted to the harsh high desert environment near Grand Junction. But—and it is a big “BUT”—Chukars are not natives. They are natives of Eurasia and were supposedly introduced to the US from Pakistan. 

(Chukar by  Jackson Trapett)

I conclude there is no perfect candidate. Hmm, sounds like the presidential election.

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 (and to read the latest Chukar Chatter), please see our website at and “like” us on Facebook!]



By Nic.Korte
Thursday, September 24, 2015

I sighed while looking at Elk Mountain that morning last week. It was so beautiful. The sun was just beginning to glow over the nearly 11,000 foot ridge to the east. Looking west, I could see the mountain’s shadow high on the opposite ridge. It would be another 20-30 minutes before I would feel the sun’s rays. The sky was all over blue. No clouds. No wind. No sound. Unconsciously, I took a sip of my coffee. My brain noticed it. “That’s really good coffee,” I thought.

I sighed again. Unfortunately, I’m not blessed with a quiet mind. I started to think of my grandchildren, now 5 and 1. What will they see? And taste?

The mountains will still be here, at least. Unfortunately, a close look at the aspen forests on the mountainside indicates many of the trees are dead and dying—apparently victims of recent drought. There is a lot of re-growth, but will the conditions be right to re-grow that forest or will changing temperatures cause the aspen to be overtaken by upslope migration of oak and sage? 

(Photo from Eastern Mesa County July 2015. Low elevation aspen forests facing south and west may not persist.)

I like my light roast, Arabica, organic, shade-grown coffee. Maybe my grandkids will be able to enjoy that too. Maybe not. Arabica is the most flavorful coffee, and virtually the only variety grown in Central America where yields have dropped ~40% in the past few years because of a fungus called coffee rust. Scientists believe the fungus has spread virulently due to unusually high amounts of rain during what is normally the dry season over the past few years. Increasing temperatures and other effects of climate change have also played a role (
I have mentioned before that I have visited Costa Rica on nearly twenty occasions over a 25-year period. To the citizens of that tiny country, there is no controversy regarding climate change. Warmer temperatures, drought during what is supposed to be the “wet” season, rain during the “dry,” these are common topics.

I had driven a nearby road the previous day and counted 8 industrial sites, mostly drill pads on public land—all within 6 miles. I knew from using Google Earth there were more not in sight of the road. Many more are planned nearby.

(Drill pad with access road on BLM land)

I have recounted previously how wildlife avoid roads and noise ( ).

I can’t know whether the future might be characterized as good or bad. I do know. It will be different. 

Two recent books give excellent overviews of recent and expected change. I recommend both: Adventures in the Anthropocene by Gaia Vince and The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert.

On October 3, Grand Valley Audubon Society is leading a field trip to Eastern Mesa County both to go birding at Vega Lake, but also to view some lands that may be heavily impacted by drilling in the near future. The public is invited. See for details.
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, 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!]

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