Grand Junction Audubon Society birders

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By Nic.Korte
Monday, September 19, 2016

“How was your hunt?” I asked my friend. “Fantastic,” he replied. Then he described watching a meadow for elk while two coyotes trotted out within 10 ft and began howling. He also described being serenaded by owls and listening to elk bugling. Until I asked, he didn’t tell me he hadn’t shot any elk. Contrast my friend’s experience with a person I will call an acquaintance. After his deer hunt, he came home and complained bitterly. He had camped at a nearby forest service campground where he had seen deer in the summer. None had shown up this time. He was angry with the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife for selling him a license when “there weren’t any deer.” He even wanted his money back. What a contrast.
(Habitat good enough for triplet fawns to thrive, is great for birds too.)

Hunting does fill me with mixed emotions—just as did the stories from those two hunters. I grew up hunting small game and have harvested quail, doves and pheasants, as well as rabbits and squirrels. At that time and location in my life, it was the only real excuse there was for being outdoors ( Even then I saw good hunters and bad (those who would blast a squirrel’s nest in hopes of knocking one out, while more likely killing it in the nest).

The reality is that hunting is a necessary part of management of our wildlands. There are numerous examples of the need for game harvests in locations where there are no longer predators such as mountain lion, wolf and bear to maintain healthy populations. It is also true, that many hunters are tireless advocates for the protection of wildlife habitat. For those reasons, most birdwatchers support hunting when regulated by sound biological principles. Which brings me back to the two types of hunters described in my first paragraph.

We own some land adjacent to national forest and we see lots of hunters and hunting camps. Some of the ATV use and camps seem well “over the top.” My inclination is to wish better luck to those who hike well up into the high country wilderness where good physical conditioning, route-finding ability, and understanding of habitat are so important to hunting success.

My musing about the two hunters was also kindled during a recent hour I spent on a stair-climber at the health club. I read two magazines published by organizations that I admire. One was the magazine put out by Ducks Unlimited ( and the other by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers ( Both groups represent hunters who understand preservation of wildlife habitat is more important than their individual success. Duck hunters recognize that ducks and geese are not hatched near where they hunt.   If their sport is to survive, they must ensure the existence of safe refuges for birds to be reared and to rest during migration.
(If the habitat is good for pronghorn, it is good for Northern Harriers and migratory species such as Burrowing Owls.)

To that end, DU honored in their pages a wealthy individual who had given a great deal of money to protect wetlands. He recognized his dependence on habitat protection by many landowners, different states, and even other countries if his sport was to survive. Sadly, the same individual was castigated in two different articles in the Backcountry Journal because he had purchased large tracts of land from which he could block public access to trout streams in order to reserve their use for himself and his wealthy friends. It is a good thing he can't buy all the duck habitat.

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have a land ethic represented by the experiences of my elk hunting friend.  BHA members are relentless supporters of public land, wilderness areas, and taking care of habitat. I loved it when I read the response of one of the group’s leaders when he was asked what “sign” he looked for when hunting elk. “A sign that says ‘No ATVs Permitted Behind This Sign,’” was his retort.
(Backcountry Hunters and Anglers will pay up to $500 for convictions rerelated to reports of illegal ATV use.)

Indeed, ATV use is very contentious as any user of public lands is well aware. A few years ago Colorado experimented with allowing hunters to leave designated ATV routes if they were retrieving game. Unfortunately, the policy was so widely abused, that the privilege had to be rescinded. The abuse was noted despite chronic underfunding of enforcement.
(Here is some great habitat to search for Northern Goshawk and Western Purple Martins.)

Obviously, many ATV users are law-abiding and stick to designated routes, but the habitat damage caused by improper use of these machines can be long-lasting affecting hunters, fishermen, and all who enjoy wildlife. For that reason, BHA is offering $500 to anyone who reports unlawful ATV use that leads to a conviction ( ). I hope none of us sees such law-breaking this hunting season, but if you do, report it for the sake of the habitat. You might also earn $500.

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 or follow us on Twitter!]



By Nic.Korte
Monday, September 5, 2016

“You’re kidding!” I said. “Really? She wants to go?” I was discussing my grand-daughter Zia with my daughter, Ann. I had called that morning and suggested Zia accompany me to watch hummingbirds being banded. Zia is only 6, but already, despite my best efforts (honestly!), she has become wary of birding excursions. As expected, when I called initially, she had responded negatively. Somehow though, she had thought it over and changed her mind. I said I’d be right over.

Zia didn’t know what an opportunity she had accepted. Many of my friends and relatives, being casual birders or less, believe I’m some sort of savant or super-expert when it comes to birds. I protest, but they consider it false modesty. Now, though, I was, indeed, taking Zia to visit some masters.

Stop and think. Everyone is familiar with the idea of banding birds. You catch them in a net and put a band around a leg. Nothing to it. (Actually, a lot of training and licensing is required.)  But what about hummingbirds? Think how small their legs are. Not only that, their legs are fragile. Have you ever seen a hummingbird walk? I haven’t either. It is because they can’t. How does one even catch them? Netting such a tiny bird seems fraught with opportunities for injury.

Grand Junction is fortunate to have among its citizens Steve and Debbie Bouricius. Of the approximately 6000 licensed bird banders in the US and Canada, only approximately 80 are licensed for hummingbirds.

 (This male Calliope Hummingbird, as photographed by Jackson Trappett, wasn’t banded. Steve Bouricius reports, however, that this has been a good year for immature and female Calliope Hummingbirds—uncommon fall migrants in the Grand Valley.)

With so few banders, most of the equipment used is handmade or one of a few. Steve and Debbie have accumulated a number of tools described as “one of five” or the like. Much of their setup is of their own design. For example, I have watched a lot of other bird banding. Bands are obtained from the appropriate authorities, the correct size is determined, and the band is attached to the bird’s leg with a special tool. It isn’t so easy with hummingbirds. The bands are so small and fragile, they are best made as needed. Much of the time while we visited, Steve or Debbie sat carefully making bands with their nearly-uniquie tools while the other handled the birds.
(Zia watches Steve prepare the bands)

Steve and Debbie have a central station with a series of binder clips attached to fishing line. Cages with large doors have been fashioned around standard hummingbird feeders. When a hummingbird is feeding in the cage, the doors are lowered with the fishing line. Doors are slowly shut to ensure that one of the small birds is not trapped against the wire. Once trapped, the hummingbird is carefully grabbed and then put in a small bag from which it is measured and banded.

 (Zia holds one of the more than 10,000 hummingbirds banded by Steve and Debbie since 1999)

I learned a lot by seeing the birds so close. This time of year, most of the easily-identifiable, full-plumaged males are already south of us, leaving the sometimes difficult task of identifying immature birds. Steve and Debbie were able to show me the fine points of identification.

As for Zia, I couldn’t persuade her to leave. She enjoyed watching scientists at work as they carefully handled the birds and made measurements. I was able to explain to her how Steve and Debbie are doing important research by helping to examine distribution patterns and population changes. Indeed, their orchard, which hosts several Black-chinned Hummingbird nests each summer, is yielding interesting data regarding nesting patterns and nest-site fidelity.

(Several times, Zia’s hand was used as the launching pad when it was time for a bird to be released.) 

Possibly more important than the research, however, is the educational aspect of Steve and Debbie’s work. They clearly enjoy sharing the experience of hummingbirds through presentations, seminars, and banding demonstrations (at their home and at the Annual Sedona, AZ. Hummingbird Festival)—just ask my grand-daughter!

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 22, 2016

I admit to being a little dishonest in my last blog. I wanted folks to consider butterflies as another reason to be outdoors. Now is, perhaps, the peak of butterfly season so why not pay attention?

Where I wasn’t quite truthful was in my reference to the Cornell website’s statement that now is birding’s “doldrums.” In truth, Western Colorado, because of its habitat and climate diversity, never has a time when birding isn’t interesting. Our first migrants, such as the Rufous Hummingbirds, began showing up more than a month ago. But, now is the time when things begin to heat up. This week, a friend and I found Solitary and Baird’s Sandpipers—two species that nest above the Arctic Circle. (  &

Migration is exciting because one can go birding in a familiar patch and find almost anything—or nothing. During the first week of August, I had a difficult time finding even 20 species in my own patch of aspen woods at 8300 ft., east of Collbran. Indeed, I may not have even found 30 individual birds.
A week ago, it was a lot different. I encountered several mixed flocks of migrants, the best included at least eight Townsend’s Warblers.

(Townsend's Warbler by Jackson Trappett)

Townsend’s Warblers breed in only four of the contiguous US states: Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. From the US-Canada border, they breed on up into Alaska favoring tall, coniferous forests as their breeding habitat.

While I was watching the Townsend’s, I had Nashville on my mind. Nashville Warblers that is. The Western population of Nashville Warblers also nest in the Pacific Northwest but in a much smaller area than Townsend’s. Also unlike Townsend’s Warblers, Nashville Warblers need shrubby habitat and nest on the ground.

(Nashville Warbler by Jackson Trappett)

Nashville Warblers are usually seen singly and rarely. I didn’t find even one. Maybe 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
Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Last weekend, I spent some time birding the aspen forest in eastern Mesa County at 8300 ft. A few weeks ago, I would have easily found 30+ speices. The same will be true in a week or two. This time, I worked hard to break 20. Even Cornell University's fancy ebird website, in their July note to users, referred to this time of year as birding's doldrums. Well, hot times on a late summer morning or afternoon can be perfect for looking at butterflies.  [Check out previous posts on this topic:  AND ]

I have lots of favorites. One that should be familiar to many is Wiedemeyer’s Admiral. Its favorite habitat is willow-lined streams. Their caterpillars feed on willows, cottonwoods and aspen—even chokecherry and serviceberry. I’ve just described most of the plant life in a Western Colorado aspen forest where this beautiful black and white butterfly can be found.


A less common butterfly in my experience, is the Ochre Ringlet. I looked it up. The source said “very abundant in the Rocky Mountains.” Shows how observant I am! The ringlet is small, gold and tan and has half-moon markings on its wings. Look for it in grassy areas.


Not all butterflies are colorful, which is why, my previous blogs about butterflies neglected the largest group, encompassing nearly 200-species. These are called skippers. Closely related to moths, skippers life histories are also similar as shown by the moth-like shape to their cocoons. The common name, “skippers,” is due to their jerky, skipping flight as they wing their erratic way from flower to flower. I find my own brain often dismisses skippers as “just some insect” because of the spasmodic flight pattern. Such a flight pattern can also make them difficult to watch and photograph, although I have had a few successes over the years.

Skippers are worth examining, if not the most beautiful butterflies, they do have some enticing names. For example, when trying to identify the photo below, I erroneously determined I had photographed a Dreamy Duskywing. Further research revealed that it was, instead, a Rocky Mountain Duskywing—here photographed in a Western Colorado meadow at ~10,000 feet.

Dreamy Duskywings have been found in adjacent counties. Go out and look. Maybe you can be the first to find a “dreamy” butterfly in Mesa County.

[A reminder: if you are able, plant some milkweed ( in your garden. Monarch Butterflies, which rely on milkweed, have undergone a precipitous population decline. If we want our grandchildren to marvel at these gorgeous butterflies, we have to give them some help.]

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 or follow us on Twitter.!]



By Nic.Korte
Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Humans are relentlessly mobile and adaptive. We go everywhere. We breed everywhere. That’s why there is only one species of human. Our DNA shows it. In birder’s parlance, everyone has the same life-list when it comes to humans--one!

On the other hand, some folks can be quite exorcised about their life-list of birds. I can be equivocal about there being one species of homo sapiens, but with birds it isn’t so easy. I can tell you there are approximately 10,000 species. But why is it “approximately?” Don’t we know?

I was thinking about this on a recent trip while driving to and from Southern California. The landscape is mostly familiar between Western Colorado and St George, Utah, but then it changes. The Mojave desert remains a formidable barrier—especially in mid-summer when temperatures frequently exceed 110 degrees. Sure, we zip across it in about five hours in our air-conditioned cars. But a mid-afternoon breakdown, say between Primm, Nevada and Baker, California, could still be a dangerous situation. And, if you are a bird with no desert adaptations? Well, you will just stay on your own side.

The Mojave, in consort with some of the mountains that lie north-south across the Western US, is a barrier many birds can’t cross. Sometime in the distant past, maybe when times were not so hot and dry, there was more interaction between east and west. Eventually, some originally-identical species, became isolated. Because evolution never stops, the isolated populations began to diverge and soon took on a slightly-different appearance, learned to live in a different habitat, and were no longer able to breed with their once close relatives. These facts have long been known, but it hasn’t been until recent advancements in the use of DNA testing and song recording, that scientists have been able to prove that some very similar appearing populations are, in fact, separate species.

All this means that if you are the type of person who lovingly adds another bird to their life list—now is a good time. A lot of species are being split. [That’s not to say that only “splits” are happening. There are also a few “lumps.” In these cases, birds with different appearances are now shown to be, like humans, superficially distinct in appearance, but with no other discernible differences.]

Here in conservative Western Colorado, many would like to consider Californians a separate species of human, but it just isn’t so. Maybe if each side would stay put for a few millennia, something interesting might happen, but that isn’t the human way. Many birds, on the other hand, have been isolated long enough for differences to arise.

In the past month, the international group that decides such things, decreed that our Western Colorado Scrub-Jays, are now Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay. Those in California, get to keep the old title of Western Scrub-Jay. Wow, just like that. I added one to my life-list.

(Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay by Jackson Trappett.  On the west coast, the Western Scrub-Jay has a sharply  defined blue breastband and is whiter underneath)

Our annual family vacation to Southern California usually includes plenty of time for me to go look for some birds. Besides brushing up on shorebirds, which are almost always in scant supply in our area, I can look for those species specific to the West Coast. Scrub-Jays are easy-to-see, and I had already seen plenty in both locations, but a few years ago, there once was a sparrow known as the Sage Sparrow.

The Sage Sparrow is no more having been split in 2013 into the Sagebrush Sparrow and the Bell’s Sparrow. This split found me early on Sunday morning hiking a ridge in the Sycamore Canyon Open Space Preserve about an hour north and a little east of San Diego. Bell’s Sparrows allegedly live here.

Sparrows, being sparrows, are not so easy to see. Most like to hide on the ground or in bushes. These two species are also very similar. The Bell’s Sparrow has fewer or no streaks on its back, has somewhat bolder coloration, and has a broader and darker stripe on its throat. The differences are subtle enough that separating the two can be difficult. For that reason, I was looking for Bell’s Sparrow on its breeding grounds. (I admit, I can be a lazy birder—best to look where only one of the two closely-related species might be present.)

If I want to find Sagebrush Sparrows in Western Colorado, I know exactly what habitat to look in: “one-to three-foot high sagebrush that blankets hills and basins in large, unbroken stands” (Birds of Western Colorado, p 168). I looked around the Sycamore Canyon Preserve—no sagebrush. I was hiking in California Chaparral—an ecoregion under much pressure from development.

Even though I wasn’t looking for sagebrush, nothing else looked right either. I had already hiked more than a mile on a ridge. The plants I saw were too large. Some areas seemed too lush with too much diversity. A larger hill loomed in front of me. It was hot. “Oh well, I may as well see what’s on top.” Once on top, there was a moment of sudden recognition. Not sagebrush, but the southwest slope in front of me seemed structurally identical to where I find Sagebrush Sparrows in Western Colorado: one- to three-foot high shrubs in a near mono-culture.

It wasn’t long before I saw at least three Bell’s Sparrows including one close enough for a photo. The dominant plant here was chamise. I learned later that stands of pure chamise generally occur on hot, dry, south-facing slopes in areas of rough topography just like this one. As for the birds, they seemed a bit darker with a better defined throat stripe. 

(Sagebrush Sparrow on left--with distinct streaks on the back.  The Bells' Sparrow {right} has no back streaks but has a more distinct and broader throat stripe.)

Over many years, these sparrows have adapted to similar, yet different, habitats, and have become different species. Then I considered, “if humans ever did colonize Mars, how long would those on earth have to stay away until the life-list for humans would reach two?” Maybe we’ll know the answer in a few million or billion years!

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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