Grand Junction Audubon Society birders

Follow local birders in pursuit of their life lists. For more visit

Page 19 of 24


By Nic.Korte
Friday, March 7, 2014

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Dry Leaves
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Flycatcher, Flammulated
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Chachalacas Chuckling

     While on the staff at the University of Arizona, too many years ago, I worked for a major professor who was nearing retirement. In his spare time, he wrote Haiku about the Sonoran Desert. (Haiku is a form of poetry favored by the Japanese ) He even published a book (Roadrunner: American Haiku of the Desert Southwest). I haven’t written poetry since my lovesick adolescence but a few weeks ago, I was in Jalisco, Mexico chasing a flammulated flycatcher in a dry forest. In the background, chachalacas were calling back and forth.

     Haiku that works, instantly puts me in a “place.” It can be a physical place or a very specific state of mind. What is remarkable is how the transformation can occur with such an economy of words.

     My attempt at haiku, except for colleagues who accompanied me to Jalisco, probably needs some explanation. First, it helps explain why I am a birder. My hobby can take me to exotic places and sights. This trip, a fund-raiser for the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (, was designed to find as many endemics (birds found nowhere else in the world) as possible. Our trip leaders were making a valiant effort to give everyone a look at an elusive flammulated flycatcher. The bird was located by its distinctive call, but it is somewhat nondescript and likes to perch in the understory. That was the problem. We would see it move, find it, not get a good look, hunt for it, find it again, lose it. This went on for nearly an hour until all of us had sufficient, if not completely satisfying, views. Sneaking around in the brush also introduced a few chiggers —and in my case—a tick—which latched on several hours later. (The bite still itches.) But, it was worth it to see a new species—a species that can only be seen by journeying to this specific area in Western Mexico.

     While we searched for the flycatcher, chachalacas were calling. 

     There are 15 species of chachalaca. The Plain Chachalaca, whose range includes South Texas, has a call that sounds to some like CHA-cha-LA-ca----Cha-cha-La-ca. The variety I was listening to, the West Mexican Chachalaca (a West-Mexican Endemic), makes a different sound—not exactly like a turkey’s gobble, not exactly like quail chattering-- more of a rolling chuckle. That’s what inspired my haiku.

     While we hunted for endemics, most of the birds we saw were Neotropical migrants such as this McGillivray’s warbler who may spend next summer in an aspen grove on Grand Mesa.

     Here we compare the 2nd and 3rd smallest birds in the world. The one with the blue gorget (2nd smallest) is a Bumblebee Hummingbird—a West Mexican endemic.

     The other is a Calliope Hummingbird--an uncommon but regular Neotropical migrant in the Grand Valley.  One little guy stays home; the other is the smallest, long-distance avian migrant in the world. 

    Researchers with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (RMBO) and their colleagues in Mexico are doing some important work. Their mist netting and banding program is a small part of their efforts to examine the life histories of species such as these.  Clearly, protecting the habitat of Mexican Endemics also protects "our" migrants.  You can learn about and support RMBO's activities through their website ( Maybe you can go to Mexico next year and see a flammulated flycatcher while the chachalacas chuckle. 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, February 18, 2014

Edward Abbey famously wrote that the only birds he could identify were pigeons, buzzards, and fried chicken. I suspect, however, he could identify Cedar Waxwings. According to one source, Cedar Waxwings are a shiny mixture of “brown, gray, and lemon-yellow, accented with a subdued crest, rakish black mask, and brilliant-red wax droplets on the wing feathers.

Most winters, our backyard has flocks of cedar waxwings feeding on the red berries of our two Hawthorn trees. Their feeding habits are interesting. One of our Hawthorns is ~25 ft. tall and the other half that height. The waxwings begin at the top of the tallest tree and strip all the berries until they reach the height of the smaller tree. They also omit the branches that brush against our bedroom window. But, when only those are left, they will strip the smaller tree and finish off the berries outside our window—often within two feet of someone looking from the inside. It is a treat to see such a beautiful bird so close.

      Last week, I counted 68 in the same tree. They flutter like so many butterflies from the fruit trees, to tall trees nearby if something scares them. I also noticed them flying en masse to the roof of our house. I realized there is a shady corner providing melting snow for an easy drink. So, they have a perfect triangle of food, water, and cover—the three things a bird needs to thrive.
      As my photos show, waxwing plumage appears soft and silky. But note the tips to the wing feathers and tail.

     These tips appeared to early observers as sealing wax, hence the common name of waxwing. Cedar waxwings nest nearby in mid-elevation riparian areas. In late spring and early summer, when native fruits are ripening, look for them in wet areas with tall trees at elevations of 6000-8000 feet or so. Their diet is mostly fruit, but later in the summer, I often see them perched on high dead limbs from which they sally into the air to feed on flying insects.
     During courtship, waxwings are known to pass berries back and forth. I vividly recall, as a small boy, seeing several sitting on a wire passing a berry from one to the next. Seeing such beautiful and apparently polite behavior was an early inspiration for my interest in birds.

    My photos are misleading because Cedar Waxwings are tiny—as I’m sadly reminded most years as one or more crash into one of our windows trying to escape a marauding hawk. They are only 7 inches long. Their crest, relatively long tail, and pointed wings give the appearance of a larger and more robust bird. They actually weigh less than the common sparrows and finches.
    A characteristic of waxwings is their flocking and wandering behavior. Frequently, I will be watching 20 or more in my tree and suddenly, they are gone—spooked by a loud sound, a gust of wind, or maybe a hawk who would dine on them. The flocks wander erratically depending, apparently, on where they happen to find food, and, perhaps, on the weather. Such behavior is termed "irruptive," a fancy way of saying, "now you see them, now you don't."   This is typified by what I see in my yard. Perhaps half the time, they find my trees early and strip every berry by mid-December. One year in four, they show up late, as this year—and the other year in four, I don’t see them at all. So, watch for a lot of activity in any berry-laded bushes still remaining in the valley.  You may see one of North America's most beautiful birds.
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



By Nic.Korte
Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sorry, this isn’t an invitation to travel somewhere exotic and warm. It’s an invitation to take a February weekend day and drive or ride “to Mack and back” searching for raptors. The combination of cold and winter’s length usually combine to give the Grand Valley its highest population of birds-of-prey in mid-to-late February.
Tumacanbac has long been Grand Valley Audubon’s most popular field trip so it is run on four days to keep groups relatively small. Information for signing up is at the bottom of this post.

The first Tumacanbac trip occurred in the 1980’s. Over the years 19 species of birds-of-prey have been seen. (Photo by Jackson Trappett) 

These include falcons, owls, eagles, and hawks such as this red-tailed hawk.

Once, participants witnessed a “kill.” A prairie falcon was being viewed when it suddenly dove, killed, and devoured a starling. We never know what we’ll find, but it is always interesting.

(Prairie falcon photo by Jackson Trappett)  

You don’t need fancy optics to enjoy this trip. There will be multiple scopes available and the birds often sit still for long periods. There are also loaner binoculars if you like. Here are the dates and trip leaders. Please register with a trip leader to keep numbers reasonable and so participants can be spread out among the trips if necessary.  Phone numbers and trip leaders are as follows. You can also send an email to to register for the trip of your choice. 
    February 15th Peter Robinson 250-0409
    February 16th Nic Korte 242 3779
    February 23rd Mike Henwood 720 840 5070 
    February 24th Bob Moston 242 9443 
Meet at BLM OFFICE at H Road and Horizon Drive at 9AM. Return about 3PM. Bring lunch, water, snack and binoculars. 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, January 16, 2014

Having searched for birds in Europe, my second thought, at least, is that my birding partner has just spied a pair of common European songbirds. My European field guide says great tits are a “frequent visitor to bird tables and seed-dispensers…at times, plain audacious, may take seed from an outstretched hand.” Now we are talking! “Audacious, great tits!”

Sure, I thought up this slightly salacious title to grab your interest, but there are some important points.

Many bird names have little to do with describing the bird. Second, many of our birds’ names have an Old-World origin. One of the best examples is the American Robin. Most of us can quickly picture a robin in our mind, but go to Europe and the picture is different. The European Robin is small and brownish with a rusty-red bib. It isn't even in the same family as the American Robin.  Unfortunately, our robin reminded some early settlers of the European Robin and the misnomer soon followed. Our robin is in a family known as thrushes. A tropical close-cousin that sneaks into South Texas is called a clay-colored thrush—which is the same size and shape as our robin and is the color of a brown clay. I prefer that sort of name because it tells me a lot about the bird, in this case, color and family.

Ok, that was boring. Let’s get back to tits. My bird book of Europe lists twelve kinds including blue ones. Picture those!

One I’ve missed is the Eurasian Penduline Tit. I need to get back over there and search for that one. But, the burning question remains. Do we have tits in the US? Not exactly, although we have some closely related birds with similar names. A favorite of many wildlife watchers is the Common Bushtit.

Although I took this picture in chaparral in California, these nondescript little guys are often encountered in noisy flocks in the Grand Valley in the winter and in the PJs and aspens—often near streams—throughout the year. They often permit a very close approach as they call back and forth. This bird is actually quite common but is often overlooked because it has so few field marks. If you encounter a flock of squeaking LGBs (little gray birds) when you are out walking the river trail, it is probably these guys. Take some time with them. They often permit a very close approach.

A stranger name is the titmouse. There are five North American species and, yes, the plural is titmice. I can’t imagine what a non-birder would conjure up in their minds if they saw that word out-of-context. What the heck are titmice? Mice that live in… Never mind!

Our local representative is the Juniper Titmouse. This bird is also mostly gray, but local photographer Jackson Trappett’s photo shows it has a handsome crest. Also, as the name suggests, it is an inhabitant of our pinyon-juniper (P-J) forests.

During the summer, juniper titmice eat mostly insects, but they eat a lot of seeds in the winter. If you live near the Colorado National Monument, you may find them at your bird feeder. Common bushtits and juniper titmice are well-adapted to toughing out our cold winters and hot summers.  Indeed, we always find a few dozen on our Christmas counts—both in the Grand Valley and on the slopes of Grand Mesa. So, when you are out taking a walk and you see some little gray birds, don’t just dismiss them as LBGs. Enjoy a close look at these adaptable and distinctive year-around residents of the Grand Valley.

To keep up with the activities (such as raptor-viewing field trips February 15/16 and 22/23) of Grand Valley Audubon Society, check out our webpage at and “like” us on Facebook. Please send any questions to Don't forget the GVAS monthly program: 7PM 3rd Monday of the month, at 1st Presbyterian Church, corner of Cortland and 27 1/2 road. 



By Nic.Korte
Sunday, January 5, 2014

Look at this photo. Is there something wrong with this bird’s beak?

   Nope. This bird is a red crossbill. Yep, it is a female. As with many species, the females are dull-colored so they can blend in with the vegetation during feeding and nesting. The males are brick-red. These are small birds, and typically rather common on Grand Mesa—especially some winters. (On our January 1, annual Grand Mesa Christmas Count, birders counted 68!)
   Why the funny bill? Well, it so happens these bills are designed to crack open pine cones—this species’ principal food. At other times of the year, they may eat some buds and insects.
   Crossbills, with a diet so dependent on conifers live at high elevations or high latitudes. What do they have in common with the Galapagos? The Galapagos are famous because much of what Charles Darwin observed there led to his Theory of Evolution. That’s why the finches that live on the various islands are called “Darwin’s Finches.” There are now 15 varieties. But, they look much the same. The principal difference is the size, shape and strength of the bills. The birds have separated themselves by eating various varieties of seeds. Painstaking work over many decades by researchers Peter and Rosemary Grant have shown how these birds have split into such specific niches. (Two wonderful books on this subject are: The Beak of the Finch, by Jonathon Weiner {winner of the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction} and How and Why Species Multiply by the Grants. The former is an entertaining “read” for the lay-person, while the latter is for biologists and bird-geeks.}
    The red crossbill has not had as much attention as Darwin’s Finches. The attention that has been paid, however, has shown that up to 8 species may be present because of differences in the “size, shape and strength” of the bills. The "species" have separated by living in different mountain ranges or "islands in the sky."  Ornithologists agree that there are more than one distinct species, but how many is being debated.
   Crossbills have adapted to remove seeds from cones. They start at the bottom of a cone and spiral upward, prying open each scale and removing the seeds with their tongues. The bills can cross in either direction, and the direction of the cross dictates the direction that the bird spirals up the cone. Each crossbill type has a distinct cone as a favorite food and a distinct flight call.
    The breeding cycle of Red Crossbills is more closely tied to food availability than it is to season. They can breed at almost any time of year including mid-winter if there is an abundant source of seeds. They are monogamous, and pairs form within flocks. The parents continue to feed the young for about a month after they hatch. The bills of young birds are not crossed at hatching, but cross as they grow. By 45 days they are crossed enough for the young to extract seeds from cones.

Enough details! Do you want to see some crossbills?

    A good way would be to participate in the Grand Valley Audubon Society annual x-country ski field trip to be held Sunday January 12th. Leaders are Lee Stigen and Cecelia Barr. Call 241-3905 or email for more information. Meet at 9AM at the Palisade High School Parking Lot. Everyone is invited. Cost is $5/person except for students who are free.
     The skiing will be easy. All you need to bring is binoculars, lunch, water, sunscreen and appropriate gear.

Other birds you may see include three-toed woodpecker, gray jay, red-breasted nuthatch and more.

Keep up with the activities of Grand Valley Audubon Society by checking our website (, and by following us on Facebook. Email with any questions or comments.

Page 19 of 24


734 S. Seventh St.
Grand Junction, CO 81501
970-242-5050; M-F 8:00 - 5:00
Subscribe to print edition
eTear Sheets/ePayments

© 2017 Grand Junction Media, Inc.
By using this site you agree to the Visitor Agreement and the Privacy Policy