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FRUITGROWERS

By Nic.Korte

Visiting birder’s frequently ask, “Where is the best place to go birding near Grand Junction?” While the answer may depend on what birds one wants to see; a good answer is always Fruitgrowers Reservoir (aka Hart’s Basin) near the little town of Eckert. Viewing at the small reservoir is easy, and, much of the time, you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy the abundant wildlife. Just the other day, a birder photographed an otter crossing the road. Often one can see thousands of cranes, and sometimes hundreds of White Pelicans. Most of the year, elegant Western Grebes are common—and, in the spring, they are dancing.

The Bureau of Reclamation website indicates the number of visitors per year is about 500. I found that laughable. It has to be higher than that. Whenever I talk to birders from the Eastern Slope, they all know about Fruitgrowers and many drive over for an annual visit. Most of the spring and much of the summer, it is uncommon not to find other birders in the area. 

The small reservoir and surrounding meadow can host thousands of Sandhill Cranes in the spring and fall. The bird-tracking website, ebird.org, shows 150 species recorded. That number is not so impressive, but what is important is the high quality of the list. For example, if you want to see the uncommon Clark’s Grebe, where would you go? 

Clark’s Grebe’s are usually found in the company of the similar Western Grebe. The Western Slope’s largest colony of Western Grebe’s is found at Fruitgrowers. The two grebes are easy to distinguish if the observer is close enough. However, both species may rest well away from shore. In that case, you may need a long look with a spotting scope to determine that the bird you are viewing has a more yellowish bill and an eye surrounded by white feathers rather than the black of a Western Grebe. (Here is a previously-published photo of a Western Grebe: http://www.gjsentinel.com/blogs/birds_and_more/entry/how-i-make-a-living-there-goes-a-crane).

(Clark's Grebe)

A more difficult-to-find bird—almost anywhere—but particularly in arid regions—is the American Bittern. I described other West Slope herons in a recent post (http://www.gjsentinel.com/blogs/birds_and_more/entry/how-i-make-a-living-there-goes-a-crane), but unlike the abundant and highly-visible Great Blue Heron, American Bitterns are secretive and non-descript. They are not habitat generalists but require dense freshwater marshes and extensive wet meadows. Fruitgrowers has just about the only suitable nearby habitat. 

Your best chance to see a bittern is to arrive near dawn and watch the edge of the marsh. If you are very fortunate, you will see one standing still at the edge of the water. As with most herons, bitterns capture prey with a sudden thrust of their bills. If you are doubly-lucky, you may hear their call—often described as sounding like a pump. The sound is produced by what one website termed “spectacular contortions performed with its air-filled esophagus.”
(This Fruitgrowers Bittern was next to the road.)
Because of their shy habits, not much is known about bitterns. Although widespread, their population is believed to be declining because by any measure, high quality marshlands continue to be lost throughout the Americas. 

Also common at Fruitgrowers are Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Don’t be put off by the word “blackbird.” The males are beautiful, even if their song has been compared to “to a heavy door swinging on a very rusty metal hinge.” 

(Yellow-headed Blackbird)

Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds are partners in an interesting evolutionary struggle. Research has shown that Red-winged Blackbirds often return first from migration and stake out territories in the best places—only to be kicked-out when the more dominant Yellow-headed Blackbirds return. If that’s the case, why are Red-winged Blackbirds so much more abundant? The reason is simple. Red-winged Blackbirds can successfully rear broods in marginal habitat—even a shallow ditch with a single, small patch of cattails. Yellow-headed Blackbirds on the other hand, require the deepest and best marshes. The flexibility of the Red-winged Blackbird assures its survival whereas the Yellow-headed needs the type of marsh that can also conceal an American Bittern—such as at Fruitgrowers. It is worth a visit!

This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to audubongv@gmail.com]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook!]
 

COMMENTS

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I love to have bird’s thanks for the wonderful information about the bird tracking website hope I will found the beautiful birds there. I really like your wonderful writing services australia bird photography that is pretty cool especially for me.




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