Duck, duck, eagle! Open up a morning for birdwatching

Grand VAlley Audubon Society members Leon Thurmon, left, and Cary Atwood, center, look for birds with Melinda Mawdsley.

This mallard was one of several ducks spotted.

Melinda Mawdsley, at spotting scope, and Cary Atwood look at a bald eagle in a tree along the Colorado River.


Go for the birds

The Grand Valley Audubon Society will have a field trip beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday at Corn Lake to check Grand Valley waterways for waterfowl. This is a great field trip for beginners because knowledgeable birders and spotting scopes will be available. A Colorado State Parks pass is needed. Bring lunch and water, as the trip is expected to last until midafternoon.

Cost is $5 for adults. Youth are free.

Have you ever heard that expression “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it must be a duck?”

Well, it’s not true.

It’s also not true that all ducks are mallards.

These little biological gems were a couple lessons I learned Wednesday when Grand Valley Audubon Society members Cary Atwood and Leon Thurmon took fellow features writer Rachel Sauer and me birding as part of this Adventuring Out series.

The National Audubon Society has nearly 500 chapters nationwide, and the Grand Valley chapter alone has nearly 400 members, so clearly birding, or birdwatching, is a popular recreational activity.

It just wasn’t an activity Rachel and I had done before, at least not locally and certainly not with members of the Audubon Society.

Atwood and Thurmon helped Rachel and me locate and identify birds and even showed us corresponding photographs in “The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America.”

They also brought along extra binoculars, a birding must, and a spotting scope that was highly valuable for spotting and observing birds perched in distant trees.

The four of us started our three hours of birding at the local Audubon Society’s 60 acres off Dike Road near James M. Robb-Colorado River State Park, Connected Lakes Section.

We found small ponds, lakes and cottonwood trees that made for ideal habitat for numerous birds.

I was curious about what we’d see based on the season and area of the country where we live. My only previous experience birding was as a child at Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge in northern Iowa, where I’d sit in a car with my great-grandmother during the summer and spot birds while eating sandwiches.

In just three hours on Wednesday, we saw 24 different species of birds, including nine different species of ducks, several great blue heron, a common raven, a Cooper’s hawk, three species of grebes and one species of coot.

I had never heard of a grebe or coot. They looked and acted liked ducks, so, as the saying goes, I assumed they were ducks.

Nope, Atwood and Thurmon said.

Although we did see mallard ducks, we also saw wood duck, ring-necked duck, redhead, ruddy duck and others.

The highlight of the day — and I’m taking credit for spotting it because I tripped in excitement — was seeing a bald eagle as it flew and landed in a tree along the bank of the Colorado River.

Thurmon set up the scope, and we watched it eat what Thurmon suspected was a coot because we found gray feathers and a lot of fresh bird poop at the base of the tree the eagle was in.

(For those keeping score at home, Rachel and I have seen six moose and one bald eagle in the past month. Fist pump to the sky!)

Unlike some other adventures we have gone on, birding required minimal gear and even less physical exertion. It was pretty relaxing.

It just required patience and a lot of listening, which, let’s be honest, are good exercises for all of us.

Get going: The Grand Valley Audubon Society owns 60 acres off Dike Road accessed by traveling north and west on Power Road off Colorado Highway 340. The adjacent James M. Robb-Colorado State Park, Connected Lakes Section, is a day-use park with a network of trails. A parks pass is required for all motor vehicles entering Connected Lakes.

Note: The Waterfowl Loop Trail between North Connected Lake and the Colorado River will be closed to all foot and bicycle traffic from Monday through Nov. 25 for tamarisk removal.


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