The art of migration

Take a moment to enjoy watching birds take to sky

A rare visitor to western Colorado is the Least sandpiper, which this year has been reported with many other shorebirds at Miramonte Reservoir south of Norwood. The bird has distinctive yellow legs and is the smallest of the small sandpipers known as “peeps.”



Miramonte Reservoir lies at the foot of Lone Cone south of Norwood. The reservoir, normally one of southwest Colorado’s premier fishing destinations, is being drained as part of a management plan and the expanses of mud flats have attracted some uncommon avian visitors.



Among the 17 or so species of shorebirds reported this year at Miramonte Reservoir have been Western Sandpipers, one of the most-abundant shorebirds in North America. The 1-ounce bird nests on the far western edge of Alaska and flocks of several million birds have been reported along the Alaska and California coast during migration.



QUICKREAD

A LOOK AT MIRAMONTE

Miramonte Reservoir is part of the 2,200-acre Dan Noble State Wildlife Area, located about 17 miles south of Norwood on San Miguel County Road L40 (also marked as USFS Road 610) south of Colorado Highway 145.

Free campsites are available, but bring your own water. Boat ramps are unusable because of the low water, but hand-launched craft and float tubes may be used.



The wings of fall are beating.

You might think it odd, after a long weekend when the temperature edged well into the 90s, birds already are heading toward their southern refuges.

“At whatever moment you read these words, day or night, there are birds aloft in the skies of the Western Hemisphere, migrating,” writes Scott Weidensaul in his book, “Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds.”

“Bird migration is the one truly unifying natural phenomenon in the world, stitching the continents together ...”

Take a closer look around at the bundles of feathers chasing through your yard and hanging from the sunflowers. There might be birds not seen since their pass-through last spring.

It’s not the date. There’s nothing remarkable migration-wise about Sept. 1.

In fact, it’s been more than a month since the first notice of the 2013 migration came in an email from Coen Dexter and Brenda Wright in Nucla.

“Lots of Western Wood-Pewees, Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Lark Sparrows and Bullock’s Orioles moving about,” Dexter wrote. “August through November is considered to be the fall migration period. Birds are really on the move.”

Migration is the chance to add to that life list, particularly right after a storm, which forces migrating birds to seek shelter.

“If you are birding the day after a good storm, you might see a lot,” advises local birder Nic Korte, who also writes the “Birds and More” blog for The Daily Sentinel. “With a bit of nice weather, the birds sort of spread out and move on.”

Location, too, can be important, and this year, with the draining of Miramonte Reservoir, is the year to add to your life list and state list of shorebirds.

“Never pass up the opportunity to bird a lake that is drying up after many years of high water,” Dexter wrote. “When a reservoir is drained after several years, a lot of mud and food is exposed for shorebirds.”

I had written him after seeing few shorebirds at Fruitgrower’s Reservoir, which similarly is high and dry.

“Fruitgrower’s is drained every year, so the food supply in the mud isn’t that good,” he said. “The same goes for all reservoirs that are storage reservoirs.”

Miramonte, normally kept full to protect the valuable fishery, is about 80 percent drained, leaving great aprons of food-rich mud flats for wading birds. Dexter and Wright have reported 17 species of shorebirds since
Aug. 1 and recently recorded three new bird species for San Miguel County: Caspian tern; Semipalmated sandpiper; and Pectoral sandpiper.

Among the birds reported at Miramonte by Vic Zerbi of Glenwood Springs were four American avocets, 20-plus Western sandpipers, a Baird’s sandpiper and a Wilson’s phalarope.

The birding should remain good at Miramonte at least through the end of the month, and Dexter said there’s sure to be more birds passing through in the next few weeks.


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