Sunday, February 6, 2011

Early February Around La Veta

Yesterday, I was visited by Lisa from Palmer Lake and David from Washington DC, two birders who’d planned to come see the Rosy-Finches in my yard and nearly ran into each other on the highway where even more Rosy-Finches were enjoying road-salt. At first, it’s hard to realize those are Rosy-Finches out there and not more of the Horned Larks who are also along roads in large numbers. It should be understood, Rosy-Finches are not just in my backyard…it’s just that my back yard is easier and more reliable(perhaps because I go through 50# of seed this time of year.)

Dave, as an Easterner, came loaded with a wish-list that he cut down by nearly half a dozen just in my yard. We got lots of all three Rosy-Finches, a dozen Cassin’s Finch, the White-winged Dove, and several sub-species of Junco he doesn’t see back East and a red-shafted Northern Flicker. Like me, he enjoyed all the Black-billed Magpies (flying Orcas, I call them) that come to my feeders with the Blue Jays (and some Starlings, as I got the wrong brand of kibble that’s small enough for them to eat). He seemed especially delighted with both the Pine Siskins and Am.Goldfinches that use feeders right up against my ‘viewing window’; inches from our faces.

We were lucky to have Lisa with us, as she’s clearly a more experienced birder and explained what to look for in specific birds. By the end of it, he could pick out even female Cassin’s from the House Finches as fast as I can. We were so engrossed in the finches; I think we totally forgot to watch for the chickadees and nuthatches! It’s stunning to watch all the dark gold and yellow Evening Grosbeaks that feed with the hot-pink-splashed Rosy-Finches.

I generally try to include a visit to Paul and Polly Wren Neldner’s place when folks come out, as they do mine when people go to theirs. I’d called and left a message that we were on our way; the two of them met us as we arrived. Right off the bat, we observed both Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers and a couple White-breasted Nuthatches.

They have a couple ‘different’ Downies that hang around; one with a pure white belly and the other with a creamier look. We decided one is likely to be a Pacific sub-species…but I forgot which. Sheeshhh… Above are similar shots of female woodpeckers. The Hairy Woodpecker, on the right is actually about a third bigger than the Downy Woodpecker on the right. Still, it is easy to tell the birds apart, regardless of how close or far, because the Hairy's bill is as long as its head is wide; huge compared to the Downy's is quite diminutive bill.

While peering out the Neldner’s ‘viewing window’, Dave excitedly exclaimed “Mtn. Chickadee!” yet another lifer for him. Shortly after that, their Harris’s Sparrow made an appearance as did the Spotted Towhee; two more lifers for David. We had to wait a bit for the Pinyon Jays, who can be quite fickle, but when 30 or so came by several came down into the yard and showed of their stunning blueness.. We all went out on the covered porch to listen to their maniacal laughter as David crossed another off his 'want list'. He was also tickled with all the ravens, crows and RR Black-birds we have; who doesn't like Corvids?

Here are a couple of beautiful shots; the red-eyed Spotted Towhee and the young Harris's Sparrow.

Eventually we piled into a couple cars to find the Lewis’s Woodpeckers for David and hopefully a Clark’s Nutcracker for Lisa. We drove up the road past Cuchara and into mountain sub-division where at least one home is feeding birds (thanks Leon!) We missed the nutcracker, but got half a dozen of both Lewis’s Woodpeckers and Steller’s Jays in several locations as well as a bunch of Pygmy Nuthatches and lots more chickadees…both kinds. That's a Pygmy Nuthatch to the right.

The Neldners and I have seen sapsuckers up that way and hard as I did to try to ‘scoop’ SeEtta (cuz I like her and she’s such a good birder, who will be birding with David Sunday morning), we didn’t see a single one…just evidence of their wells. That's what I get for being such a stinker, I'm sure. I’m sure she’ll get him several more lifers.

Lastly, on the way back down to La Veta, we stopped at the bridge closest to town where the water runs reliably all winter and found an Am Dipper; yet another lifer for David! Polly told us to look for the white-wash on rocks in the river and you'll surely find a Dipper.

Back in town we all enjoyed the best bowl of soup I’ve had in a long time, with salad and home-made bread at the Ryus Street Bakery. Thanks Neldner’s…Adrian does have the best place in town! And such good people; the place was full but a large table with two lovely people invited the five of us to join them. La Veta is just awesome.

All in all, a good day was had by all. Today, even with another foot of snow last night, it’s still snowing, and the Rosies are back in huge numbers, as I imagine they will be all week (dare I say month?) with winter finally settling in. Now we just have to make sure Huerfano County keeps enough Black-oil Sunflower seed in stock for Polly Wren and me; they’re out till Tuesday! Ack…

[Addendum] Just now, a Western Meadowlark showed up. It looks as bedraggled as this one that visited last year.

Photos by P. Neldner (as noted), Wikipedia and this last one by me.
Now ya know why I like to use the work of others! LOL


Beverly said...

Comments by mail, so Polly Wren & Paul can see what folks think of our posts 'from SOCO:

Thanks for a lovely post of why birding is such a great thing to do- for fulfillment, for community, for making friends and connections! Makes me want to get back there to visit, what a lovely area, and obviously lovely birders, too! -Elena in Niwot


Thanks for a great post, Beverly, glad to hear about all your
interesting winter birds!

Hi Beverly,

My wife and I have been enjoying your beautifully detailed accounts of your winter visitors, both avian and human! It's a wonderful reminder not only of the joy we experience when seeing birds ourselves, but also the joy in sharing with other birders.
Peter, Durango

Beverly said...

Another note for Polly Wren & Paul:

Very nice photos on the blog Beverly!

Jeff, Teller County
8500' - Montane Woodlands

M & D said...

You have some nice photos. What photo gear are you using? Email me if you have time:
Thanks. Mary