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Mon, Oct. 14

Moore: Ute Mountain birding festival

Courier Columnist Eric Moore.

Courier Columnist Eric Moore.

This past weekend, I was in Cortez, Colorado attending the Ute Mountain Mesa Verde Birding and Nature Festival with the Prescott store manager, Ryan.  We were in Colorado Wednesday through Saturday, and thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the area.

 As you might imagine, when we weren’t staffing our vendor booth, we were out birding!  Ever since I started using eBird to record my bird sightings, I have been working to maintain meticulous records of what species I have observed. 

This was the first time I have birded in the state of Colorado since I started using eBird, so I did not have any officially recorded bird sightings for the state even though I have birded there previously. 

On Wednesday I went to Geer Natural Area, just a mile or two north of Cortez to scout out the area where I would be leading a bird walk on Friday as part of the festival.  The habitat was mixed, and included sage brush, riparian habitat and a small man-made lake. 

I scouted the area on three separate occasions prior to Friday’s bird walk and documented an interesting variety of birds.  These included six species of swallows—barn, bank, tree, cliff, violet-green and northern rough-winged.  It was mesmerizing to watch hundreds of swallows swooping low over the surface of the lake as they fed. 

Probably my best find at the lake was a forester’s tern.  It worked the lake looking for small fish as it flew over the water in buoyant, almost effortless flight. 

The surrounding sage brush habitat wasn’t very birdy, but we discovered a number of species such as western meadowlark, vesper sparrow, northern mockingbird, blue-gray gnatcatcher and a surprising number of both yellow-rumped and yellow warblers. 

On the day of our bird walk, we saw a total of fifty-one species at Geer Natural Area.  We were very pleased with the success we enjoyed in finding such an interesting variety of birds, including western tanager, Bullock’s oriole, black-headed grosbeak and evening grosbeaks.

Ryan and I were very energized by the success we were enjoying, and we birded at several other hot spots each day including Denny Lake, Totten Reservoir, McPhee Reservoir and Summit Reservoir.  By the time we left Saturday, my Colorado list went from zero to ninety-six species! 

At Denny Lake, I got what is arguably the best look I have ever had of both a Sora and a Virginia rail.  Typically these are very secretive birds—occasionally heard, and rarely seen, especially right out in the open.  These rails were so near; it was almost hard to focus on them! 

Our first visit to McPhee Reservoir was cut short by a fast-moving storm that began to drop copious amounts of rain, forcing us to retreat to the car as our gear became soaking wet.  However, in the few minutes we birded, we added several species to our trip list, including pintail, green-winged teal, mountain bluebird, and a stunning black-bellied plover in full breeding plumage.

We went back to McPhee the next morning hoping for better weather and we picked up another rare bird—this time a sanderling.  We were really excited by the success we were experiencing in finding extremely rare birds requiring documentation.  Fortunately, we got pictures of both the sanderling and the plover.

This evening, Thursday, May 16th, from 5 to 8 pm is the Central Arizona Land Trust’s Spring Fling at Mortimer’s Farm.  This is a fund raiser to benefit the conservation of Coldwater Farm and includes live music, a presentation on migratory birds, drinks, appetizers, hayrides and great raffle items.  I hope to see you there!

Until next week, Happy Birding!

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