One More for the Road

Antelope Island State Park (Utah) is THE slam dunk location for Chukar. Thanks to Chris Hitt who was the first to point that out to us.

We saw over 50 of these beautiful exotics in one afternoon.

A New Milestone: 625!

Yesterday, we finally found our Dusky Grouse!

We stayed with our friends Judy and Larry Geiger in southern Wyoming and Larry took us to Battle Creek, in the Medicine Bow National Forest, for a morning drive. Just past the campground, we spotted a female Dusky Grouse along the roadside. She was accompanied by three nearly-grown chicks and the four birds were very cooperative as we got out the cameras for photos.


This brings our year total to 625 species. At the start of the year we thought that 625 would be the maximum number we might expect. It’s very nice to get that number with five months and over $2,750 dollars left on our budget!

We’d like to thank all of our friends and followers who helped us during this portion of our trip. We greatly appreciate all of your tips and advice.

We’d especially like to thank Judy and Larry Geiger for our Dusky Grouse, Sean Walters for his great tips about State Forest State Park in Colorado, Terry Ryan for advice about Rocky Mountain National Park and other sites, Chris Hitt for his advice about our full target bird list, and John Vanderpoel and Gary Matthews for their many phone calls and tips about Colorado birds.

Today we head west to try for Chukar in Utah. After that, we’ll be spending the next two weeks visiting Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks with our son. We won’t be dedicating much time to birding most of that time, but we’ll be following up on some leads and tips for our remaining target birds: Gray Partridge, Great Gray Owl, and Vaux’s Swift. We even saw some eBird reports for Northern Hawk-Owl, Bohemian Waxwing, and White-winged Crossbill that might be near our locations.

We’ll keep you up to date if we do add anything to our list.

More Rocky Mountain Highs

Weather has put a damper on our birding so we have a few minutes to let you know what we have been up to.

We missed the Gunnison Sage-Grouse on County Road 38 near the town of Gunnison and along the Doyleville breeding bird survey route, two of the prime spots for sightings of this bird in July. We’re planning to try again on our way back home.

We had better luck (a major understatement) on the White-tailed Ptarmigan, as you can see from this photo:

This female and a single chick were found at the first switchback above Summit Lake on the Mount Evans auto tour road. Michael took hundreds of photos and was able to practically touch the birds!

We also had luck with the Greater Sage-Grouse. It took us about five hours of intensive looking. We spotted a “covey” of about 10 along County Road 31 in the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge on our second pass through on the road. The photo is bad but it tells the story.

We have not yet seen the Dusky Grouse, but not for a lack of trying. They have just not been at the right place at the right time for us. We intend to keep looking in Wyoming and Montana, so we ought to find them sooner or later. (Fingers crossed!)

We also have had good luck with our woodpecker targets. The photos are not great but the birds sure were!


The first, the Red-naped Sapsucker, was becoming a nemesis bird for us. We had expected to see it long before now. It was found about 10 feet from our tent in the Aspen Campground in Routt National Forest. That’s about as east as a bird gets!

The second is the American Three-toed Woodpecker. We followed a great tip and found this bird at Crags Campground in State Forest Sate Park. It was also only a few feet from our tent when this photo was taken. The orange color is paint to mark the tree it is on as being infected with pine bark beetles. The woodpeckers love the beetle-killed trees and, unfortunately, there are lots of those in the northern Rockies. (The pale color of the bird’s eye is due to the flash, by the way; the bird equivalent of red-eye.)

We tried to find a Boreal Owl at Cameron Pass by playing a tape and hoping to hear a response. It is far too late to hear territorial challenges at this time of year but we were hoping that we might fool a bird to give a “skiewu” call. We had no luck, though. In fact, we spent almost two hours at a variety of spots and heard absolutely nothing. There were not even any insects calling at the cool elevation of the pass.

The tally so far is eight target birds found and three misses. We have four other targets for later on, so we could add as many as 12 for this entire trip.

Doing Fine But Little Access to the Web

We’ll give a long update as soon as we get a chance to sit and write. We have seen eight of our 11 Colorado targets so far! We are spending two days in Rocky Mountain National Park before we leave Colorado for Wyoming and Utah. Then we will spend two weeks with our son and not really be birding. Somewhere in that time we hope we can get some long-term internet access.

Colorado Rocky Mountain High!

We have been in Colorado for just a little over a day and we have already added three birds to our list!

We drove over 1200 miles through Texas and New Mexico with practically no hope of finding anything new for our year list. But almost as soon as we entered Colorado, we started to have better luck. In Pagosa Springs we found half a dozen Lewis’s Woodpeckers. They were right in the middle of town and easy to see and photograph.

We camped last night at 11,000 feet, the highest elevation we have been for the entire Big Year, at Little Molas Lake, near Silverton. It rained most of the evening and night but by morning it was cool and clear. We hiked around the lake for about two hours looking for Pine Grosbeaks before Renee heard one calling off in the distance. Soon, a female flew right above us and landed in the top of a tall tree. It sat there for inspection and gave several more calls before flying off. It was the only one we saw but you could hardly ask for a better view!

Around lunch time we drove up to the little mining/tourist town of Ouray. The town is know for its colony of Black Swifts. We paid the $4 entrance fee to Box Canyon Falls Park and walked the short trail to the falls. Two swifts were sitting on nests in plain view; another easy find.

Now, we are in Gunnison. In just a few minutes we will head out to try to see the Gunnison Sage-Grouse. It’s a whirlwind tour of birding locations!

Rocky Mountains, Here We Come!

Folks have been asking us when we were going to get to the Rocky Mountains, and we are finally on our way.

We leave tomorrow for two weeks in Colorado, southern Wyoming, and Utah. After that, we will meet our son, Allan, for two weeks in northern Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. The first two weeks will be pure birding but the second two are more about sightseeing in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.

We posted our target bird list for the Rockies earlier and we certainly appreciate the comments and suggestions we have received. We still need some good locations for some birds. If you have a “honey hole” for any of the following species we’d love to hear from you:

  • Great Gray Owl
  • Boreal Owl
  • White-winged Crossbill (Yeah, we know it’s summer.)
  • Pine Grosbeak

We’ll keep you all posted on our progress whenever we have a chance. Until then, happy birding!

Another Miss

We have not been doing much birding here at home in the past few weeks but we do continue to look for the elusive Yellow-green Vireo.

Yesterday, we followed up on a report by Terry and Marci Fuller of a vireo along Cannon Road south of San Benito. This is a traditional area for the bird and the last verified breeding record of the species that we know of is from a pond along this road. Unfortunately, the area is dry this year due to our continued drought. We spent about two hours searching the roadside but came up empty.

We only have a few more days before we leave for the Rocky Mountains, so everyone think vireo thoughts for us!

Better Birding

Sshhh! You’ll scare the birds.

Almost without thinking about it, we adopt “stealth mode” when we start out on a trail to see new birds. We start to speak in whispers and we avoid unnecessary noise. But many (perhaps most) of the birders we meet in our travels are slow to catch on to our example. We find that birders in general, even some of the best ones we have met, are too noisy in the wild.

Birds have an acute sense of hearing and sound is a very important part of their everyday lives. They will hear you coming long before you will see them. It pays to reduce your noise level if you want to have the best chance of seeing most birds in forest and brushy habitats.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Pishing is the most obvious one. Many birds will react to pishing sounds in an attempt to locate what they think is a bird in distress or a bird mobbing a predator. Once they pop up for a look, they are not likely to respond again to the same sounds, so you’d better be fast to get your own look.

Another exception is imitations of owl calls. The best imitations, especially of the smaller, bird-predator owls, will often attract a host of small birds trying to locate the potential threat. Michael’s favorite imitations are of the pygmy-owls and the saw-whet owl, in appropriate habitats. These are fairly easy to imitate with only the voice, so you don’t have to fumble with a tape player. But use owl call imitations sparingly. Too much tooting will likely scare more birds than it attracts and it might upset the real owls themselves.

Or, just skip the sounds entirely. The best way to see more birds is simply to be observant, unobtrusive and quiet as you walk a trail.

Nothing But Negative Reports

We have had no luck finding our target birds here in the RGV.

Negative report on the Yellow-green Vireo at Sabal Palms Sanctuary after a three hour search.

No access is available to view the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl on the private ranches and no one seems to know of any public lands where one hangs out.

No other rarities reported close enough for us to chase.

At least the “regular” birding is good. Our recent rains have sparked things up a bit.

Lazy Summer Days in the RGV

Boring is another way to say it.

We’ve only been home for a week and already we are getting bored at home! That’s what a Big Year will do to you. If you’re not finding something new every day then it’s boring. Haha!

We have been trying to spend our time productively; planning for the next trip to the Rocky Mountains at the end of the month, and the one after that to the California coast for a pelagic trip with the famous Debi Shearwater. If anyone has advice on those trips, please send us an email at

Here is our target bird list for the Rockies:

  1. Chukar
  2. Gray Partridge
  3. Greater Sage-Grouse
  4. Gunnison Sage-Grouse
  5. White-tailed Ptarmigan
  6. Dusky Grouse
  7. Great Gray Owl
  8. Boreal Owl
  9. Black Swift
  10. Calliope Hummingbird
  11. Lewis’s Woodpecker
  12. Red-naped Sapsucker
  13. Three-toed Wooodpecker
  14. Pine Grosbeak
  15. White-winged Crossbill

Our main goal at home, however, is to find the rarer birds that inhabit the Rio Grande Valley during summer. We already saw the Masked Duck at Sabal Palm Sanctuary, but we have yet to find any reliable spots for the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl or Yellow-green Vireo. (We made a mistake by not doing the San Miguelito Ranch tour for the owl when they were open during the spring. Our spring was just too busy.)

If anyone knows where to find those two birds, let us know!!!