It's a Great Day to Bird

Month: August 2015

St. Lucia

St. Lucia is a tourist destination but not overdone with touristy junk.   The town is situated  between the Indian Ocean and a significant river/estuary.   This is a comfortable spot with a nice diversity of habitats; I would be willing to stay and explore the area for a week or more, even swim in the ocean.  Of course the main attraction: the birding here is great, and lots of mammals too.

We arrived about 9:30 am and stopped at a welcome center sort of place where I thought we would be able to pick up brochures for the area.  Nope.  We find that maps and informational material is rarely provided at public places – you have to rely on the B&Bs to provide information, maps, etc..  The center had large yard art style displays and a boat dock area where you can catch a boat to take a river trip to see the hippos and crocodiles.  We decided “why not” on the boat ride so off we went since the boat was scheduled to depart at 10:00 am, we got there in time to make the first sailing.

The river is home to hippos and crocodiles and there were plenty of hippos and crocodiles to view on the boat trip – including being greeted by about ten hippos hanging out (a technical term) just as we were leaving the dock.  According to the naturalist on the boat, hippos are very aggressive – consider that dangerous – and kill more people than any other large mammal.  Luckily we were not interested in going for a swim.  Hippos spend the daylight hours in the water to keep cool.  At night they venture onto land to graze, including walking around the town of St. Lucia in search of the grassy areas like the park next to were we stayed.  We didn’t see any wandering hippos at night, but we only dared to walk two blocks from our B&B (St. Lucia Guest House) to the main drag to catch a bite to eat.  Oh, another factoid,  hippos can run up to 45 miles per hour.  A lot faster than I can run, that is for sure.


Love the “Beware of Hippos at Night” portion of the sign.


Can’t forget the Hippo Gate


Jack on the boat looking for birds


There were a lot of hippos.  They usually hang out in groups.


On watch


Nile Crocodile


Cooling off

We didn’t see many birds on the boat trip, which was a little disappointing.  The “Where to Find Birds in Southern Africa” book said to take a boat ride to see the waterbirds.  What we did see – bird wise – included two different Kingfishers.  The Giant Kingfisher (that is one big kingfisher) and the Pied Kingfisher.  Oh how we love kingfishers.  Just as we were about to dock the naturalist did spot an African Fish Eagle.  Looks a little like our Bald Eagle with a white head and white tail.  This bird, however, has brown in its wings (otherwise black) and white on its back.  Sorry, no photo.


African Darter


Giant Kingfisher


Pied Kingfisher


Checking us out

After the boat ride we went and checked into our B&B.  Our room was very comfortable.  The bathroom is larger than my bathroom at home.  And breakfast would feed a farm hand  – no one ever goes hungry in South Africa for breakfast.  Plenty of food.

We had the afternoon to walk around the town (it’s a small town) and check out the estuary and a forested trail.  Lots of cool birds including grey waxbills.


Grey Waxbill


Southern Black Flycatcher


Scarlet-chested Sunbird


Red-capped Robin-chat

The next day we went back to the estuary – this time I brought along my spotting scope.  Hard to see those shorebirds without it.  Well I guess I can see them, just not identify them.


Did see this Yellow-billed Stork with the gulls, terns, and shorebirds.

From there we drove to an area where we could hike among the mammals (well certain ones anyway).  Before we arrived we got our first taste of big wildlife – Zebras and Warthogs.  The hike led us through the African veld of grasslands and savanna areas.


Our first Warthog


Beautiful Zebras

After our hike we entered the iSimangaliso Wetlands Parks to check out some big mammals and birds.  What a great place too.  We saw more Zebras and Warthogs, along with Rhinoceros (including a mother and baby), Wildebeest, Baboon, Impalas, and Waterbucks.   As for birds, we got to see the Saddle-billed Stork.  This is one big stork and a really weird-looking, but amazing bird.






This warthog and two others were in a picnic area


White Rhino mother and baby




Lake St. Lucia.  There were a lot of great birds here.


Saddle-billed Storks. These are big birds.


African Stonechat

From our room we woke every morning to the calls of Trumpeter Hornbills –  counted 10 in the tree outside our room.  Also, the African Green Pigeon added its voice to the morning wake-up.


African Green Pigeon

The next day we tried  birding a short trail in town in search of the Purple-crested and Livingstone Turaco.  We didn’t see any, but we did find several Crested Guineafowl and the Woodward’s Batis (thanks to Jack’s eagle eyes).  We then went again to the estuary, but the tide was in so fewer birds besides the ever present Gray-headed Gulls and Swift Terns.


Cool, isn’t it?

Our next stop is the Mkuze Game Reserve.  Until then… IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD IN SOUTH AFRICA.

Durban to Richard’s Bay – South Africa

We decided to go to Pigeon Valley one more time before heading north.  We are glad we did.  This site has proved to be quite productive for birding despite it’s low rating (one check) in the “Where to Find Birds in Southern Africa” book I purchased for the trip.    The nature park was located less than 1/4 mile from our B&B so we decided to leave our car in a secure location (although they did have person who watches the car and you give him a small stipend for doing so – we learned 5 Rand is the going rate, which is about 50 cents).

On the way to Pigeon Valley Nature Park we walked adjacent to the park and had some of our best birding.  We did better there than when we actually got into the park.


Hadeda Ibis – these are VERY noisy birds. You hear them flying around Durban a lot. These birds were on the roadway and adjoining grassy areas.


Even the dogs are behind bars.


Lots of pretty flowers in yards and the wild. This one was in the B&B yard.


Golden-tailed Woodpecker


Vervet Monkey


Red-capped Robin-chat


Pretty Flower – about the size of a large grapefruit

After birding Pigeon Valley Nature Park we bid our host (Edith and Leon, and their dogs Lilly and Bentley) good-bye.  We really had a lovely stay at the Upper Room B&B in Durban and would recommend it to anyone visiting this city.  One thing we learned so far, is there are a lot of gated communities – each house has its own gate.

Next stop was Eshowe and the Dlinza Forest.  We arrived around 2:00 pm, and after unpacking our bags, got started birding in the forest.  Dlinza Forest has an aerial walkway and tower, and a bird hide (bird blind for us Americans).  We walked the aerial walkway first and noted a few birds.  We then stopped in at the hide and waited for the birds to come to eat and drink before settling in for the night.  We were rewarded with a African (blue-billed) Firefinch (sorry no good photo).  A life bird for us.  It was getting late and we were in the hide so my photos are so-so.  We were hoping for a Green Twinspot, but one didn’t show.


Bird Hide (aka Bird Blind) view


Olive Thrush




View from blind


Red-backed Mannikin


Eastern Bronze-Naped Pigeon


Woolly-necked Stork. This stork was hanging out in someone’s yard.

We stayed two nights at the Dlinza Forest Accommodations.  A great self-catering cabin that we would highly recommend.


Two – two side-by-side cabins


The bed is to the left when you walk into the cabin


Small kitchen and living area to the right. Very nice.

The next morning we got up early to first check out the bird hide and then the aerial walkway and tower.  At the bird hide we were rewarded with two Green Twinspots already feeding.  Both were juveniles that were subsequently joined by their mother.  Later in the day we saw the male.   Was fun to sit and watch all the birds that came into eat, drink, and bath.


Male Green Twinspot


Female Green Twinspot.

We then headed off for the aerial walkway and tower.  No new birds, but did see some of the usual suspects.  Yes, we already have those birds that keep reappearing everywhere we go – like the White-browed Barbet and the Yellow-bellied Greenbul.  We went in search of the Narina Trogon, walking a 1.9 km trail.  It wasn’t until almost the end of the trail that I spotted the trogon as we were watching several other birds moving about.  Jack didn’t get on the trogon so we continued on the trail only to have me re-find the bird about 100 yards later and with better views.  We were both very happy campers.


Jack at the top of the viewing platform


This is the view


And so was this Trumpeter Hornbill


And this White-browed Barbet (they are plentyful)


And this Cape White-eye.


Heading down the stairs.


Narina Trogon


Blue Duiker


Not sure what this is but it has strange eyes.

After lunch we ventured out to a reservoir called Lake Probane.  In the “Where to Find Birds in Southern Africa” book, this reservoir hosts all six species of Kingfishers.  Well maybe at one time, but not while we were there.  We did see several songbirds, the Egyptian Goose, and African Darter.  And on the way out we passed a field with about 27 Wholly-necked Storks and a Grey Heron.


Woolly-necked Storks waiting for the soccer game to start


Grey Heron


Lake Probane. The reservoir levels are low. South Africa is experiencing a drought.


Egyptian Geese

To get to the reservoir we had to drive a short distance on a pretty rough road.  Hard to miss some of the potholes.  Just glad we didn’t hurt the rental car.

After another night at the Dlinza Forest Accommodations we decided we wanted to see if we could see the Palm Nut Vulture.  Since South Africa is experiencing a drought, we aren’t sure where the vultures are, because they weren’t at Mtunzini.  We paid the 40R (rand – about $4.00 USA) entrance fee and checked out a mangrove trail (lots of Vervet monkeys, but no birds) and the Siyaya trail.  This trail is a loop trail or you can go to the beach.  We decided to check out the beach.  On the trail to the beach we heard and then found three Purple-crested Turaco.  Woohoo!!! What a great find, and the opportunity for some decent photos.


African Pied Wagtatil. Yard birds.


Road to the Palm Nut Vulture Boardwalk


Jack on the Palm Nut Vulture Boardwalk


Mangrove Boardwalk with Vervet Monkeys


African Darter


Not sure what kind of crab, but these guys are good sized – about the size of a tangerine.


Crab holes – lots of them in the mangrove swamps


Siyaya Trail


Purple-crested Turaco


Purple-crested Turaco


Trail sign


Hmmm – no Shark Nets???


The boardwalk


Siyaya River

As for the beach the only life we saw were a few cattle.  Why the cattle were on the beach I have no idea.


Cattle on the beach

Our next stop was Richard’s Bay, which according to the “Where to Find Birds in Southern Africa” book, is a great place to find waterbirds.  Well we had a hard time finding the several places listed in the book for viewing birds.  We did end up on a dirt road and found a few great birds – a Malachite Kingfisher and a Little Bee-eater.


Little Bee-eater


Malachite Kingfisher


Richard’s Bay is an industrial city – largest bay in South Africa



We then headed to our hotel which was in a subdivision.  We were the only guests at this B&B and the staff left at night leaving just Jack and I in the house.  Weird.  I don’t think I would come back, even though the staff were quite professional and very nice.


Did wake up to four Hadeda Ibis on the roof of the adjoining house. These two must know each other.

Next stop – St Lucia and the large wetland complex in the area.  I love wetlands….. Until then “It’s A Great Day to Bird”.

Durban, South Africa

After many hours in plane – first three hours from Phoenix to Atlanta, and then 15 hours from Atlanta to Johannesburg, and then another hour flight we arrived at the Durban airport.  We collected our car and we were off to our B&B – the Upper Room, arriving about 10:00 pm Friday night.

Of note, when we got to the airport in Phoenix and went to hand over our luggage the agent asked us for our South African Visa.  We said we didn’t need one because we would not be there for longer than three months.  She said that since our airlines tickets have us going in August, and coming back in December it looks like we would be spending more than three months in South Africa.  So we had to see another (much nicer) agent to have a manual override of our tickets.  Luckily I had printed out our ticket information showing when we would be leaving the country and returning, otherwise we would have been SOL.


No not a Eurasian Collared Dove, but a Red-eyed Dove as seen from our bedroom at the B&B


Bentley (left) and Lilly (right) – dogs residing at the Upper Room B&B. Nice place to stay if you are in Durbin.

Since neither of us slept much on the plane we didn’t get up early on Saturday and didn’t get out and about until around 11:00 am or so.  Our first stop was the Pigeon Valley Nature Park (located near our B&B), followed by the Umgeni River Mouth.

Pigeon Valley Nature Park

This is a heavily forested 10 Hectare park within Durban city limits.  Nice little area to bird, with trails throughout the park.  On a clipboard near the entrance one birder indicated he had seen 80 species in a recent week at the park.  He is a regular birder of the park.


Near the park entrance


One of the trails


Olive Thrush


Square-tailed Drongo


Red Duiker


Village Weaver – there must have been 20+ nests in a tree and lots of weavers going in and out of the nests at a hole in the bottom like this guy is trying to do.


Village Weaver


Village Weaver

Umgeni River Mouth


Umgeni River – near the mouth


Wire-tailed Swallows


Swift Tern – large colony


Goliath Heron – this guy is BIG


Reed Cormorant


Pink-backed Pelican – we had two fly in near us.


Blacksmith Lapwing – love this bird (its a shorebird, of course)


Blacksmith Lapwing roosting

Tomorrow we may stop by the Pigeon Valley Nature Park again before heading to our  next location – the Dlinza Forest, Eshowe.  Until then – ITS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD.

Sedona Sunshine

The days are hot, hot, hot so not real favorable in the way of birding or hiking.  We did go to one of my favorite birding places in the Verde Valley – Page Springs Hatchery and the Bubbling Ponds.  This is the first time I’ve been here in the summer.  What a difference a season makes.  In the winter when we visit the Bubbling Ponds are full of various species of ducks.  During the summer the only ducks using the ponds are resident Mallards tending their young ducklings.


Cottontail Rabbit


Female Phainopepla


Papa Gambell’s Quail keeping watch


Bettle- stuck its hind end up in the air at us


First time I’ve been here when the trees are fully leafed out – beautiful (Bubbling Ponds – Black Hawk Trail).


Desert Spiny Lizard, I believe


Open field/wetlands area along Black Hawk Trail


Lesser Goldfinches were feeding  on the thistle.


These Western Tiger Swallowtails seemed float from one plant to the next. We actually saw seven on one plant.


Not sure what this plant is but pretty.


Thomas the Dragonfly


Yellow-breasted Chat. A surprise find, although common here supposedly.


So green and lush – for the desert.


The plant on either side of the trail is White Sweet Clover, an invasive species. Yikes!!!


Black Phoebe using this nest box as a place to hang out between sallies across the stream in search of food.


Jeremiah was a bullfrog


Plenty of bullfrogs in one of the bubbling ponds. Food source for the Great Blue Herons who nest nearby.


One of the bubbling ponds.  The ponds are used to stock fish.


Female Belted Kingfisher


Kingfisher … da da da, the bird with the long sharp bill. A bill to kill (sung to Goldfinger).


Great Blue Heron


Lizards abound here.


Summer Tanager

Meanwhile, back at my parents house this Northern Cardinal male is a colorful customer at the feeder.  It especially likes the suet.  Now makes regular appearances.


Male Northern Cardinal

In addition to birding we did do a number of hikes. We generally get to the trailhead around 6:00 am to beat the heat.  The other day the heat was at record highs (117 in Phoenix!) – got to 101.2 at my parents house.  Too hot for me and the birds who made frequent visits to the bird bath.  When Jack was watering a plant he had a hummingbird come to the hose and drink from the stream of water.

Bell Rock – Courthouse Butte


Courthouse Butte


The trail at sunrise


This is “red rock” country


Event this garter snake was out early


Courthouse Butte


Canyon Wren – the Wren family is my favorite family of birds


Trying to decide whether to flee or not


Male Phainopepla –  love the name


Western Scrub Jay


When we were younger, we climbed up onto this beehive looking rock


Fruits of the Prickly Pear


The sign shows a hiker with the words “slow” below – so that’s me in slow motion

Turkey Creek Trail

This is a seldom used trail that we occasionally hike.  We headed out early in the morning before the morning sun bore down on us.   Apparently it is also a good time to float in the air – the sky was littered with hot-air balloons.  Another bucket list to try some time – I bet the view is amazing – all the red rock formations from above.  We hiked about 4 miles round-trip as we didn’t want to be out in the hot sun for too long.


Coyote along side the road. He stopped for a few minutes to check us out checking him (or her) out.


One of those hot air balloons.


Morning sun on the rock formations


The trail – yeah you have to keep your eyes open. Luckily they do have trail markers to help you stay on the right path.


The Sedona area


More fruit of the Prickly Pear – so many different shades or red/pink.


Not sure what kind of oak this is, but the acorns were small.


Love the AZ flavor “yield to” signs.


On the way back home we saw this juvenile Cooper’s Hawk sitting on this soccer goal post. Good vantage point to check out his prey.

Baldwin Trail

This is a favorite trail and I hike it every time I come to Sedona.   Sedona is surrounded by National Forest land and has a wealth of trails with varying degrees of difficulty and length.  I have been coming to Sedona for over 20 years and there are still a lot of trails I haven’t hiked.  And, you might want to experience a Vortex site.


Lots of interesting formations on the trail


Cassin’s Kingbird


Along Oak Creek


A nice trail along the creek. This trail is the Templeton trail which connects to Baldwin Trail.


Bee on a Morning Glory flower


Mallards in the creek


An Osprey in search of breakfast


Up close view


Baldwin/Templeton Trail along the creek


Who is that lizard?


Sunning on the rock


The Ocotillo is very green this year

Despite the heat, it has been nice to experience the Sedona area in the summer.  But more travels await us as we head to Africa.  Until then ………………………… It’s A Great Day to Bird

Mesa Verde National Park

This was my first visit to Mesa Verde National Park.  I hate to admit this, but I’m not much into cultural resources.  I much prefer the “natural” world.  But I did enjoy our visit.

We lucked out and were able to get a campsite in the campground for two nights.  This was one of the most expensive NPS campsites we’ve camped at.  After securing our campsite, we drove the road out to a series of ruins.  While Jack went to the museum, I checked out the Spruce Tree House Cliff Dwelling.  There was a site along the way that held a lot of good birds so I got detoured from the archaeological ruins to watch the birds.  I hated to leave this area.


View from the road


White-breasted Nuthatch


Black-headed Grosbeak – Hatch year I believe


Juniper Titmouse finding food left by humans


House Finch


Not sure what the bird on the left is? Any ideas?


Lots of deep valleys and high cliffs.

Oh you thought you were going to see pictures of ruins?  Okay here goes……….


A view of Spruce Tree House from above.


A part of the Spruce Tree House ruins.

Next we went on a guided tour of the  Balcony House Cliff Dwelling, followed by another guided tour this time the Cliff Palace.  Of the two tour guides, the first was the best.  He engaged the young children (former grade school teacher), and readily answered questions.  Much of what I had learned of this culture was debunked by our guide.  The Anzasis did not just “disappear”, but left the area because of a combination of conditions – a 24 year drought (that should be enough) but prior to that was a continuing immigration population taxing the ability to provide food, possible soil depletion, and the Pueblo belief that they are to search for the Center of their Culture and Mesa Verde was not considered in such reverence (one reason the area was not repopulated in later years).

Balcony House Ruins


We had to climb this ladder (put in by the park service for us tourists) up to the ruins. I was never so happy to get to the top. Actually it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  The Indians actually used tunnels to get their dwellings.


The ledge along the middle of the photo is where the Indians walked to get from room to room.


A view of the ruins, including the Kiva in the foreground.

A Kiva would have a roof and is thought to be a community gathering area with some spiritual significance, but may also have served as a warm place to escape winter’s harshness.


Another view of the ruins.

Cliff House Ruins


Cliff House Ruins – a view from the top.


Don’t fly from me Turkey Vulture.  I never thought I’d see you.  All through my bird days.  My mad obsession.  You kept your distance.  I kept on searching… (song to the tune of “Evita”).


A portion of the ruins. I found these ruins more impressive than at Balcony House.


Cliff House Ruins


Several stories high …


Listening to the tour guide – or at least Jack was listening.  I was looking for birds.


Pretty impressive huh?

The next day we visited several ruins or pit houses (the early inhabitants lived on the mesa and only later descended to cliff houses, possibly for protection) and then made our way to the Longhouse Cliff Dwelling ruins and another  guided tour.  But first, we went to Step House Cliff Dwelling.  This was a self-guided tour (no tour guides provided – a Ranger with a serious face was present overseeing the eager tourists climbing amongst the ruins).

Step House Ruins


We saw this flycatcher sp. on our way to the ruins.  Wood Pewee or Olive-Sided???


Jack on a ladder checking out the ruins


Pictographs – what do they mean. The one on left looks like a lollipop.

 Long House Ruins


View of the ruins.


Upclose view


Up we go again


The ruins


You can see where it gets its name “Long House”.

Each of the Cliff Dwellings had ‘indoor plumbing’ – an essential water seep along the back edge of the ‘Alcove’ (not a cave).  We were told, however, not to drink the water.  According to our tour guide, a couple of years ago a park ranger drank the water and subsequently ended up in the hospital for three days.


These Ravens now occupy the ruins and let us know it with their raucous calls

We did see some wildlife other than birds.  On the way back from the Cliff House we came upon a black bear just off the road eating vegetation on a tree.  We also saw deer and elk in the park.


Black bear


Two fawns in our campground. So cute….




What a beautiful moth


There are trails you can hike in the park as well, but I think those are better left for a spring or fall day when the temperatures aren’t in the high 80s and low 90s.

We did enjoy our short time in the park.  Maybe some day we will return.

It’s a Great Day to Bird (and get out and just enjoy nature – all of it).



Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

After Rocky Mountain NP and Estes YMCA camp we headed to Montrose Colorado to visit with an old friend of Jack’s.  While there we checked out the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  I had never heard of this park before but  I’m glad we took the time to explore what a ‘black canyon’ would reveal.  What a beautiful area.  High (think 2,000+ feet) canyon walls of convoluted rock faces, side canyons, and amazing rock formations.  From this bird’s eye view you could just spot  the  Gunnison River flowing along the bottom of the canyon.

Our friend alerted us to a waterfall canyon near the historic mining town of Ouray (pronounced U-ray).   What a quaint town, worth the visit, but culture aside, it is all about birds, and the canyon boasts nine active Black Swift nests!  The Black Swift can only be found at waterfall locations – its preferred nesting habitat – so a rare bird.  We once spent an evening in Oregon staking out a waterfall in search of this bird and came up empty so this would be a life bird if we observed any swifts.


Female Gambell’s Quail on a roof top


Black Canyon


Love the old twisted trees


Another view of the canyon


The canyon wall to the right is at least 2300 feet.


A lot of view points along the auto route. A few required walking several hundred yards.


What is this???


The only National Park that I know of that ALLOWS dogs on the trails.

At the visitor center for Box Canyon, Jack asked the person taking the entrance fee if there were any swifts still nesting as it would be a life bird for me.  The guy then said, “well others have seen the bird before”.  He thought a life bird was a bird no one else had ever seen before.  He understood the term to “tick it off” my list, but not life bird.  The guy then gave us instructions on where we could find at least three of the nine active nests in the canyon.  So off we went full of that life bird conquering spirit.  Okay, maybe you have to be a birder to understand……


Ouray, Colorado


Part of the falls. Couldn’t see much of the falls beyond this.


Can you find the Black Swift nest? Its a black spot on the rock in the middle of the photo.


Black Swift on a nest. Woohoo!!! Life Bird.


Golden Mantled Squirrel at a feeder near the entrance/visitor center.


This chipmunk is small in relation to the squirrel at the upper left hand corner of the photo.


Rufous Hummingbird …


… at the feeder near the visitor center.

The next day we headed to Durango by way of Telluride.  I have never been to either place. Telluride was nice, but way out of my budget or most Americans – a ‘cheap’ home here starts at $1.6 million.  We enjoyed window shopping at various real estate offices and wondering who buys all the many $6-10 million homes that were listed.  Walking  the streets is free so we explored the downtown area of this historic and scenic playground (major ski area and they offer free gondola rides) checking out the shops.  Alas we had to keep our visit short (about an hour) before heading to Durango to visit another long time friend of Jack’s.


View of main street


The corner house is for sale. Three bedrooms, two baths, about 2800 square feet (believe it or not) – all yours for only $2.38 million dollars.


Thought this was a cute sign. I wonder if the dogs that get “parked” get along with each other?

We only stayed one night in Durango and get this, we went to a chuckwagon BBQ with cowboy music thrown in.  Next day we recovered and headed southwest to Mesa Verde National Park, which is a hop, skip, and jump from Durango.  Many of you may have heard about the toxic mine contamination that polluted the Animas River.  This river runs through Durango and we luckily saw the river just days before the spill.

Next stop … Mesa Verde National Park.  Until then it’s always a “Great Day to Bird”.  Happy birding.

Rocky Mountain National Park

This is my first time in Rocky Mountain National Park (I know, spent three years in Boulder but…) – what a sensory treat!  We entered the park from the west and motored steadily upward, passing over the Continental Divide, continuing up until reaching a an elevation of 12,183  feet before heading down to our campground within the park (made reservation this time) at Aspen Glenn campground.  If you don’t like roads with sharp drop offs, you might want to forego the Trail Ridge Road.  We did make a stop at the park Alpine Visitor Center.  The visitor center is located, as the name implies, all within the alpine zone – quite breathtaking – gotta love the alpine beauty of the area and gasp at the high elevation.


Jack at the continental divide


Many of the trees in the park have died due to beetle infestation.


Still some snow left on the mountaintops


This Mountain Bluebird had a nest in the eves of a building at the Alpine Visitor Center.


Lots, and I mean LOTS, of Yellow-bellied Marmots


View from Trail Ridge Road

We got to the park mid afternoon, so after checking out the Alpine Visitor Center and its snow fields for the Brown-headed Rosy-finch (the primary purpose for visiting the park), we headed to our campsite.  Luckily we had booked our campsite on line as there were no campsites available to those not so lucky campers.


Dark-eyed Junco greeting us at the entrance to the campground


These Hairy Woodpeckers were pounding away  on the wood fence adjacent to our campsite.


Hairy Woodpecker


This fawn was catching up to its mother.


Lots of wildflowers about.


More deer


From our campground ….

The next day we went back to the Alpine Visitor Center to once again search for the Brown-capped Rosy-finch.   We read they were found in alpine areas so decided to hike up a short ridge line trail off the Fall River Road and if that trip failed to elicit the bird, then to hike on the Ute Trail (that crosses the alpine zone) located across the road from the Alpine Visitor Center entrance.


Road in the foreground is the  Old Fall River Road. We hiked the trail up to the top of that mountain to an elevation of 12,077 feet.


Jack on top enjoying the view


Our view with the Old Fall River Road leading to the Alpine Visitor Center located just to the left of the snowfield in the photo. We hiked down the road to the trailhead and then up the trail to the top then back down again.


Jack at the top. The morning was cool at this elevation, but quickly warmed up.   Oh, forgot to mention, the wind was blowing at 26-37 mph


The alpine tundra of Colorado


Yes more Yellow-bellied Marmots enroute. This one has certainly gained a lot of weight in preparation for its eight month hibernation.


Alpine wildlfowers


Alpine wildflowers


Alpine Color


Ute Trail


Jack on the Ute Trail


A view from the trail


White-crowned Sparrow


Sunning Yellow-bellied Marmot


Song Sparrow


This Yellow-bellied Marmot was guarding the trail.

No luck in finding the Brown-capped Rosy-finch.  So, Ranger to the rescue….. When we got back to the Alpine Visitor Center Jack asked a ranger where we might see one.  He said they liked snow fields and suggested we climb a 12, 324 ft. mountain called Flattop and check the snowfields, because the birds had been spotted there, and if that didn’t work to climb/hike over two adjacent peaks and search those snowfields.  We laughed, thinking we should have asked him the question yesterday of where to find the bird, but then we might have gotten a non-birder ranger.

The lure of a life bird compelled us to brave the hike/climb the next day with an early start.  We left the campground early but with a bit of a drive to the trailhead we arrived about 7:30 am.   There were already about 30 cars in the Bear Lake parking lot.  Undaunted we set out to climb 2,849 feet in elevation over a 4.4 mile distance (yes, one way).  Oh and we started at 9,475 feet.  Up, and up, and up we went.  Jack could have made it up a lot faster if he didn’t have to wait for me, but being the nice guy that he is ….  We were passed by at least 20 people – of all ages.

As we were walking up the trail we occasionally stopped for birds, including a Dusky Grouse located about two feet off the trail.  This bird continued to feed undaunted as I moved to get some great photos.


Dusky Grouse Hen


We were about 1/8 mile or less from the top of Flattop when I spotted a snowfield and a good excuse to rest.  I glassed the field and saw what looked like our quarry – a Brown-capped Rosy-finch.  So I stepped off the trail and gingerly walked  over the alpine slope to get a better look and sure enough a life bird – the Brown-capped Rosy-finch.  Woohoo!!!  Also with the Rosy-finch were a number of American Pipits.

Oh, by the way, Jack seeking the final view, finished climbing to the top of Flattop while I watched the Rosy-finches.  I met him on the trail as he was coming back down and thought, ‘why not go to the top’.   I think I took three steps and thought, ‘I climbed this far to find the bird, I saw it, so why continue upwards’.  So back down we went.   The climb wasn’t easy for me because of the elevation gain and the elevation at which we started and I had to keep reminding myself that if I wanted a chance at seeing the bird I had to keep going.  I’m glad I did – for the bird and for the scenery, which was breathtaking.  You could see forever.


Bear Lake


Trail Chipmunk


This woman passed us like we were standing still. I think she was in her 80s.


A view from the trail.


Three young guys climbing the trail. The guy in back had a baby blue and pink backpack.


This young kid decided to rest while waiting for his parents to catch up.


There were a lot of Pikas along the trail – in the rocky alpine areas. Fun to watch them run and hide with their cheeks full of grass.


It is a long ways down to the lake


Brown-capped Rosy-finch. These birds are found only in alpine areas in Northern New Mexico, Colorado, and Southern Wyoming.


American Pipit


View from the trail – near the top


It was beautiful. I like this part of the park best.


A view of Flattop from the Estes YMCA camp. We were there for four days for a family reunion.

After our visit to Rocky Mountain National Park and the family reunion at the Estes YMCA camp, we left to visit Jack’s old friends in Montrose and Durango.

Remember – Everyday is “A Great Day to Bird”

Yellowstone National Park

Ah, how time passes by when life gets in the way…..I haven’t been to Yellowstone National Park since May of 1989 when I finished law school in Colorado.  That year, Jack and I drove back via Yellowstone and the May weather was  snow on the ground, and much of the park landscape was burned out trees due to a series of forest fires the year before.  Lots of elk could be observed at or near the hot springs, geysers, and meadows.  This year, there wasn’t much evidence of the fire remaining, and we saw much fewer elk.

Of the four national parks we visited (Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Mesa Verde), Yellowstone National Park was the most spectacular.  Hard to compete with geysers, mud pots, and fumerols.   The park was established by Congress in 1872  and is considered to be the first national park in the WORLD.  Beauty everywhere.

But first, we stayed the night at a Forest Service campground on the west side of Yellowstone.  We hadn’t made any campground reservations for the park (possible oversight on our part), but they do have some first-come, first-serve campgrounds available.  But more on that in a moment.

The Forest Service campground was small and we lucked out by getting a site along the lake.  The lake was a popular spot for Canada Geese, with an American White Pelican thrown in for contrast.  The campground had some good birds too, including several Yellow Warblers with young.  On the way into the campground we spotted a Sandhill Crane pair.   We’ve been surprised at how many Sandhill Cranes we’ve seen on our trip.


We spotted this Swainson’s Hawk on a post on the way into the campground.


Watched this Yellow Warbler feeding a hatchling.

We left the Forest Service campground early the next day so we could drive to the Norris Campground in the park (one of those first come, first serve campgrounds) to try our luck at getting a spot for the night.  A few others had the same idea.  We came up empty handed, but was able to jettison (Thanks NPS) most of our recycling – including plastics 1-7.  We were impressed.  The campground was built on a hillside and good for tents or if you liked sleeping on a slope, but since we don’t we weren’t too heartbroken at not having found a spot for the night.

So undeterred by no place to sleep, we headed off to see the sights  and what beautiful and fascinating sights we did see – one has to imagine the beauty of solitude since we shared the park with about 10,000 other people too, or so it seemed.  This is one popular park.


The park

Our first stop was the Artists Paintpots:


One of the pots


A bird’s eye view


White-crowned Sparrows could be found foraging near the paintpots. We also saw a Spotted Sandpiper on the boardwalk going to the paintpots.

Our next stop was Gibbons Falls.  Jack loves waterfalls so we made a quick stop here and hiked a short distance for a good view of the falls.


Gibbon Falls


Jack at the falls


Me too

We then drove on to Fountain Paintpot – part of the Lower Geyser Basin.



One of the hot spring pools


The masses


Chipping Sparrow just off the trail.



Grand Prismatic Spring was pretty impressive:


Loved the textures, patterns, and colors


Lone Bison keeping watch


Hot, hot hot


Lots of people seeing the same sense of wonder

Of all the places we visited in Yellowstone National Park the one I like the best is Biscuit Basin.  Such variety, a bountiful number of colors and textures.

IMG_4828 IMG_4809 IMG_4802 IMG_4791 IMG_4863

Next stop – Old Faithful.  Now when we talk the masses Old Faithful viewing takes the cake.  We think the parking lot holds at least 1000 cars and we had to circle a couple times to find a spot.  We then waited about a hour for the next eruption.


Visitors waiting for Old Faithful eruption – and this was not all of them.


This pool was ‘cool’ (or rather hot) in that the crust hung over the pool several inches. Wouldn’t want to step on it.


A false eruption or maybe a precursor to the big event.


There she blows….

I think it took us longer to exit the Old Faithful parking lot than to find a parking spot.  Crazy busy at Old Faithful.  We then drove on to Canyon Village.  Needed to check out the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  Along the way we stopped to view a large herd of plains bison along the Yellowstone River.  This too is a favorite area.  I love the open plains and rolling hills.  A sight to behold.  Apparently a good area to spot wolves as people were there with spotting scopes.


Yellowstone River Valley – ah I could just stare at this scene for hours


Plains Bison

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is beautiful, but does not rival “The Grand Canyon”.  We did hike along the rim to get better views of the Canyon.


Yellowstone River coursing its way through the Canyon


Grand Canyon Falls


Can you spot the Osprey nest?


How about now?


Osprey on the nest. You can see two small hatchlings to the left of the parent.


On the way out of the park via the eastern entrance we had to go by the bison herd again, only this time the herd was trying to cross the road at a leisurely pace.  What do you get when the bison crosses the road?  A traffic jam.


Everyone wants to stop and get a photo. Some people (idiots) get out of their cars and approach the Bison to get better photos.


Luckily while we are waiting for the traffic there were some spots with ponds near the road and we could observe waterfowl.

We spent the night at a forest service campground just outside the park.  We were happy to be able to find a spot to spend the night.  When I woke up in the morning I saw an interesting camper in the adjacent campsite- it certainly met the campground rule.  The campground only allows ‘hard-sided’ campers – no tents or pop up trailers due to bear problems.


Homemade Camper


Love the campsite signs. Do you think there are bear sightings in this campground?


There was a Western Tanager family near our campsite. The parents were busy feeding at least one hatchling.

The next day we broke camp and headed south toward Colorado via Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge encountering some interesting wildlife along the way, including a couple of moose that made us do a double take as they were nearly black in color unlike the tawny Alaska moose that wander through our yard .


Small lake outside Cody Wyoming. There were several American Avocets and at least a hundred Wilson’s Phalaropes on the shoreline.


Wilson’s Phalarope


American Avocet – my favorite shorebird


Wyoming Moose – note the color


Greater Sandhill Crane


Mountain Bluebird


Lots of Pronghorn in Wyoming (and Colorado)


Sage Thrasher


Love this sign. Maybe we should have something similar for moose.


Progressive Wyoming


Male Brewer’s Blackbird

Next stop – Rocky Mountain National Park.  Until then – It’s A Great Day to Bird

Little Pend Oreille, Seedskadee, Arapaho NWR …. Oh My

I love National Wildlife Refuges.  During our year-round trip across the United States in 2013-14 we visited 122 NWRs.  I got to add another three refuges to my NWR Life List – Little Pend Oreille (Washington), Seedskadee (Wyoming), and Arapaho (Colorado).

Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge

Pend Oreille is pronounced ponderay – go figure.  I really liked this refuge and would like to come back and spend more time.  And this refuge has camping.  Woohoo!!!  We didn’t stay here because we had to keep moving, but will definitely be back – preferably in the early summer when the birds are singing.  Not much activity when we were there.  We did the 10.0 mile auto tour route, but it was a quick tour.

This refuge is located in northeastern Washington about 70 miles north of Spokane, and consists of 40,198 acres.  The Refuge was established in 1939 to protect and provide a breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.


Yes, me in a skirt


Canada Goose Family


Nice wetlands. There was a lot of bird activity here.


Flycatcher sp.  Any ideas on what kind?


Mallards sharing a log

For more information on this refuge check out:

Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge

The next national wildlife refuge we visited was the 27,230 acre Seedskadee NWR in southwest Wyoming, which “protects a mosaic of riparian, wetland, and upland shrub habitats along 36 miles of the Green River”.  This was a first time visit for us.  We visited on a Sunday, but this is a pretty remote refuge so not a lot of visitation – mostly people fishing the Green River.  The Green River is famous as the oasis of green and respite for the early pioneer travelers.  The refuge does have an auto route.

The Seedskadee NWR was established in 1965 “for the establishment of wildlife habitat development areas to offset the loss of wildlife habitat resulting from reservoir development in the Colorado River Drainage”.   Love those mitigation projects resulting in the establishment of wildlife refuges – be it state or federal.

This refuge is an oasis in the high desert of Wyoming.  Our biggest surprise here was the number of Common Nighthawks “hawking” for food.  We counted seven at one time.  I always thought they hunted in the night.


There were a number of wetland ponds adjacent to the Green River.


Bald Eagle Pair


High desert scrublands are part of the refuge too…


… where we spotted several Sandhill Cranes. Of course the cranes were near the wetland areas.


Herons on a dead tree

For more information on this refuge check out:

 Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge by far was the ‘ birdiest’ refuge.  The 23,464 acre refuge, established in 1967 primarily to “provide suitable nesting and rearing habitat for migratory birds”.  This refuge has two different auto tour routes.


Lots of wetlands on the refuge. I love wetlands.


Plenty of Prairie Dogs around.


Baby coots abound.


Northern Shoveler female and ducklings.


Swainson’s Hawk in flight.


Western Meadowlark


Plenty of American White Pelicans flying into and out of the wetlands.


Prairie Dog family


Canada Goose


This adult American Coot was trying to drown this coot chick. I don’t think this chick was the progeny of this adult, because it was substantially smaller than the chick it was feeding. Sad to watch.  As far as we know the chick was driven off and the adult did not succeed in killing the chick.


Duckling feeding


Greater Sage Grouse Hen.  We flushed about six hens as we were driving on the auto tour route leading to the refuge headquarters.


Ground Squirrel. These guys liked the roadbeds for their homes. Some entrance holes could result in serious vehicle damage if you drove over (or into) one.


Horned Lark


Pronghorn – with fluffy rumps


My favorite shorebird – American Avocet


American White Pelicans hanging out with Canada Geese


Nest at Refuge Headquarters

There were a lot of Pronghorn on the refuge.  We also saw a Badger.  That was unexpected, but delightful.  Not a bird, but still special.

For more information on the refuge check out:

Those were the only refuges we visited on our travels from Alaska to Arizona, however we did visit  four National Parks.  So, up next – Yellowstone National Park (and some special sightings between the park and Seedskadee NWR).  Stay tuned….

Its A Great Day to Bird


Headed South

We left Homer on 16 July 2015 bound for  Colorado, Arizona, and Africa – in that order.   We made pretty good time, of course doing a little birding along the way – at least we tried while traveling through Alaska and Canada.  When we did our year long adventure in 2013-2104, we had 51 species of birds before we even hit the Canadian border.  This year I think we had about 6 species.  What a difference it makes when you travel during – our Bird Adventure we left in early September – fall migration.  This year the birds had yet to begin migration, except for the male ducks.


Stopped to check out Matanuska Glacier on the Glenn Highway

We spent the night at a campground within the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge.  This is one of only a few national wildlife refuges that allows camping.  We love this spot and have stopped here overnight often on our travels up and down the Alaska Highway.

Lakeside campground in Tetlin NWR

Lakeside campground in Tetlin NWR


Goldeneye family enjoying the day – nine little ones


Saw a Sandhill Crane family with two colts


Sandhill Crane Colt


This Gray Jay decided to check out what was on the menu …


… and was joined by at least three other Gray Jays



Near the Alaska/Yukon border is a wetland, which besides being beautiful, always yields some interesting  birds, including this year a Trumpeter Swan family.


Wetland near the US/Canadian Border (in Alaska)


Trumpeter Swan pair with cygnets.

Once in Canada we stopped periodically to check out the many ponds alongside the road, looking for waterfowl and any shorebirds.  Most of the waterfowl were females with their young, which personally I find harder to identify than shorebirds in non-breeding plumage and many sparrows.  Does anyone know of a good field guide for female ducks and their young?


Roadside pond with hen and ducklings


This swallow nest was on a building at a rest stop. The swallows did not like me getting too close.


This place is generally windy when we come through the area. Not so on the way through this year.


Of course we generally come through in the fall or spring when there is snow on the mountains.

We took the Cassier Highway and stopped at the Blue Lakes.  These were some great wetlands too, yielding Common Loons, a Rusty Blackbird, four Lesser Yellowlegs, Bohemian Waxwings, and several flycatchers.  Okay so maybe female ducks are easier to identify than certain flycatchers (Empidonax spp.)


One of “Blue Lakes”


Lesser Yellowleg


Rusty Blackbird, I believe


Common Loon


There was actually a pair of Common Loons on the lakes. They cooperated by coming  quite close to the edge of the lake. Fun to watch.

This was the first time we did not see a Black Bear feeding along the Cassier Highway.  In fact, we didn’t see much wildlife at all.  The birds must have been busy with domestic details since they were not jumping out at us.   In one campground in British Columbia we did encounter a number of curious squirrels, including this one.


We traveled down through the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada.  There were a number of forest fires near some of the towns we passed through.  A little scary.  In two different towns we saw, but I was unable to photograph, an interesting sight.  Imagine this … instead of going to a drive-through kiosk for coffee you go to a drive-through kiosk for “corn”.  Yes, corn.  The buildings were painted, what else – yellow.  I almost made Jack turn around so I could get a photo.

Internet service in the campgrounds was no existent through much of our trip, so I decided to wait until we reached Arizona to write blogs for the past three weeks.  Stay tuned – what can you expect next?  We visited three National Wildlife Refuges while on our trip – Little Pend Oreille (Washington), Seedskadee (Wyoming), and Arapaho (Colorado).  And later …. the four different National Parks we visited on our trip to date – Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Black Canyon, and Mesa Verde.

The Adventure continues …. and remembers “Its always a Great Day to Bird”





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