The Rockies and Northern Plains (June 1998)

I attended a conference in Golden, Colorado, during the first week of June and spent the following 9 days driving a 3000-mile loop through the Rockies and Northern Plains. I saw 169 species and 9 lifers.

My flight arrived in Denver on the afternoon of May 31. I drove straight to Golden Gate Canyon State Park and hiked a loop through Forgotten Valley and past Windy Peak. I heard the call of a TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE, a bird that I had tried hard to find on previous birding trips. I then saw it in the same view with a WESTERN TANAGER. I visited Mount Evans on June 3. At Summit Lake, I saw BROWN-CAPPED ROSY-FINCH, one of my main targets. I unsuccessfully searched for WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN on the way to the top of the mountain. I was only mildly dissappointed since I knew they are hard to find. However, I got lucky on the way down and found a male just below Summit Lake right out in the open. I visited GGCSP again on June 4 and saw a possible THREE-TOED WOODPECKER, which flew off before I could make a positive ID. I woke up to snow in Golden on June 5 and made another brief trip to GGCSP, where I saw hummers, vireos, warblers, and flycatchers struggling to find food in 2-3 inches of snow.

I spent June 6-7 at Colorado National Monument in search of GRAY VIREO and JUNIPER TITMOUSE. I found a pair of vireos on Devil’s Kitchen Trail just before it starts to ascend. I also got a great look at a VIRGINIA’S WARBLER on this trail and even saw the red mark on the top of its head. I did a lot of walking through Pinyon-Juniper habitat but was not able to locate a titmouse (apparently because they are nesting secretively in early June). I found a dead COMMON POORWILL on the road. I was surprised that this beautiful bird fit into my outstretched hand. Its mouth was open and full of moths. It was interesting to see the ‘whiskers’ near its mouth. I gave the specimen to a ranger since it was in good condition.

I unsuccessfully continued to search for the titmouse in Utah and southwestern Wyoming while driving to Farson. I spent part of the morning of June 8 searching for SAGE GROUSE north of Farson. Since it had rained the night before, some of the side roads were too muddy to search. While I was trying to spot what sounded like a grouse in a large field, the owner came along and offered some suggestions and permission to search his property. He mentioned that a road had been built right through one of the leks and that all of the birds had eventually been run over. He mentioned another lek on which debris from a canal had been dumped. I spent some time walking through the rancher’s field but was not able to locate a grouse. However, I was thrilled to see a SAGE THRASHER singing for the first time.

I arrived at Grand Teton National Park in the afternoon of June 8. I stopped at the Moose Visitor’s Center to try to obtain some information. I was told to check with a lady at the Colter Bay Visitor Center. I considered going up the tram at Teton Village but decided I had better try to obtain some information first. On the way to Colter Bay, I stopped and saw my first CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER. When I arrived at Colter Bay, I was told that the lady was not available. I tried to salvage the rest of the day by backtracking to Teton Village but missed the last tram of the day by 10 minutes. Since it was about 3 hours before sunset, I decided to walk up to the snow line and look for BLACK ROSY-FINCH. I started at 6300 feet and made it up to 9000 feet (well above the snow line) before it started getting dark. Although I didn’t see any rosy-finches, I got lucky on the way down and saw four BLUE GROUSE, including two displaying males and two females. I spent the morning of June 9 unsuccessfully looking for THREE-TOED WOOPECKERS on the Valley Trail. However, I got my first good look at a RUFFED GROUSE. I returned to Teton Village and took the tram up the mountain. It was cold, windy, and snowing at the summit. I got excited when I saw a bird foraging to the south, but it turned out to be an AMERICAN PIPIT. I then walked around to the north and found a male BLACK ROSY-FINCH. I was able to watch it foraging at close range for a few minutes before it flew off. I wanted to stick around but decided to spend the rest of the day looking for woodpeckers. I had no luck and drove to Billings, where I spent June 10-11 visiting my mother and sisters. I looked for SAGE GROUSE north of Billings but was unsuccessful again. At my mother’s house, I saw a LAZULI BUNTING, which seems to be a good feeder bird.

I spent June 12 at Lostwood NWR. What a great place for sparrows. Following some suggestions from Bob Murphy, the resident biologist, I saw BAIRD’S, NELSON’S SHARP-TAILED, LECONTE’S, GRASSHOPPER, CLAY-COLORED, SAVANNAH, VESPER, and SONG SPARROWS. I also saw SPRAGUE’S PIPIT and SHARP-TAILED GROUSE. On a visit to Lostwood last year, I had bad luck due to poor weather. This time, the weather was great and I had an easy time finding BAIRD’S SPARROW but had to work hard to find NELSON’S SHARP-TAILED SPARROW. Near the end of the day, I was about to give up on it. After going for some pizza, however, I decided to try again as the sun was going down. Luck was with me as I heard one singing and was able to get a good look at it just as the light was beginning to fade. A birder from Perth, Australia, named Mike Craig told me about a Yellow Rail that he had seen in one of the marshes. I am now kicking myself for not going back to listen for it after dark. However, I was very exhausted and uncertain if birding is permitted at Lostwood after dark.

I spent June 13 and 14 driving back to back to Denver and making a few more unsuccessful stops to look for SAGE GROUSE.

Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Eared Grebe, American White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Trumpeter Swan, Canada Goose, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Swainson’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Golden Eagle, American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Falcon, Ring-necked Pheasant, *Blue Grouse, *White-tailed Ptarmigan, Ruffed Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Wild Turkey, Gambel’s Quail, Sora, American Coot, Sandhill Crane, Piping Plover, Killdeer, Willet, Upland Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Common Snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope, Ring-billed Gull, California Gull, Black Tern, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Common Nighthawk, Common Poorwill, White-throated Swift, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Calliope Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Willow Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, *Cordilleran Flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, *Gray Vireo, Plumbeous Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Gray Jay, Steller’s Jay, Blue Jay, Western Scrub-Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Black-billed Magpie, American Crow, Common Raven, Horned Lark, Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Barn Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Mountain Chickadee, Bushtit, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Rock Wren, Canyon Wren, Bewick’s Wren, House Wren, Marsh Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Mountain Bluebird, *Townsend’s Solitaire, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Sage Thrasher, Brown Thrasher, American Pipit, Sprague’s Pipit, Cedar Waxwing, European Starling, Virginia’s Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Wilson’s Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Green-tailed Towhee, Spotted Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Brewer’s Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Black-throated Sparrow, Lark Bunting, Savannah Sparrow , *Baird’s Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Le Conte’s Sparrow, *Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Bobolink, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Brewer’s Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Bullock’s Oriole, *Black Rosy-Finch, *Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, Pine Grosbeak, Cassin’s Finch, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch, American Goldfinch, Evening Grosbeak, House Sparrow