Thursday, December 27, 2012

Golden-crowned Sparrow at Red Rocks Trading Post

Last weekend we stopped by the trading post at Red Rocks Park. Red Rocks is most famous for the outdoor amphitheater that hosts musicians, comedians, and other performers, but the feeders behind the trading post are the big draw for us.

Red Rocks Amphitheater. Image via www.RedRocksOnlline.com.
The red sandstone formations are a remnant of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains. According to Wikipedia:
"The red sandstone found throughout Red Rocks Park is geologically identified as belonging to the Fountain Formation.[2] Other Colorado examples of Fountain Formation geology include nearby Roxborough State Park, Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs, and the Flatirons near Boulder. The rocks were formed about 290-296 million years ago when the Ancestral Rocky Mountains were eroded during the Pennsylvanian epoch. Later, uplift during the Laramide orogeny tilted the rocks to the angle at which they sit today."
The park is beautiful year-round, but the gardens behind the trading post are particularly stunning in the spring, as seen in the photo below from one of our trips last spring.

Feeders at Red Rocks Trading Post, Jefferson County. April 13, 2012.
For the past couple of winters, there has been a Golden-crowned Sparrow hanging out at the feeders. Golden-crowneds are common on the Pacific coast, spending the summers in Canada and Alaska, and the winters in Washington, Oregon, and California. During the winter, some Golden-crowneds wander further east, some going as far as New England.

eBird range map for Golden-crowned Sparrow.
They have been showing up in Colorado at least once a year for some time, and for the past couple of years they have been showing up reliably at a couple of feeders in Boulder and Jefferson counties.

eBird bar chart for Golden-Crowned Sparrows in Jefferson and Boulder counties.
Last winter Golden-crowneds wintered at two different easy-to-get-to locations around the Denver metro area. Teller Farms in Boulder County, and Red Rocks Trading Post in Jefferson County. We made three or four attempts at each location last winter, but failed to find them on any of our trips. Most of the people who did find them saw them early in the morning, and my theory is that since both of these locations see quite a bit of human traffic, the sparrows retreated out of view as soon as very many people started to be out and about.

This winter Golden-crowneds have shown up at both locations again. Teller Farms had a Golden-crowned for just a few weeks at the end of October and beginning of November. He stuck around just long enough for us to add him to our life list (along with lifer White-throated and Harris's Sparrows) on November 11. Another has been seen erratically at Red Rocks since October, but we weren't too concerned about finding him since we had already found the one at Teller Farms.

Last Saturday, we went to Red Rocks Trading Post to check for rosy-finches that occasionally visit the feeders after snowstorms blanket the higher elevations. We dipped on the rosy-finches, but unexpectedly found a Golden-crowned Sparrow instead.

Golden-crowned Sparrow. Red Rocks Trading Post, Jefferson County. December 22, 2012.
As most birds you really want to get a picture of tend to do, he tried his best to avoid letting us take an obstruction-free picture of his glowing crown.

Golden-crowned Sparrow, pulling a Wilson. Red Rocks Trading Post, Jefferson County. December 22, 2012.
It was nice to finally see the Golden-crowned at a location we had tried so many times, and even nicer to find it unexpectedly during a different winter. Other birds we enjoyed on this trip were typical of the habitat and season: Western Scrub-Jays, Black-Capped and Mountain Chickadees, a Spotted Towhee, and Dark-eyed Juncos were the most prominent.

Western Scrub-Jay. Red Rocks Trading Post, Jefferson County. December 22, 2012.
Others staked out the area longer and reported seeing Common Redpolls, which are having quite the irruption this year. We did not see any on our trip.

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