Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas day birding

"Pinning down a reliable rosy-finch location can be hard; most are in high-elevation towns where there is a good feeder supply. Cliffy areas can also be good, but it can be harder to scan the flocks at such locales. Often, a spot that is good one winter has few or no rosies the next. The finches are easiest to find during and after mountain snowstorms, when they are forced to feeders to get food."
The feeders behind Red Rocks Trading Post are probably the best location in the metro area to check for rosy-finches after a snowstorm. There are better locations further into the mountains, but Red Rocks is a much more convenient place to check when there's not a lot of time.

Red Rocks Trading Post, Jefferson County. December 25, 2012.

So far this year we have not had a lot of snow in the Denver area. There's been a couple of storms, but nothing that's really stuck around. Christmas Eve we got a nice storm that blanketed most of the area, and took advantage of a lazy Christmas afternoon to check the feeders at Red Rocks.

Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Juncos (pink-sided and gray-headed), and house finches.
Red Rocks Trading Post, Jefferson County. December 25, 2012.
There were probably a few dozen birds hanging around the feeders, but nothing really out of the ordinary. After five minutes of watching for rosy-finches, we heard a Black-capped Chickadee give a scolding call, and immediately afterward all the other birds started giving warning chip notes, they all stopped feeding, and then an instant later they all burst off the ground and deep into the bushes. Of course we immediately started scanning the sky looking for the offending predator, and spotted a raptor buzzing low over the feeders.

We didn't get a great look as it buzzed by, but did manage to get a picture of it perched on a tree nearly 200 yards away.

Cooper's Hawk (I think?). Red Rocks Trading Post, Jefferson County. December 25, 2012.
I'm not sure of the ID, but I'm thinking it was a Cooper's Hawk, for a few reasons:
  1. In flight, the wings were narrow and tapered to a point, with a silhouette similar to either an accipiter or a falcon. A Peregrine Falcon has nested on nearby Ship Rock for many years, but they don't typically hang around for the winter. The wings didn't seem long enough relative to the body and it seemed too small overall to be a Prairie or Peregrine Falcon.
  2. Looking at the perched bird, the head looks larger relative to the body than that of a Sharpie
  3. As the bird launched from its perch into a dive, we got a good view of the tail feathers, and they appeared to spread into more of a fan shape than a wedge shape.

I'd like to get a better view before I could call it for sure, but I feel comfortable at least nailing it down to either a Cooper's or Sharp-shinned Hawk. Shortly after it flew off, birds started coming back out to the feeders. We enjoyed watching this Black-Capped Chickadee struggle to free a seed from it's hull from it's perch in a bush.

Black-capped Chickadee. Red Rocks Trading Post, Jefferson County. December 25, 2012.
We didn't spot anything out of the ordinary. In fact, our list for the day was nearly identical to our list at our feeders at home. We should have brought some fresh seed with us, which might have helped bring more birds out to the feeders.

Western Scrub-Jay. Red Rocks Trading Post, Jefferson County. December 25, 2012.
Steven Mlodinow checked in on the feeders earlier in the day than we did, and had very different luck. He posted to the Colorado Birds Google Group:
" . . . In any case, we had about 200 rosy-finches come in, breakdown being 20 Black, 40 Hepburn's, and the remainder "standard" Gray-crowned. We saw hundreds of juncos, some of which I still have to scratch my head over, but at least 3 GH x PS Juncos and the WW x PS Junco has returned. The GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW did its job and gave us nice views."
Next we headed to Chatfield State Park, which straddles Douglas and Jefferson counties. Chatfield covers a lot of habitat, but our main interest today was finding the Red-necked Grebe or any of the rare gulls that have been reported lately. Most bodies of water in the area have frozen over by now, and Chatfield itself is nearly completely frozen.

Chatfield State Park, Jefferson County. December 25, 2012.
We did manage to find one small stretch of open water in the northwest corner of the reservoir, near one of the boat launches and the dam.

Red star indicating location of open water. December 25, 2012.
Gull numbers were significantly down as compared to prior reports, and all we saw was a lone Ring-billed. Waterfowl were a little better, with a good mix of Canada and Cackling Geese, Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, one Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebes, American Coots, and Northern Shovelers.

Mixed waterfowl. Chatfield State Park, Jefferson County. December 25, 2012.
The highlight was finding the Red-necked Grebe mixed in with the other waterfowl. For the 15 minutes or so that we were there, he spent the majority of the time with his head tucked in his back, directly behind a bush, or close enough to the shoreline that the view was obstructed by rocks, but at one point he came out in open view and lifted his head at the same time.

Red-necked Grebe. Chatfield State Park, Jefferson County. December 25, 2012.
We saw a Red-necked Grebe in Idaho during spring migration a couple of years ago, but Red-necked was still new to our Colorado list. Not a bad way to spend a lazy Christmas afternoon!

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