Sunday, March 30, 2014

Breaking up the Spring in Colorado!

In just over a week, my field season begins. I will spend most of my time between now and August camping in the forests around Idaho surveying for various types of birds. Before launching into that marathon, Karyn and I escaped to Colorado and Utah for some hiking, biking, bird watching, mammal watching, reptile watching, and petroglyph reading adventures.

Our primary destination was Fruita, Colorado. Fruita has a lot to offer and is much less crowded than Moab. In fact, spring break can be a lousy time to go to Moab as the annual jeep festival that takes place there sometimes overlaps spring break (as we discovered a few years ago). In contrast, Fruita, just up the Colorado River from Moab, has great if not better mountain biking, hiking in the nearby Colorado National Monument, and you don’t need reservations anywhere. We had a great time.

Mountain Biking

It’s hard to say what our “primary” activity was, but mountain biking was high on the list. Fruita has a few different areas for riding, but our favorite is 18 Road. This BLM land has numerous sculpted and well managed single-track trails which fit the mountain tandem quite nicely. Many of the trails have a recommended direction, which decreases conflict and in many cases, your chances of seeing anyone else.

The Prime-cut trail is the primary uphill route which connects to many of the diverse downhill trails. Prime-cut isn’t too technical, just enough to keep your attention in the game. The most popular downhill trails are Kessel, which is rated as easy, but is not short on fun. For 3 miles down it constantly dips in and out of a wash. There’s not a straight stretch on the trail. Nearby Joe’s ridge is the most well known trail with its steep roller-coaster undulations as you descend a knife-edge ridge. I highly recommend it.  PBR is a new trail with lots of banked corners and bumps. There are harder and more difficult trails as well, but these are a blast. Here is a profile from one of our days of riding. You can click on the image to explore the map, ride profile, and our “performance” against others.


The Colorado Nation Monument and nearby McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area offered lots of opportunities for hiking. Our favorite was the Monument Canyon hike. We also hiked No Thoroughfare Canyon, Devils Canyon, and spent time in three of the state parks. The landscape is spectacular and so were the birds.

Independence Rock (right) - Monument Canyon Hike

Each of the hikes provided lots of opportunities to see birds and other wildlife. We took over 500 photos.

Western Scrub-Jay – Monument Canyon Trail.

Rock Wren – Devil’s Canyon Trail

Rock Wren – Devil’s Canyon Trail

Dark-eyed Junco bathing – Devil’s Canyon.

Dark-eyed Junco – Devil’s Canyon.

Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed Subspecies?) – Devil’s Canyon.

Dark-eyed Junco – Devil’s Canyon.

White-crowned Sparrow – In our camp!

Gambel’s Quail – No Thoroughfare Trail. My only “lifer” of the trip.

Juniper Titmouse – No Thoroughfare Trail. One of my favorite birds of the trip.

Juniper Titmouse – No Thoroughfare Trail. One of my favorite birds of the trip.

Black-capped Chickadee – No Thoroughfare Trail.

Black-capped Chickadee – No Thoroughfare Trail.

But it is not all about birds. We had been searching for bighorn sheep on each of the hikes we had been on, but without luck. On the final hike of our trip, the No Thoroughfare hike, a herd of sheep descended upon the trail right in front of us!

Bighorn Sheep – No Thoroughfare Trail.

Bighorn Sheep – No Thoroughfare Trail.

Bighorn Sheep – No Thoroughfare Trail.

Bighorn Sheep – No Thoroughfare Trail. Sticking hier tongue out at me!

Collared Lizard – No Thoroughfare Trail.

Collared Lizard – No Thoroughfare Trail.


While driving to Colorado we listened to a book called Thunderhead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. The novel is an mystery adventure book about a team of archaeologist visiting an ancient city.  It was a great book. The topic reminded me of a road I always wanted to take through Nine Mile Canyon in southern Utah.

According to wikipedia, this canyon is promoted as “the world’s longest art gallery”. Everything I had read indicated that the road was pretty rough, but the number and quality of petroglyphs was outstanding. Since it was a last minute idea, I had not researched it much. We searched for information on my phone while in Fruita. There were hints online that portions of the road had been paved.

We decided to give it a try, so we headed back from Colorado a day early to have time to explore this area. It was truly spectacular. In the core portion of the canyon, you could stop anywhere and easily find petroglyphs. I took pictures of more than 50 panels, passing many of lower quality along the way. BTW, the road is entirely paved except for about 4 miles.

Six fingers and a WILD hairdo!

One of my favorites with an owl like head-dress.

The Great Hunt! One of the few full scene petroglyphs.

One more bird! Mountain Bluebird.

The vacation is now over. I will spend this week planning, packing, and finishing other outstanding work. I still have a research manuscript to submit this week. Then on Monday April 7th, I head out to survey for Pileated and White-headed Woodpeckers in the Boise National Forest.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

I Love Kingfishers! … But Who Doesn’t?

It was a somewhat gray day out today, but that didn’t stop the local birds from putting on a show. One of my favorite local birds is the Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon). I like all kingfishers, at least all ten species I have seen, but the belted is the only species that makes it into Idaho. Our local hiking trail, Hull’s Gulch Reserve, has two ponds and there is a good chance of seeing kingfishers at least at one of them. For the past few years, they have nested near the upper pond. It appears as if they plan to do so again this year.

Female Belted Kingfisher justifying her name!

The pair were constantly vocalizing to each other. It appeared as if the male was in a bit more of an amorous mood as he kept his attention on the female, twice moving her off her perch. I can only assume the intent was to mate.

Female kingfisher leaving her perch as the male arrives

Female kingfisher escapes the approaching male.

She finds a new perch.

For those not familiar with Belted Kingfishers, the female has the rufous chest band whereas the male does not. It is rare among bird species for the female to be more colorful, but it is more common within the family of kingfisher species. Of the other two species of Kingfisher in North America, the female is more colorful in the Ringed Kingfisher, but not in the Green Kingfisher.

The male twice entered a local nest hole and called from within. This is not the nest hole that they used last year.

Male Belted Kingfisher approaching the nest hole.

Male Belted Kingfisher.

Male Belted Kingfisher.

He then turns his attention back to the female, but she was still not interested.

Female kingfisher once again evades the male.

It will be fun to continue watching this pair through the spring and summer.