Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Pawnee National Grasslands Part I

Colorado. That's what I had been blogging about before my computer died. Now that I have a new one, blogging can resume! Of course it's September now, so there is a great deal to catch up on, but BB&B does not quit. Especially now that there are so few of us left, and very few of us remain to carry the blogging torch, we must persevere...

Which is not important for our purposes...not today at least. So back in July, after a great victory with the White-tailed Ptarmigan, we quit the Rockies for flatter ground. I had heard about the expansive prairies of Pawnee National Grassland for my entire birding life, and I finally got to bird it. After assisting a jackrabbit with its suicide (second lagomorph species I killed on this trip, the first without using a rock) with the wheel of our rental car, we were out on the auto tour route of the grasslands. Billy immediately found this Solitary Sandpiper, one of the few shorebirds we saw on the whole trip.

The first prairie dog town we came up on had a number of Burrowing Owls, which were pleasantly common on this day. Here are a couple of juveniles checking us out from the safety of a burrow entrance. I've heard much about how Burrowing Owls love prairie dog towns, so it was pretty cool to finally see this relationship in action.

Slowly we began to see more and more birds along the road. In many parts of the Grasshopper Sparrow's range, it requires much effort to actually see them. That is not true at Pawnee, where they were also pleasantly common. Here is a streaky (by Grasshopper Sparrow standards) juvenile.

Another juvenile, though it looks a bit older than the above bird.

The abundance of Grasshopper Sparrows was definitely due, in part, to the crop of juvenile birds littering the roadsides. Here is an adult bird, with bright yellow lores.

It did not take long for Lark Buntings to start popping up. Lark Bunting is Colorado's state bird, and a very good one at that. Adult females like this one can be very striking, though they lack the crippling effect adult males can often have on an observer.

Juvenile Lark Bunting, a life plumage. Pink legs...I didn't know that color belonged on a Lark Bunting...but even the #7 U.S. birder may be surprised. The birder who is no longer surprised is not an experienced birder, is a dead birder.

Though it was late July and juvenile birds were out in force, we did see plenty of males owning the Economy of Style. A couple were even doing display flights, which I had only seen once before. Prairie birding is so fucking good...

This Common Nighthawk chose a photogenic roosting site. Thank you, nighthawk.

All these other birds were great, but I was frothing at the mouth to see some longspurs. Longspurs, lonspurs, a Californian, we get a taste of them, but all too often it is just a tease. Laplands are always a good bird, albeit expected in certain areas, but Chestnut-collareds are extremely erratic, McCown's is a great bird, and Smith's is a MEGUH. Even if we do get to see 'spurs here, all too often we are forced to settle with absolute bullshit looks. I hadn't seen a McCown's in years, and never outside of California, so this was pretty much my main target bird of the day, even though they are relatively common at Pawnee. Eventually we found an area thick with them, and had a flock on the road next to the car, with a couple females (above) and a bunch of juveniles.

Juvenile longspurs are not a strong suit for most birders. The first time I saw a juvenile Lapland (in the western Aleutians), it caused complete and total brainfreeze. If someone would have asked me what it was right after I got on the bird, I probably would have responded with "Durrrrrrrr". A couple of these juveniles brought that Durrrrrr feeling back, but this is indeed a juvenile McCown's, another life plumage.

Seeing a flock of these charismatic (and probably rapidly declining) birds flopping around in the road in front of me was like plunging a syringe full of heroin into my arm for the first time really cool. The birding gods smiled upon me. But the day was not over yet...more to come in the next post.


  1. Computer death is most unfortunate, though perhaps not as unfortunate as whatever the fuck you killed with a rock. (?) (!).

    The torch is in good hands. For now. Till your blog is retitled bourbon and bastard and contains photos of nothing but that thing I do not understand.

    1. It's in the last CO post I wrote...basically it can all be blamed on an outdoor cat, the genesis of all things evil.

  2. Kudos rockstar for continuing to blog as only you know how! The CONI shot is my fave. Heroin...yeah...

    1. "Heroinbirder" has not been taken yet as a blog title, you are welcome to give it a spin

  3. Hello,
    beautiful series of pictures ... my favorite is of course the owls ....
    greetings Frank