Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Return to Blogorado: Gunnison

Samantha found this Horned Lark. It's a good thing she did, because it was a TRIP BIRD.

Colorado is home to a few species I've still never seen, the most notable and arguably best of which is Gunnison Sage-Grouse, almost endemic to the state. Dipper Dan, Sultry Sam and myself had a wedding to attend in Denver, but after raging with many old friends, the old tribes of Sunnybrae and San Francisco disbanded and the three of us made the trip out to Gunnison, which if you are unfamiliar is actually a good area to see Gunnison Sage-Grouse. We knew we would require some luck and there was a decent chance we would dip on them...and we did! No need to build up any suspense over our fail, or go into excruciating detail about hours and hours of driving through sagebrush really slowly and constantly stopping to look at grouse-shaped rocks or grouseless patches of was shitty. Fortunately, it was a pretty sweet area to explore so it was still a good time - here's a few photos.

We did a whole lot of not seeing grouse in very scenic places. Here is Danmantha not seeing grouse near Tomichi Dome.

Brewer's Sparrow was one of the most abundant birds in the area, though that didn't prevent me from failing to crush, as you can see. This is as good a place as any to confess that we didn't even see Sagebrush Sparrow, which mystifies me considering the habitat we were birding in.

Our Airbnb on the west edge of town was Great Success, as it turned out to be a serious geri birding situation - feeders galore! Here is a Sage Thrasher on a yard bench as geri birding evidence. Other feeder birds included Vesper Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee, and Cassin's Finch. A side benefit of staying here was finding a male Lark Bunting on the road into town one morning (a flagged rarity in eBird), while on our way to toil in the grouse fields.

One of the Airbnb Vesper Sparrows chants a dawn curse, making grouse completely invisible to us despite our efforts. By this point in the trip, Dan and Sam's marriage had come under incredible strain, partially due to some lingering angst from partner-swapping with other wedding guests back in Denver (hey, it's 2019) and partially because we hadn't seen any grouse. Luckily, they had me to help keep the ship afloat. If anyone needs a marriage counselor or some couples therapy, hit me up, I'm cheap...and a great listener.

Empidonax for the trip were represented by a modest number of Dusky Flycatchers (above) and a Willow Flycatcher at the McCabe Lane Wetlands.

We here at BB&B have a long and storied tradition of taking meh/mediocre (mehdiocre????) photos of Townsend's Solitaires. I admittedly am ready to move on to straight crushing, but the solitaires are not.

The photog opportunities were not many, but I did manage a Mountain Bluebird crush, which I had been hoping for. This crush came at the cost of some fresh facemelt, which will only add to the disfigurement I have previously endured from seeing other Mountain Bluebirds.

Another view of the big sage basin near Tomichi Dome. There must be many grouse here. So close, yet so far...

I did not expect the wildflower scene to be so good...really should have brought my macro lens, but here are a few token shots. Here is some kind of penstemony/beardtonguey thing.

This white phlox was everywhere. Mellowing.

There were some great patches of larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum) around. These were a bit too stunning to be mellowing.

This part of the continent is laden with mammals. Well, almost every part is, but it seems like you see a lot more of them in places like Colorado and Wyoming. We got elked on the reg.

I guess this is a Wyoming ground squirrel? It may have been a lifer squirrel. They were very, very common. They look like several other ground squirrel species I've seen before, so I only now realized they were something else.

If I got the species right, apparently these have had quite the range expansion in recent years and pretty much no one is excited about it...not people, not golden-mantled ground squirrels.

One of the most beloved squirrels in all the land, the one and only quasi chipmunk, the golden-mantled ground squirrel.

Least (?) chipmunks were enthusiastic attendees of the geri birding scene at the Airbnb. Mammals we saw that are not pictured include coyote, pronghorn, mule deer, white-tailed jackrabbit, marmots, and prairie dogs (east of the Rockies).

Needing a little break from driving around the sage in a futile grouse search, we decided to do a short hike and not see grouse while walking. This is the view looking north into the Gunnison Basin/the town of Gunnison from Hartman Rocks. Hecka scenic here...saw some more new plants and some trip birds, including Ash-throated Flycatcher, another eBird rarity.

Well, we failed, but the fail was more fun than not. Since I need to see the grouse someday, there is a good chance this wasn't my last visit to Gunnison.


  1. geri-birding Air B&B's-- is there an app for that?

    1. BB&B's dedicated team of tech bros, broders, and brogrammers is already on it.