On Saturday, January the 17th, we attended one of the biggest bird walks in the nation, Valmont Reservoir. Made up of three large lakes located just outside of Boulder, Colorado, the complex is a premier winter hot spot. What makes this such a great birding location? The lakes are actually cooling ponds for the adjacent coal-fired power plant, Xcel Energy's Valmont Generating Station. Therefore they are essentially heated, and don't freeze when all of the other local lakes do, thus making it a magnet for wintering ducks, geese, and gulls.
Generally the closest viewing of these private lakes is from two nearby hills, but you need a powerful spotting scope to get a decent look at the two closest bodies of waters. It is almost impossible to identify individual species on the farthest reservoir. But once a year the Boulder Bird Club gets permission to lead a bird walk inside the property. This year there were over one-hundred participants, clear skies, and warm temperatures. The previous two years we have attended it has been overcast and bone-numbing cold, making for prime birding conditions. But because of the surprisingly warm weather this week, this year's trip wasn't the best for birds, but it was still very good and comfortable.
As always, the crowd was split up into smaller groups, each having an expert birder as a guide. The leaders were Ted Floyd, Bill Schmoker, Bill Kaempfer, and Christian Nunes. Another key figure is Dave Madonna, Valmont's Plant Engineer, who is responsible for making this trip happen every year. We went with Bill Schmoker's group and enjoyed his insightful commentary. One of the biggest highlights was an adult Mew Gull, found by Ted Floyd's group.
Great Blue Heron - by Joel Such