February 1, 2009

Birds and Buttes on the Great Plains

This Saturday, January 31, we took off towards Pawnee National Grasslands to look for some birds we don't get up here in the foothills.  Rough-legged Hawks, Ferruginous Hawks, Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and Snow Buntings were among our list of target species.  En route we checked the area where Joel and my mom had seen the Krider's, but only saw typical Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, and a nice flock of male Red-winged Blackbirds.

Male Red-winged Blackbirds - by Marcel Such

Our first prairie birds were a number of Rough-legged Hawks perched on power poles just north of Pierce.  We continued onward until we reached the small town of Nunn, where we turned east towards the Pawnee Grasslands.  Among the first birds we encountered were a group of Eurasian Collared-Doves, an introduced species who's population has exploded over the nation in the past few years.  After we got out of town, we started seeing some Horned Larks.  At first we could only see them when they startled and flew.  Then after we had searched a gravely pasture, we realized that the field was actually covered in a couple dozen larks!  Their plumage camouflaged them so well in their dusty habitat that we couldn't see them until they turned their yellow, black, and white patterned faces toward us!  Besides a Northern Shrike, we didn't see many birds after that as the wind had picked up considerably.

Rough-legged Hawk - by Joel Such

Rough-legged Hawk - by Joel Such

House Sparrows - by Marcel Such

Can you see the Horned Lark? - by Marcel Such

Horned Lark with Face Turned - by Marcel Such

Another aim for the day was to hike out to Pawnee Buttes, two amazing "mountains" created by erosion and rising 250 or so feet above the plains.  We took the Lips Bluff Trail, which is closed during spring to protect breeding raptors which nest on the cliffs.  The trail runs across a ledge with steep cliffs on both sides, and we had to crouch down to keep ourselves from being blown off!  The only bird sighted on our hike was a backlit, unidentified stooping lone falcon. When we got to the first butte we stopped to take some photos of the scenery.  Just as we were about to start heading back, the sun peeked through the clouds just as it start dipping below the horizon, bathing the cliffs in magical light.  Our alternate return route took us on a trail through some interesting terrain including a dry stream bed.  We got back to our car just as it became dark.  It was a great hike and a great way to end our day!

Pawnee Buttes - by Marcel Such

Kelly - by David Such

Our Mom and Kelly (in the magical light) - by David Such

1 comment:

Laurie said...

What gorgeous photos! I love the one where you can't see the bird then it turns its head, and then you can! Great camouflage. And the photo of Renee and Kelly is really neat. You're right - the light was beautiful then and the camera person captured it beautifully.