At 5:20 AM we were standing in the Fountain Creek Nature Preserve parking lot with Ted Floyd in Colorado Springs, after an insane 2:45 AM departure from our house to meet up with Ted Floyd for a 3:30 AM departure from Lafayette. Joel counted no less than 50 flaming meteorites during the drive from Lyons to Colorado Springs thanks to the stunning Geminid meteor shower.
We trudged down the icy trail in the pre-dawn darkness, hoping for owls, and betting on what our first bird was going to be. That question was soon answered, as a female Great Horned Owl called from across a frozen lake. We stopped at nearly every grove of promising trees, calling for a possible Western Screech-Owl. As the sun started peeking out over the horizon, we stopped hoping for the non-existent screech-owls and turned our attention to the diurnal avi-fauna which was starting to awaken. An American Wigeon called from the river, and a flock of juncos started bustling around. Song, White-crowned, and American Tree Sparrows were also calling from the brush in a dry flood plain. Suddenly a loud, rich, smacking chick (Ted says "like a junco on steroids") caught our attention. We quickly located the Fox Sparrow, which turned out to be the "Red" subspecies! "Red" Fox Sparrows are very rare this far west, so this was an excellent find (with the bonus of being a life bird for Joel)! We watched it for a while before it flew off, following the junco flock. Other highlights include not one, but two Swamp Sparrows (one adult and one juvenile), two Virginia Rails, about eight California Quail (we have no idea how they got there, but we are almost certain that they are not of wild origin), and a "Harlan's" Red-tailed Hawk.
After the long return journey to Boulder we stopped by Valmont Reservoir to go "gulling." There was a large flock of gulls out on the edge of the ice, and after methodically sorting through them, we managed to pick out an adult Glaucous Gull (a lifer for Marcel!), an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, and two adult Thayer's Gulls from the hordes of Ring-bills. We also found a California Gull and a couple of Herring Gulls, plus an Eared Grebe and a Prairie Falcon. While walking back to the car, we saw an awesome fly-over of thousands of both Canada and Cackling Geese. We tried to pick out some white geese in the fading light, but we were unsuccessful in this task.
Our day wasn't over yet! After parting with Ted, we headed north to Berthoud to hear Scott Rashid give his presentation on small mountain owls for the Foothills Audubon. It was an excellent talk, which we highly recommend to anyone who has the opportunity to hear it. We've put his book, Small Mountain Owls, on our wish list.
It was a twenty hour day . . . something we'd only do for birds. We apologize for the lack of photos in this post, as we unfortunately left the camera behind in our sleepy 2:30 AM departure.