June 20, 2010 – Day 5 of Neil Gilbert’s Visit
The Never Summer Mountain Range
Above tree line in Rocky Mountain National Park, we walked stealthily along, as well as one could, at least, with five layers of thermal clothing on. The sun was just peeking over the jagged snow-capped peaks around us. We tried our best not to slip on the ice covered trail edged with tiny, delicate alpine flowers and mosses. So far no luck on our goal, however . . . just the pleasant songs of the common local breeders – Horned Larks, American Pipits, and Mountain White-crowned Sparrows. We were looking for another breeder, a larger but less obvious one.
Neil Searching Through the Krumholtz
Circling back through the krumholtz habitat – stunted and scattered juniper bushes just above treeline – we searched every nook and cranny. Just as we were about to give up, however, a sudden flurry of wing beats and a loud clucking screech. A blur of brown with white wings exploded out from underneath a nearby bush. We eagerly ran up the hillside as fast as the thin air would allow, carefully jumping from one rock to the next to preserve the delicate alpine flora. Finally, with much huffing and puffing, we found it again . . . a small brown chicken with mottled white in the feathers and a pure white tail – a White-tailed Ptarmigan, our target bird and a life bird for Neil.
We slowly crept up a bit, with cameras at the ready. One thing we've found with ptarmigan is that they seem more or less fearless, or oblivious, and seem to go about their business with an audience quietly watching them. On our way back out, we flushed yet another ptarmigan! This individual joined a small group of birds, which were all chasing each other over the alpine tundra, completely oblivious to our presence. Our final tally of ptarmigan was four.