Now entering the grove, Ted starts whistling an exact imitation of the tremulous, haunting call of the screech-owl. For several tense minutes, nothing happened. Then, emanating from a stand of trees on the far side of a meadow, we heard the real thing. For half a minute, Ted and the owl "sang" with each other. Then the owl fell silent, as did the imitator. A new Boulder County species. Walking as quietly as one can on two inches of old, crusty snow and dry grass, we made our way across the field. Trying again to coax the little owl into calling again, we stood still and waited as Ted again tried to work his magic. But to no avail, the woods stood silent.
photo by Joel Such
With the sun now breaching the horizon, other birds started awakening. A flock of starlings whirred overhead - they would cause us trouble later by uttering perfect imitations of both Killdeer and Blue Jay. Red-winged Blackbirds called from a nearby cattail marsh as Brown Creepers and a Downy Woodpecker worked the overarching cottonwood branches above our heads. Though surrounded by ponds, we had to search for open, un-iced water. We found this in the form of two private ponds bordering the public land. Ducks and geese clogged these refuges in an otherwise frozen world. Despite our probing searches of these flocks, we neglected to turn up anything beyond the normal species: Canada Geese, American Wigeons, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, Common Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers, and American Coots.
Returning to the car, we also encountered a flock of wintering passerines near the trailhead. Searching through the flock, we found it contained numerous Song Sparrows, gambelii White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos (of the Slate-colored, Oregon, and Pink-sided flavors), plus an incredible three Harris's Sparrows (a new county bird for me and Joel) and two "Myrtle" Yellow-rumped Warblers.
Immature Harris's Sparrow - photo by Marcel Such
Continuing on up into the mountains, we encountered a herd of completely unconcerned Bighorn Sheep licking salt off of Highway 7 just up canyon from Lyons. In Allenspark at the famous Fawnbrook Inn, we watched the feeders there and listened for an incoming flock of rosy-finches. Unfortunately, we never heard the raucous chatter that accompanies a massive flock of these mountain finches. However, we still saw two rosy-finches, a normal interior west Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch and coastal "Hepburn's" Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, along with a flock of Evening Grosbeaks. At the Olive Ridge Campground near the Wild Basin trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park, we saw a beautiful adult male Pine Grosbeak.
Bighorn Sheep - photo by Joel Such
"Hepburn's" Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch - photo by Joel Such
Evening Grosbeaks - photo by Joel Such
Evening Grosbeak - photo by Joel Such
Pine Grosbeak - photo by Joel Such
Red-breasted Nuthatch - photo by Marcel Such