Friday, August 17, 2012

Birding Telluride, Colorado

On August 17th, our 9th day of our Colorado trip, Mom, Dad, and I decided to plan for a huge hike up into the mountains.  We decided to hike on the beautiful trail we started to hike on Day 5, the one that went behind Bridal Veil Falls.  This trail is called the Bridal Veil Basin Trail.  Just like me, Mom and Dad were wanting to hike into much higher elevations, and we planned to get well above the treeline to see some of the higher elevation lakes in the area.  If I was to get Brown-capped Rosy Finch or White-tailed Ptarmigan on this trip, it would have to be on this hike!  While Tyler and Talia decided to stay home, Mom, Dad, and I woke up and started to get ready for the big adventure that would last the entire day.  We left at 9:30 A.M., got some snacks in town, and arrived at the trailhead at 10:30.  Dad drove up the dirt road up to Bridal Veil Falls, as the Bridal Veil Basin trail started immediately beyond the Falls itself.  A fast flowing river through the area feeds the impressive Bridal Veil Falls that the Bridal Veil Basin Trail goes along.  Several other waterfalls flowed into this river along the trail, which was a beautiful sight.  At the trailhead, the elevation was already over 10,000', and it would continue going up until we reached our destination.

The birding was good right at the start of the trail.  Swifts were everywhere overhead, including both Black and White-throated Swifts.  At the start of this hike, I got impressive and extended views of at least five Black Swifts, which was my first life bird of the trip.  I got to study their flight pattern and overall shape even better.  Due to their slow flight, I was able to even get a decent picture!  The White-throated Swifts have always been too fast for my film recording abilities.

Along with the Black Swift, I saw Violet-green Swallows, Mountain Chickadees, Wilson's Warbler, Lincoln's Sparrow, Steller's Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Hammond's Flycatcher, and White-crowned Sparrow to name a few.  And the scenery was also spectacular as we made our way to drastic heights...

When we stopped for a snack break, I was interrupted by a few Pine Grosbeaks who landed over our eating spot.  The overcast sky once again gave me a poor picture...

Before we knew it we hiked above the treeline.  It was quite the trek and exercise!

The tundra habitat was getting closer as we kept going.  We didn't have a lot of time at this point, so I had to bring my "A" game to luck out with the Rosy Finch and Ptarmigan.  As we reached the tundra habitat at roughly 12,200', most of the good habitat was on steep slopes rather than on flat ground.  I knew I would really have to get lucky to find a Ptarmigan.  As we kept going, we reached the beautiful Blue Lake, which was incredible.  Mom and Dad loved the lake and decided to eat lunch there, and encouraged me to look for the birds I wanted.  Around the lake were plenty of rocky talus slopes, which is the preferred habitat of the Brown-capped Rosy Finch.  As I came up upon the lake, I decided to shoot for the Rosy Finch first since the overal habitat around better for the finch as compared to the Ptarmigan.

I then heard a Brown-capped Rosy Finch calling on the rocks above me!  I scanned and scanned, but couldn't find the bird.  The idea came through my head to play my ipod.  When the sound came out from my speakers, the finch was very vocal back.  They can be hard to spot on the rock piles, and I was still having problems locating the bird.  As I started to walk towards the sounds, two Rosy Finches kicked up and flew about 50 feet over my head and further up into the mountain.  I saw the overall color, but the looks were crappy compared to what I was hoping for.  On the bright side, I would have to walk up through good tundra habitat to follow the finches.  It was good I at least had something with one of these two birds, it was certainly better than nothing.  I walked through the tundra for a good twenty minutes without relocating the finches or turning up a Ptarmigan.  Plenty of Pine Siskins were around, and they made things confusing as they would commonly perch on rocks also.  American Pipits made their way around on these slopes too, which was the first time I've seen breeding American Pipits in their right habitat.  It was a cool thing also.  I then decided to try and bird the opposite side of the lake.  As I made my way over, I passed through plenty of rocks along the lake that were mainly on level ground.  I was starting to hear more Rosy Finches.  Before I knew it, I heard Rosy Finches coming from different directions, and a flock of about twenty birds flew over the lake right past me.  Just a few feet later, I caught movement on the ground below me and looked through my binoculars to see excellent looks at two Brown-capped Rosy Finches.  I watched and studied these cooperative birds for a few minutes until they flew.  The Rosy Finches around the lake started to be cooperative also, and several of them landed on the talus slopes I stood under, at close distances.  I had all the views I wanted of this species.  Out of the three lifers I had thus far, this was the most rewarding, due to the hiking and extreme elevations involved in order to bag this bird.  I didn't find Ptarmigan, but maybe I will next year!....

Here are a selection of Brown-capped Rosy Finch pictures (my third life bird of the trip):

And also, here are a few shots of Blue Lake and it's surrounding environment.  I'll always remember Blue Lake for a few reasons.  As of now, it's the highest in elevation I've ever been at over 12,200'.  It was the great ending point of one of my favorite hikes of all time.  We ate our lunch here!  I found my lifer Brown-capped Rosy Finches here!

On the way down, I had multiple Pine Grosbeaks along the trail.  They were young birds and adult females.  I never did get to get the picture of the nice adult male that I was hoping for.  These pictures aren't great, but they are at least decent enough to show a Pine Grosbeak well enough!  The Pine Grosbeaks were heard regularly throughout the hike, as they were giving their double "wiieerrp-wieerrp" call-note.  I had at least seven Pine Grosbeaks throughout this hike.

Out of the entire trip to Colorado, this hike up the Bridal Veil Basin Trail was by far by best time of the entire trip.  Scenery wise, it's the most spectacular and most beautiful place I've ever been in my life.  From a birder's standpoint, all three of my highlight birds for this trip were seen on this hike in the exact order as I saw them in to begin with.  The three lifers were all in abundance on the hike, and I got great views of all three birds.  In this hike, I also accomplished a lot in the elevations we hiked.  It was the highest I have ever hiked up and I won't forget it any time soon.  Here's a few more pictures of the scenery on the way down the Bridal Veil Basin Trail...

Colorado had many awesome forest birds to be seen.  Others included the awesome Black-billed Magpie and Red Crossbill.

And Black-capped Chickadee!

And Dusky Flycatcher