I just got back from my first birding conference—the annual Colorado Field Ornithologists’ Convention. This year it was held in Grand Junction, on the western slope of the Rockies. My friend Debbie (above) and I enjoyed three days of beak-geek heaven, plus a full day each way for the 5 hour drive from home. Sometimes life can be pretty sweet.
As a newbie attendee, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. However, I had heard about the amazing field trip possibilities. After reading all the glowing descriptions on the conference website, I signed up for three outings, one a day. As far as the rest of the activities… well, I’d just have to wait and see.
In order to afford the trip, we decided to camp rather than pay for four nights in a hotel. That decision helped make this a trip to remember. We picked a KOA on the other side of town, with hot showers, electricity, and a covered picnic table at our tent site. (This is significantly more posh than most of my camping trips.) The tent sites weren’t at all private, but we figured we would only be there to sleep and eat some dinners.
After a harried day of chores, errands, and packing, followed by a too-short night, we headed west with the rising sun at our backs. A light drizzle was falling, but that should clear up soon, right?
The morning passed pleasantly, our conversation peppered with, “Did you see that duck?” and “Those were Band-tailed Pigeons!” The occasional raptor-on-a-post merited hasty U-turns and photos snapped out the car window.
A brief rest stop in some Pinyon-Juniper habitat near Buena Vista turned into a mini-birding expedition, as we scrambled to photograph some of the Mountain Bluebirds and Pinyon Jays. It was just what we needed to get our photo juices flowing!
As we wound up Monarch Pass, the sun flirted with us through the clouds, eventually disappearing for good. The sky grew darker. Then the rain started in earnest. By the time we topped the continental divide, the rain had turned to sleet, then snow. And we were camping that night.
We stopped for a break at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
At “only” 8,000 feet elevation, it was mostly raining again with a few snowflakes thrown in for fun. A Green-tailed Towhee posing by the trail cheered us considerably, and the canyon views were spectacular.
The rain fizzled out as we reached Grand Junction. We were able to set up camp, start a fire, and grill some chicken and corn on the cob before heading to bed. The conference would start the next morning, and the first item on my agenda was a birding trip up Grand Mesa—departing from the conference hotel across town at 5:30 am. With the alarm set at 4:30, we drifted off to sleep with the gentle pitter-patter of raindrops on the fabric overhead.
To be continued…