Saturday morning. Wakened by my alarm, I snuggled down into my sleeping bag and listened. Trucks rumbled by on the nearby highway. The bird in the trees overhead kept up a constant chatter. But no drops were hitting the tent. The rain had stopped!
Thankfully, our field trip this morning departed at a leisurely 6:30 a.m., the first of two days photographing birds with Bill Schmoker. This was my primary reason for attending the convention, and I was eager to get started.
The morning started out with a high overcast—“cloudy bright” in photo parlance. That made for nice, even lighting, without harsh shadows or burned-out highlights. Gradually the clouds burned off and temperatures rose into the high 70s. This was more like it!
We hiked around the ponds in several state parks along the Colorado River, looking for riparian birds. Yellow and orange Western Tanagers flirted with us from the bushes, Bushtits infested the canopy of an old cottonwood, and Canada Geese led their downy offspring across the water.
After lunch we headed for Colorado National Monument, a breathtaking combination of sheer red-orange cliffs, tawny desert sands, and birds, lizards, and wildflowers. I grumbled about the vertigo-inducing road (with no guardrails to interfere with the view from the cliffs), but we vowed to return the next day, and the day after that as well.
The bird species in this arid habitat were of course quite different from the ones we’d seen earlier at the ponds. Gambel’s Quail, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Rock and Canyon Wrens, and another lifer for me—Gray Flycatcher.
Another thrill was sighting a Collared Lizard, a Technicolor beauty with turquoise-blue skin and yellow toes!
Although I was quite ready to collapse into my hard bed, Saturday night was the yearly banquet. I admit I declined to cough up the price of the plated dinner (I spent $2.30 at Taco Bell instead), but I did attend the talk that followed. Jeff Gordon, president of the American Birding Association, put together an entertaining, educational presentation about the ten birds that most changed American birding. I even forgot for a while that I was tired!
We rolled back into our campsite at 10:30, and I pretty much passed out the moment my head hit my pillow. At 2:30 a.m., the obnoxious truck driver managed to set off his vehicle alarm—honk, honk, honk, honk… but not even that (and the subsequent revving and campground tour) could keep me awake for long!
Sunday brought another day of gorgeous sunshine and plenty of birds to photograph. The morning included a trek across some sage and juniper BLM land (and my first-ever Sage Sparrow), and a visit to a local reservoir. My highlight was the Long-eared Owlet (another lifer) hiding in the middle of some tamarisk branches. I took careful notice of how Bill managed to get such magnificent photos—there’s nothing like learning directly from an expert!
The conference officially ended at this point, but Debbie and I spent one last night so we could return to the national monument in the morning. Once again we crawled out of bed in the dark. This time, we packed up camp and were on the road within the hour. For two avid photographers, getting enough sleep wasn’t nearly as important as catching the first rays of sunrise glowing on the canyon walls and pinnacles.
Later that day, as we headed east on I-70 for home and some much-needed rest, we started making plans for next year’s conference, planned for the southern part of the state in Trinidad.
Visit the Colorado Field Ornithologists website to learn more about the CFO and their annual convention.