Some moms receive roses for Mother’s Day. Others are given chocolates, dinners out, or photos of their adoring children. While I did enjoy dinner in a restaurant on Mother’s Day, I wasn’t dining with my family. Rather, I spent the day—actually five days over a long weekend—attending the annual Colorado Field Ornithologists (CFO) convention, held this year in Lamar (almost to Kansas and Oklahoma), Colorado.
My family knows what makes me smile.
After last year’s convention in Salida (a gorgeous mountain town, but cold and rainy in early June), the organizers were determined that this year we’d be warm and dry. They succeeded—perhaps a bit too well. Temperatures were in the high 80s for most of the weekend, and the wind did its best to push us, and the birds, to Nebraska. Still, southeastern Colorado has species more commonly seen in the surrounding states than at the higher altitudes where most of us live, and lifer-bird dances abounded.
Thursday and Monday were travel days. I could have saved time and gas by taking the most direct route to and from Lamar, but instead chose to meander along the backroads. Five species predominated: Horned Larks, Western Kingbirds, Western Meadowlarks, Mourning Doves, and Lark Buntings, our handsome state bird.
I determined to get good photos of the kingbirds and buntings (I already have reasonably satisfying shots of the others). It wasn’t as easy as their abundance might indicate. Lark Buntings are amazingly skittish, and I didn’t want to be chasing them down the fence line. I finally spotted a large flock out in a field that seemed to be heading my way. Parking and sticking my lens out the window, I waited. The birds eventually moved into range and I got my pictures. Unfortunately, nothing was holding still in the howling wind, and even taken at a 3,000th of a second, the photo isn’t quite sharp.
Friday was a field trip to Kansas. I’ll admit, we did list a lot of birds, but I didn’t enjoy the hurried pace (to get to every destination in the time allotted). I’m more of a leisurely birder. I prefer to get good looks, observe behavior, get decent photos, and enjoy each bird. Still, we don’t often see a Northern Cardinal, Baltimore Oriole, Northern Waterthrush, or Rose-breasted Grosbeak, so I’m glad I went.
Saturday dawned just as hot and windy. We visited Melody Temple Grove, a stretch of cottonwoods along an irrigation canal where Melody Temple loved to go birdwatching. After her death, the family who owns the ranch dedicated the migrant trap to her memory and opened it up to birders. What a lovely legacy! Again, we had some enjoyable birds in spite of the poor conditions, my favorite being the Red-headed Woodpecker hanging on the telephone poles near the barn.
From there we headed for some of the local reservoirs hoping to find waders. Unfortunately, this year’s abundance of water meant that the lakes were full. With no shallow, muddy shoreline, there were no sandpipers. We took in the blackbirds, ducks, and swallows, and—after one birder almost stepped on a Prairie Rattlesnake!—headed for home.
Sunday was by far the best day of the trip, but there’s so much to tell, it deserves a post of its own. Stay tuned…
CFO offers more than field trips. Every year the convention opens with a BBQ at a local park. We dine on smoked pulled pork, baked beans, and coleslaw while checking out the birds overhead. This year the show included Mississippi Kites, Common Nighthawks, and my second-ever view of Chimney Swifts. Not bad for a start!
The highlight of Friday evening is our annual Jeabirdy contest. Volunteer contestants are sorted into three teams, and the categories are revealed. Questions are sought to answers such as “one of the five species most likely to be #500 on the state list.” I’m happy to remain part of the audience. I learn a lot and am entertained at the same time.
By Saturday, we’re all a bit weary from long days in the field and o’dark thirty departure times. CFO funds a number of scientific studies, mostly by grad students. Many of the trips end at noon this day so we can listen to papers being presented by the researchers. Or perhaps we grab a nap so we’ll be awake for the yearly banquet and keynote address.
I realize that spending a long weekend with a lot of avid birders isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. For me, it’s a chance to rub elbows with birders much more proficient than I am. I come away enriched. Plus it’s a lot of fun. Thank you, Pete, for my perfect Mother’s Day present!
Photos, from top: American White Pelican (Lake Meredith, CO), Swainson’s Thrush (Garden City, KS), Lark Bunting (near Karval, CO), birding (Hamilton Wildlife Area, KS), Melody Temple Grove (Bent County, CO), Mississippi Kite (Lamar, CO).