Heinlein said that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.* He must not have been a birder. When the American Ornithological Union met this year, many birders added a new species to their life lists without even leaving their arm chairs. It’s time to update our field guides—even the brand new Sibley’s. The Western Scrub-Jay has now been split into the California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica, left) and the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii).
We had been camping at Turquoise Lake, near Leadville, Colorado, high in the Rockies. As it was lunchtime, we spread out a tablecloth, set out a bowl of chicken salad (with chicken, grapes, celery, and pecans), and went to find the plates and forks. But as I returned to set the table, the salad seemed to be missing something… the pecans were gone! Seems we’d been victims of the camp robber!
“Camp Robber” is an apt nickname for the Gray Jay. Familiar residents of campgrounds throughout the coniferous forests across Canada and southward along the Rockies, these small jays aren’t the least bit shy. The birds have a tendency to not only accept handouts, but to brazenly help themselves to anything on your plate that looks edible.
Honk, honk! When I first heard them, I thought I was hearing bicycle horns. A brand new birder, I was checking out Denver’s Cherry Creek State Park, and there were certainly bicyclists out enjoying the brilliant fall day. I wondered why they were honking so much, since they had their own bike paths, and there really wasn’t anyone to honk at.
A couple of weeks later, I heard the honking again. This time I was strolling around Fountain Creek Nature Center, south of Colorado Springs. No one else was around, and besides, cyclists aren’t permitted in the nature area. Now I was really confused.
For the first time in recent memory a flock of Lewis’s Woodpeckers has taken up residence near Colorado Springs. Only 11 miles south of Colorado Springs, they are busy harvesting acorns in the picnic area at Fort Carson’s Turkey Creek Recreation Area. These uncommon (at least along the Front Range) woodpeckers are attracting every birder in town. A couple of friends and I made our migration at dawn two weeks ago, hauling binoculars, spotting scopes, and at least 50 pounds of camera gear. We weren’t disappointed.