ID-ing Tan Shorebirds

Western Sandpipers_ShorelinePark-MtnView-CA_LAH_8921

We’re gearing up for a long-awaited road trip to Washington state. I can’t wait to see the grandkids (and their parents) and, since we’re driving, of course I can’t pass up the opportunity to bird somewhere that isn’t home.

We had wanted to go this past spring, but we all know how that turned out. I don’t often get the opportunity to bird the coasts, so I was eager to finally see shorebirds heading north in their easy-to-ID breeding plumage. Now, all those birds have morphed into migrants heading the other way in drab white and tan. Still, we’ve included several days at wildlife refuges known for vast numbers of migrating sandpipers, and in the meantime, I’m brushing up on my sandpiper ID skills.

Continue reading “ID-ing Tan Shorebirds”

Fall Birding, Part 2

(Continued from last week’s post about the Colorado Field Ornithologists’ (CFO) 2014 convention.)

Yellowlegs_JacksonLakeSP-CO_LAH_2104Leading up to the CFO convention, which happened over Labor Day weekend, forecasters were calling for weather in the high 90s. It was a delightful surprise to discover that their predictions were wrong. Instead of sweltering under the hot prairie sun, we enjoyed days in the low 80s, with scattered clouds (and one rapidly-moving thunderstorm). What a relief to be focused on the birds instead of the heat!

Continue reading “Fall Birding, Part 2”

Fall Birding

Vesper Sparrow_RamahSWA-CO_LAH_1899-001Imagine that every bird you see is brown. Little brown jobs. Big brown jobs. Streaky, plain, identical. They’re no longer in their bright (and easily identified) breeding duds. Rather, they’re playing hard to see—and hard to identify.

Now imagine that they’re all far, far away—at the water’s edge on the far side of the reservoir, waaay out in the field, sitting on that distant fence rail—and if you try to sneak up for a closer look, they fly away.

And finally, imagine that an entire summer’s worth of baby birds have all left their nests and joined the crowd, sporting their juvenile plumage.

Got it? That’s the downside challenge of fall birding.

Continue reading “Fall Birding”

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Visitor Center_BearLakeMigratoryBirdRefuge-UT_LAH_3884Want some great birding in northern Utah? I recently discovered a real gem—the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. It’s located on the northeast corner of the Great Salt Lake, just northwest of Ogden off I-15/I-84. The day I visited—midweek in early April—I almost had the place to myself. It was just me and plenty of birds! (Don’t confuse this place with Bear Lake NWR, in Idaho, which is also well worth a visit.) Continue reading “Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge”

Sorting Out Sandpipers

semipalmated-sandpipers_chicobasinranchco_20100501_lah_4500Late August is one of my favorite times to go birding. Maybe that’s because I really like shorebirds. I grew up near the beach, and studied marine biology in college—and I still get excited about anything to do with the ocean. The shorebirds here in Colorado are nowhere near a coastline, but they’ll have to do, at least for now.

The calendar may still say summer, but shorebirds consider this time of year to be fall. They’ve finished nesting, and it’s time to head someplace where winters are warmer. Many species breed in the arctic, and Colorado is right on their route south.

Continue reading “Sorting Out Sandpipers”