SE Colorado Birding

Birding and discussion: A conservation-oriented birding blog that emphasizes low-impact birding and sustainable birding practices together with the enjoyment of birds. Southeast Colorado offers a diversity of habitats which provide premiere birding opportunities. Save Sabal Palm

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Baby owls ready to fledge"--have fledged

As noted in comments under original post "Baby owls ready to fledge?", Brandon notes that he was there and they had fledged. I am glad to hear he saw one in a tree. I stopped by this afternoon after a meeting and found them gone but could not locate any fledglings or parents. This is most unusual.

Generally fledglings move to tree branches nearby where they practice short flights. Per Birds of North America online, "capable of 3–4 short flights of diminishing distance; tire easily." And this is my experience. Fledglings need time to strengthen their muscles so they can fly further distances.

So I am happy that at one fledgling that Brandon saw is ok. I hope the other 2 are also ok. Baby owls are very vulnerable. When they were in the nest, they were proverbial sitting-ducks for anyone who wanted to throw things at them or shoot them. Once they fledged they are vulnerable to attack by off-leash dogs, coyotes or other raptors (including unrelated Great Horned Owls). They may also be hit by cars. And they could be easily worn out by people chasing after them to view them up close or take close photos. SeEtta



Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hatchling Great Horned Owl

This baby owl was less than a week old when I took this pic last week in the Eastern Fremont Co area. Because it was so young, I took a few pics and left the area in less than 5 minutes so the pic is not as good as it would have been if I would have been more concerned with getting good photos than in reducing disturbance. Today, with the babies (now 2-3) a little older and not as terribly vulnerable as when I took this photo, I stayed for 10 minutes and found places to take photos without branches in the way (I will post those tomorrow). This was a good-enough pic--a better pic would not be worth the risk to the hatchling. Though this is a close-up view, I shot the pic from about 50 feet away then enlarged it.

A baby owl this young is vulnerable to overheating, or getting too cold. The mother owl, that would provided protection from heat or cold with her insulating feathers, had flushed. Though it was not a hot day I didn't want to take a chance with this very young hatchling. Fortunately, this nest is located on private land with very limited access by people.

Why is this a hatchling--it is covered in all white down. This will start being replaced on it's back with grayish down from ages 7-21 days. Do double-click on the pic for an even close-up view. SeEtta



Saturday, April 26, 2008

Baby owls ready to fledge?

The Great Horned Owl nestlings that were born in the tree stump have been stretching their wings and getting ready to fledge. As can be seen in the top pic, they have molted most of their fuzzy baby feathers (see some on top of head) but they are still very appealing.The mother owl, shown in the bottom pic, was perched nearby. Previously she had perched at a distance from the nest. I suspect she might be concerned for the safety of her offspring as there was a local photographer there and 2 fishermen came over to check out what he was photographing. I stayed only about 10 minutes in order to reduce disturbance. Do double-click on both of these pics to see these owls up close, especially the top pic. SeEtta



Sunday, April 20, 2008

Great Egrets fishing in wetlands

Yesterday I checked some wetlands in E. Fremont Co and found 2 Great Egrets, an uncommon migrant in this area. I think they are quite elegant with their long graceful necks. I enjoyed watching one of them fishing--they often stalk their prey, standing very still then rapidly jabbing into the water. Though they primarily eat fish, they also consume invertebrates--per Birds of North Americaonline, "particularly crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and small mammals."Great Egrets are easily flushed so I had to be quite careful in order to get these pics. As soon as I tried to put up my tripod so I could get better pics, the bird flushed.I was happy I was able to get the top pic that shows the head with the beautiful green lores and eye-ring that show up quite well. That really sets off their yellow iris'. Their long wings show well in the middle pic and the extreme neck-curve during flight is shown in the bottom pic. SeEtta



Friday, April 18, 2008

Long-billed Curlews stop-over to feed

A large area around, and some in, the small and economically-depressed town of Ordway (north of Rocky Ford)experienced a catastrophic wild fire this week. A very sad situation for this area, especially the loss of 2 firefighters, several homes and a number of animals, the fire will likely have beneficial effects on the grasslands it burned. Grasslands evolved over many centuries with fire or other disturbances, which are essential to the health of these prairies. And some species have evolved to benefit from the burns including Mountain Plovers.

While birding in that area this week, I did not find any Mountain Plovers in the burned grasslands but did find a flock of at least 10 Long-billed Curlews including the one in this pic seen foraging in the burned area. Unfortunately this pic is not as high quality as I prefer, but the curlews were several hundred feet away and this pushed my zoom lens (about 420 mm equivalent with lens extender) to it's limits.

These curlews likely made this stop-over from their migration to feed on the roasted insects. Long-billed Curlews are a species of significant concern so I am always pleased to find them. SeEtta



Horned Grebes+ in La Junta/Ordway area

I birded in the La Junta to Orway area in the lower Arkansas Valley this week. Lake Henry and Lake Meredith both had a few Horned Grebes in their gorgeous Alternate (breeding) plumage, several hundred American White Pelicans, several hundred Aechmophorus grebes, waterfowl dominated by Northern Shovelers, hundreds of Barn Swallows, white-headed gulls and hundreds of Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Holbrook Res had similar species.

Obvious in the American White Pelican pic at the bottom is an "epidermal plate" (that extension that rises up from the far end of it's bill--it kind of looks like a horn but is not, just fibrous tissue). According to Birds of North America online, it's purpose "plate not clearly defined, but it is probably involved in courtship or agonistic behavior during pairing and territory establishment." The other two pics are of a Horned Grebe that has a fish in it's beak. In the middle pic, the fish extends horizontally from it's beak as though it was a cigar. This middle pic shows the interesting way that it's plumage is arranged, reminding me of an improperly-fitting toupee. Their deep red eyes are almost as distinctive as the yellowish plumage "horns". SeEtta

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Broad-winged Hawk in Canon City

Though no longer terribly rare, Broad-winged Hawk sightings are pretty unusual Colorado. Yesterday I saw the one in these pics along the Canon City Riverwalk. I haven't seen a lot of Broad-winged Hawks but I believe this is a first year bird. However, I cannot tell if it has attained Basic I plumage or if it's still in the transition from juvenal plumage. So I am posting both pics hoping that someone more familiar with the plumage phases for this species will clarify as I would like to learn more. SeEtta



Saturday, April 12, 2008

Baby owls

This pic is of the nestlings from the Great Horned Owl I have followed for the last 2 years. Though only 2 neslings are visible in the top pic, there actually are 3 nestlings but the youngest (and smallest) is hidden by the other two. Owl nestlings are cute very fuzzy, especially right after they hatch.

The nestling on the right side in the pic shows this fuzziness well while it's older sibling shows a progression to juvenal plumage. It won't be long before the oldest nestling fledges. Do double-click this pic to enlarge it for a super close-up and crisp view. SeEtta



Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sandhill Cranes in the San Luis Valley

Anyone who has ever birded Colorado's San Luis Valley knows how special it can be when you get to watch raptors or Sandhill Cranes flying with the Sangre de Christo Mountains as a backdrop as the middle pic shows. I enjoyed a few hours of birding there yesterday including a flock of about a hundred Sandhill Cranes including those in these pics, first of the year Great Egret, Snowy Egret, American Avocet, several male Yellow-headed Blackbirds and 2 probable White-faced Ibis.

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Rough-leggedHawks in Wet Mtn Valley

Yesterday I had a conservation related meeting in Westcliffe so I got in some birding in the Wet Mountain Valley (where Westcliffe is located) afterward. It was a gorgeous spring day with temps almost reaching 60 F there which is quite good for the 7,000+ foot elevation of the area.

I was delighted to watch this Rough-legged Hawk hop off a fence to grab a small mammal in a field. After it consumed the little critter, it flew off and landed onto the pole in top pic. After posing for some pictures it flew off again and flushed another Rough-legged Hawk off the next transmission pole. (See this beautiful hawk up close and personal by double-clicking on the top pic--it has such good quality that it will enlarge again nicely)

As I watched it fly, a third Rough-legged Hawk flew nearby. As I drove around the valley I saw several more Rough-legged Hawks but there is no way to know if they were all additional hawks or some I had already seen. Whether there were only the three I saw together or as many as a possible 6 hawks, those numbers are all good for the relatively small area in the Wet Mountain Valley.

The last pic shows the Wet Mountain Valley with the Sangre de Christo Mountains in the background. This is a handsome agricultural valley, with a wealth of water that comes from run-off of nearby mountain snows. SeEtta



Saturday, April 05, 2008

Owl photo comparison

I have been asked to give some info on how I took the photos and with what equipment. I shoot in jpeg format. I used a Canon xti 10 megapixel digital SLR camera with a 70-300mm zoom lens and a 1.4 lens extender for a 420 mm equivalent. I hand-held the camera for all shots. I took the photos at dusk, with light fading but did not use a spot light (on a few pics, the flash on my camera automatically engaged but was not very effective due to distance from owl). I did have a spot light with me but I haven't used one on any owls for over 3 years as I try to view and photograph with as little disturbance as possible especially during breeding season (when I hear and see most owls). I certainly could have improved my photos had I used my spot light but I am satisfied with the photos I got. The owls were about 100 feet away. I enlarged all the photos and I also lightened them with Adobe Photoshop Elements software as the originals were dark due to it being dusk.

This photo is the same photo as the top photo in the post below but before I enlarged and lightened it. Double-click to enlarge and see how details become clearer. Fortunately the 10 megapixel camera, and a steady hand, allows significant enlargement while maintaining quality. I would rather do this type of editing than risk disturbing breeding owls by putting a spotlight on them to get better original photos. SeEtta



Thursday, April 03, 2008

Courting by Northern Pygmy-Owl pair

On my way home from a conservation meeting on the west slope in Glenwood Springs, I stayed over to do some owling in Chaffee County. I drove up into some good habitat at dusk last night. Though I had not been in this area before, it had not only a diversity of conifers but nice stands of aspen trees and a small stream so I considered it worth a try. As I didn't hear any owls calling, I whistled my N. Saw-whet-like tooting.

Soon I heard a melodic singing nearby. Though I didn't recognize the singing, I walked in that direction looking for small owls and I spotted the Northern Pygmy-Owl sitting on a branch of a large aspen shown in the first pic. She emitted some soft one-syllable calls and soon a second owl joined her as shown in the second pic.

The two little owls gave soft calls (anthropomorphically, they sounded like "sweet nothings" or songs of endearment) occasionally. Soon the second owl hopped a little closer and wiggled it's body around.

Then the second owl hopped right next to the first owl and commenced to engage in allopreening (mutual preening) with the first owl. Of course I had no idea that they were allopreening--actually it looked like they were kissing (as all I could see is one would lean over and put it's face on the other owl and moved it's head around) so I was back in my confused state. They both preened the other though the second owl, the one that started it, did more preening of the first owl. After 2-3 minutes of allopreening the second owl flew off to a nearby conifer and disappeared into the branches. The first owl remained on the same branch for another 5+ minutes, preening itself for a minute or so, then it flew off. I looked around but could refind either owl.
When I got to my motel room I checked Birds of North America (BNA) online where I read that they had a report of a male and female N. Pygmy-Owl pair allopreening after copulation and that allopreening is reported for Eurasian Pygmy-Owl.. Just to be sure this is what I had seen, I googled N. Pygmy-Owl and allopreening--to my surprise I found a video on AOL of a pair of N. Pygmy Owls engaged in allopreening. Though the video is distant, I confirmed that this is what I saw my two owls doing. You can see this at

More about these owl later. SeEtta


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