PART 2: West Coast Expedition, Day One: From 200 feet above sea level to 8,500 feet above sea level

A funny thing happens up in the mountains of Pine, Colorado during blizzards.  The visibility increases for what seems to be just a moment, but then the snow slowly creeps back over the world, reducing your sight to what seems to be just the tip of your middle finger on an open hand with your arm stretched out at its farthest reaches.

Fortunately, after about four hours of being inside, the haze and snow showers lifted for an hour to allow some great, beautiful mountaintop birding!

As I stepped out of the warmth of the cabin-like house, I was hit with a shocking blast of 30-degree-Fahrenheit air.  I was allowed to go within sight of the house, and I obeyed those boundaries (give or take ten or fifteen yards, for birding purposes 🙂 ).  To get an idea about how far I could go, I walked out until I could no longer see the house, and then birded my way back.

Although I heard calls in the distance, the surrounding woods were silent.  I moved swiftly to the nearest grouping of calls.  At this point, I got to really take in all of the beautiful snow-covered evergreens, undulating in the gentle breeze.  I was able to really listen to the subtle crunch of the wet snow underfoot.  Just the overall serenity of everything here – no sound of bulldozers, no sound of planes, only the curious sound the snow makes as it falls off of trees.  Then, finally, I came upon the source of the calls.

To my surprise, there was a house that had a feeding station consisting of a couple of full feeders.  The house had a REAL cabin design (like the type of wooden cabin that one may see at a campground), and was small compared to the others in the area.  One story and made of wood, it looked like it had seen many years and many harsh winters up there in the mountains.  It was certainly singular.  The question was, would a singular person be living there?

Now, viewing the feeding station that undoubtedly had lifers on it from twenty yards away (yards meaning three feet, not yards meaning people’s properties) isn’t exciting, so I decided to get a closer look.

Sprinting to the nearest tree for cover from any watching eyes, I went onto the guy’s property.  This brings up a perplexing argument.

Do birders have the right to trespass onto somebody’s property just because they have cool birds?  I say no.  BUT, I don’t think that, on the first offense, they should be reported to the police.  I could see if I was a homeowner, and I saw a thirty-year-old guy with binoculars and a camera on my property, I may be upset (I really wouldn’t be though, because I would understand that he probably isn’t a Peeping Tom).  The thing is, if a birder trespasses, they never mean any harm – never.  That is why I unhesitatingly trespassed.  From my point of view, I wasn’t doing any harm.  I wasn’t getting uncomfortably close to the house, nor was I angled so I was pointing my binoculars at the house.  From my perspective, what I was doing was fine.

I got incredible looks at the birds on the feeders.  I saw the usual Pygmy Nuthatches (my fourth and final Nuthatch species of North America) and a huge flock of Chickadees.  I wrote them off as just “Chickadee species”, but then I quit thinking that I was still in PA, and realized that there were only Black-Capped and Mountain Chickadees here, no Carolina, and these both have their own unique characteristics.

It was obvious that the Chickadees that I was seeing were not Black-Capped Chickadees.  They had two distinct superciliary lines on either side of their head, dorsal to two, very prominent white lateral crown stripes.  Then, below those, there was a black median crown stripe.  The Black-Capped, on the other hand, has a completely black head, and none of that fancy stuff!  So, I concluded that they were Mountain Chickadees – another lifer!

So, with a lifer already, I thought I should do some more exploring of this guy’s property.

Not traipsing too far onto the property looking for birds was a challenge – the guy’s feeders attracted so many birds!  From afar, I did manage to pick up the steady, monotonous drumming of a Woodpecker.  I closed in on the bird’s position, and discovered that the bird looked more like a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker.  This bird had a red cap with a bit of red caudal, a red throat, a yellowish chest and stomach speckled with black, and a black back with a white barred “U” shape extending to either side of the median.  It was drilling on a type of conifer.  Knowing that the Yellow-Bellied range doesn’t extend that far west, I crossed off that possibility, but still kept it in mind because it looked so similar.

Next in the Sapsucker possibility lineup was the Williamson’s Sapsucker.  The adult Williamson’s were a definite NO, as the male has no red on it’s head (other than a bit on it’s throat) and a bold yellow stomach.  The female Williamson’s looks more like a Red-Bellied Woodpecker, in my opinion, because of the heavy barring of the back.

Our third contestant, the Red-Bellied Sapsucker, was also a definite no.  If not because of it’s range of the immediate west coastline, only extending as far east (in the United States) as central Utah, then because of the male’s striking red-rose head, extending caudally to it’s breast.  The female looks very similar to the male.

Our final species possibility was the Red-Naped Sapsucker.  This bird is probably the best match to the bird I saw.  The range fits, the habitat fits, and the description fits.  So, I decided that it was the Red-Naped Sapsucker, my second lifer of the day.

After all that, the owner of the property stepped out onto his lawn – or should I say snow -, crossed his arms, and stood there giving me the evil eye.  Not wanting to have to deal with this creeper, especially because he wasn’t brown (I love employing bird puns, especially bad ones 🙂 ), I fled the scene.

When I arrived back at the house, my mom and our friend were just departing to do some birding along with me.  But, as they were descending the outdoor stairs from the elevated deck, I noticed a little zip around the Hummingbird feeder placed strategically by our friend so she could see the feeding hummers from indoors.  Upon putting my binos up to it, I confirmed it as a Black-Chinned Hummingbird.

Being one of two Hummingbird species in our area of Colorado, the bird was very easy to narrow down.  The two choices were the Broad-Tailed or Black-Chinned hummer.  Immediately I noticed that this bird had a black/purple gorget, a distinct characteristic of the Black-Chinned Hummingbird.  To back up this identification even further, the Broad-Tailed has a red/pink gorget and a bright green back.

I then went inside of the house and grabbed my camera, feeling stupid that I did not have it with me previously.  Upon returning outside, there was a clamor so great that I had no choice but to investigate.

I quickly found the source of the incredibly loud and vexing noise in my binoculars, and identified the large yellow birds as Evening Grosbeaks.

Evening Grosbeaks are typically seen in this area only in winter.  They are a larger bird that usually travels in flocks.  The males are mostly yellow, with a brownish head, black and white wings, and a black tail.  The females are duller with more white on the wings and tail.  They are also a member of the Finch family.

I noticed these birds in a flock of about eight or so individuals, which provided some cool and continual looks at this lifer.  This was certainly one of the most exquisite birds that I saw on this trip.

With that, we departed to go back out birding, literally retracing my footsteps.

Soon we arrived back at the neighbor’s feeding station, and the creepy guy was no longer there.  Because of that, I didn’t mention anything to either adult.  But, soon enough, after I had shown the two all of the birds on the property, the man came out again, with that same disgusted countenance.  Quickly, I jumped off of the guy’s property (there was a little drop-off until you came to the dirt road), and backed up until I no longer felt penetrated by his unblinking gaze.

Our friend, however, said that this man was quite friendly, and that she had known him since her mountain house was constructed.  Having already seen all of the birds this feeding station had to offer, and seeing that I didn’t want to have anything to do with the man anymore, my mom and our friend willingly left to go back to the house.

Now, with the lifer total capitalizing to a whopping 6, I decided to end the day of birding, excited for all that was in store for tomorrow.

*As for the pictures that would normally be here, well, I wasn’t able to get any good ones, unfortunately, but I certainly did for Day 2, so stay tuned!

One thought on “PART 2: West Coast Expedition, Day One: From 200 feet above sea level to 8,500 feet above sea level

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