West Coast Expedition Day 2 Off to California, Part 2

Driving in the direction of the airport on the same route that we came up the mountain on held so many wonders that we had been totally oblivious to the previous day.  There is a prodigious difference between seeing snow-capped Rockies in the distance the whole way, and being blinded by white.  Now I was able to see the true beauty of Colorado that I have heard rumors of so many times.

One of the many interesting sights we were able to see en route to today’s birding destination – Evergreen Lakehouse – was a vast pasture-like, fenced-in enclosure that held a grouping of Elk.  One of them had come up to the part of the fence that bordered the road.  We slowed down and eventually came to a stop directly next to him, and he ran in a peculiar way where his head was tilted back at a 75 degree angle, and so his neck was bulging out.  Hilarious way to start out a day of birding!

Evergreen Lake was, as you can imagine, a large body of water.  It was surrounded by pine trees and a neighboring golf course.  Right on the waterfront was a substantially large cabin-like building (probably the “Lakehouse”), that’s purpose I didn’t quite understand.  Find out more on the recreation area’s website, http://www.evergreenrecreation.com/facilities.php?id=10.

Immediately, the feeling pervaded me that this place would provide some great birding.  There were open stretches of mowed grass (the golf course), the lake, and a large section of marshlands (through which there was an interpretive boardwalk).

Next to the parking lot there was a small fence that needed to be climbed in order to get onto the golf course.  There was an interesting bird there that I couldn’t identify on the spot.  I allowed the small, sparrow-sized bird to approach me so that I was able to snap a shot for ID purposes.  The bird was an olive-tan color on all of its front side, with the exception of some subtle black streaking on its chest.  All over its back side it was a dull, slate gray, other than some white wing bars and blackish wings.  The gray extended through the crown to the very top of its beak, gradually coming down to a blunt point.  It was traveling in a group of about five individuals, as well.  This description fits that of an American Pipit, as I later found out.

Although not a lifer, seeing a Colorado American Pipit was really neat!

As I re-entered the lake property, I was greeted by the obnoxious but unique chorus of at least ten pairs of Red-Winged Blackbirds nesting in the marsh.  We then headed off to start working the interpretive trail.

The boardwalk did not yield much avifauna, other than a couple of House Finches, and, of course, the Red-Wings, but the trail did lead off right next to the lake.  Immediately, I began to scan.  Unfortunately, without the aid of our scope, I couldn’t identify many of the far off waterfowl.  The close ones were a different story.

There were Mallards, Canada Geese, Redheads, and then a Grebe.  I was stuck between Clark’s and Western, so I took a picture.

I think of Clark’s and Western Grebes as pretty much the same bird (dumb, right?), so I only use one thing to distinguish between the two – the amount of black on their heads (the amount varies between species during different times of year).

During breeding season, Western Grebes have black extending down their head to their gape, no further.  The Clark’s Grebe, on the other hand, only has black to the upper half of their eyes – that means the feathers around the gape will be relatively all snow white.  That is the best ID tip that I could come up with, although there are probably plenty more.

Since my bird had black on the majority of its head, and definitely to the gape, I identified it as a Western Grebe.

Although the time was late morning, it was still bitterly cold, probably around 35 degrees F.  The sky was clear, and, unusual to me, being from southeastern PA, the air was clear, leading to my first realization that I had been breathing “Mountain Air” (okay, PA air isn’t bad, I will admit, but there was just something indescribably different).  Looking back on it now, I wish I could just stand there once more and take a deep breath of the crisp air, and pop back into PA…

We started to bird our way back to the car, and, with not much activity to stop us, we made it back quite quickly.  With some spare time, I was able to catch a glimpse of a pair of Doves up in a sturdy snag.  From the front, I passed them off as just Mourning Doves.  But, as I had my binoculars focused on one, it turned its head to reveal a bold black “half-collar”, making it manifest that this bird was not a Mourning, but a Eurasian-Collared Dove.

According to this bird’s range, it has a sturdy population in the southeast section of the country, and a small group in the Orange County-LA area of Southern Cal, but they can be seen throughout the country. As for this bird’s native range, well, I’ll let you figure that one out on your own.  Overall, this bird is a drab blue-gray, and all you need to know to identify this species is it’s unique black “half collar”.  Although not native, still a beautiful bird.

It was about time for us to depart, and, with a deep melancholy in my soul, I came to the car, prepared to take one final look at the incredible beauty of Colorado that I hadn’t spent enough time to get to know.  I could easily have spent weeks and weeks there, as it has replaced Atwater Quarry as my number ONE favorite place in the world (that I’ve been).  Try to get out there sometime, if you get the chance!

So now, we are really Off to California!

The Eurasian Collared-Dove showing off his collar

The Eurasian Collared-Dove once again

Western Grebe on Evergreen Lake. Another harshly cropped image. If I cropped any further, the image would have been too distorted, unfortunately

A female Brown-Headed Cowbird along the boardwalk interpretive trail

The Pipit

An already cropped image of the mystery bird that was later discovered to be an American Pipit

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