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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Colorado - Pawnee Grasslands

McCown's Longspur (click pictures to enlarge)

     The Pawnee National Grasslands gave us a chance to see some very rarely seen birds in their specialized habitat. Both short grass and long grass prairie lands are represented in these grasslands. Although they are national grasslands, 73% of it is private property, so you should stay on the road to bird. This is not really a problem in this case since you can just about see for miles in every direction. Well, we had three species that we were after in Pawnee. They were Mountain Plover (we had seen them earlier but disappointing views), McCown's Longspur and Chestnut-collared Longspur.

     The McCown's Longspur are short grass birds and when we entered the grasslands we immediately found a McCown's doing his display flight. They fly above the ground with their wings held high above their bodies and sing their little hearts out. We eventually saw about fifty of them and although I have seen them in the past, today was definitely the best view I have seen. One bird actually landed in the road directly in front of us.

Swainson's Hawk
     Among other birds we saw in the grasslands were Swainson's Hawks, one Ferruginous Hawk, and three Long-billed Curlews. In among the tall grass prairies we found Vesper Sparrows, but missed Grasshopper Sparrows which are suppose to be there. As we drove along I spotted a bird flying next to the van and told Carl to stop. The bird flew across the street and landed in a fairly visible spot. We got the bins on the bird and it turned out to be the Chestnut-collared Longspur. Both longspurs were lifers for Carl. A little later we spotted 12 more Chestnut-collared Longspurs in their beautiful breeding plumage. We also managed to find 6 Mountain Plovers within close view of the road but still to far for a photograph.

Rock Wren
      An unexpected bird for me in the grasslands was a Rock Wren standing on the only large rock in the whole grasslands. We later saw several more of these wren in the grasslands. Other birds seen were many Say's Phoebes and Golden Eagle. Tomorrow would be our last full day of birding.

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