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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Colorado Chicken Chasers con't.

Our guest blogger today is Chaser Carl Perretta

Day Seven - the mud, THE MUD!

We started out early in an attempt that would be the envy of Chicken Chasers everywhere - to tick off Sharp-tailed Grouse AND Greater Sage Grouse in the same day.  We had gotten what seemed to be reliable and specific information about leks for each bird, and laid our plans, even pre-scouting the sites and planning the most efficient route from A to B.  You know the end of this story - the advice turned out to be less than accurate.  In fact, it was worthless, and now we had to come up quickly with a Plan B, as we did not plan to spend months in Colorado.  Al had some information about Greater Sage Grouse leks in the area, but they had not been the subjects of any recent reports.  The site was about twenty miles away, so we had to get going.  The DeLorme map for Colorado showed the tiny county road we were looking for, so off we went.  Upon arriving, we were met by a road that deserved the description "unimproved."  Not wanting to miss a possible good shot at the grouse, we plunged ahead.  The temperature was still sub-freezing, but it was easy to see that the roads were actually muddy, made temporarily passable by being frozen.  About a mile in from the beautiful, firm, paved, main highway, we stopped and scanned.  Al spotted the grouse displaying on their lek, about one to two miles distant, but with very good viewing conditions.  In fact, through the scopes, we could see the males strutting and heaving their bright yellow air sacs; it was an observation that would satisfy anybody.  It would have been great to hear them, as we did with their Gunnison cousins, but I'll take it.
Stuck in the Colorado Muck(Click to Enlarge)

Then the trouble started.  While backing up to a wider spot for turning around, we got stuck.  Hopelessly mired.  Unable to move. Forward or backward.  It takes a bit of time for people in hopeless situations to accept their fate, and in this case, it took about an hour of the usual trying to put traction materials under the wheels.  The suggestion was made to see if we could get cell phone service to call for help.  I didn't hold out much hope, our being over twenty miles from the nearest town, but I fired my cell up to try.  The signal strength meter showed no bars, but I made a test call anyway to my own home, where I knew my  machine would answer.  I was never so happy to hear my own voice.  After wasting several minutes trying to find the AAA contact number, Nick suggested I just dial 911.  This seemed to qualify as an emergency, so I did.  The woman who answered our always just-on-the-edge-of-breaking-up call was actually with the Wyoming emergency services!  Not to worry, she didn't hang up on me, but helpfully connected me with the Colorado emergency services people who coordinated with the state police, in case we needed them, and got me the phone number of a four wheel drive tow truck in Craig, Colorado.  After calling for the tow and having to wait for the owner's helper to show up before he could rescue us, things finally got moving.  Let me put in a good word for Vic of the Arrowhead towing company of Craig, CO for being a cool-headed professional who didn't bother to ask who these eastern jerks were, or what they were doing in the middle of nowhere. 

Vic digging us out of the muck

Vic used his skills, acquired, no doubt from years of others' dumb stunts, and had us out of there in about an hour.  Total birding time lost was about three and a half hours.  It could have been a lot worse.  Two things I vow:  get the 4x4 next time, and never again criticize Verizon wireless.  Since I felt a little guilty because of the birding time lost (along with the complimentary hotel breakfast), I sprang for brunch.

Carl with new found friend(A dead Pine Grosbeak)

Because we were behind on our schedule, we had to get going toward Fort Collins.  The route took us past Colorado State Forest, where there were feeders at the visitors' center.  New trip birds Pine Grosbeak and Mountain Chickadee joined the list, so we salvaged something from the day.

Mountain Chickadee

If Al Guarente shows you a video clip of me crying hysterically and begging not to be allowed to die unmourned in a muddy and cold Colorado wasteland, don't believe it.  It's faked.  I think he used one of those new digital technologies to make it.  You know - the kind where it looks like Frank Sinatra and Charlemagne are sharing a Coke.

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