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Biking for Birds into the Rockies

Dorian Anderson’s Biking Big Year is well into the Rocky Mountain by now, and while the additions to his list are slowing down the degree of difficulty is increasing significantly as he puts in 1,000+ feet elevation gains with some regularity.


He’s added some pretty tough species, including Gunnison Sage-Grouse

Before I realized it, BANG!!! Several grouse flushed out of a roadside ditch just 25 feet in front of me. For those who have not heard a grouse flush before it is hella (very) loud and normally scares the pants off of anyone not ready for it. These birds surprised the hell of out me. I almost fell off the bike. I think I counted 4 birds, and I think there were some chicks as well, but to be honest it all happened so fast that I am not 100% sure of the numbers. I did see the black bellies that are indicative of this species. All the birds disappeared over a rise in 2 seconds except for a lone female who started running up the road. I jumped off the bike, fished out the camera, and successfully documented species #482 for the year.

Black Swift

Entering the canyon with my flashlight, I was able to find 6-7 roosting birds just as the sun set. I really needed a third hand today. I needed one hand to hold the flashlight, one hand to manually focus the lens (it was too dark for auto), and a third hand to hold the camera and press the shutter. It took a bit of fumbling around, but I eventually got a few OK shots of the roosting birds. Some roosted directly on the rocks while others set up shop on what looked to be ready-to-go nests! This can be a very difficult bird to find, so this is a very good addition to the year’s list. These guys are certainly incredible fliers. Their aerial acrobatics prior to roosting were just amazing. Oh yeah, this was also a life bird for me – WOO-HOO!!!

and Clark’s Nutcracker.

Clark’s nutcrackers always make their presence known with their characteristic calls and associated antics; Today was no exception. Two of these guys appeared downslope from me as I hike towards the peak (#485). One of these guys spent several minutes using his long beak to extract moths from a crack in a dead tree. He worked with a purpose and efficiency reminiscent of my performance at the Pizza Hut buffet yesterday.

His strategy is far from what you’d expect from a typical Big Year, focusing as much on roadside dining, physical effort versus birding rewards, and the simple pleasures of the unexpected hotel hot-tub, as acquiring a huge list. But he’s nearly as dedicated to regular updates as he is to pushing on to the end of the year with a big list of birds, which makes for uniquely entertaining dispatches from the field.

Dorian is doing this Big Year as a fundraiser for The Conservation Fund and the American Birding Association, so there’s a philanthropic aspect to it too. He’s just been the recipient of a generous donation from Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, who has offered to match donations made in the name of Dorian’s Big Year through July 7th. So if you’re interested in tossing in a few bucks to a good cause, there is no better time to do it for maximum impact.

And keep reading Dorian’s blog. He’s moving northward through Colorado before taking a left and heading to California for the fall. There should be some exciting birding and fantastic stories still to come.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

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