July 4, 2014: 10:00 am. I’ve just picked up my rental car at the airport in Denver and am driving by Barr Lake State Park. I’ve arrived a few days early to do some pre-camp scouting in preparation for the ABA’s Camp Colorado. I’m not 10 minutes from the airport when I spot a Swainson’s Hawk flying over the road by the lake. I quickly pull off and grab my binoculars from the passenger seat. I can see that the bird is carrying something as it circles lower and lower. I realize I can hear nestlings calling out raucously. Sure enough, the circling bird lands and briefly disappears into the leafy branches of a tall cottonwood. The cries stop and the adult quickly reappears and takes wing again. It bodes well for a great 2014 Camp Colorado. (It is also the first bird I spotted with my brand new binoculars. Definitely worth a selfie.)
July 5, 2014: 6:00am. Marcel and Joel Such and I park in the lot at Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park and prepare to do some pre-camp scouting. Within about five minutes of walking down the trail we hear a flat “pik.” Joel holds his hand up and motions for us to stop. A bird flies in to the ponderosa pine by the trail. American Three-toed Woodpecker. As if that isn’t enough, we spot three more during the rest of our hike.
July 6, 2014: 1:00pm. At the Costco in Superior, Colorado. Boy, campers sure eat a lot of food. In the evening my friend’s children help me make signs to greet campers the next day.
July 7, 2014: 4:30am. Bill Schmoker, David La Puma, and I meet early and drive out to Pawnee National Grassland for more scouting. We pull up to a spot where Big Green Year Birder Dorian Anderson saw Mountain Plovers a few days earlier. We don’t spot anything initially and David starts to pull down the road to the next stop. The sunlight glints off of something bright in the plowed dirt and catches my eye. “Wait!” I say urgently. I scan the field with my binoculars. The glint is the bright white breast of a Mountain Plover. We get out of the car, look more carefully, and count a total of twelve.
July 8, 2014: 8:00pm. After a long day of delayed flights, all campers have arrived and we are installed at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park. During orientation I ask campers to either tell us what they are most looking forward to seeing during camp or else to tell a g-rated joke. My favorite comes from young birder Benjamin Hack (with some assistance from brother Matty):
“Did you hear about the hipster who burned his mouth on some coffee? He drank it before it was cool.”
July 9, 2014: 8:00am. We’re back at Wild Basin, this time with campers. Although we’re hoping the three-toeds will put on a show, they elude us. It’s hard to be disappointed, though because instead we are treated to an American Dipper that sits on a rock in front of us and preens for about fifteen minutes.
July 10, 2014: 8:00am. Medicine Bow Curve, Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park. We park the vans and get out. Within about thirty seconds one of the leaders hollers, “Rosy-finch!” A Brown-capped Rosy-Finch perches briefly on the rocks above the vans. We hike out onto the tundra and spot a pair of White-tailed Ptarmigan, meandering slowly along and eating flowers. Digiscoping opportunities abound.
July 11, 2014: 2:45pm. We spent the morning birding at Upper Beaver Meadows in the Park and for the afternoon have driven down the road to the town of Allenspark. We’re trying to stay dry in the on-again off-again drizzle, watching the impressive array of hummingbird feeders at the Fawn Brook Inn. By the time we leave we’ve seen two Calliopes, a handful of Rufous, and at least a hundred Broad-tailed Hummingbirds.
July 12, 2014: 10:30am.We’re back at the Pawnee and have already seen Mountain Plover and more Lark Buntings and Horned Larks than you can shake a stick at. As we drive down the dirt road we flush a Ferruginous Hawk from its perch on a fence post. We walk out into the prairie and spent an hour watching McCown’s Longspurs skylarking. A badger and several horned lizards make appearances. We also have the First Annual Camp Colorado Big Day and end with an astounding total of 89 species.
July 13, 2014: 10:00am. We head down the road to Lyons for some foothills birding. We see lots, including Lazuli Bunting, a Lazuli/Indigo Bunting hybrid, Virginia’s Warbler, Golden Eagle, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. The real highlight: a pair of Prairie Rattlesnakes that is curled under a rock along the trail.
July 14, 2014: 10:45 pm. I am at the airport in Denver, waiting for my flight back to Tucson the last campers left about two hours ago and my (delayed) flight should be taking off by 11:30. After 7 days of dawn to dark birding and natural history-ing, I’m exhausted, exhilarated, inspired, and already making plans for 2015.
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