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Open Mic: Camp Colorado 2012, Déjà vu

Camp Colorado kidsCampers, photo by Bill Schmocker

Almost 25 years ago to the day I was traveling alone searching for birds in the state of Colorado for the first time. There was no internet or cell phones, nor any youth birding camps that I was aware of.  I was following the sage written advice of Harold Holt as it appeared in my trusty, tattered ABA bird-finding guide to Colorado which had led me to the Rocky Mountain National Park to bird the amazing montane habitats of Endovalley. On that day, I located and studied my first Dusky, Hammond’s, and “Western” Flycatchers. A major coup for me, but also a great struggle to separate each with the resources I had at hand.

HAFL-Joey
Hammond’s Flycatcher, photo by Joey Ashley

Today, so many years later, while assisting with the field trips on the ABA’s “Camp Colorado” youth birding camp, I watched as all of the participants saw all three of these very similar (and difficult to separate) Empidonax Flycatchers in this very same spot. While I appreciated the nostalgic memory of my own trip, I couldn’t help but be envious of the resources available to the lucky attendees today.

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Mountain Bluebird, photo by William von Herff

Five adult mentors were adding tips on separating the extremely similar Hammond’s and Dusky. Habitat differences and structural cues were discussed. And after locating a Hammond’s nest, differences in nesting preferences were shared as well. At our next stop, another Empidonax and gave a burry “Churrup”. We were able to instantly pull out iPhones andt play each vocalization to the campers so they could properly confirm the identification of this Dusky Flycatcher with it’s lower tone on harsher voice. Many of the campers were also able to immediately review their digital images and compare differences in structure while still in the field!

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Western Tanager, photo by Fanter Lane

It was a fabulous morning full of Flycatchers including the aforementioned along with Western Wood Pewee and Olive-sided Flycatcher. Birds like Townsend’s Solitaires, Mountain Bluebirds, Lincoln’s Sparrows, Green-tailed Towhees, Red Crossbills, Red-naped & Williamson’s Sapsuckers, MacGillvray’s Warbler, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatches, Rufous & Broad-tailed Hummingbirds and EXTREMELY cooperative Western Tanagers were just icing on the cake. I felt honored to be a part of this day and while I appreciated the trip through memory lane I had to admit being more than a bit jealous of today’s young birders…. Hmmm what if I’d been privy to all of these great advantages “back in the day!”

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You can see more stories and images from Camp Colorado at The Eyrie, the ABA’s Young Birder Blog.