Saturday, January 12, 2008

Boulder Bird Club Valmont Excursion '08

Today was the annual Boulder Bird Club trip to the Valmont Reservoir Complex (Valmont, Hillcrest and Leggett Reservoirs) via the Xcel Energy power plant. This set of water bodies is usually only viewable from Legion Park or from a City of Boulder Open Space property, making a close inspection here difficult. This annual trip allows birders to get up close to this unfrozen mecca. Over 70 birders showed up for the trip. The weather was perfect with sunny skies and a few scattered clouds, mild temps and calm winds. Soon after walking out to the water past the huge coal-burning power plant, several DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS and a GREAT BLUE HERON flew by. There were many Canada and Cackling Geese, Ring-necked Ducks, Canvasbacks, Mallards, Gadwall, American Wigeon and Northern Shoveler in Leggett. Also, there were two drake REDHEADS, 6 Western Grebe, and multiple Pied-billed Grebes. We couldn't find any passerines in the shrubs or cattails, but soon after entering a Black-tailed Prairie Dog colony to the north of Leggett we had an immature NORTHERN SHRIKE fly by and land on a utility wire. We came to the top of Valmont Butte and were greeted by ~12 HORNED LARKS and a cooperative Prairie Falcon. Several Western Red-tailed Hawks and Bald Eagles were in the area, but a spectacular adult light-morph FERRUGINOUS HAWK was an added bonus. We later spotted another (perhaps the same?) light-morph adult off on the east side of Valmont giving the Prairie Dogs a hard time. Out on the edge of the ice in Valmont we spotted 4 NORTHERN PINTAIL as well as 3 drake Hooded Mergansers who where strutting their stuff in front of a female. There was a small gathering of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls out on the ice, and this gang slowly grew throughout the afternoon and really swelled when the masses came in to roost around 5 pm. Along the shore of Leggett we found 3 AMERICAN PIPITS bobbing around the rocks. In Hillcrest there were lots of dabblers, 4 (2m,2f) Redhead, Western, Pied-billed and a HORNED GREBE, a Belted Kingfisher and a lingering adult BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON. At about 4, the remaining birders gathered at Valmont to study the ever-growing gull flock. We watched as a kettle of several hundred gulls approached from the east and streamed in to the area, most going over to Leggett for a late afternoon dip. In amongst the masses of Ring-bills was one 1w THAYER'S GULL. Later on we spotted an adult Thayer's hanging out with some Herrings on Valmont. Finally the sun was well below the horizon and we headed back in. To top things off, there was a pair of GREAT HORNED OWLS in the trees next to the parking lot. A fantastic day with some great company! Tack on 12 more species to the list and the total stands at 62.

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