I had four hours from the time I left Bent’s Fort until it got dark. I decided my best chance to see new birds was to find a road that headed off into the short-grass prairie of eastern Colorado and the road I decided on was County Road 10.
I found the road just north of the tiny town of Las Animas. After about a mile, the pavement stopped. After about three miles of cattle ranches, the fences stopped. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Here is a Western Kingbird.
Here is a Burrowing Owl that flew from the top of a fencepost and landed on a Yucca stalk just far enough away from the road so that my camera couldn’t focus on it.
But I could see it well through my binoculars and it was a very exciting find. The only other time I’ve seen a Burrowing Owl was way back in 1980 when a very lost owl spent a summer in a power-line clearing along the Interstate in Hammond, Indiana.
Here’s where civilization stopped. The fence ended where a very large tire rested against a cattle guard. A flock of Lark Buntings were foraging through the grass next to the fence (next post).
For the next six or seven miles, the only evidence of civilization was the road itself.
There were other birds around, lots of them. But they were all Western Meadowlarks and Horned Larks (below, standing on a dried cow pie).
There were also Pronghorns, four of them. They were by the road when I first saw them, but they quickly ran off, stopping occasionally until they disappeared over the nearest ridge. Pronghorns make no attempt to hide. Their defense is amazing eyesight and the ability to outrun anything that might want to chase them.
The tallest objects in the area were yucca flowers …
and Prickly Pear, some of which were in bloom.
But you’re never as alone as you think you are. I got out of my Jeep and walked into the prairie to take the photo above when my phone rang. It was Lindy complaining about something that happened at work. I listened patiently, but I was secure in the knowledge that there wasn’t a thing I could do about it, so I heard her out and then resumed my solitude.
I took this photo as I walked back to my Jeep. By this time, I’d reached Blue Lake, a small reservoir in the middle of nowhere.
I spotted a dirt track (I can’t even call it a road) that led out onto a levy and turned onto it, very glad that I’d rented a four-wheel drive vehicle.
The mudflats around the lake, and the shallow lake itself, were crawling with birds. There were ducks and geese and sandpipers and gulls and terns and a grebe and a pelican and coots and who knows what else. I couldn’t identify a lot of them because I didn’t have my spotting scope, but the likelihood of there being any lifers was remote — the birds I was looking for were dry-land lovers. Still, it was an enjoyable half hour.
Most of the birds in this photo are Wilson’s Phalaropes, with some Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs scattered about and who knows what else. I’d never seen more than four phalaropes at a time before.
The large bird on the left with the rust-colored head is an American Avocet. The three medium-sized gray birds are Willets. The smaller birds are Wilson’s Phlaropes.
A Long-billed Curlew (left) and a Whimbrel (also a type of curlew) flew in together and landed on the other side of a narrow channel, giving me a chance to compare the two species side-by-side. Another Long-billed Curlew flew off shortly after I’d arrived, and that one was larger than this one with an even longer bill.
This was a lot of fun, but these weren’t the birds I was looking for. I headed back the way I’d come, driving slowly with the window open and stopping to check out every bird I saw, almost all of which turned out to be Western Meadlowlarks and Horned Larks. I did see two of the Pronghorns and the Burrowing Owl again, and this Loggerhead Shrike.
On the 10-mile drive out to Blue Lake, I hadn’t seen another car or person. When I drove back off the levy, there was a guy fishing in the channel, and a guy passed me in a pickup a little bit later. I hadn’t seen all the birds I’d wanted to see, but I’d seen some very cool stuff and got the definite feeling I was in the real West. There was even an animal skull out in one of the fields.