Posts Tagged ‘Mountain Bluebird’

On Sunday morning, I headed back to Bear Canyon Road to look for Sagebrush Sparrow again.  Remember, I was looking for these birds instead of Black Rosy-Finches because I was scared to drive the Beartooth Highway.  I got to the road several hours earlier than the previous day, but I found even fewer species and did not find my target bird.

After two hours of serious searching along the two-mile stretch of road, I set my GPS for Tellico Plains and started driving.  I was soon in Wyoming and enjoying the beautiful landscape, even prettier than Montana if possible.  The distant mountains were gorgeous and before I knew it, I was driving up into those mountains.  The road became narrow and steep with sharp drop-offs and hairpin turns.  A sign at a scenic overlook told me that I was in Bighorn National Forest.  Another sign a short time later stated that the elevation was 9430 feet.

I talked with a guy who had ridden his motorcycle up and he told me that the Beartooth was “a piece of cake” compared to what I had just driven.  I’m not sure that’s true, but I did drive one of Wyoming’s scenic mountain roads that had not even opened for traffic until May 20.  I had been somewhat uncomfortable driving WY 14A, but not terrified.  There was no time to anticipate the road ahead and I had no choice but to keep driving.

After discovering that I can drive mountain roads, my only regret of the trip is not driving the Beartooth Highway to look for Black Rosy-Finches and, of course, enjoy the views on one of the most beautiful roads in America.  Next time …

After I finally got out of the mountains, I drove to Devils Tower.  I was stunned that a piece of rock could be so captivating.  The entire park around the landmark is absolutely gorgeous and easily worth a full or half day to hike the trails.  I walked a short way on one trail and saw this young guy.

And, the park had a prairie dog town! Who doesn’t love prairie dogs?  This time I heard them “talking.”

Update: The prairie dogs at Devils Tower are the same species that I saw at Grasslands National Park, Black-tailed prairie dogs.

Update: The prairie dogs at Devils Tower are the same species that I saw at Grasslands National Park, Black-tailed prairie dogs.

Yesterday, I started the day by crossing the state line just into South Dakota to look for Virginia’s Warbler in Roby Canyon.  It’s an isolated location where you don’t expect to run into anyone else, but I met two other birders.  Together, we searched for a couple of hours without seeing our target bird.  I was disappointed, but at least I could blame the miss on luck rather than lack of birding skill when two top local birders could not find it either.  They described the Virginia’s as one of the warblers that just does not want to be seen.

Here is a pretty female Mountain Bluebird that I did see on the way to Roby Canyon.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

I spent most of the afternoon driving through Wyoming and crossed into Nebraska just before I stopped for the night.  Before I left home, I had read about half of “The Oregon Trail” by Rinker Buck, a modern-day adventure with lots of history.  As a child, I was fascinated with the story of pioneers who moved west and now I am seeing the country through which they traveled.

I’ll leave you with a Lark Sparrow that I saw yesterday when I detoured down a random dirt road.  And, now I’m back on the trail, slowly heading home.

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

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Well, friends, I knew it would happen some time.  I just accidentally hit an unknown shortcut key and published a post with only one sentence.  I apologize for any confusion.  So, back to my story…  I left The Crossing at Grasslands in Val Marie late in the morning on Thursday, May 24.  It could have been a short 2-1/2 hour drive to Cypress Hills, but I detoured to Eastend to look for Prairie Falcon, which would be a sure thing at Jones Peak (yeah, right).  It was another of those long dirt and gravel roads, but it did lead up and up to a spectacular view of the valley below.  I believe that Prairie Falcons do breed there, but I should have known by the zero photos in eBird for that location that not many people get a really good look.  It was so windy that I could barely keep myself upright.  I did not set up the scope because I knew it would blow over.  So, I did not add Prairie Falcon to my life list, but I did see some pretty Tree Swallows and Mountain Bluebirds.

Mountain Bluebird

I arrived at The Resort at Cypress Hills that afternoon and walked around the lake before settling in for the night.  The park is beautiful and the trees are a lovely change from the prairie.  However, I headed out to the prairie again the next morning.  On Friday, I drove over 1-1/2 hours towards Wild Horse, Alberta, to look for McCown’s Longspur again.  I loved the first 11 miles of the gravel road and did not encounter another vehicle.  Nor did I encounter any McCown’s Longspurs.  I did, however, see a few American Avocets in breeding plumage, the color of dreamsicles, a friend used to say.

American Avocet

The next 10 miles were pretty good, too, and I met another birder coming from the opposite direction.  He greeted me with “What do you need?”  I replied, “McCown’s Longspur.”  “I just pushed three of them your way.  Just wait here five minutes and they will be here.”  Well, we talked 10 or 15 minutes and another truck came by.  Birds don’t always keep hopping straight down the road, either, so I missed them.  I continued on down the road and was at the border station before I realized that my target road had ended.  It was good fortune, though, because they have rest rooms at the border station (travel tip).  Plus, I found the most cooperative Upland Sandpiper just before the end of the road.  I think this bird would have let me look at him all day.

Upland Sandpiper

I could have made a loop back to Cypress Hills, but I liked the first 11 miles of the road I was on so much that I decided to return the same way.  I don’t know what changed, other than my luck, but I found EIGHT adult male McCown’s Longspurs on the way back!  My mediocre photos make me happy, proof that I finally found these little beauties.

McCown’s Longspur

Yesterday’s mammal of the day is Richardson’s ground squirrel.

Richardson’s ground squirrel

Today’s highlight happened when I went out to get in my car.  Yesterday, I had discovered a woodpecker nest on the edge of the parking lot and got a photo of a nestling poking his head out of the hole.  I suspected it was a Three-toed Woodpecker, but I wasn’t sure.

American Three-toed Woodpecker

Today, I saw Papa Three-toe leave the nest and fly to a close tree, where he preened for five minutes.  It was such a privilege to watch these birds, a species that I have not seen often.

American Three-toed Woodpecker (adult male)

I drove to the West Block of the park, over the roughest gravel roads yet.  I did not see a lot of birds there, but did enjoy the scenery and had a nice walk.  I finally saw the first significant prairie flowers of the trip.

Update:  One of the two Shooting Stars native to Saskatchewan, genus Dodecatheon, but I did not measure the leaves or petals, so cannot determine which species.

Update: One of the two Shooting Stars native to Saskatchewan, genus Dodecatheon, but I did not measure the leaves or petals, so cannot determine which species.

On the way back, I stopped on the side of the road to watch a Golden Eagle.  Another raptor was attacking it, so I started taking photos.  When I looked at them, I realized that the eagle had stolen the Swainson’s Hawk’s lunch.  There is nothing like a little raptor drama to liven up the day.

Golden Eagle and Swainson’s Hawk

Today’s mammal was this red squirrel who did not want me to take his picture. He didn’t even want me in his woods.

Red Squirrel

Tomorrow, I’m on the road again, heading to Waterton Lake National Park.

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