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Monday, 27 October 2008

Grand Junction to Boulder on Tuesday 23rd September

This day we had a long, but extremely scenic, drive from Grand Junction to Boulder. All sorts of birdlife was seen as we drove on I 70 but you can only stop at designated rest areas. At Eagle, we stopped at one of these, and there was a short nature walk alongside the river. This gave me my first (but far from last) sighting of a Northern Flicker – an amazing looking woodpecker. American Crow and Black-billed Magpie were also seen.

Eagle River

Northern Flicker (female)

Black-billed Magpie

American Crow
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Later, travelling north towards Kremmling on CO 9, we started seeing Red-tailed Hawks. One of these (a juvenile) was perched on a wooden pylon beside the road. I stopped the car and started to walk back towards the bird. I was disappointed when it took to the air when I was about 100 metres away, but it flew to a wire directly in front of me and attempted to perch there. For a few seconds it struggled to get its balance, but failed (I got a lot of photos in this time, however), and it then flew to the pylon next to our car. I walked back, taking safety shots as I did so, but it let me get as close as I wanted to – unfortunately it was quite high off the ground.

Red-tailed Hawk (juvenile)
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Whilst I was photographing this bird my wife called out that there were some interesting birds on the other side of the road. These were Mountain Bluebirds (also with the reflective colouring feature). We had a lot of miles to cover, and wanted to do the whole journey in daylight, so I did not feel able to hang around for long in order to get a good shot, but I did manage a few record shots.

Mountain Bluebird
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We stopped at Windy Gap, where we had seen American White Pelicans from the California Zephyr, but these were not seen, nor were there any other birds of note. However, we found a slightly less obliging Red-tailed hawk (this one was somewhat more mature than the one photographed earlier) before we reached Granby.

Red-tailed Hawk
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A picnic lunch stop at Grand Lake brought a Golden mantled Ground Squirrel to the rocks behind our bench – a very appealing looking creature.

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel
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After Grand Lake, we entered Rocky Mountain National Park. We stopped at Beaver Ponds, where there were lots of people with cameras set up, and found that they were waiting for Elk. We decided to stay for a short while, and I was glad that we did so, as first Mourning Cloak (Camberwell Beauty) and Mormon Fritillary butterflies were seen (mainly settling on parked cars), closely followed by several Gray Jay (wrongly identified as Clark’s Nutcracker by most people there, probably due to them being much paler in these parts than they are elsewhere in USA), and then Steller’s Jay. We didn’t wait for Elk as I was still concerned about the time, and this turned out to be the right decision.

Beaver Ponds (RMNP)
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Mourning Cloak
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Mormon Fritillary
.
Gray Jay
.
Steller's Jay
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A comfort and shopping stop at the Alpine Visitor Centre gave us our first sighting of Elk, way down in the valley, probably a mile away as the crow flies.

Further on, very near the summit/continental divide (3279 metres a.s.l.) we stopped for the view, and saw a couple of American Pika (related to rabbits) playing around in the rocks below the road.

near the summit of Rocky Mountain National Park
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American Pika
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Well into our descent from the summit, we found another place with many people parked, and found that they were looking at Elk in the valley below. We set off to try and find them, and eventually found a small herd with a male in attendance, but not the herd we had seen from above. Having spent a few minutes here, we set off again, and just made it into Boulder before dark.

Elk

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