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Monday, 27 October 2008

Highline Lake & Colorado Monument on Monday 22nd September

On Monday 22nd, we went to Highline Lake, to the north of Grand Junction and close to the Utah border. This place has a reputation as a good birding spot. Approximately half a mile from the entrance to the lake, we were greeted by a sight that looked like something out of Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. Clouds of birds were coming off a field and landing on the fences either side of the road. This was made even more amazing by the fact that the flock was of several species, including Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Brewer’s Blackbird, Mourning Dove, European Starling and (even more amazingly) a hawk that was too far away to identify, but small and pale – and in with the other birds without disturbing them. This flock was extremely nervous and virtually impossible to approach. Every time a car came they flew off into the fields next to the road, coming back after ten minutes or so. At one time the road ahead of us was virtually completely covered in birds. We sat with the window down for a while in the hope that some would settle near enough to photograph, but I managed very few shots – and then they were gone for good.

very small part of mixed flock of birds

Yellow-headed Blackbird (male)

Brewer's Blackbird (female)

European Starlings (juvenile)

At the lake we found the Ranger who had not been on duty for long (it was only who had seen the flock of on the way in, and confirmed that it was highly remarkable. She gave us several pointers as to what to look for where, and we set off for a four-hour walk round the lake in an anti-clockwise direction.

Eurasian Collared Dove

We quickly found a wader, which was too far away to identify (insufficient space in the luggage for a scope) but was almost certainly a Sandpiper of some type. Shortly after this we saw a couple of LBJs at a distance and into the sun (no chance of identification) and then the birds ‘dried up’ completely. However, we did see plenty of dragonflies, butterflies, crickets, and grasshoppers. There were also a few lizards. I have attempted to identify all this wildlife, but stand to be corrected if anyone knows better.

Highline Lake

unidentified wader

Thistle in 'misty' grass

Cricket sp.

Cricket sp.

Grasshopper sp.

Clouded Sulphur

Field Crescent

Common Checkered-Skipper

Western Pygmy-blue

spreadwing damselfly sp.

Western Meadowhawk (male)

Western Meadowhawk (female)

We got a little worried when we found some huge paw prints in the dust on the trail. These had visible claw marks in front of the pad impressions. They looked fresh and were heading in the same direction as us. This was a bit distracting as we found ourselves more concerned about the possibility of a bear or puma lurking ahead of us. I did, however, stop to photograph a Praying Mantis. This was fortunate as, if we had not stopped, our path would have been on a collision course with an eight foot snake which slowly crossed the path about ten feet in front of us. We carefully waited for the tail to come into sight and heaved a sigh of relief when no rattle appeared. With this, and the paw-prints that were still with us, we were even more nervous. I’m OK with snakes if I know that they are not going to harm me, and quite enjoy handling them, but at this stage, I did not know what it was.

Praying Mantis


We came to a point where our path diverged from the paw prints and started to relax a bit. We then came upon some rangers building a new path who told us, when I showed them the snake photos, that this was a harmless “lazy old Bull Snake which feeds on rats and mice”.

Damselfly sp.

Cricket sp.

beetle with ants

We were now half way round the lake, and little other than crickets and lizards was seen for an hour or so.

Powdered Dancer

Western Whiptail Lizard

However, having arrived at the dam at the western end, we followed the path into an area of comparatively lush vegetation. First we were intrigued by a black spider with a red spot on its back, which was creeping up on what I believe to be an adult Antlion. The spider was reminiscent of a Black Widow, but closer examination shows otherwise.

Antlion sp. and spider

unidentified spider

In some ponds beside the path we found some Mallards which took to the air as we approached, and then there was a loud clattering as a group of Mule Deer sprung out of the bushes near us and disappeared up the slope and into the trees. A little later, an American Kestrel flew past.

Mule Deer with young

American Kestrel (female)

When we got near to our start point we found the Ranger again. She told us that, shortly after sending us off to the east, an Osprey with a fish was at the western end of the lake.

That afternoon we headed back to Colorado Monument to do some bits not done the previous day. As we left Highline Lake, there was no evidence of any birds where there had been so many earlier.

Colorado Monument

The wildlife was much the same as it had been the previous day, with possibly another species of lizard seen. I also managed to get a distant shot of a Western Scrub-Jay.

American Kestrel (male)

Prarie/Plateau Lizard

unidentified lizard sp. (prob. Prarie/Plateau Lizard)

evil 'wasp' dragging caterpillar down hole

Western Scrub-Jay

Opuntia sp.

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