Gather Your Teammates and Get Ready for Birdathon 2018:
It’s going to be bigger, better, and lots of fun!
What is Birdathon?
Birdathon is an annual fundraising event that involves all ASGD supporters, their friends, family, co-workers, and others in one of America’s most popular hobbies and the number one sport: bird watching! And the great part is you don’t have to be an expert birder to participate.
THANK YOU to Our 2017 Teams
And now, a tale of tallying from the field…
4 Vets in Search of a Bird
Saturday, May 20
Team Members: Mackenzie Goldthwait, Doug Kibbe, Jeff Dawson, Judy Henderson
Species Counted: 159 birds
Money Raised: over $8,000
The Tale: Whoever said “The Rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain” forgot to mention Weld, Logan and Sedgwick counties in Colorado.
We are weather wimps where birding is concerned and the heavy (3 feet!) snowfall of May 18 convinced us that the Colorado mountains were no place for us. Consequently, at 1am Saturday morning – feeling a bit foolish applying sunscreen in the dark – we headed for the plains northeast of Denver, believing that the forecast – “partly sunny and warmer” – applied to NE Colorado, and our luck would hold. We had more than 20 challenge pledges, many of which involved owls or raptors in general, so it was no surprise that Eastern Screech-Owls and Barn Owls were among the first birds we tallied. No authorities questioned our traverse of Denver City Park to spotlight the heron colony and we were heading out on I-76 by 2am with 2 owls, 2 rails and 2 herons to our credit.
Our next stop, Tamarack Ranch State Wildlife Area (SWA), is a good two hour drive from the Barn Owl nest, so it was just getting light when we started into the SWA. Alas, along the way it had started to rain and we continued to be plagued by rain, wind, and mud (see our car) most of the day. Tamarack yielded little of note besides a Great-horned Owl and a turkey heard gobbling (or perhaps just a hunter with a call?), so we headed for Jumbo Reservoir, thankful that the Highway 75 across the South Platte was not closed due to flooding, as had happened two years previously!
As we stole into Crook, we noted a flock of birds by the grain elevator, attracted by spilled corn. Among the horde of hungry Yellow-headed Blackbirds were two Red-headed Woodpeckers. All were unexpected, and cameras sprouted from every window, although it was questionable whether there was decent light for photography.
Before we reached Jumbo we started checking fields bordering Route 138 for turkeys and …Yes! There they were…… no, not turkeys, but better yet, a pair of Upland Sandpipers on someone’s back lawn! A right turn into their driveway yielded more photos of questionable quality.
We sped on until a distant dark object drew our attention. Bird? Beast? Block of wood? Behold our first ever Birdathon Sandhill Crane! And in the background a flock of over 40 White-faced Ibis, but too distant to scope for possible Glossy Ibis.
Bolstered by these successes we tore down a dirt road when Jeff spotted a male Ring-necked Pheasant crossing a plowed field. The resulting photo is a bit blurry, perhaps because our driver failed to come to a complete stop?
Near the OTR Feedlot, a quick glance at the small private pond which frequently hosts diving ducks late in the spring, proved barren of divers, save for a pair of Western Grebes. Rushing on and rounding a final bend towards Jumbo we were rewarded with multiple opportunities to photograph a male Blue Grosbeak which played leapfrog with the car.
Jumbo Reservoir (aka Julesburg Reservoir)
The wind and rain accompanied us to the reservoir, which straddles the Logan and Sedgwick county line. The lake was covered with white-topped waves, swirling mist, and birds. Due to its size (2.2 miles east to west and 1.4 miles north to south), the lake provides a focal point and potential resting area for most water-birds moving north across eastern Colorado in the spring. Flocks of terns, phalaropes, and swallows could be seen crossing into the lake basin from the South only to become lost in the mist over the reservoir. Our estimates of numbers seen are only a fraction of those probably present. But that day, the lake appeared to be a resting site for only the hardiest waterfowl. Flocks of blackbirds clung to shoreline shrubs. Even gulls and terns were huddled on the shore or in the road along the lee of the dam face. Hundreds of swallows were present, but many were clinging to the face of the dam or resting in the roadway itself. There they were joined by Eastern and Western Kingbirds who had forsaken foraging under those conditions.
Since the lake lies in two counties, the county listers in the car noted carefully each time a species crossed that invisible line into the other county. The single Common Loon crazy enough to be out in this weather was assigned to Logan County since it seemed unlikely to cross the line into Sedgwick anytime soon despite favorable winds. However, the flock of Sanderlings that departed the Sedgwick beach, circled and returned, did – we all agreed – enter Logan airspace.
Time was wasting and we still had 250 miles to travel, so we headed south toward a shelterbelt known to shelter ultra-secretive Bell’s Vireos in past years. No luck! No problem. Another bigger belt near Red Lion had one vireo so anxious to be seen that it forsook the shelter of the plum thicket and hopped onto a fence, giving us unprecedented views.
About face and off again, we were relieved to see the South Platte River Bridge at Red Lion was high and dry, having been rebuilt since the floods two years ago. We were forced to halt, however, first by a lumbering Striped Skunk and then by a burley Bobwhite who walked down the road begging for its photo to be taken. Not willing to pass up such a rare opportunity, we took about 40 shots before forcing our way past and turning again into Tamarack Ranch SWA. The rain had abated but the wind continued to plague us as we searched sparrow flocks in vain for anything besides Lark Sparrows. With effort, we finally found a few, but missed Vesper Sparrow completely. Northern Cardinals came right to the road, but proved to be camera shy, as was the Barn Owl we flushed while searching for them. A real live Wild Turkey relieved our concern about the authenticity of the calling bird (?) heard earlier.
We tore out of Tamarack towards Sterling desperately seeking…..more coffee! Rejuvenated, with a (Chimney) swift stop behind us, we turned our faces skyward but the winds were too strong for kiting and we nearly abandoned all hope of seeing a Mississippi. In a last ditch effort, we headed towards the park where they have nested. Lo and behold, dead ahead, perched in a tree over the street was the most cooperative Mississippi Kite we have ever found.
Heartened by our good fortune, we left town heading for our secret shorebird stop. Fortunately, the driver had hit the coffee bar and realized in the nick of time that he was about to pass the access. Mud flew as we turned in and crept down a two-track towards the two ponds which contained water. The second pond proved to be a gold mine, yielding virtually all the shorebirds we were to find that day.
In addition to a large flock of Stilt Sandpipers in splendid breeding plumage, there were a half dozen White-rumped Sandpipers among the usual peeps. White-rumped Sandpipers are rare but regular late spring migrants across the plains. This was the first time we had ever recorded them on a Birdathon. In fact, for half the team, it was the first time they had ever seen the species!
Prodded on by the driver, who was apparently the only one watching the clock, we tore off to Prewitt Reservoir. Although we found our first Bald Eagle and Swainson’s Thrush there, there was nothing else worth more than a glance and, in retrospect, we could have skipped this stop. Signage at Prewitt continues to be confusing, requiring users to be very young (<16) or very old (>65), have a fishing or hunting license, and/or somehow obtain an “Annual Jumbo SWA/Prewitt SWA access permit”. Fortunately we were not accosted by any authorities, although it is rumored that at least half the occupants of the car satisfied one or more of the above criteria. As we left the area, we stopped to view a small Prairie Dog village. As we scanned futilely for Burrowing Owls, a Badger suddenly appeared and with a strange undulating gallop sped from one burrow to another checking them for lunch. Dust flew as the beast doggedly stuck its head into each burrow, but no dogs died in this investigation.
Prowling on the Pawnee
A decision to visit the Pawnee National Grassland’s Crow Valley Campground was made en route, based mostly on two eBird reports filed earlier that day which listed a dozen species that we had yet to see. Besides, we wanted to find a Burrowing Owl, Lark Bunting, McCown’s Longspur and Mountain Plover. The first three were tallied easily, but our Mt. Plover site hosted only a single bird which disappeared when the spotter turned to grab a camera. Next year: a police car with a hood mounted camera!
Crow Creek was flowing and the wind was blowing, making most birds hunker down. Much of our searching was limited to more accessible sections of the campground. Still, we were able to find many of the species tallied earlier by others including: numerous thrushes, a Yellow-breasted Chat, Gray Catbird and Lincoln’s Sparrow. By now it was midafternoon, and we wasted no time flying south toward the Lower Latham area. No new shorebirds were present but we added three raptors and a Great Egret. From the marsh it is just a couple of miles to Stewart’s Pond, one of the best waterfowl sites on our route. The pond yielded a couple of surprises, including a Mute Swan, present for several weeks. Now widespread (and wild) in the eastern US, Mute Swans are likely to colonize all the western states in the next several decades. We assumed that this was a bird from one of the Great Lake breeding areas.
Head for the Hills
Another check of recent sightings indicated that several straggling diving ducks we needed were being reported from the Firestone ponds, just a mile or two off our planned route to the hills. On the way, we found another Bald Eagle, one of our challenge species. Regrettably, it was the last one we found. The divers were, thank goodness, not diving and we managed to capture a few swallow photos here as well.
Our next goal was Union Reservoir where earlier reports indicated Willets and a California Gull resting on the north shore. Will it still be there, we wondered? It was, as were more than a dozen Willets. Careful examination of our photos confirmed the presence of a pink legged juvenile Herring Gull as well.
We were now on a direct line for Lyons, with only a stop for Bobolinks between us and the foothills. We stared at the field for several minutes, seeing only geese heads poking above the tall grass before Mackenzie pointed out a Bobolink on a nearby fence post. Our last link was….more miles to the west in Lyons.
We arrived in Lyons after sundown. We were lucky to find any passerines, even though we knew where most of the feeders in town were located. Although nearly all of the species we saw and heard in the next 45 minutes were new for the day, we were still lacking even a chickadee. As the sky darkened, so did our mood and we turned our backs on the three potential owls that probably perched a mere half hour farther West, and limped slowly back to Denver.
Despite being exhausted and beaten by the darkness, we were nonetheless happy to have seen 159 species and raised over $8,000 for Denver Audubon. Other highlights included two new species for our route – Sandhill Crane and White-rumped Sandpipers; baby Barn Owls; 86 species photographed; and more than 20 different challenges.
On the down side, we must modify our route (or get a much faster driver and car) to reach the mountains in time to tally anything living in a coniferous forest. Without even a chickadee or raven to show for our efforts we are ashamed to admit we even went out.
But seriously, a huge thanks for your support for the Audubon Society of Greater Denver and environmental education programs.
Our Other Teams
The Fanatic Fledglings (Staff & Volunteer Team)
Friday, May 5
Team Members: Karl Brummert, Rhonda Shank, Kate Hogan, Emily Hertz, Alex Collopy, Carolyn Roark, Catherine Devitt, Kathy Ford, Betty Glass, Shannon Cwik
Contact Information: 303-973-9530; firstname.lastname@example.org
Species Counted: 83
The Plan: We began our birding adventure at Cherry Creek State Park. From there, we headed to Harriman Lake, Red Rocks, Ketring Park, and South Platte Park, while one teammate head to the Audubon Center.
Donate to the Fanatic Fledglings
Sunday, May 14
Team Members: Urling & Hugh Kingery
Contact Information: 303-814-2723; email@example.com
Target Species Number: 100 species
The Plan: Birding up north and around Franktown
Donate to the Kingbirds
The Colorado Longspurz
Saturday, May 20
Team Members: Chris Goulart, Renée Casais, Jesse Casais, Chris Gilbert
Contact Information: Chris Goulart, 586-764-2126; Cgoulart001@comcast.net
Target: 100 species
The Plan: Bird for 24 hours following ABA rules and raise TONS of money for the Audubon Society Of Greater Denver.
Donate to the Colorado Longspurz
Saturday, May 20
Team Members: Diane Hutton, Benny Mullis, and Lanny Mullis
Target: 105 birds
The Plan:24 hours of pure birding bliss!
Donate to Hypoxic Featherheads
Sunday, May 21
Team Members: Kristin Salamack, Michelle Ostrander, Pamela Thomas, Leslie & Wayne Dixon
Contact Information: 518-441-2827; firstname.lastname@example.org
Target Species Number: 70
The Plan: Meet at the main Rocky Mountain Arsenal Visitor’s Center parking lot at 6:30 AM and spend the day looking for birds along the various woodland, wetland, and prairie trails.
Donate to the Arsenal Adventurers
Sunday May 21
Team Members: Mike Foster, Anya Hess, Diana Hornick, Dina Baker, Julia Pott, David Hennes
Target Species: 50
The Plan: Lair O’ the Bear, Red Rocks, and Wheat Ridge Greenbelt
Donate to Mike’s Magpies
What is Birdathon?
Birdathon is an important annual fundraising event that involves all ASGD supporters in one of America’s most popular hobbies: bird watching! And the great part is you don’t have to be an expert birder to participate.
All contributions to the Birdathon are tax deductible and support the Audubon Society of Greater Denver. Donations can be based on the number of species seen, or they can be a flat amount.
- Get your pledges lined up before the day you select to conduct your outing. These may be either as dollars per species or a lump sum. Some donors may even seek to challenge you further, offering extra dollars for every species you find breeding!
- Plan your outing during any continuous 24 hour period in May for the best weather and to the habitats where you are likely to find a variety of birds.
- Conduct your tally (species seen or heard only, no need to count individuals) within any period during May in Colorado.
- Let your supporters know how you did, and let them share in your excitement while you collect the pledged amounts. Let them know everything you saw, the surprises you found, including the missed “sure bets” you thought you had pinned down, and the excuses you generate en route (e.g “our navigator fell asleep so we were lost for an hour”, “we were so mesmerized by the Bobolink that we couldn’t tear ourselves away”. etc)
- All pledges are tax deductible and donors will, upon request, be given a receipt.