the Rookie Birder

I have watched birds all my life, but after reading "The Big Year," "Grail Bird" and especially Kenn Kaufman's "Kingbird Highway," plus Santa's timely stocking stuffer of "Sibley's 2003 Eastern & Western Field Guides," I made the decision to become a rookie birder beginning January 1st, 2006.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Birds between intense snow showers

Temple Trail, Frisco, Colorado
South side of Frisco, behind Mountain Side Condos at the end of 5th street

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2006, 11am

This morning was no early riser either. But the budding birder in me didn't feel any loss today because when we awoke, we awoke to an intense snow with wildly blowing winds. It was unlikely any birds would be out in weather like this.

After a very late breakfast, the sun finally popped its head out, and though it was still rather windy, we really wanted to take the kids out in the snow for a ride on the sled on the Temple Trail just behind the Mountain Side Condos where we were staying on the south side of Frisco, Colorado, with our friends Rob & Liz.

We bundled up the kids in their winter wear, Robert in a snowsuit that made movement for him impossible, we grabbed the sled and headed for the trail. To get to the Temple Trail, which runs between Breckenridge and Vail (at group ran the Colorado Relay Race on parts of it in September of 2002), we simply had to go out the building, cross the field and the creek to the west of the building, and start heading north on the trail.

As soon as we rounded the building and set eyes on the field, I immediately heard a half a dozen different birds loudly going about their late morning routines now that the wind and snow had let up. As a rookie birder I didn't have the skills to recognize all of them, but I immediately knew one of the annoying loud squawks was a Steller's Jay. Now to just find it. It didn't take long, it flew into a small tree 30 feet away, and well, if you have ever seen a STELLAR'S JAY (photo Tyler Allred), it is hard to confuse its dark or pale blue body and blackish head with that unforgettable crest. It was bird #8 for the year. Now the family wanted to go sledding and didn't care.

So we got moving again, and once we were half way across the field through the extensive 5-8 foot brush, I HAD to stop to see if I could identify the back headed birds hurriedly zipping about in the brush. One finally sat still enough for me to see that it looked like a BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (photo Matt Fletcher). But then it whistled the distinctive fee-beeeee call and I knew I had my bird, #9 for the year. By this time I had my guide book open, and I noticed that I had to make sure I didn't have myself a Mountain Chickadee instead. For my field observations, for me it came down to the white edged wing feathers and no obvious white eye brow which the Mountain Chickadee has.

I finally satisfied myself that it was my 9th bird of the year once I logged onto the BNA Online site ( and heard the distinctive fee-bee whistle again there. It sounds nothing like the Mountain Chickadee's call, despite what the guide book might say. After going to the site and listening to the calls online there, I also realized that I was hearing at least one other Black-capped Chickadee making the chick-a-dee-dee call that I thought was another bird. Of course now that I am back in Chicago where I periodically see Black-capped Chickadees in my back yard, I wish I had seen the Mountain Chickadee instead, but it was what it was.

At this point, field guide in hand with an impatient wife and family, I packed up the guide, put on the gloves and we headed to the trail. There we found a small incline to see if Anna Grace was game for going down a hill, and she was. After 3 or 4 short runs down the hill, Lynne asked her if she wanted to go down a bigger hill. She did. The big sledding hill was just across another field, and away we went. On the way I was hearing birds everywhere, the sun was out and so were they. My plan was to get us to the hill and see what I could ID. Problem is the weather changed quicker than we could say Ivory-billed Woodpecker. In an instant it was snowing, the wind was whipping snow in our face and it hurt. We were back in the condo in 20 minutes and didn't see any more birds today, but for today we added two more birds and saw birds 8 & 9:



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