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Big Day (Bird Race)

01 August 1998

by Brandon K. Percival

Big Day Statistics:


"It was somewhat by accident that Tony, Brandon and I did a big day in August.  The three of us had discussed the possibility of running a big day sometime in July, so as to up the 82 species "July record big day." Finding a date where the three of us were all free was impossible, so we somewhat reluctantly decided to try one in August.  The 157 species August big day record seemed unbeatable, especially this early in and in northern Colorado.  Still, the three of us rarely find time to bird with each other so we decided to give it a try.

As with most big days, this one had its ups and downs.  Luckily for us, this one had more ups than downs.

The day began on a high note when we found E. Screech-Owl at the Wheatridge Greenbelt.  While this species is more reliable there than anywhere else in the Denver Metro area, we have managed to miss it there before.  Perhaps the number one reason to get this bird was that our southern Colorado colleague, Brandon Percival, needed it for his Big Year.  Finding it allowed us avoid a day of Brandon's worrying about missing it for the year.  :)

A quick drive to Red Rocks Park for C. Poorwill was at first unsuccessful.  Just before leaving, I decided to try a very poor imitation of C. Poorwill.  Before Brandon and Tony were able to ridicule me about precisely how poor it was, a poorwill started calling back.  We jumped in the car and raced off, err rather, drove, to the Chatfield SP area.

This had been an unprecedented year for grassland birds in this area, and we hoped the birds would still be singing.  We were not disappointed as we quickly tallied Blue Grosbeak, Dickcissel, and Grasshopper Sparrow and most of the regular species south of the state park.

Our next plan was to drive into Roxborough State Park.  As we drove up to the entrance a sign reminding us that the park didn't open for another two hours greeted us.  Ah yes, another reason scouting tends to pays off!

We walked the lower loop at Waterton Canyon and quickly picked up Wood Duck, Cedar Waxwing, Plumbeous Vireo, and most of the common foothill birds.  The highlight was a male Calliope Hummingbird feeding at some thistles.  We were frustrated several times by birds that sounded similar to Indigo Buntings, all of which turned out to by hybrid Indigo - Lazuli Buntings.  Just before we got back to the car we found a real Indigo Bunting sitting at the top of a cottonwood.  Still, two of our main targets, American Redstart and Red-eyed Vireo were not to be found.

After more mediocre birding in the lower foothills, we headed to the highlands.  The high mountains were simply fantastic.  On Mt.  Evans we quickly found Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, American Pipit, Pine Grosbeak, Gray Jay, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Townsend's Solitaire, Lincoln's and White-crowned Sparrow and Wilson's Warbler.  In fact, we knew we were "in the zone" when a White-tailed Ptarmigan walked across the road on Mount Evans!

On a whim we decided to bird West Chicago Creek.  Our mountain success continued as we found Green-tailed Towhee, Red-naped Sapsucker, American Dipper, Red Crossbill, and Band-tailed Pigeon.

It was nearing eleven-thirty as we drove into Genesee Mountain Park, which we found full of picnickers.  We painstakingly pulled out Olive-sided Flycatcher, Mountain Bluebird, and all three species of nuthatch.  But our mountain euphoria ended; we missed both Western Bluebird and Williamson's Sapsucker.  It was time to leave and head onto the eastern plains.

We headed to Barr Lake to look for Bald Eagle, but found none.  Not wanting to waste too much time we almost passed up Lochbuie, but decided to stop there.  Before Brandon and I even had our scopes set up Tony had found a Snowy Egret and then an immature Little Blue Heron!

As we headed to Lower Lathum Reservoir, we because worried over the approaching storm clouds in the west.  We knew those clouds could make or break us.  Once at Lower Lathum, the birding Gods again smiled upon us.  Searching through the flocks of birds on the lake we cleaned up on the expected ducks and many of the shorebirds, plus a bonus Canvasback and super-bonus Common Loon.

By the time we arrived at Murphy's Pasture in Pawnee National Grasslands, we began to feel 40 mph winds and the first raindrops.  Our protocol was to get out, listen until we felt rain drops, get in, and head east for a couple of miles and repeat.  We soon had Lark Bunting, Brewer's Sparrow, and both longspurs.

A drive into Crow Valley Campground revealed we were there too late.  The winds were at least 40 mph and the rain had started coming down with increasing intensity.  We changed strategies: book it to the northeastern corner of the state.  We were distracted a couple times by small ponds off the sides of the road where we found Mountain Plover, Long-billed Curlew and Black-bellied Plover.

We arrived at Tamarack Ranch with about 30 minutes before the storm would hit in full force.  Even as we first got out of the car we were greeted with strong winds out of the west.  Birding was very difficult.  We picked Orchard Oriole, Brown Thrasher, Red-headed and Red-bellied woodpeckers before the storm hit in full force.  Brandon managed to pick out a Bell's Vireo, which probably blew into Nebraska before Tony and I could get there.  During the two hour downpour we tried many different strategies: shorebirding - couldn't see through the rain; scan for ducks on the lake - couldn't see through the rain; look for land birds - couldn't see through the rain; listen for sparrows - couldn't hear over the rain (forgetting the fact that nothing was singing).

The rain finally came to a stop about 20 minutes before sunset.  We quickly picked up Cassin's and Field sparrows.  Brandon got a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  Northern Bobwhite flushed from the side road.  Eventually darkness came.  A Green Heron that squawked from the edge of a marsh at Red Lion brought our total day list to 176.

This was a fantastic day of birding in Colorado, which surprised each of us.  As it turned out, we not only beat the previous August total but came up with one of the top three August big days anywhere in the US, and Colorado's third highest big day total in any month.  If we are only 24 species shy of 200 in August--when almost nothing was singing--it makes one wonder just how high the state big day record can be pushed.  Hopefully this spring will find the three of us in Colorado trying to figure that one out."

Species list

1. Common Loon
2. Pied-billed Grebe
3. Eared Grebe
4. Western Grebe
5. Clark's Grebe
6. American White Pelican
7. Double-crested Cormorant
8. Great Blue Heron
9. Great Egret
10. Snowy Egret
12. Cattle Egret
13. Green Heron
14. Black-crowned Night-Heron
15. Canada Goose
16. Wood Duck
17. Green-winged Teal
18. Mallard
19. Northern Pintail
20. Blue-winged Teal
21. Cinnamon Teal
22. Northern Shoveler
23. Gadwall
24. American Wigeon
25. Canvasback
26. Redhead
27. Common Merganser
28. Ruddy Duck
29. Turkey Vulture
30. Northern Harrier
31. Cooper's Hawk
32. Swainson's Hawk
33. Red-tailed Hawk
34. Golden Eagle
35. American Kestrel
36. Prairie Falcon
37. White-tailed Ptarmigan
38. Northern Bobwhite
39. Virginia Rail
40. Sora
41. American Coot
42. Black-bellied Plover
43. Killdeer
44. Mountain Plover
45. Black-necked Stilt
46. American Avocet
47. Greater Yellowlegs
48. Lesser Yellowlegs
49. Solitary Sandpiper
50. Spotted Sandpiper
51. Upland Sandpiper
52. Long-billed Curlew
53. Marbled Godwit
54. Semipalmated Sandpiper
55. Western Sandpiper
56. Least Sandpiper
57. Baird's Sandpiper
58. Dowitcher species
59. Wilson's Phalarope
60. Franklin's Gull
61. Ring-billed Gull
62. California Gull
63. Forster's Tern
64. Black Tern
65. Rock Dove
66. Band-tailed Pigeon
67. Mourning Dove
68. Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Tony and Chris missed it)
69. Eastern Screech-Owl
70. Great Horned Owl
71. Burrowing Owl
72. Common Nighthawk
73. Common Poorwill
74. Chimney Swift
75. White-throated Swift
76. Calliope Hummingbird (Brandon missed it)
77. Broad-tailed Hummingbird
78. Rufous Hummingbird
79. Belted Kingfisher
80. Red-headed Woodpecker
81. Red-bellied Woodpecker
82. Red-naped Sapsucker
83. Downy Woodpecker
84. Hairy Woodpecker
85. Northern Flicker
86. Olive-sided Flycatcher
87. Western Wood-Pewee
88. Cordilleran Flycatcher
89. Say's Phoebe
90. Western Kingbird
91. Eastern Kingbird
92. Horned Lark
93. Tree Swallow
94. Violet-green Swallow
95. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
96. Bank Swallow
97. Cliff Swallow
98. Barn Swallow
99. Gray Jay
100. Steller's Jay
101. Blue Jay
102. Western Scrub-Jay
103. Black-billed Magpie
104. American Crow
105. Common Raven
106. Black-capped Chickadee
107. Mountain Chickadee
108. Red-breasted Nuthatch
109. White-breasted Nuthatch
110. Pygmy Nuthatch
111. Brown Creeper
112. Canyon Wren
113. House Wren
114. Marsh Wren
115. American Dipper
116. Golden-crowned Kinglet
117. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
118. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
119. Eastern Bluebird (Tony and Brandon missed it)
120. Mountain Bluebird
121. Townsend's Solitaire
122. American Robin
123. Gray Catbird (Tony missed it)
124. Brown Thrasher
125. American Pipit
126. Cedar Waxwing
127. Loggerhead Shrike
128. European Starling
129. Bell's Vireo (Chris and Tony missed it)
130. Plumbeous Vireo
131. Warbling Vireo
132. Yellow Warbler
133. Yellow-rumped Warbler
134. Common Yellowthroat
135. Wilson's Warbler
136. Yellow-breasted Chat
137. Western Tanager
138. Black-headed Grosbeak
139. Blue Grosbeak
140. Lazuli Bunting
141. Indigo Bunting
142. Dickcissel
143. Green-tailed Towhee (Brandon missed it)
144. Spotted Towhee
145. Cassin's Sparrow
146. Chipping Sparrow
147. Brewer's Sparrow
148. Field Sparrow
149. Lark Sparrow
150. Lark Bunting
151. Savannah Sparrow
152. Grasshopper Sparrow
153. Song Sparrow
154. Lincoln's Sparrow
155. White-crowned Sparrow
156. Dark-eyed Junco
157. McCown's Longspur
158. Chestnut-collared Longspur
159. Red-winged Blackbird
160. Western Meadowlark
161. Yellow-headed Blackbird
162. Brewer's Blackbird
163. Common Grackle
164. Brown-headed Cowbird
165. Orchard Oriole
166. Bullock's Oriole
167. Brown-capped Rosy-Finch
168. Pine Grosbeak
169. Cassin's Finch
170. House Finch
171. Red Crossbill
172. Pine Siskin
173. Lesser Goldfinch
174. American Goldfinch
175. Evening Grosbeak
176. House Sparrow

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