“It’s a baby Chukar!” There less than 8 feet from the car was a tiny 5” grouse-like bird that could only be a Chukar chick. It started to move up the rocky slope and as it moved a second chick followed. Bill yelled “There’s an adult female as well”. The female was stunning in it’s boldly patterned plumage. I grabbed my camera and began firing. The female was reluctant to fly, instead she escorted her two chicks up the slope allowing me to snap a few photos.
Bill Kaempfer and I were in Escalante Canyon west of Delta, Colorado. It was perfect Chukar habitat. Steep, rocky desert slopes flowing down to a riparian stream. The Chukar were coming down for an evening drink. It was the perfect ending of a day and a half of successful birding. The wheels were back on the “Big Year” bus. I picked Bill up at 3:45 PM yesterday. By 8:15 PM we had driven over 200 miles, found a Neotropical Cormorant in Crowley County, seen a Swift Fox mother with five kits and were heading towards Bent’s Old Fort for Black Rail.
Many people don’t realize what a healthy population of Black Rails exists in the marshes of the Arkansas River Valley of eastern Colorado. Tony Leukering reported over forty calling birds while doing the Breeding Bird Atlas Survey several weeks ago. We didn’t hear them at Bent’s Fort but heard at least four calling birds east at Ft. Lyon. This was a relief for me more than enjoyable. We then drove long onto the night to Pueblo.
This morning we drove west on US 50 over Monarch Pass to Gunnison where we tried unsuccessfully for Gunnison Sage-Grouse. We did, however, have better luck at Box Canyon just east of Ouray. A Black Swift (and only one-none had been seen two days ago) was on it’s nest near the falls. Bingo! “Black” seemed to be the trip“color”.
But we weren’t done. After driving to Delta and checking into our room, we decided on a late afternoon/evening drive to Escalante Canyon. I’m pretty happy right now and tomorrow should bring more optimisim. Bill suggested we switch trip colors from “black” to “gray” or “dusky”- as in Gray Vireo and Dusky Grouse. The Big Year Express may not be zooming through North Dakota, but its chugging through the mountains of Colorado. Stay tuned.