Sunday, August 19, 2007

Trip Report Part 5: Mt. Evans (Aug 6, cont)

(Photo by Shawn Billerman)

Is this a scene from the flight into Colorado? Nope. It's a scene from the top of the world: Mt. Evans. Shawn and I drove all afternoon from Canon City to this Fourteener west of Denver to find Brown-capped Rosy-Finch - a rare mountaintop finch whose breeding range is nearly restricted to Colorado. Mt. Evans was a golden choice to find this bird for so many reasons - close to Denver, where we would need to be the next day; it's ridiculously high at 14,264 feet; it's a known spot for Rosy-Finch, in fact one of the most reliable; it is true arctic, not just alpine, tundra - it is one of the only known locations for permafrost in the lower 48; and finally, there is a paved road nearly to the peak.

After driving through rain and traffic into the mountains west of Denver, we were a little worried that we'd be denied a chance to get up the mountain. However, as we turned onto the start of the by-way in Idaho Springs, the rain had begun to break up. We climbed up quite a ways to the campsite park area around Echo Lake at 10,600 ft. From there, a right turn onto the start of the 'real' Mt. Evans Scenic By-way. We stopped at the road toll-booth when we noticed a buzzing hummingbird feeder. At least 12 to 15 Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were buzzing around and crowding the feeder. We quickly picked out a Rufous with them, too. They allowed us to approach quite close and get a few photos:

(Photo by Shawn Billerman)

The Rufous
(Photo by Shawn Billerman)

I also managed to get this video of the feeder:

And this video, of the Broad-tails mobbing a Sapsucker (sorry for the sideways bit, anyone know a video editor to fix this?):

After enjoying the Hummingbirds for a bit, and a new pseudo-lifer, Gray-headed Junco, we carried on up the hill. It was getting on in the afternoon and we needed to get over 13,000 feet for the Rosy-Finches.

A recurrence of rain (or rather, at this altitude, cloud) caused us to pull off just as we peaked above treeline. I used the opportunity to soak in the alpine meadow beauty. As a side note, I'll edit in the alpine flower ID's at a later point.

Me playing Arctic explorer

The clouds broke up again, and we proceeded up the road to the summit at a slow pace. Driving the road was an intense experience, with no shoulder and steep drop-offs right next to the road. At times the edge of the blacktop crumbled off into the abyss.

(Photo by Shawn Billerman)

I took my sweet time, but eventually we climbed to 13,000 feet and reached the arctic tundra at Summit Lake, under the shadow of the Mt. Evans peak another 1200 feet above. The road continued on until just a short hike from the summit, but I was not ready for another round of intense switchbacks. We had to find the Rosy-Finch before light faded.

The scenery around Summit Lake was amazing, even if it was bitterly cold. There were meadows full of flowers, Pipits flying all around, and loads of Pikas calling from the talus slopes above. We heard no Rosy-Finches.

(Photo by Shawn Billerman)

We followed directions from the Colorado birding listserve on where the finches were, and hiked a short distance west around the lake, to a small pass overlooking this amazing valley, the Chicago Lakes:

(Photo by Shawn Billerman)

Shawn wondered where the Rosy-Finches might be...

... and searched in vain...
... when I heard an unfamiliar call note, and saw a Brown-capped Rosy-Finch feeding on a boulder just 20 yards behind Shawn! This would be a great time to show off amazing photos of the bird, but I have none. After brief but amazing looks at close range, the bird flew up onto the rocky slope above the overlook. We watched it for several more minutes as it probed around the crevices in the rocks for food.

Needless to say, we were THRILLED.

After the bird finally moved on out of sight, it was getting to be 6 or 7 in the evening, and it was time to head back down. On the way out, while pausing to catch our breath from the high altitude, I snapped a few more scenery and flower pics.

Colorado or Uinta Chipmunk
"It's not that high!"

As we headed out, some more clouds rolled in, but below our altitude, making for some great scenery on the way down. Also on the way out, we ran into some family groups of Mountain Bluebirds:

Me showing the extreme stress of mountain driving
(Previous 3 photos by Shawn Billerman)

We exited the road up to Mt. Evans with enough time to bird around Echo Lake. We were hoping for some Three-toed Woodpeckers that had been reported in the area, but had no such luck. We did get Red-naped Sapsucker, however.

You can tell it's a Red-naped Sapsucker, right?

After Echo Lake, it was too dim to bird, so we headed back down to Idaho Springs for dinner. I was too throughly exhausted from our marathon run from Friday night until today (Monday night), so we collapsed in a local hotel rather than make the drive back to Denver.

Our lists for Mt. Evans. My lifers are in caps. X's indicate no counts. TMTC = too many to count


PIKA (Ochotona princeps) - x
Colorado or Uinta Chipmunk (Tamias quadrivittatus or umbrinus) - 1


Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) - 3
Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) - 17
Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) - 1
RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus nuchalis) - 2
Gray Jay (Perisoreus canadensis) - 4
STELLER’S JAY (Cyanocitta stelleri) - 1
Common Raven (Corvus corax) - 10
MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE (Poecile gambeli) - 16
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) - 2
MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD (Sialia currucoides) - 10
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) - x
American Pipit (Anthus rubescens) - x
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata) - 5
Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) - 3
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) - 2
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) - 8
BROWN-CAPPED ROSY-FINCH (Leucosticte australis) - 1
Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus) - 12

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