Monday, August 13, 2007

Trip Report Part 1: Otero County (Aug 3-4)

Our trip started with nearly 24 hours of travel. We left the Hughes summer-end social Friday night and headed home to rapidly finish packing and cleaning (both Shawn and I needed to be ready to move the day we get back). We boarded a Shortline to NY bright and early at 1am, arriving in Port Authority after 6am, hopped a train to Newark, sat around the airport for several hours, and finally flew out of Newark after noon on Saturday. I was very relieved to finally touch down in the Denver Airport around 6pm (Mountain Time) on Saturday - I'll just say I prefer to fly vicariously.

As we taxied to a stop, Shawn and I had already drawn our binoculars and were eager to try to spot our first trip bird and potentially my first lifer. I had bet the first bird would be pigeon, Shawn was betting Great-tailed Grackle. Well, it was Mourning Dove on the tarmac - they were abundant on the prairie, it turns out. I was closer on the bet than Shawn, and we never even saw a Great-tailed Grackle!

Joe picked us up and we headed out on the prairie south of the airport (the Denver Airport is set west of the city in a pretty undeveloped bit of prairie and sunflower fields), trying to find my rental-car place. It took 3 drives down the same road to find it, but along the way we encountered a Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) town right by the road, that yielded my first lifer: Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia).

This was a bird Joe was particularly pleased to see (he's primarily a herp guy), and he seemed surprised at our ability to turn up good birds so fast. Then, of course, he saw a good pile of cover rocks and took off running:

With a refueling dinner and a fully fueled rental car, we took off southward in the rain-filled twilight following Joe to Otero County.

By the way, check out this google map I created showing the route of our total Co/Wy trip if you want to follow along.

As a surprise, I picked up a second lifer driving from Pueblo to La Junta: Barn Owl (Tyto alba) flying through the light from a lamppost. I never expected my first two lifers to be owls!

Arriving in La Junta well after dark around 11pm, we spent some time driving around looking for the road south of town, pulling over along said road to chase toads hopping across in the drizzling rain, then reversing course after several miles to get gas before heading off into the wilderness.

Driving south out of town, the rain tapered off, although lightning and rain clouds hovered around nearby. We turned off the main road and headed into the dirt-road cattle-paddock wilderness of Comanche National Grasslands, scaring up a second Barn Owl in the process.

Despite it being nearly 1am at this point, we parked my rental at the spot where we planned on sleeping, and turned around to do some roadcruising in Joe's car. We scattered a few Black-tailed Jackrabbits (Lepus californicus) off the road, along with a few macro invertebrates, such as this beasty:

There was a distinct lack of herps, even with the rain earlier in the evening. We began to wonder if the rain had missed this placed entirely. Finally we found a muddy bit of water persisting under a culvert. This culvert yielded the first herps and a lifer for all: young New Mexico Spadefoots (Spea multiplicata).

Check out the spades:

Shawn's photos highlight the golden eyes:
(previous three photos by Shawn Billerman)

We also found this little guy, which we speculated was a Green Toad (Bufo debilis) but decided was a very young spadefoot after finding a second one intermediate between this and the bigger spadefeet:

(photo by Shawn Billerman)

After that very successful culvert, and still encountering a lack of any other herps along the roads, we started culvert-hopping, finding more spadefeet in the muddy waters. At the biggest culvert yet, there was significant standing water left over, where we found a larval Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum), and this freshly-transformed adult:

(photo by Shawn Billerman)

We then went off-road and hiked for a bit up the gully leading to this culvert, turning up only more spadefeet despite lots of ample cover and good habitat. By now it was 3am, and Shawn and I were ready to drop. We returned to the parking lot and slept deeply until dawn only three hours away...

Part 2: Otero County (Aug 5)

1 comment:

  1. I just knew you guys would find some cool herps!