Friday, August 17, 2007

Trip Report Part 3: Otero County (Aug 5, cont.)

Continued from Part 2

Well, I guess I should take a quick aside and say that these first two days are the most photo- and herp-rich of the trip, and thus its taken me several post just to get through the first weekend. The rest of the trip won't be nearly so detailed and should be faster - it's mostly birds I don't have pictures of. Finally, here are two links for further trip enjoyment - Joe Farah's take, and my photo albums (still being added). That said - back to Otero.

Around midday on Sunday, Shawn Billerman and I split with Joe Farah and turned south to try some more birding spots in southeast Colorado. We had our eyes on another long dirt road which the Colorado Birdfinding Guide told us was good for Black-throated Sparrow. Farther down the road, we hoped to head into some hills and then reach the river which had eluded us earlier.

The road turned off the highway into large expanses of ranches. Scraggly sunflowers grew alongside the road, and the habitat included a lot of cholla cactus. We slowly pursued multiple sparrow flocks along the roadside, including Lark Buntings, Lark Sparrows, even Chipping Sparrows, seemingly out-of-place. As we inched along the roadside in the car, I spied a low brown thing darting out of sight behind a tussock. Thinking it was another sparrow, I stopped and looked quickly with the bins through the windshield... and saw a Horned Lizard looking back! I yelled "PHRYNOSOMA", threw the car into park, and bolted out the door after it. I ran to the spot I saw it and froze. I looked all around, seeing nothing. Finally, just three feet from my foot, I saw the Texas Horned Lizard frozen against the ground. Phrynosoma cornutum - the ultimate trip herp!

(Photo by Shawn Billerman)

(Photo by Shawn Billerman)

This guy was very obliging. He seemed to switch between two defense modes - bolting in his odd little gate, and freezing absolutely still. This even allowed him to be picked up briefly, from which he did struggle. I'm just a little disappointed we didn't see his third defense mode - squirting blood from his eyes. During one of his mad dashes, which sent us chasing through the roadside weeds and caused some weird looks from the pickups driving by, we scared up a second cornutum - one much more dully patterned, without the yellow highlights this individual had.

After a few brief minutes of photos and basking in this awesome lizard's glory, we let him on his way to continue terrorizing ant colonies.

Farther down the road, Western Kingbirds were abundant, along with the aforementioned sparrow flocks. We never did find the Black-throated Sparrow, and the cholla habitat began to degrade as we moved into more heavily grazed cattle paddocks. A few more Chihuahuan Ravens flew around calling, and one individual preening on a telephone pole gave us brief but distinctive glimpses of the white feather bases on his nape - the only plumage mark that distinguishes them from Common Ravens and gives them their specific name, cryptoleucos.

We turned and began to drive through a series of hills towards the river. The cholla lowlands were replaced by juniper on the hillsides. We soon realized that Cassin's Kingbirds had replaced the Western Kingbirds - yet another lifer. While stopped to look at our first Loggerhead Shrike, an unfamiliar call note on the hill behind us had us puzzled. After several minutes of looking in vain at the juniper, the bird flew between trees - Pinyon Jay! A few more glimpses of the bird calling and flying, and then it flew away. An unexpected and welcome species.

Farther up in the hills, we finally decided to turn back and not reach the river. The road was deteriorating, it was taking too long, and I was a little worried about not having a high-clearance vehicle. On the way back down the hill, we stopped abruptly when Shawn spotted a Rock Wren on the small clifface next to the road. I never got on that bird, but spishing and Shawn's Pygmy-Owl imitation caused a few Juniper Titmice and Bewick's Wrens to appear from the nearby ravine.

By now exhaustion was really hitting me, and it was getting on in the day. We decided to try one more spot in the southeast before heading back to Pueblo - John Martin Reservoir State Park. On the way in the towns of La Junta and Las Animas, we were delighted to see several pairs of Mississippi Kites low overhead. We refueled in Las Animas, eating at a very good Mexican place - first time I've had real Mexican food since our trip last year - and then heading around the Reservoir.

We drove another long dirt road through some light sage-type prairie habitat. We got a few more birds - Blue Grosbeak (lifer!) and Swainson's Hawk.

While driving down that road, I spotted another jerking movement on the roadside. Immediately thinking of the earlier Phrynosoma, I halted the car, jumped out and searched the roadside. Feral melons were growing along the shoulder, and they were covered in these Spotted Cucumber Beetles (Diabrotica undecimpunctata):

Pushing aside the melon leaves, Shawn and I found this guy staring back, another P. cornutum:

Farther down the road, we came across a very old Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata) crossing the road.

(Photo by Shawn Billerman)

We finally arrived at the State Park headquarters around 6:30pm to get a park pass, so we could head down below the dam and look for water- and shorebirds. After walking out with my pass, disaster struck - I locked the keys in the car. My cellphone had no service, and Shawn's cell died as we were calling AAA. The visitor's center, although closing imminently, graciously allowed us to call for AAA help. This snafu killed the rest of the evening as we waited for help to arrive. I pickup up Yellow-headed Blackbird and Cinnamon Teal as lifers behind the center, before taking a much-needed nap.

By the time the AAA guy came and gave us our car back, it was nearly twilight. We tried to bird in the remaining light downriver of the dam, but we turned nothing up. On the way back, I did run into a few Woodhouse's Toads (Bufo woodhousii) - the last new herp species of this leg of the trip.

We decided to road-cruise back down the nearby dirt road in the dark, as we were treated to an excellent lightning show from evening storms in the distance. We pretty quickly ran into a family group of Burrowing Owls on the road, including this fledgling who wouldn't move. Shawn had to shoo him away.

(Photo by Shawn Billerman)

We didn't turn up any snakes - in fact, the Plains Garter was the only snake on the entire trip out west! - but we did find many Woodhouse's Toads, including this mammoth beast.

This finishes the Otero County leg of our trip. From Las Animas and La Junta, we drove west in the night back to Pueblo, with intentions of birding the mountains west of Pueblo in the morning.

So, finishing up this portion of the trip, here are our checklists. My lifers are in caps. X's indicate no counts. TMTC = too many to count

Herps (in order of appearance)

NEW MEXICO SPADEFOOT (Spea multiplicata) - 13
TIGER SALAMANDER (Ambystoma tigrinum) - 2
COLLARED LIZARD (Crotaphytus collaris) - 1
PRAIRIE LIZARD (Sceloporus undulatus) - 9
ORNATE BOX TURTLE (Terrapene ornata) - 2
PLAINS GARTER (Thamnophis radix) - 1
WHIPTAIL spp. (Cnemidophorus sp.) - 3
SIX-LINED RACERUNNER (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus) - 1
TEXAS HORNED LIZARD (Phrynosoma cornutum) - 3
WOODHOUSE'S TOAD (Bufo woodhousii) - 29


PRONGHORN (Antilocapra americana) - 5
BLACK-TAILED JACKRABBIT (Lepus californicus) - x
DESERT COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus audubonii) - x
ORD'S KANGAROO RAT (Dipodomys ordii) - 1
Cattle (Bos taurus) - TMTC


Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) - 4
CINNAMON TEAL (Anas cyanoptera) - 17
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) -1
White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi) - 11
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) - 3
MISSISSIPPI KITE (Ictinia mississippiensis) - 9
Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) - 2
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) - 1
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) - 3
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous) - 7
Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) - 2
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) - 5
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) - 12
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) - x
BARN OWL (Tyto alba) - 2
BURROWING OWL (Athene cunicularia) - 18
Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) - 6
Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) - 3
Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris) - 1
SAY’S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya) - 1
CASSIN’S KINGBIRD (Tyrannus vociferans) - 6
WESTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus verticalis) - x
Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) - 4
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus) - 1
Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) - 1
PINYON JAY (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus) - 1
CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN (Corvus cryptoleucus) - 14
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) - 40
JUNIPER TITMOUSE (Baeolophus ridgwayi) - 2
Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus) - 1
CANYON WREN (Catherpes mexicanus) - 4
BEWICK’S WREN (Thryomanes bewickii) - 1
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) - 4
CANYON TOWHEE (Pipilo fuscus) - 1
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerine) - 4
Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) - x
LARK BUNTING (Calamospiza melanocorys) - x
BAIRD’S SPARROW (Ammodramus bairdii) - 1
BLUE GROSBEAK (Passerina caerulea) - 6
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) - 1
WESTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella neglecta) - 18
YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) - 2
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) - x
Bullock’s Oriole (Icterus bullockii) - 7

Part 4: Temple Canyon Park


  1. I think what you are doing is vary cool,I my self love animals.

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