Sunday, August 19, 2007

Trip Report Part 6: Rocky Mountain National Park (Aug 7)

Tired of trip reports yet? Haha... I'm probably going to have 10 posts in all. If you want to skip all my writing and just look at pictures, I'm posting my albums here. It's not my normal webshots page, because I've switched to photobucket for the ease of use in posting photos. Anyways, check out the photos there, especially if you want to see larger versions. The small versions in these post just don't do the photos justice. You can also click on the pictures in my post and view a large version. With all that aside, where does that leave me?

Tuesday, August 7th. I awoke after not enough sleep, quite exhausted from the nearly 750 miles I'd driven since Saturday night. Even though it meant missing out some morning herping at some spots near Denver, I very much needed to crash last night in Idaho Springs and get a little extra sleep. I couldn't be happier for it to be Tuesday, because I was driving down to Denver to pick up our friends and recent Cornell graduates, Ben Winger and Scott Haber, who were renting a different car and taking over driving duties. We made our rendezvous with them and got out of the city by mid-morning, heading north for Rocky Mountain National Park, and Laramie, WY by nightfall for our ultimate goal: the AOU conference.

I think I slept most of the way, I can't remember much of the drive either way, but I do remember making one stop along the way. We saw a Golden Eagle soaring overhead, and heard Lesser Goldfinches calling. Those would be a lifer for me, so we pulled off and spent a few minutes until I found them. I ended up seeing several of both genders. Lazuli Buntings were heard calling, another potential lifer for me, but I missed them.

The park itself was very populated. Around the entrance visitor's center we had a few Violet-green Swallows flying around, providing better looks than my lifer look just yesterday. There was also good scenery starting right at the entrance:

Scott and Ben were both also hoping for the high-elevation specialties, Brown-capped Rosy-Finch and White-tailed Ptarmigan, so we decided to head up to the far top of Trail Ridge Road, which runs along an alpine tundra ridge, and then work our way back down. Of course it didn't work that way.

We first made a stop on the road off to Endovalley. Where a creek comes Roaring down out of the mountains, creating an alluvial fan in the valley, we found Dipper. Dipper are fascinating birds, I could go on at length about them. Instead, check out some video clips from Macaulay.

In the picnic area near the Alluvial Fan, which was packed with tourists, family groups of Stellar's Jays, Chipmunks, and Ground Squirrels were abundant and tame. I couldn't resist getting some shots, but they didn't all turn out as well as I hoped. The Stellar's Jays were a lot of fun, though.

Wyoming Ground-Squirrel

We continued down the Endovalley side road to the campground. There we spent some time walking around in the coniferous forest, seeing a few new things. We got a glimpse at MacGillivray's Warbler, some tantalizing but too-quick-for ID finchy flyovers, a Clark's Nutcracker, and Red Squirrel. We also found this cool Tachinid Fly, Adejeania vexatrix (thanks again Will for the insect ID's).

Finally, we decided to get ourselves up the main road and back into alpine tundra. We drove up the mountains, right into rain and, of all things you wanted to find on a narrow road at 12,000 feet, construction and traffic. It was miserable and cold, and we clawed our way most of the way down the road to the Alpine Visitors Center. The Center was packed with tourists avoiding the traffic and the rain. We tried vainly at the overlook windows to scan for Rosy-Finch, but couldn't see anything but more Pipits and decided to turn back.

On the way back, we did a little hiking at the Rock Cut pulloff, with no luck on alpine birds. On the way past Rock Cut, we did run into some roadside Elk:

As we continued back down the road, I snagged some more good scenery pics. The mountains across the valley are the Continental Divide.

The rain stopped just in time for the last alpine pulloff, the Ute Trail. Scott, Ben, Shawn and I got out for a little hiking. We found no birds, but we did get a new mammal and some great views.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

One of my favorite shots from the whole trip. Be sure to view this one full-size:

We were really itching to get off the mountain and get to Laramie, but we made one last stop on the way down to a pulloff where Clark's Nutcrackers come in for handouts. We weren't disappointed: Nutcrackers, Gray Jays, Stellar's Jays, Colorado/Uinta Chipmunks, and Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrels all made appearances. At one point we could get all three corvids in one binocular view.

Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel
Colorado/Uinta Chipmunk
By far the farthest Nutcracker:
(Photo by Shawn Billerman)

Here is a video demonstrating how approachable the Nutcrackers were:

And a video in which a Nutcracker gives its unmusical call:

As you can guess by now, I have quite fallen in love with western corvids!

The view from this overlook was spectacular. You can even see the alluvial fan where the Dippers were:

(Previous 2 photos by Shawn Billerman)

From here, it was time to head out. While dining in Estes Park, we picked up one more bird - my lifer White-throated Swifts, then drove into the night to reach Laramie, Wyoming.

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


Colorado or Uinta Chipmunks (Tamias quadrivittatus or umbrinus) - x
Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis) - 2
WYOMING GROUND-SQUIRREL (Spermophilus elegans) - 1
YELLOW-BELLIED MARMOT (Marmota flaviventris) - 3
ELK (Cervus canadensis) - 3


Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) - 1
Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) - 2
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) - 5
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) - 1
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) - 3
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) - x
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) - x
WHITE-THROATED SWIFT (Aeronautes saxatalis) - 3
Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) - 7
Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) - 3
Gray Jay (Perisoreus canadensis) - 4
Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) - 15
Clark’s Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) - 6
Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia) - 20
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) - 10
Common Raven (Corvus corax) - x
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) - 1
Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) - x
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) - x
Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) - 10
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) - 1
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) - 2
AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus) - 3
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) - 3
Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) - 10
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - x
American Pipit (Anthus rubescens) - 6
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata) - 4
MacGillivray’s Warbler (Oporornis tolmiei) - 1
Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena) - 1
Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus) - 1
LESSER GOLDFINCH (Carduelis psaltria) - 10
American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) - 4

Part 7: Laramie, WY


  1. Hey Nick,
    I've read all the trip reports up to this point, and I must say that your commentary and pics were thoroughly enjoyable. I'm sure I would have appreciated it more if I knew anything about birds, but it was still great. The Phrynos and the tiger and the collard are soooooo cool. Only one snake though, that must have been hard on you :). Once again, great reports, and I can't wait for the remainder.


  2. Thanks! More will be coming, but I'll be held up for a few days as I move to my new apartment. Oh, and class starts Thursday, gotta get ready for that too.

    ~ Nick