Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A week at Camp Colorado!

Last week felt like the longest week ever, but now that I'm home, it feels like it was over way too soon. And when I say that it was an incredibly long week, that's a good thing! It was 7 days packed full of birding, and learning, and games, and traveling. Our mornings started as early as 4am, and ended as late as 10pm. I learned SO MUCH. And I met many amazing people! All of my fellow campers were friendly and fun to bird with, and the guides were so welcoming. I can't even begin to tell you everything that happened. But I can try. As Bill Stewart told us on Thursday night, "start anywhere." ;)

Basically, there were 20 kids from all over the country (including one girl from South Korea!) and 8 adults attempting to reign us in. The guides were Bill Stewart and Jennie Duberstein (the camp coordinators), Jeff Gordon (the President of the American Birding Association) and his wife Liz Gordon (the Magician of the ABA), Jeff Bouton and David La Puma (from Leica Optics - and they brought Travis the Traveling Trinovid), Steve Howell (an author and tour leader for WINGS), and guest leader Ted Floyd (the Editor of Birding Magazine).

A normal day consisted of us waking up nice and early, birding the entire morning and part of the afternoon,  having an hour or two of down-time, then going to an evening presentation. But that skeleton schedule doesn't convey any of the juicy details. And the details. Are so nice and juicy.

Heading down into Phantom Canyon.

The birding I did with this group was the best birding I have ever experienced. We were with guides who knew the area and the birds really well. They pointed out birds I would never have seen by myself, like the Black Swifts that Steve spotted while we were eating snack.

We were lucky enough to find 5 Black Swifts during the trip!

They also told us really interesting information, like when Jennie explained that Red Crossbills can have "left-handed" or "right-handed" bills to help them pry open pine cones twisted to the left or right.

A left-handed (I think?) Red Crossbill.

Actually, the guides told us new information about pretty much every species we found. They made sure we not only saw the bird, but we learned something about it. They didn't just say "oh yeah, that's a Western Kingbird" and move on. They talked about its characteristics and its taxonomy and its range. When the guides looked at a bird, they saw its whole natural history. It was such a cool way to look at the world! I'm excited to try this with my home birds, too. It looks like I have a lot of reading and studying ahead of me!

Plus, it was super fun to bird with all of the kids! Everyone had some unique skill or bank of knowledge that they could share. Some people were super good at bird calls, other people had really sharp eyes, still others had, like, encyclopedic knowledge of field marks. Some people were constantly watching for birds out of car windows and going birding even during down-time, others were more casual. It was really nice to see and compare and learn from 19 other birders.

Everyone admiring a Mule Deer.

The deer in question.

One of our favorite things was to compare birding experiences. Because most species aren't found all over the United States, and even if they are, they might look or sound different. So we had some fun exchanges like: "Have you seen a Red-breasted Sapsucker?" - "Yes, but they're not very common." Or: "What's that song?" - "Oh, it's a Song Sparrow!" - "Wow, my Song Sparrows sound nothing like that." Seeing even my common birds was neat, because I'm used to California subspecies which look and sound a certain way, and here were all these slightly tweaked Rocky Mountain subspecies.

Their Western Scrub-jays sounded like my Yellow-billed Magpies!

Of course, it wasn't just the subspecies that were neat - it was all the completely new species, too! I ended up seeing 28 new species. And they were all so awesome! On Monday we went to Endo Valley and Beaver Meadows in Rocky Mountain National Park. That's where I got my lifer Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. This is a mother and her chick.

We saw a pair of American Dippers, too! We actually found them immediately upon reaching this waterfall. It wasn't until later that I found out Dippers can be very elusive, and we were lucky to get them so quickly.

On Tuesday, we woke up dark and early at 3:45 am, and were on the road by 4:30 am to the Pawnee Grasslands. One of my favorite species out on the Grasslands was the McCown's Longspur, but I didn't get any pictures. We also saw Mountain Plovers (!!!) and got a SUPER CLOSE LOOK at a Golden Eagle! Other cool birds we found were....

We actually saw 3 Common Nighthawks out there! This one was perched happily in the open. We drooled over it for about half an hour before the guides tore us away to conduct the actual bird walk.

Lark Buntings! I was hoping to see one of these beauties. We saw at least 50 males and females flitting around the Grasslands.

And when we made it back to the YMCA, we took the hour of free time... and went birding. This was pretty normal. The kids at this camp were super passionate and took every chance to bird the hill behind our cabin. Their enthusiasm was and still is amazingly inspiring. Anyways, that hill is where I found this bird, which I mistook for a Red-naped Sapsucker--- but it was actually a gorgeous male Williamson's Sapsucker!

On Wednesday, we went to the tippity top of a peak in the Rocky Mountain National Park. We found birds like White-tailed Ptarmigans and a Townsend's Solitaire, which were lifers, and White-crowned Sparrows and Horned Larks, which were not.

I didn't get pictures of birds, but here's a cute Pika! :)

Thursday was another early-wake-up day, and we drove up to Phantom Canyon, which is a piece of land owned by the Nature Conservancy. It was a really enjoyable hike down to the bottom, where I got my lifer Lazuli Buntings and Cordilleran Flycatcher. It was a harder hike back up to the top. But it's okay, because I had some friends who ran up the trail with me, and running made it easier (?).

The view down into Phantom Canyon.
 Right about this moment is when I dropped my lens cap into the canyon. Goodbye, sweet lens cap. May you live happily amongst the Green-tailed Towhees and Mule Deer.

On Friday, we got to choose where we wanted to go. I chose to go with one group to Cow Creek, and the other group went up to Wild Basin. Cow Creek was really nice! We saw lots of lovely species, and this late in the week, I could finally identify a few of them myself. :) The walk was also lovely. Colorado has an amazing skyline. Every where we went, we were either surrounded by gorgeous mountains, or endless plains. I'm used to California extending in every direction away from me. Colorado felt like it was right up against me with its peaks and its cliff faces. It was beautiful.

Cedar Waxwing at the beginning of our Cow Creek walk.

Hairy Woodpecker at the end. :)

And a super fun thing about Friday was the bird banding at the YMCA. Scott Rashid came to the Y and set up his nets and invited us to watch. Essentially, bird banding is where a licensed birder catches a wild bird, records some information about it, puts a band on it, and lets it go. If the bird is found again, the band number is sent to the Bird Banding Laboratory. The Laboratory can compare when and where the bird was banded, to when and where it was found again. Bird banders have been doing this since 1914, and we've learned some really cool stuff about migrations and life spans as a result.

This was my first bird banding, and it was super rad!! Mr. Rashid caught a lot of Rufous and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Pine Siskins, Lincoln's Sparrows, and Green-tailed Towhees. I got to release a Pine Siskin. Holding a wild bird in my hand was... amazing.

A Pine Siskin getting banded.

My lifer Evening Grosbeaks at the banding station.

So bird banding was every kind of cool. We had plenty of other cool evening activities, too! Every night, we listened to a presentation. The first night was a talk from Steve Howell about how to use field guides. You would think we already knew how to use field guides, but he had some really interesting pointers. The night after that was a talk from David La Puma about his work with radar ornithology, which is a SUPER COOL way to predict migrations. (You can check out his work at his website, Woodcreeper.) The night after was Bill Stewart with a very inspiring talk on conservation. The guides were constantly reminding us we still have a lot to learn. I came away from every talk looking forward to learning more.

Oh yeah, and the very last night, we played a frisbee game called Kan Jam. I sucked. I sucked hard-core. But my teammate, Sarah, and I did manage to get 3 points. That is a SUCCESS.

En fin, Camp Colorado was absolutely amazing. I was a bit worried about being too inexperienced, or not being able to make friends, but I shouldn't have worried at all. Everyone was friendly. All of the birds were great. It was 7 days of constant fun, constant birding, constantly being surrounded by people who understood my passion, and encouraged me to be even more passionate. I learned a whole lot, and I'm excited to learn more.

Again, thank you to the Central Valley Bird Club for their scholarship! I was one of only two young birders to receive the scholarship, and I am super grateful. Camp Colorado was splendid. And the CBVC covered a huge expense by paying for my registration. There are actually no words for me to express my gratitude. But, I'll try: Thank you so much. I encourage everyone to check out and support this awesome organization! One of their upcoming events is the Central Valley Birding Symposium, which will be held in Stockton this November. I've never been, but I want to! I hear it's a lot of fun. And if you know a young birder, or ARE a young birder, you could apply for their scholarship next year!


  1. we saw six black swifts ;) but your blog is AMAZING!! :D
    -shiny chicken

    1. Thanks, Rachel! And I only counted 5, you guys must have been more observant than me. :P

  2. I agree with Rachel, we saw 6 Black Swifts!!
    Your blog is so awesome! Posting a link from mine to yours!
    Remember to sign up for Flickr! When you do email me at jack@4rogers.com !

    1. Thanks for the compliment! :) And I wasn't really planning to make a Flickr? But I guess I can!

      Is your blog the "Bird-nerds gone wild" that I see on your profile?

  3. I was thinking about you the whole time you were there and I was dying to hear about it! But then I got so swamped with getting ready for Chiricahua (I leave Tuesday!) that I forgot to check until today. Wow, sounds like you had an incredible time!!! So happy for you! :D Awesome pics as usual ;)

    1. Thanks, Sarah! You were thinking of me? That's so sweet!

      I can't wait until you come back from Chiricahua and are full of stories like these! ;D