Rocky Mountain National Park

We took a quick trip to Colorado for a family reunion. There wasn’t much time for hardcore birding, but we made a quick pass through Rocky Mountain National Park.

Moose are always a treat to see, provided you are a respectful distance away.

Elk are seemingly everywhere in the park. This young bull was rather shy, which I was grateful for since I needed to walk down the path where he was lounging.

This large bull didn’t even bother looking at people. He was quite comfortable where he was.

The main target of my visit to the park was White-tailed Ptarmigan. This species is notorious for walking right up to non-birders, but often proves a challenge for those actually trying to see it. I have searched for this species in Rocky Mountain NP on several previous occasions, as well as at Glacier NP and Mt. Rainier NP. I finally connected with this bird by hiking to a site where they had been reported consistently in recent days and then scanning the tundra for about half an hour. She was quite far away, and I couldn’t get closer without leaving the trail and damaging the fragile tundra, so I made do with a distant view of this female and her four babies. This is the first lifer I have seen since January of 2018, so I was thankful for any view at all.

After finding the ptarmigan, I stopped at a large snow field to look for Brown-capped Rosy-Finches. Two lifers in one morning was a little too much to hope for, but I did find this Horned Lark, which is always a treat.
By late morning, the traffic and crowds were becoming unbearable, an unfortunate result of this park’s popularity. So I didn’t have a chance to study the small furry critters that often present themselves at close range here.

The lodge where we stayed hosted lots of Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels. This is the same species found in Oregon, but they seemed less colorful in Colorado.

Yellow-bellied Marmots were quite vocal, and too shy to allow a close approach.

While they didn’t provide any photo opportunities, it was great to see and hear Cordilleran Flycatchers. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were everywhere. It is always nice to experience different bird communities when traveling, even if birding is not your main goal.  Now that I’m home, it’s time to start studying southbound shorebirds.

Happy summer.

Mount Hood

At least once a year I like to visit the moonscape that is Mount Hood above Timberline Lodge. The birding there is hit or miss, sometimes yielding great spectacles like a flock of 200 Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, and sometimes offering little besides a distant Common Raven. This trip was somewhere in between.

Every trip to the mountain results in at least one photo of a Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel. Yes, we see them every time, but their cuteness knows no bounds.

Mountain Bluebirds are expected here in the warmer months.

Townsend’s Solitaires are a little harder to come by, but are usually around in small numbers.

The sun at this elevation is pretty intense, making even this Common Raven glisten.

Another bird on a stick; Red-tailed Hawk. I hope to see migrating raptors when I visit Timberline in autumn. There wasn’t much movement on this day, but I did see several Red-tails, a Prairie Falcon, and at least one Sharp-shinned Hawk.

California Tortoiseshells were present in good numbers. I don’t know what they were eating, as all the blossoms had long since dried up.

So ends another visit to Timberline. While the birding varies, it is always fun to explore this part of the mountain.

Timberline

landscapeI hiked from Timberline Lodge to the snow fields above Silcox Hut. My main target was Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. I missed the finches, but there is always something fun to see on the mountain. There were a lot of skiers and snowboarders on the remaining snow fields. I don’t know how you expect to find Rosy-Finches while going that fast, but to each their own.

clark'sSeveral Clark’s Nutcrackers were hanging out near the lodge. This species can be quite tame, but the ones near Timberline tend to be shy and keep their distance. Perhaps I need to carry more snacks.

lupineLupines were one of several wildflowers that are currently in bloom.

horned lark 3A couple of Horned Larks were pretty cooperative.
horned lark

rock wrenThis blurry creature is a juvenile Rock Wren. The pale sandy brown plumage had me stumped for a while, as the adults are more clearly marked with cold brown and gray colors and speckling.

gm ground 2No visit to Timberline is complete without Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels, the Alpine Ambassadors of Cuteness.
gm ground

marmot pairYellow-bellied Marmots reign over the higher slopes. The vegetation is so sparse here it is hard to imagine how these guys find enough to eat.

yb marmot 1
yb marmotwalking that fine line between majestic and adorable

Tilley Jane Trail

trail 5I walked the Tilley Jane trail on the east side of Mt. Hood. This trail starts near the Cooper Spur Ski Area and goes about two and a half miles up to the Tilley Jane Campground.

trail 1Much of the trail goes through an area that burned a few years ago, so there are lots of standing dead trees and wildflowers.

flickerBurned areas are great for woodpeckers and other cavity nesters. This is a young Northern Flicker that was peeking out of her nest hole.

olive-sided flycatcherOlive-sided Flycatcher

juncoDark-eyed Junco. Yes, I can see them out my living room window, but they look better on the mountain.

deer 2We came upon this Black-tailed Deer nursing her new fawn. If the fawn had been hidden, I think the doe would have taken off. But since the baby was exposed, they both just froze as we passed by.

golden-mantled ground squirrel 1This Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel looks like she might be carrying a litter.
golden-mantled ground squirrel
m in lupinesCharismatic megafauna among the lupines

cassin's finchAt higher elevations, Cassin’s Finches became common, if not cooperative.

pacific fritillary 1Along with the wildflowers are butterflies. The flowers are interesting in person, but not so much in photos. A few butterflies, like this Pacific Fritillary, posed for good looks.

persius duskywing 1This is a Persius Duskywing, which I had never heard of before.

trail 4

 

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel


On a recent (almost birdless) trip to Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood (Birding Oregon p. 74) I enjoyed watching these Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels. While they might not qualify as “charismatic mega-fauna,” these little rodents are always a pleasure to see. Even a grizzled old birder can appreciate cuteness when it presents itself.

Sometimes confused with chipmunks, Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels lack stripes on the face and down the center of the back. They get their name from the buffy coloring around their neck and shoulders.


They feed on vegetation, seeds, insects, carrion, and pine nuts, building up fat reserves to carry them through hibernation. Habitats include rocky outcrops in coniferous forest and alpine tundra.

Mount Hood

I drove up to Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood today. This is a great area to search for alpine species, and the paved road makes it easy to access. Autumn has settled in already, with a fresh dusting of snow on the mountain. The ground had frozen overnight, and the thawing this morning released a near constant stream of falling rocks on the gravel slopes. (While it looks very dramatic when covered in snow, Mount Hood is actually a big pile of gravel and fine volcanic ash.) Most of the birds seem to have left the area around the lodge for lower elevations. I found a couple of Golden-crowned Sparrows, Robins, and Red-breasted Nuthatches. A flock of ten Common Ravens rode an updraft around the summit.


Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels are common on Mount Hood.

After descending the mountain, I visited the meadows and forest around Little Crater Lake (Birding Oregon p. 75). Gray Jays and a Pileated Woodpecker were the bird highlights. The color of this little lake is an eerie turquoise. Despite the near 40′ depth, you can see the bottom in great detail.