Cubs vs. Rockies — Coors Field

I had a hard time getting tickets to this game because the Rockies tried to keep Cubs fans away. In the spring, when tickets from all other games were released, these were only available as part of a package. I waited and waited and was finally able to buy just two tickets to this game. 

Sally has a cold, and this day was damp and cold, so she decided it would be smarter not to go. I headed to Denver by myself and, after driving around the neighborhood for half an hour, found a parking spot in an untended lot two blocks from the stadium for $20. I toured the National Ballpark Museum. It was still two hours before game time, but one gate was open so fans could get in to watch Cubs batting practice.

After wandering around inside the stadium, I bought a Polish sausage and a bag of peanuts and found my seat. It was in the upper deck just beyond third base.

It was still raining, and I realized quickly that I wasn’t wearing enough coat. It was about 35°, and I was up where I had no protection from the wind. I got up and wandered again to keep the blood flowing. 

The Rockies’ ploy didn’t work. At least half, maybe more, of the crowd was rooting for the Cubs. In my section, it was closer to 80%. The young guy next to me recently moved to Denver from Iowa, and his parents were visiting just to see the Cubs. I chatted with him off and on throughout the game. 

Finally, about halfway through the game, the skies cleared, but it was too late for the sun to warm things up. 

As for the game … The Cubs jumped off to an early 2-0 lead on a double by Contreras that missed being a home run by about two inches. It was close enough to review.

And that was about it until the fifth inning when Darvish walked a Rockies player who was hitting .048 and then an out later walked the pitcher who was batting .000. This brought up the top of the Rockies order, and four hits and a walk later, the Rockies had scored 5. And that was it. The Rockies won 5-2. The Cubs helped with two tootblans (thrown out on the bases like a nincompoop). 

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National Ballpark Museum

This tiny museum is crammed into a storefront kitty-corner from Coors Field. The collection features artifacts from MLB ballparks built between 1909 and 1923 — or so the woman at the desk informed me. In fact, there was stuff from Coors Field, from the Minor League Denver Bears, from the Seattle Pilots, and from several other fields. But most of the displays were on the older stadiums—Crosley Field, Forbes First, Wrigley, Fenway, Yankee Stadium. It’s all the personal collection of some local guy.

Admission was $10, which was pretty steep for the size of the place. There were three small rooms and a hallway or two. Most of the stuff was unlabeled, although much of it was self-explanatory. The focus of the museum was seats from various stadiums.

The next three photos show about 70% of the museum. The pennants on the seats were from the home teams of the stadiums the seats came from.

The Cubs logo on the floor is an on-deck circle from Wrigley Field. 

The cement ornament and the arched window are both from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.

Souvenirs from 1969, the Pilots lone season in the Major Leagues before moving to Milwaukee.

The woman at the desk told me that this uniform was owned by a player who was drafted by the Browns but never made it to the team because he was also drafted by the Army. When WWII was over, the guy decided to head to medical school and only played baseball in the summers.

The museum probably isn’t worth a special trip, but as a way to kill 45 minutes before a Rockies game, it was cool.

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Bird #490 — Gunnison Sage-Grouse

centrocercus minimus

Thursday, April 19, 2018 — 6:33 am

Gunnison County, Colorado — County Road 887, Waunita Watchable Wildlife Site

The Gunnison Sage-Grouse has only been considered a separate species since 2000. Pretty much as soon as it was, it was put on the endangered list. There are an estimated 5,000 birds in seven populations in central Colorado and extreme eastern Utah. 

There are only two ways to see one. Drive around randomly in remote areas of central Colorado and hope to spot one that happens to be crossing the road, or go to a lek where they do their courtship dances in April and early May. But since the bird is so rare, there is only one lek that is viewable by the the public, and even it may not remain open much longer. I decided to go see it while I could.

I took two days off work. On Wednesday, I birded my way west through Cañon City and Bighorn Sheep Canyon and stayed overnight in Gunnison. I stopped by the small parking area near the lek in the afternoon to see what it looked like and to make sure I could find it in the dark the next morning.

On Thursday, I woke up at 3:45 and drove 20 miles in the dark to the spot. This was fairly brave of me because I was headed to the middle of nowhere with two warning lights lit up on my dashboard. It wouldn’t have been a good place to break down. I was the first one at the site—it was 4:38, but within five minutes, two more vehicles parked behind me. A while later, a group came in a van and filed into a trailer next to my car. The trailer can be rented for $100 and would be much more comfortable than sitting sideways in a car.

A college girl pulled up and walked to each of the vehicles. She gave us instructions and had us fill out a survey. The questions were mostly about where we’d stayed and how much money we’d spent in the area—obviously gathering info to show the locals that birders helped the local economy.

I sat in my car and watched the morning break. It was in the mid-20s before dawn. When I arrived, the night was pitch black except for about a million stars. Slowly the nearby hills were silhouetted, then the vegetation faded into view. I was there for almost two hours before I saw my first grouse.

It was down on the plain about halfway to the ridge. It stood so still that, in the dim light, I wasn’t sure if it was really a bird. I scanned the area with my scope, then looked back. The bird was still there, still motionless, but about two feet to the right of where it had been. Seconds later, it took off and flew out of sight to the north. So I had my lifer, but it wasn’t a very satisfying look.

A few minutes later, I saw one on top of the ridge about half a mile away. I could only see it through my scope—it was too far away to pick out with the naked eye. The first one was soon joined by another. One of them walked down the slope a ways. Both were males and both were doing their courtship dance. This consists of ruffling up the chest feathers, throwing the head back, and forcing air into the pouches on the chest. These two pouches look much like sunny-side eggs—yellow against a white background. Apparently female sage-grouse go for this. Here’s a photo I stole off the Internet that will explain what I’m talking about and help make sense of the video below.

For the next hour, I watched as best as I could. I spotted some of the grouse as they walked up the ridge to the lek. The most birds I counted at any particular moment was eight, but I think there were a lot more. The males were easier to spot, of course, with the sun lighting up their spread tales and neck feathers. Later, I saw eight fly off to the north and there were still at least four on the ridge, so I’m saying I saw 12 of them. The actual number was probably closer to 20.

As the sun rose higher, it backlit the birds but also made it very difficult to watch them without going blind. It got to the point when the only way for me to view them was to hold my phone up to my scope and watch the screen while ducking out of the glare.

When the eight birds flew off to the north at about 7:30, the group in the trailer filed out and the girl in the Jeep motioned the rest of us to leave, even though there were still grouse on the ridge. Apart from having to get up ridiculously early, there wasn’t much of a challenge to adding this lifer. But it’s the only way to see it, and one does what one must.

Here’s a mash-up of the video I took.

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Birding Trip

I took two days off work and drove to Gunnison. Colorado to see the Gunnison Sage-Grouse (next post). I left home about 7:30 and headed to Cañon City. A Lewis’s Woodpecker has been hanging out in a residential neighborhood, but I couldn’t find it. I walked the Arkansas River Trail in town for a couple hours and saw four new birds for the year including an Eastern Phoebe.

After lunch at Jimmy John’s, I headed west through Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Two Golden Eagles were soaring over the road near Parkdale. I managed to find a place to pull over to get a better look. I stopped at almost every parking area in the canyon, scanning the river for dippers or anything else I could find. I even drove up to Hayden Creek Campground where I birded back in 2012, but unlike that time, there were several people camping there, so I didn’t stay.

I drove over Monarch Pass and down into Gunnison. After checking into the Holiday Inn Express ($144), I drove further west to Curecanti National Recreation Area. I hiked a trail along the Gunnison River. It wasn’t long and it wasn’t maintained. I did see my first dipper of the year, but not much else. I drove further west to the first bridge over the reservoir. A large flock of ducks were along the shore, so I grabbed my scope and walked to where I could get a good look. 

When I got back to Gunnison, I headed south on a dirt road into sagebrush country just on the off chance that I might see a sage-grouse wander across the road. I didn’t see any grouse or much of anything else. I did see the engine light lit up on my dashboard, and didn’t want to get too far out into the middle of nowhere. 

I bought supper at McDonald’s and headed to my room. I only stayed up a short while. I hadn’t slept much the night before and had to get up very early the next morning, so I was in bed by 8:30.

After I saw the grouse on Thursday morning, I headed back toward home. I saw a herd of Elk just west of Monarch Pass. I stopped in Salida for second breakfast (I’d had a couple Pop-Tarts at 4:30), then drove back to Cañon City. I drove over Skyline Drive, parked, and walked around a little while. I saw my first Colorado White-winged Dove.

The Lewis’s Woodpecker had been seen the previous afternoon, so I went back to look for it again. This time I found it. It was still early, so I went back to the Riverwalk and retraced my steps from yesterday. I added my first Colorado Evening Grosbeaks and Black Phoebes. I struck up a conversation with a birding couple who just moved out here from Racine. I mentioned Wind Point and they laughed and said they birded there often.

I drove through Florence, then headed home after two fun and bird-filled days.

Or as bird-filled as Colorado ever gets. I ended with 68 species, including one lifer, 15 new birds for the year, and seven new birds for Colorado. Those seven birds push Colorado past Wisconsin into second place on my state lists. 

Here’s a video compilation of things I saw over the two days.

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