Back in 2018 sometime, I suggested to my boss that I go to the Children’s Pastors Conference to look for resources that would provide ideas for our lessons. That evolved over time into my attending with 17 women, including the curriculum team, the children’s writing team, and student ministry. Here’s the group except for Young who took the picture. The fact that I was the only guy was brought up often, but not to the degree that it became annoying or awkward. They made me sit in the chair. We had a catered meal for lunch on all three days and for supper on days one and three. It was in the suite where the picture was taken, and the food was tasty and plentiful—gyros, pizza, pasta, etc.

The conference was in Orlando at the Caribe Royale, about three miles from Disney World.

My room was a suite in the wing off to the right in the photo above. That building is one of three. There was also the reception building, which had several restaurants, four smaller “towers” with larger suites, and the huge conference center. I spent as little time in my room as possible. I didn’t spend any time in the front room except to pass through.

My fifth-floor window looked out on Tower III and the pool area.

CPC hasn’t changed much since I was last there to work in the booth in 2016 or since I last attended in 2011. The same ministries have booths in the resource center. The same speakers give pretty much the same messages. It’s lively and friendly and here and there I find a worthwhile idea to think about for work or for my personal life.

Awana had a booth, manned mostly by people I didn’t know. I probably saw 20 former coworkers, but the only ones I got in significant conversations with were Arlyn and Marcy Nies, Tom and Marti Chance, and Carla Hutson. I felt no longing to be back with the ministry or working in a booth.

For the record, I did find two books in the resource center that we purchased for ideas, so I feel like my purpose for going was achieved. Everyone else thought it was good too, but the consensus is that it was too expensive and that we probably won’t return. So goodbye CPC. It’s been fun.

The schedule was pretty full all three days. There was an hour in the morning between dawn and the first session. There were 20-30 minute breaks between sessions and after lunch. There was an hour break mid-afternoon. By the time the evening breaks came along, it was dark out.

The hotel sits in typical Florida swampland. There was a large pond by the entrance, a second pond in back of the hotel, and a lake behind the resort next door. I grabbed every chance I had to be outside looking for birds (see next post).

Here’s the large pond next to the entrance as seen early on Thursday morning.

This is the pine grove beyond the pond on Tuesday morning when the air was simply wet.

This is the scrub that ran all along the back of the hotel.

This is the pond behind the hotel, complete with Anhinga. This bird was never more that 20 feet from this spot in the three days I was there. I also saw Snowy Egrets and White Ibises roosting in the bare trees on the left.

And this is the lake behind the neighboring resort. It was generally pretty lifeless.

These are the five places I headed for every chance I had, and pretty much in that order. If I had more time, I continued to the next spot. I always started at the big pond because it usually had some interesting bird swimming or wading in it. I made it as far as the lake three or four times.

I rented a truck on Wednesday and drove to Disney Springs during the afternoon break. A Roseate Spoonbill had been reported there several times in recent weeks and I had to take a shot at it. I saw a surprising number of birds, considering the crowds and the manicured habitat, but no spoonbill.

On Wednesday night I drove back to Disney Springs with Cynthia, Rene, and Megan. We wandered from one end to the other and back and ate dinner at Rainforest Cafe.

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Memorial Park

While I was birding in Pueblo yesterday, exciting things were happening at Memorial Park in Colorado Springs. Birders were reporting Barrow’s Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, and Redhead. The last isn’t rare or difficult to find, but I didn’t have on on my 2020 list yet. I drove down midday and walked around the lake. Much of it was frozen, but there were three patches of open water.

I walked around the lake so I could look at and photograph the birds in each patch with the best possible light. The ones I was looking for were all on the west side, opposite from where I parked.

I found the Barrow’s Goldeneye almost immediately. It was diving along the edge of the ice about 40 yards out from shore. Shortly after I found it, it and several Common Goldeneyes swam across in front of me, about 25 yards out. The sun was high, but this time of year it’s far enough in the south to give me fair light. That’s the Barrow’s on the left. You can see that it has more black on the back, a black “spur” that points down behind the neck, a different head shape, a different shaped head patch, and a different color sheen on the head feathers. The sheen isn’t always a noticeable, or reliable, mark. But in this case, with both species in the same light, it’s diagnostic.

A pair of Redheads were drifting further out. They slept the entire time I was here. Here’s the male. The goldeneyes are in the background, with the Barrow’s in front.

A small flock of scaup were also in the area. I spent a lot of time on them and finally found the female Greater Scaup that’s been reported hanging around with the Lesser Scaup for the past couple days. In this photo, it’s the brown female in the middle. You can tell from this angle that its bill is larger/thicker and its head is rounder, without that little peak/crest that can be seen on the back of three of the male Lessers.

Here’s another shot of it swimming between two female Lesser Scaup. The Greater is simply bigger, a difference you can’t tell when the two species aren’t side by side, but obvious here. The Greater’s bill is wider and has a larger black “nail” on the tip. The Greater is also warmer brown than the Lessers here, but I don’t know if that’s a consistent field mark.

Another small patch of open water right along the shore was filled with geese, Mallards, American Wigeons, and American Coots. I waited until one of the coots climbed out on shore to get a photo of its feet.

The first clip on the video shows the two species of goldeneyes swimming and diving with a female Common Goldeneye and a male Bufflehead. Please note that Let it Snow was playing on the Memorial Park carillon in the background. The next two clips show the scaups. See if you can pick out the Greater. The last clip is of a swimming coot.

Memorial Park is the largest body of water in Colorado Springs, so it’s the go-to place for ducks, geese, and birders. But it’s in a somewhat sketchy part of town. There are homeless people, panhandlers, and guys having lengthy conversations by the open trunks of their cars. I stay aware of my surroundings when I’m there, checking to see if anyone is approaching or finding me particularly interesting. I’ve never had any problems, although there have been a few times when I thought it wise to move along. I had no problems today either, but I did have something odd occur. I was writing down the birds I saw in my notebook. A scruffy looking man with a scruffy beard who was driving a scruffy car on the road next to the park rolled down his window and called, “Hey, quit writing those birds down.” From his tone of voice, I’m pretty sure he was intending to be humorous, but still it was an odd thing to call out to a stranger.

Anyway, this brings my list for 2020 up to 81 birds, and the year’s not even two weeks old yet. If I continue seeing an average of 6.75 new birds a day, I’ll have 2,470 on my list by the end of the year.

Postscript: I received an email from the local eBird monitor about the Greater Scaup. Usually when this happens, it’s a request for me to provide more information on a rare bird—field notes, a description, an explanation of how I eliminated the possibility that the bird in question wasn’t a similar-looking species. Not this time. The monitor emailed me just to say, “Great shot of the Greater Scaup. I thought it was a really good photograph.”

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Joshua and I stopped at Clear Springs Ranch to look (in vain) for the screech-owl. We weren’t seeing much of anything until we got back to the parking lot. A male Northern Harrier was standing in the middle of the mown field next to I-25. He flew around a bit, then landed again. A Prairie Falcon flew over and landed in a cottonwood about 70 yards away. Within seconds, the harrier was chasing the falcon away. I managed to get two quick shots of the short confrontation.

We spent the morning at Lake Pueblo State Park where we walked the loop along the Arkansas River below the dam and then checked out the gulls at the South Marina. On a rock bar in the river, I picked out this lone Least Sandpiper. Some birder reported on Sunday that because of this photo, which I posted on eBird, he and another birder walked along the river and found two Least Sandpipers, which are pretty rare in Colorado in January.

A Killdeer

An American Pipit

And a female Belted Kingfisher

In all, we saw 40 species, including two Dunlin on the tires at the South Marina, a Pacific Loon swimming near the dam, and all three mergansers at once at Valco Ponds.

At the marina, we ran into a 16-year-old kid who was birding with his parents. I’d met them briefly in Arvada last week when I was looking for the Brant. Apparently birding is a family affair for them, which is cool. They were very nice and pointed out some birds for us, including a flyover Bald Eagle.. I was able to point out the Dunlins and the Pacific Loon for them. We were hoping to find a Red-throated Loon with the Pacific Loon. I said I’d only seen one in my life. The kid said he’d only seen one too. I told him we needed to put this in perspective—he was 16. I’ve been birding for 40 years.

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Neighborhood Birds

On January 8, I spotted four Pine Siskins at a feeder along the local walking path. This one is a female because the yellow is restricted to the edge of the wing and side of the tail. The wing bar is white.

A male Downy Woodpecker on scrub oak in Stone Falls Park on 1/18/20.

Red-tailed Hawk in Mary Kyer Park right along Voyager on 1/18/20. Seriously, this camera.


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White-breasted Nuthatch

I spent a couple hours at Black Forest this afternoon to pick up a few common pinewood birds I hadn’t seen yet this year. When I spotted a White-breasted Nuthatch working over a tree, I got in  good position relative to the light and took these photos.

The call of the White-breasted Nuthatches that live in the Rocky Mountains is different from that made by those in Illinois. There is some talk that they may be separate species. If they are ever split, I now have proof that I’ve seen the Rocky Mountain version.

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Working for Birds

I took another day off work to bird. But where? I’d seen the majority of the common birds that can be easily found this time of year. A day at Black Forest or along the creek would have yielded a few more to my 2020 list, but those are birds I can pick up anytime. They aren’t worth investing a day off to find.

I decided to make the effort to track down six rare or easy-to-miss birds around the Denver area.

Bird #1—A Brant of the Pacific/black subspecies has been hanging around with other geese at Arbor Lake in Arvada for about a week. I got there around 9:00 and was told by three other birders that it had just taken off. The remaining Cackling and Canada geese also took off, leaving the lake to Northern Shovelers and Mallards. I walked the path around the lake to pass the time and get some steps in but then decided to head elsewhere.

I came back around noon. Many of the geese had returned. There were large groups on the lake and a mess on the lawn next to the water. I scanned the ones on the water first. The wind had kicked up and it was a blustery afternoon. I next turned my attention to the 500 or so geese on the lawn. I scanned from one side of the flock to the other, them moved to another spot and did it again. And then did it again. I’m not sure what kept me looking—I was pretty convinced I’d seen what there was to see. And then suddenly there was the Brant, right in the middle of the flock. Most of the time, I got looks like this. When you see it, it’s definitely different, but it’s still very easy to miss.

I walked back and forth, trying to get an unobstructed view.

Finally the Cackling Geese moved aside enough.

Speaking of Cackling Geese … They look exactly like Canada Geese except smaller. It would be an exercise in extreme patience to scan an entire mixed flock and try to i.d. every bird. Some, I’m convinced, can’t be differentiated. Add to that the different postures they assume and it’s a challenge. I’ve decided on this criteria for my own satisfaction: If the distance from the tip of the bill to the back of the white chin patch is longer than or about the same as the length of the neck, it’s a Cackling Goose. If it’s shorter than the neck, it’s a Canada Goose. By that criteria, these are definitely Cackling Geese. They were only marginally larger than the nearby Mallards.

Bird #2—In between my to visits to Arbor Lake, I drove 18 miles east to the South Platte River in Thornton. Northern Pintails have been seen there in recent days, and this is an easy bird to miss in Colorado. Last year I only saw a lone female. The pintails were there, along with a lot of other ducks scattered up and down the half-mile of river I walked.

I also saw a pair of American Kestrels (here’s the male)

and a female Northern (red-shafted) Flicker.

Bird #3—I fought Friday afternoon traffic to the park in Littleton where I found my lifer Eastern Screech-Owl last fall. It was a long drive in vain—the hole was empty.

Bird #4 and #5—A White-winged Scoter and a Pacific Loon have been hanging around the reservoir at Chatfield State Park for a month or so. I’ve gotten very close looks at the scoter, but only frustrating distant looks at the loon. I’m pretty sure I saw both from the Jefferson County side of the reservoir, but both were too far off to be sure of. After taking a short hike to look for bird #6, I drove around to the Douglas County side and found both birds again. They were still way off, but the light was better and I was able to confirm both, although in the case of the loon, I’d still like to see it closer. While I was driving through the park, I saw the Bald Eagle hanging out in the tree where it always hangs out.

Bird #6—American Dipper should be easy in Colorado, but I missed it last year in spite of looking for one several times. One was seen along the river below the dam yesterday, so I took a short walk to the spot but saw nothing dipperish.

Final tally, I saw four of the six birds I targeted and added a Bald Eagle for five new birds for the year, bringing my total up to 63. My list today was 33 species. To get those five birds took me 10 hours and almost 200 miles of driving. Not fun, exactly, but it was better than it would have been if I’d missed more of the birds.

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Lake Pueblo State Park

I took today and tomorrow off work to get my 2020 year list off to a fast start. I spent almost all the daylight hours at Lake Pueblo, first by the south marina where the gulls hang out and then below the dam.

I arrived shortly after dawn on a cold, overcast day. I walked about 20 yards and went back to the car for layers and gloves. I headed out to the tip of the peninsula to get close to the tire breakwater where the gulls hang out. Somehow in the midst of the huge flock of Ring-billed Gulls, I spotted a winter-plummaged Dunlin. It’s that small brown sandpiper in the very center of the photo. I only bother with this photo because it’s a very rare bird around here this time of year.

As I was sorting through the gulls, a winter-plummaged Horned Grebe swam by.

One of the first birds I spotted was a Lesser Black-backed Gull. I saw a second one a bit later on the other side of the marina—unless the first bird flew over there. I’ve included shots of both. Key marks are the dark back, the yellow legs, and the red spot on the bill.

A California Gull landed on the  breakwater and looked just different enough from the Ring-bills to catch my attention. It’s a little bit bigger and longer-winged than the Ring-bills and has more black on the wing tips. It also has black and red spots on the lower mandible rather than a black ring around both. In the second photo below, it’s the one that looks like it’s wearing eye makeup. I saw my lifer California Gulls at Lake Pueblo back in 2002, about 500 yards from where I saw this one.

When I was done with the gulls on this breakwater, I headed around the marina to the other one. I’d gone about 10 steps when I spotted a covey of Scaled Quail running in front of me. As near as I can figure, this was within about 20 feet of where I saw my lifer Scaled Quails back in 2002. I’ve been other times in between—they hadn’t been there all along.

The quail were very skittish, but I stalked them and waited them out and got some shots. They finally flew across a small channel. I saw them three or four times on the other side, usually as they dashed from one bit of cover to another.

The other breakwater was filled with more Ring-billed Gulls. I can’t even begin to guess how many were around on this day. I came upon several more large flocks below the dam.

And a Great Black-backed Gull. No need to explain the field marks on this one. This is a very rare bird in Colorado—or it would be if this very bird hadn’t wintered at this very spot for the past 20 years, or so I’m told. I know I’ve seen it every year since we’ve lived in the state.

That was as much gull-viewing as I wanted to do for the day, and a lot more than I usually do. I parked below the dam and almost immediately saw an adult Cooper’s Hawk.

It let me walk around the tree and get an unobstructed shot of its front, but of course that made it silhouetted by the sun, which was breaking through the overcast. I lightened the photo as much as I could.

It obviously knew I was there, but it didn’t move. Several minutes later I saw it flying east over the river.

I decided to walk a couple miles down one side of the Arkansas River and up the other. I hadn’t gone far before I decided to return to the car to shed some layers. The highlight of the day was a female Merlin (Taiga subspecies) that flew down to the rocks along the river. It stood there for maybe four minutes before flying up to the top of a dead tree across the river. About 10 minutes later, I saw it circling overhead. I made a half-hearted attempt to take a picture of it in flight, but before I could even get my camera out and ready, it was so high up it was just a speck.

A Say’s Phoebe. We’ve had one nest on our front porch the last two summers, but I’ve never gotten a good photo.

White-crowned Sparrows

A Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon subspecies). Not a great photo, but the best I’ve gotten so far of this type.

A juvenile Double-crested Cormorant hanging out by itself on a snag in the big pond north of the river.

Your basic Rock Doves (pigeons), but I like the way the light brings out the iridescence.

A male Green-winged Teal

A Bushtit. I saw two flocks of these, both of at least 10 birds, and I was in perfect position to photograph them, but they move so fast I hardly had time to point the camera, much less focus and shoot. I did manage to capture this one. Based on the black ear-patch, it’s probably a juvenile male.

Getting a good shot of a Bushtit is on my bucket list.

I drove out into the flats on Hanover Road to look for raptors, but I saw bupkis except a couple Canyon Towhees in the cholla. I was home by 4:20 with 46 birds on my day list and 58 on my year list. And that doesn’t count the pair of Great Horned Owls that are calling outside my house as I write this because I haven’t managed to see them.

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New Year’s Day

I started the new year with my long-standing tradition—taking down the Christmas tree while Sally slept. Then I took off to do some birding. I stopped at a small pond next to the Doubletree Hotel on the south end of town to see an Eared Grebe that’s been hanging around there for a while. It was the first bird I saw and the closest bird to me while I was there.

Just beginning a dive

I spent a couple hours at Fountain Creek. Most of what I saw were the usual suspects.

A male American Kestrel across the creek

A Cooper’s Hawk standing in the middle of the creek. I hadn’t seen one doing this before. For about 10 minutes, it just stood in shallow water looking about, paying no attention when a flock of crows flew low overhead or when a pair of Green-winged Teal floated by 10 feet away.

Finally it began to bathe. After a couple minutes of this, it flew up into a tree along the bank and preened.

In the north-most pond before you get to the picnic area, there were several hundred geese, most of them Cackling with a few Canada mixed in. And this creature. Based on its size, short bill, and lack of a grin patch, I suspect it’s a Ross’s x Cackling hybrid, but who knows?

I wasn’t feeling great. For starters, I only got about four or five hours of sleep last night. I don’t know if I was also dehydrated or if I accidentally drank a caffeine-free Pepsi this morning and was having caffeine withdrawal. I felt almost as headachy and fatigued as I did last Tuesday after my hike with Beth. In addition, the day had turned overcast and unpleasant and the trails were crowded with people and their kids and dogs on New Year’s Day walks. I headed for home and spent the rest of the day relaxing and taking naps. Yes, plural naps. I saw 30 species, not a terrible start to what I hope is a fun birding year.

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