To the Dump

The Gyrfalcon that I’d failed to see on December 15 was still being reported from the Larimer County Landfill south of Fort Collins. I drove up on a lovely Saturday morning and spent four hours looking at the dump. As you can see by the shadows on the left, I wasn’t the only one.

Alas, no Gyrfalcon. Things got very exciting at one point when some birders just to the west along the road reported that they’d spotted it heading our way. We soon saw a large falcon heading right toward us directly over the road, but when it landed on one of the power line poles, we saw that it was a Prairie Falcon.

Finally, around noon, I decided to give up. I headed to the north of the landfill to cut over to a lake where a Black-legged Kittiwake had been seen, but I never made it. Just before I started driving up into the mountains, I saw a large bird fly over. I was in the middle of a bunch of traffic, so I couldn’t stop. But it got me excited. It was at least as large as a Red-tailed Hawk, with barred flight feathers, and wedge-shaped wings. It might have been the Gyrfalcon. It was headed back toward where I’d spent the morning, so of course I had to go back. I spent another hour along the road, but never saw it again. I’ll never know.

Spending two Saturdays staring at a dump seems like a waste of time. It is a waste of time—unless one sees a Gyrfalcon. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know if you don’t go.

I drove south to Firestone and stopped at Milavec Reservoir where the Pink-footed Goose was still being seen. I’d seen this bird twice in December, but never actually saw the feet. This time, I had better luck. It was grazing on the nearby golf course.

Not long after this, word came down that the Colorado Birding Committee had voted not to add the Pink-footed Goose to the state bird list. Their reasoning, such as it was, seems to have been that other areas, where the species would be more likely to show up, haven’t added it to their lists. This seems cowardly to me. The bird in question was free-flying, with no bands, and none of the wear or plumage clippings that would be expected from a bird that had escaped from captivity. In addition, Pink-footed Geese are rarely kept in captivity, and nobody was missing one. But apparently, all sightings of Pink-footed Geese will continue to be rejected until one of them is accepted and from then on, precedent will have been established and everyone can count them.  I don’t submit my lists to any governing authority, so I decided to keep it on my list unless definitive evidence is found to show that it’s an escapee.

There were a ton of other geese at Milavec, along with a healthy selection of ducks. A day or two after I was there, a Barnacle Goose showed up. That species was also deemed uncountable, but at least in that case, it’s a bird that is often kept in captivity. But a handful of birders had the very rare chance to see eight species of geese in a single day—Canada, Cackling, Snow, Ross’s, Greater White-fronted, Brant, Pink-footed, and Barnacle.

Here’s some video from Milavec, starting with a shot of the Pink-footed Goose grazing and ending with a Marsh Wren.

I was discouraged about missing the Gyrfalcon. I had to keep reminding myself that the day included, among other things, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Glaucous Gull, Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Snow Goose, Ross’s Goose, Canvasback, Greater Scaup, and a Long-tailed Duck. That’s a great day by any measurement. Unless you’re measuring by number of Gyrfalcon seen.

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