I finally got a benefit from all of my work travel. My final presentation for this spring was scheduled in Denver on Friday. If you are a birder, you know that April is the best time to visit Colorado to see Grouse and Prairie Chickens so I extended my stay for a few extra days to see if I could find some. Lucky for me, our friend Todd said that he wanted to come along. Yay. I worked on Friday until 2 PM and Todd was waiting for me with the rental car in the Microsoft parking lot.
Away we went on a 4 day journey to see as many grouse as possible. Our first stop took us up to the Rocky Mountains to try to see White-tailed Ptarmigans. We found these Bighorn Sheep beside the highway.
Up and up we drove the winding road until we were above the tree line at almost 12,000 feet in search of the Ptarmigan. I bought a new wide angle lens to try to capture the views.
Now, you may not know about Ptarmigans but they are really cool birds that completely change their colors based on the season. In summer, they are speckled brown but in winter, they are completely white. Both colors are intended to blend into the landscape for camouflage. April is neither winter or summer, so we didn't know what to expect if we found the bird.
First of all, look at the landscape photo above again. This is the top of the Rocky Mountains and a vast open space where we thought we could find a few birds the size of softballs. Good luck. We parked the car and started to scan the landscape.
|Looking for Ptarmigan|
Nothing stood out so we decided to hike out on the snowy slope to see if we could find the birds. I saw something on the slope. Can you see the birds?
How about now?
|Softball on the hill|
There were 2 White-tailed Ptarmigan feeding on the small patches of grass that were exposed from the melting snow. I told you they were camouflage experts. In this case, the birds were still snow white. The only way that I saw them was because they were moving.
We decided to try to get closer so we hiked down, around and back up the slope giving the birds a wide berth. Remember, this is 12,000 feet up and a really steep slope - with snow! I was huffing and puffing from the thin air. Trying to keep my balance and not end up at the bottom of the mountain. All of this with adrenaline pumping with excitement. We found a spot on the slope about 50 feet from the birds. They never seemed to mind our presence.
|Ptarmigans on the slope|
They just kept doing what Ptarmigans do. Todd and I were fascinated. The birds were stunning. I snapped hundreds of photos. Yes, hundreds. Todd did the same. We couldn't stop snapping. I will spare you most of them. Here is the male perched on an exposed rock.
All of a sudden, the female leaves the little grass patch and starts marching across the snowy slope right toward us. She seemed like she was trying to figure out what Todd was doing.
|Checking us out|
Todd has a better camera than I do and a GIANT lens. He was snapping away until he couldn't focus on the bird anymore. Why? She was too close. (Luckily, my inferior lens was able to capture this shot) She walked up to about 4 feet away from Todd, looked at him and then turned around and sauntered back to her mate. I snapped this photo with Todd's cell phone. You can see his camera lens and his hand as he was saying "Where's she going?" Todd is a good looking guy but I guess he wasn't her type.
|P-Todd and his almost girlfriend|
You can tell that these birds live in cold climates. Check out the furry feet. You can also tell that they live on steep, rocky slopes. Check out those claws.
Remember the part about the birds changing color? You can see the very first brown feather of summer coming in just under her eye. In a few weeks, the snow will be melted and the birds will be brown enough to blend into summer.
Although we didn't want to leave, we had to get going. My butt was freezing off and we had a long drive to our next destination in Gunnison. Todd couldn't resist snapping this photo of me with the Ptarmigans as a souvenir.
|Reluctantly leaving our friends|
What an incredible experience.
Looks like you're doing a lot of P-ing
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