Text by Marcel Such


Birding at the CFO convention 

Birding the Nature Conservancy’s Medano-Zapata Ranch – by Renee Haip


Each year, bird enthusiasts from across Colorado and beyond convene for a long weekend of early mornings, late nights, and lots of birds.  This past weekend we met in the San Luis Valley for this annual Colorado Field Ornithologists’ convention.  There are lots of activities from field trips to presentations, as well as an evening banquet.  Below is a daily summary of the convention events that we attended.

[Day 1] Friday, May 22, 2009

While some people took arrival trips to the convention, we birded through the car windows at 65 MPH between Lyons and Alamosa to arrive in time for the evening activities.  The main event was “Stump the Chumps,” where the moderator (Mark Peterson this year) projects photos of generally hard to identify birds – or parts of birds or just a nest with eggs – onto a screen.  A panel of bird ID experts (the “chumps”) attempt to identify the bird(s).  At the last minute, Joel and I were both asked to join Peter Gent and Ted Floyd on the chumps panel.  It was tons of fun!


[Day 2] Saturday, May 23, 2009



Bison at Medano-Zapata Ranch – by Renee Haip


We went on a field trip with Bill Schmoker and Ted Floyd to the Nature Conservancy’s approximately 40,000 acre Medano-Zapata Ranch, a working bison ranch, just south of the Great Sand Dunes National Park.  There were lots of neat birds around!  Among the rarities found were a male Northern Parula, a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and a Least Flycatcher.  Joel found an active Yellow Warbler nest, as well as six Evening Grosbeaks … not particularly rare, but an unexpected surprise.  Also found were Sage Sparrows and Sage Thrashers out on the sage-covered rangeland, and a Great Horned Owl sitting on a nest with young owlets.  In the mid-afternoon, I went back to the hotel to listen to presentations, while Joel and most of the group continued to bird at San Luis Lakes State Park.


Great Plains Toad 

Great Plains Toad, San Luis Lakes – by Joel Such


[Day 3] Sunday, May 24, 2009


Blanca Wetlands 

Blanca Wetlands – by Renee Haip


Today we went on Nathan Pieplow’s field trip to the Blanca Wetlands.  Home to Colorado’s largest breeding Snowy Plover population, numbering in the hundreds, the Blanca Wetlands is closed six months out of the year to protect the breeding water birds.  Normally closed to the public at this time of year, this trip was definitely a treat for us.  Our group found many of the expected birds. We also found a White-rumped Sandpiper, which is very rare for the San Luis Valley and was the only lifer Joel and I got the whole weekend.  Our cousin Victor, on the other hand, racked up the largest number of lifers of anyone at the convention … listing 48 new species!


American Avocet 

American Avocet, Blanca Wetlands – by Joel Such


Sunday evening was the banquet with Ted Floyd, who gave an intriguing keynote address about the past, present, and future of birding.  Raymond Davis, Warren Finch, and Dave Leatherman received recognition for their achievements, as well as for their contributions to the birding community.


[Day 4] Monday, May 25, 2009


Brewer's Blackbird 

Brewer’s Blackbird, Alamosa NWR – by Joel Such


We spent the morning birding Alamosa NWR.  Highlights include an American Bittern on the road, three Great Egrets flying over, multiple Redheads, Soras calling in the marsh, and three porcupines. 


No trip to the San Luis Valley is complete without a stop at the Great Sand Dunes National Park.  We climbed to the top of High Dune where, surrounded by a sea of sand, we were surprised to see an American Robin flying over and hear a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird buzzing overhead.  At the campground, we saw Red Crossbills, a male Cassin’s Finch, a Green-tailed Towhee, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Pinyon Jays.


Great Sand Dunes National Monument 

Great Sand Dunes National Park – by Renee Haip


It was a long weekend of dramatic clouds, stunning vistas, and back to back birding fun!