ABA Colorado Adventure Part 2-Yippee for Pawnee!

The second day started with a very early morning, two-hour drive to Pawnee National Grasslands. The grasslands were very extensive, flat and full of birds! It took probably 30 minutes from the start of the Grasslands to get to our final birding point. The grasslands are a Nature Conservancy owned piece of land that is not open to the public, so we got a VIP tour. I saw 13 lifers, bringing the camp total to 33, and tons of other animals too! One thing that was really cool was seeing all the awesome rocks laying on the road. There was rose quartz, white quartz, green quartz, and even quartz that looked like a smooth geode! Grasshoppers lept many feet at the movement of us monstrous beings while squash bugs walk slowly and cautiously along the ground and dung beetles roll away their prize. Butterflies gracefully fluttered about, stopping at the various flowers that lined the paths to fill up on the decadent nectar they are so dependent on. Prairie dogs bustle about around their holes and jackrabbits hop by them with astounding agility. American Kestrels fly high and survey the area for possible prey while Common Nighthawks elude predators and the heat of the day by resting in some shade on the branch of a tree with bark as dull yet patterned as their own plumage. A male Western Kingbird flies through the air attacking other individuals to protect his territory while the female works hard to catch insects for their ravenous babies. A baby American Robin wanders about in a bush while Western Meadowlarks sing their soothing songs. Lark Sparrows perch on a wire fence with Lark Buntings and McCown’s Longspurs skylarking in the background. We watch as they fly high over a hill and parachute back down again on the horizon. The rare Mountain Plover sits in a bare spot, preening its feathers. A Horned Lark hops around on the ground at an intersection, dodging traffic and looking for food at the same time. Some birds are more active like the tiny White-eyed Vireo that flitted about in the tree-tops, whereas some are more calm and observant like the Burrowing Owl we saw standing at the edge of its burrow built by a prairie dog. Yes, it certainly was a calm and relaxing day at Pawnee, until a quick and startling array of events suddenly arose! A Ferruginous Hawk was spotted soaring over the land, a pretty big and cool bird in itself and a lifer for most. These birds have big gaping mouths so that they can swallow prairie dogs whole! The habitat was perfect for them and we were so happy to see one! A smaller but still fierce Swainson’s Hawk suddenly swoops in from behind and attacks its larger competitor multiple times!!! What was going on in this bird’s head to make it attack North America’s largest hawk? It probably wanted to get rid of the competition for food, water, shelter and survival. This was all really cool, however, the show was not over yet! While the hawks tumbled in the air, a flock of American White Pelicans flew by in the background, a new species for the camp! Just moments later, six Long-billed Curlews come darting out of the shrubs and grass in front of us and right over our heads! This truly was a moment to remember forever! Later in the afternoon, we visited the Pawnee Buttes, pillars of earth topped with volcanic ash from a long time ago. Overall, the day was a day of firsts for me: I saw my first owl, my first nightjar, my first hybrid, my first longspur, my first curlew, and I witnessed my first hawk battle! Here is a list of the animal and plant species seen:
Birds (31 species, 13 lifers):
*Lark Bunting 15
*Western Meadowlark 3
Red-tailed Hawk 1
*Horned Lark 2
*Mountain Plover 2
*Common Nighthawk 8
Western Kingbird 20
Orchard Oriole 3
Blue Jay 1
*Bullock’s Oriole 2
American Kestrel 5
Common Grackle 30
Mourning Dove 2
Brown Thrasher 8
American Robin 3
Eastern Kingbird 3
White-eyed Vireo 1
House Wren 1
*Baltimore X Bullock’s Oriole 1
*Lark Sparrow 10
Western Wood Peewee 1
Swainson’s Hawk 2
*McCown’s Longspur 15
*Burrowing Owl 1
*Ferruginous Hawk 1
*Long-billed Curlew
Loggerhead Shrike 3
*Rock Wren 3
Northern Mockingbird 1
White-throated Swift 1
Cliff Swallow 10

Lepidoptera (3 species, 3 lifers):
*Variegated Fritillary
*Dainty Sulphur
*Common Checkered-Skipper

Mammals (4 species, 1 lifer):
*Black-tailed Jackrabbit
Black-tailed Prairie Dog
Bighorn Sheep

Trees (1 species ID’ed, 1 lifer):
*Honey Locust

Other Insects (1 species + 1 other taxa, 1 lifer):
*European Praying Mantis
Squash Bug Spp.

Reptiles (2 species, 2 lifers):
*Northern Earless Lizard (subspecies of Lesser Earless Lizard)
*Western Plains Garter Snake (subspecies of Garter Snake)

Bighorn Sheep
Dainty Sulphur
Dung Beetles
Prickly Pear Cacti
European Mantis (Tan Variation)
Common Checkered-Skipper (left) and Variegated Fritillary (right)
Squash Bug
Pawnee Grasslands
Common Nighthawk
Western Kingbird
Garter Snake (Western Plains)