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The Brown-capped Rosy-Finch goes by a delicate name, but it is one tough little bird that lives year around in Colorado’s high country. Because biologists don’t have much information about the bird and concern that its population might be declining, Colorado Parks and Wildlife researchers, along with other collaborators, have started a project to learn more about the species and are asking the state’s bird watchers for help in gathering information.
In CPW’s State Wildlife Action Plan, the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch is identified as one of the 107 species of “greatest conservation concern” in Colorado. Based on anecdotal evidence from the annual Christmas bird counts that its numbers are down, scientists are concerned that climate change could be affecting the finch’s high-altitude habitat.
There are three species of Rosy-Finches ‒ Brown-capped, Gray-crowned and Black. All reside at high altitudes, but each occupies a different breeding range and has a distinct plumage. CPW researchers are specifically studying the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, a bird almost solely endemic to Colorado.
“Anyone who has hiked above timber line or who lives in mountain towns has probably seen these birds,” said Amy Seglund, a species conservation coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Montrose. “But there is relatively little known about their life history. They nest on cliff faces so it’s difficult to find and access their nests to determine how many eggs they typically lay, how their young survive and how far they travel throughout the year.”
In February, Seglund and fellow CPW Conservation Coordinator Liza Rossi teamed up with staffers from the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies and Erika Zavaleta, Ph.D., from the University of California at Santa Cruz to begin the study. They are capturing all three Rosy-Finch species at feeders near Telluride, Evergreen and Gunnison. After capture, they examine the birds to determine sex, age and body condition. They also attach a small band to a leg of each of the birds.
Banding has been used by avian researchers for decades to track birds’ movements.
A blue or black band is being placed on the birds captured near Telluride, green bands are being placed on birds captured in Evergreen, and red bands are being placed on the birds captured in the Gunnison area.
Here’s how Colorado bird watchers can help with the study. With binoculars the colored bands are easy to see when birds are at feeders or close by in trees. Birders are being asked to report sightings with locations, species of Rosy-Finch, the number of birds and the band color to this email address: Rosyfinchreports@gmail.com. Be as specific as possible regarding the locations. If you can determine which leg the colored band is on please make note of that.
“It will be extremely helpful to the study if people report sightings of banded birds. We know these birds are nomadic but we don’t know if their movements are localized or if they travel farther across the landscape,” Seglund explained. “Getting an idea about their movements is very important to the study. By reporting sightings, bird watchers will contribute significantly to our understanding of the Rosy-Finch.”
The researchers will continue capturing birds throughout the winter. When the finches move to higher altitudes this spring and summer, CPW researchers will fan out across the tundra to try to find birds in their expected habitat. This survey work is known as an occupancy study and will help scientists determine how well-distributed the birds are in Colorado. The surveys will also provide density estimates which allow researchers to evaluate long-term population trends.
The Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, based on Colorado’s Front Range, is a conservation, education and research organization that aides agencies, private landowners and scientists with a wide variety of bird studies throughout the West. Zavaleta is focusing on the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, but is also interested in the other two species.
For more information about Colorado’s Wildlife Action Plan and bird species, go to CPW’s web site at http://cpw.state.co.us/.
2018 has been declared “the Year of the Bird” by National Geographic Society, the Audubon Society, BirdLife International and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This is also the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Act Treaty, one of the most important laws ever enacted for wildlife conservation and protection. The treaty is between the U.S. and Canada.
For more information about this year-long celebration, go to audubon.org/yearofthebird.
MONTE VISTA, Colo. – The annual spring migration of greater sandhill cranes is in full force in southern Colorado. If you've never seen these beautiful birds gathering in huge numbers, be sure to put it on your bucket list.
"People in Colorado should take time to see the cranes; the migration is truly one of nature's wonders," said Joe Lewandowski, a spokesperson for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The annual San Luis Valley Crane Festival is scheduled this year for March 9-11. For a complete schedule of events, go to mvcranefest.org.
The cranes start arriving in mid-February, flying from their winter nesting grounds, primarily in New Mexico. The large wetland areas, wildlife refuges and grain fields in the San Luis Valley draw in about 25,000 birds. The cranes stop in the valley to rest-up and re-fuel for their trip north to their summer nesting and breeding grounds in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
Cranes are among the oldest living species on the planet: Fossil records for cranes date back 9 million years. The birds that migrate through Colorado are the largest of the North American sandhill subspecies standing 4-feet tall with a wing-span of up to 7 feet and weighing in at 11 pounds. Besides their imposing size, the birds issue a continuous, distinctive and haunting call. At this time of year cranes are engaged in their mating ritual and the birds perform an elaborate and elegant hopping dance to gain the attention of other birds.
The birds are most abundant at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, located 6 miles south of the town of Monte Vista on Colorado Highway 15. Wildlife watchers can also see the birds at the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge located southeast of the town of Alamosa, and at the Rio Grande, Higel and Russell Lakes state wildlife areas. Plenty of birds can also be seen in the many agricultural fields near Monte Vista and Alamosa.
The cranes are most active at dawn and at dusk when they're moving back and forth from their nighttime roosting areas.
Be sure to dress warm as temperatures can be very cold in the valley.
During the three days of the festival, free morning and afternoon tours are offered by staff members from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Visitors take buses to various spots on the wildlife refuge, and local experts talk about the migration and the wildlife refuge. If you want to take a tour, be on time because the buses leave promptly.
The festival headquarters and starting point for the tours is the Ski Hi Park building located near U.S. Highway 160 on Sherman Avenue on the east side of Monte Vista. Visitors can pick up maps, schedules and information at the headquarters. Besides the tours, a variety of workshops are put on by bird, wildlife and photography experts. An arts and crafts fair continues through the weekend at the headquarters building.
The number of cranes in the valley peaks in mid-March and many linger through the month. So even if you can't go the weekend of the festival there's still plenty of time to see the birds.
Bird-watchers who travel on their own should be cautious when parking, getting out of vehicles and walking along roads. People are also asked to view birds from a distance with binoculars and spotting scopes, and to observe trail signs and closure notices.
Many other bird species – including eagles, turkeys and a variety of waterfowl – can also be seen throughout the San Luis Valley.
Approximate distances to Monte Vista: Denver, 220 miles; Colorado Springs, 182 miles; Salida, 85 miles; Vail, 175 miles; Durango, 135 miles; Grand Junction, 230 miles.
LAMAR, Colo. - As fields and reservoirs are turning white with the arrival of roosting waterfowl during their traditional winter migration, plans are weel underway for the annual celebration known as the High Plains Snow Goose Festival scheduled Feb. 8 - 11.
In its 16th year, the festival attracts families, bird watchers and a variety of outdoor enthusiasts to see the Arctic geese as they arrive at their winter roosts along the Western Central Flyway that includes Colorado, New Mexico and the Texas panhandle.
Participants come to watch and listen to the sounds of flapping wings as tens of thousands of large white geese rise from John Martin Reservoir State Park and other regional lakes to fly to feeding grounds and back again to the water.
The festival offers a variety of programs, field trips and seminars that celebrate birding, watchable wildlife and the heritage in Southeast Colorado. Tour Two Buttes Reservoir, John Martin Reservoir as well as Picture and Carrizo Canyons, south of Lamar. You can even take a breakfast with raptors tour.
Highlights of the 2018 festival include workshops and speeches by authors Sharon Stiteler and Ted Floyd.
Stiteler is an avid birder whose work has been published in the New York TImes and the Wall Street Journal as well as on NBC Nightly News, NPR’s All Things Considered. She is known as “the Birdchick” and is the author of a popular birding blog “Birdchick.com.”
Stiteler and Floyd will lead nature hikes and give presentations on how technology is changing birding. Stiteler also will also be the keynote speaker at the Saturday night banquet.
Floyd is the editor of Birding, the American Birding Association’s flagship publication, and an instructor with the ABA’s Institute for Field Ornithology program. He has published widely on birds and his credits include the ABA Field Guide to Birds of Colorado.
Event registration is free, however field trips range from $10 to $50, depending on the length of the program and if meals are provided. Numerous programs are also offered at no charge.