Why Grand County is a birder’s paradise | SkyHiNews.com

Why Grand County is a birder’s paradise

Jack Bushong
Explore Grand
Jack Bushong / Courtesy Photo
Jack Bushong brother and birding companion.

Not long ago, my brother Ryan and I decided to drive from Frisco to Kremmling on the ineffable intuition that it might be holding a yellow-bellied sapsucker. This despite the fact that there are only a few prior records of the sapsucker in all of western Colorado. Finding one would be exceptionally improbable, but rare birds result when intuition and fortuity converge.

This yellow-bellied sapsucker we ended up seeing in Kremmling was the 155th bird species that I had observed in Grand County, 10 behind the leader Tony Leukering, a birding legend. The next summer, I would surpass Leukering’s 165 species on eBird (a global database) with a Williamson’s sapsucker in the mountains near Ute Pass. During that fruitful day of birding, I covered some of Grand County’s most spectacular terrain: the verdant cottonwood riparian along the Colorado River, the sagebrush steppe of Middle Park, and the canyon country around Radium.

But why bird Grand County when I could find more species in the Front Range metro area? For one, Grand County has a dearth of data compared to other places in Colorado. Less than 10,000 complete checklists have been submitted from Grand County on eBird, whereas more than 154,000 have been submitted from Boulder County. There is so much untapped potential.

Jack Bushong spotted this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Kremmling. It was the 155th bird species he found Grand County.

The splendor of the Rocky Mountains is an equally compelling reason to visit Grand County. Any who draw breath from its crisp air or behold its stunning vistas are quickly enamored and forever wedded to the Rockies.
While seeing my 155th bird species in Grand County was a rewarding accomplishment, the number does not do justice to the experience. The essence of birding lies in the adventures it takes you on, not an arbitrary number. It is not the yellow-bellied sapsucker itself but the long road from Frisco to Kremmling, hemmed in by peaks.

To put it another way: Several summers ago, atop Buffalo Mountain in neighboring Summit County, I observed a ptarmigan at close range. It was an “overdue county bird,” one I had looked for in Summit many times to no avail. But etched into my memory is not the fact that my county list ascended one number. Rather, it is the grueling hike above tree line into the ptarmigan’s rugged domain, the triumph of finally spotting one, the thrill of observing it, and the grim realization that we may lose ptarmigans from Colorado in the coming decades as warmer temperatures maroon them on only the tallest peaks.

Birds have the power to mend the rift of a broken world, so intimately connected are they to the human spirit. They inspire in the ptarmigan’s tenacity, the goshawk’s hunting prowess, the thrush’s ethereal song, the eagle’s majesty. When birds are thriving, so are humans. Yet for all their collective resilience, birds are fragile–in stature, certainly, but also in their susceptibility to environmental change. They deserve our attention, for we need them now more than ever.

Jack Bushong’s birding tips

Start local. Walk around your backyard, neighborhood, or a nearby natural space to familiarize yourself with the most common birds. Soon you will develop an intimate knowledge of the local avifauna, including the distribution, identification, and behavior of each species. From there: get out. Travel about. Look.

Try out eBird.org, a global citizen-science database with millions of contributors worldwide. Submit your observations, receive updates about what birds have been found and where, and investigate birding “hotspots” among a plethora of other features.

Connect with other birders. eBird, various social media platforms, and listservs such as CObirds (COBirds.org) make it easy to meet those eager to share their passion and knowledge.

Learn to identify birds by sound. Being able to identify a bird by its vocalizations is integral to birding. Learning birdsong is like learning a foreign language in that it requires persistence, concentration, and prolonged exposure. While studying field guides and listening to recordings help establish a foundation, firsthand experience is paramount. One of the best things you can do to accelerate the process is to go out in the field, hear a bird, track it down, and identify it visually.

Pair birding with other activities you enjoy. I love to pair birding with some of my favorite pastimes such as photographing, hiking, traveling, and even fly-fishing. Wherever you are outdoors, there will always be birds, so you don’t necessarily have to go on a dedicated expedition to find them.

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