Days 113 & 114 – Buena Vista and Gunnison, CO

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Would it seem trite to describe this weekend as magical?

I’ve been so excited to bird Colorado and to finally meet 2016 ABA Big Year birder, Christian Hagenlocher. I followed Christian’s blog The Birding Project last year, as I dreamed of my own Big Year. His story was so compelling and inspired me in many ways.

How can I describe Christian? He’s everything that’s pure and good. At 27, his accomplishments are humbling. You can’t help but like him!

We had almost 3 days to get to know each other and share these great birds, many of them lifers for me. It was also my second time this year birding with someone that knows exactly what I’m going through. It was a bonding experience that transcended our many differences.

Christian makes his home in Buena Vista and we quickly knocked out a few targets. We were joined later in the day by his friend Andy Bankert, a Florida transplant and fellow extreme birder. Andy once held the ABA record in Florida. The 3 of us shared birding stories over dinner and hatched a plan to go look for Boreal Owls after dark.

Andy and me made the trek up the mountain while Christian tended to work. The road was blocked by snow and we had to hike in. Boreal Owls are best found at high elevations in subalpine forests. This Florida girl living 6′ above sea level had a bit of a rough time with this nocturnal hike in the snow.

I was bragging to Andy that I hadn’t fallen once this year. A few minutes later, I face-planted in the snow. It only hurt that we didn’t get a Boreal Owl, though. We did have 2 satellites go across a black sky littered with stars and the distant call of a Northern Saw-whet Owl.

I talked Christian into going to Gunnison with me even though he was leaving the next day for Ohio. It was hard not to stop every 5 minutes to take pictures. Everything is a postcard around here!

We arrived in Gunnison around 7 and decided to check out the Grouse lek for the pre-dawn date. As happened to me in Kansas, we lucked out when Christian found a lone Gunnison sage-grouse as the evening light vanished. He even got a video through the scope. This opened up the morning for us to chase Dusky Grouse instead.

Not only did we find a Dusky Grouse, we found 3 parading around the campground in Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP. I was giddy. We drove back to Buena Vista in the afterglow of a great chase.

This weekend aside from great birds, I saw Bighorn Sheep, Elk, Mule Deer and Beavers. I made eye contact with a Northern Goshawk. I forged a new friendship that I hope continues to grow.

My bird count now stands at 525.


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  1. No name says:

    Great number and photos. Your friends from Marco have 468. John Vanderpoel dubbed our effort the “No Name” Big Year in honor of our home in Colorado and effort to stay on the down low. Happy birding. See you in Florida.

    1. The Dancing Birder says:

      Hi there! The McQuades told me that they met you. Missed you by a day in Miami. Love the name! Keep it up.

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