Sunday, April 29, 2007

Birding Utah's Natural Bridges National Monument

The drive from Aspen, Colorado to the Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah is about 6 hours. It's very pleasent driving, especially around Grand Junction, Colorado, and the birdlife at the roadside is plentiful. Before I left Colorado I saw FOY (first of year) Common Merganser, Osprey, American Kestrel (and lots of 'em), Wild Turkey and my first life bird of the trip, a Western Meadowlark:

Western Meadowlark from the back

At a small reststop in Kane Springs, UT I stopped to stretch my legs and was delighted to find a dozen or so White Throated Swifts cavorting in the air above. I've gotta say: these birds are stunning. Something about the black and white contrast of these birds really struck me. I went on to see hundreds more species on the rest of the trip but I don't think any were as beautiful as these swifts.

Anyway, I made one more stop before making it to NBNM. Somewhere on the outskirts of Montecello, Utah I spotted a group of large Grebes in a dammed reservior off the road. I pulled over and watched the small flock of Western Grebes float lazily on the water. Also making an appearance at the roadside were my FOY Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher and my lifer Rock Wren, which is much drabber than wrens I'm used to.

I rolled into the Natural Bridges National Monument at about 4pm...just enough time to set up my tent and get a good long hike in. I set off on the Loop Trail which would take me past at least 2 gigantic natural arches and along a hopefully birdy river. The trail, just to warn visitors, is not easy or well marked. Descending and ascending the canyon wall to the riverbed is also not easy and is definetly not recommended for anyone with problems walking.

But it is certainly beautiful. Giant stone walls tower above as you follow the river. Birds were not overabundant, but were certainly around. My first was a lifer Spotted Towhee making a racket in the leaf litter...just like his eastern relative. Echoing off the canyon walls was the call of the Canyon Wren, a bird that I wasn't ever actually able to see. Further along I found three more life birds, a bunch of Virginia's Warblers (which looked a bit like my familiar Yellow-Rumped Warblers at first glance), a couple of ornery Bushtits and a beautiful pair of Black Pheobe.

One piece of advice for birding at the NBNM: know your birdcalls. I was on the trail as the day was getting late and there were a lot of birds calling. I am not used to birding in the west and most every single call was unknown to me. Had I known what I was hearing I've no doubt that I could have recognized 5-10 more species. Oh well.

After a rugged hike back out of the canyon I took the mesa trail back to my tent and on the way encountered my last new bird of the day: a pair of Juniper Titmice, a drabber cousin of my familiar Tufted Titmouse (in fact, a lot of these desert birds were pretty drab).

After about 5 miles of hiking in the Utah sun I finally made it back to my tent. Tired, satisfied and eager to get to Arzona, I fell asleep...and then woke up freezing because apparently the desert gets to like 20 degrees at night. Live and learn.

Turkey Vulture
Raven (lots)
Cooper's Hawk
Black Pheobe
Virginia's Warbler
Rock Wren
Canyon Wren
Juniper Titmouse
Spotted Towhee
Hairy Woodpecker

Birds Missed:
hmm nothing really

Tomorrow: The Chiracahua Mtns and Coronado NF


Larry said...

One of these days. I would like to make a trip out west.-It would be a lot of fun for me to bird there as pretty much everything on your list would be a lifer to me.

Justin L. Brown said...

nice bridge.

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