Travis goes to Camp Colorado Part 1: Ben Thesing

Endovalley and Beaver Meadow with Travis the Traveling Trinovid – by Ben Thesing

I woke up early on day one of the American Birding Association’s Camp Colorado, excited for an awesome day. I met Leica’s David La Puma in the lobby of our hotel and reported a Cassin’s Finch I had observed out my hotel window. David asked if I wanted to carry “Travis” the Traveling Trinovid around the building to try and get “him” a lifer, to which I enthusiastically agreed. We headed around the building to try and re-find the Cassin’s Finches, but quickly determined that they had moved on. Soon after, though, we noticed a woodpecker-like bird fly into a grove of Ponderosa Pines. It was a bird in juvenile plumage, making the ID less than straightforward. After some field guide consultation we concluded the bird was a juvenile Williamson’s Sapsucker- a LIFER for all three of us! Awestruck by this awesome sighting, David and I headed back to meet up with the rest of the group in preparation for breakfast. While walking, he asked if I would carry Travis the rest of the day and get him some awesome Rocky Mountain National Park lifers. I was so stoked to join the ranks of birders who have carried him; how could I say no!?

Travis’ lifer Williamson's Sapsucker seen behind the inn at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park.

Travis’ lifer Williamson’s Sapsucker seen behind the inn at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park.

After breakfast, we headed out to Endovalley in Rocky Mountain National Park for some montane birding.

Travis birds Endovalley in Rocky Mountain National Park

Travis birds Endovalley in Rocky Mountain National Park

With Travis around my neck, we loaded up the vans and drove off. When we arrived, we split off into two groups. I followed a group lead by Steve Howell and Jennie Duberstein. Leica’s own Jeff Bouton joined us as we headed off for a morning of lifers.

Camp Colorado birds Endovalley in Rocky Mountain National Park!

Camp Colorado birds Endovalley in Rocky Mountain National Park!

The morning started off quite well for Travis, with lifers such as Mountain Chickadee and Clark’s Nutcracker. Western Wood-Pewees and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were flying around as we continued to bird this fantastic place! The birding slowed down a bit between the Mountain Chickadees and snack time. Violet-green Swallows were flitting above our heads and soon enough, we sat down for a late morning break. As we enjoyed the chance to sit down and relax, veteran birder Steve Howell, who had been looking up, shouted, “BLACK SWIFT!!!” There was a scramble for binoculars and cameras as 28 enthusiastic birders frantically tried to find this typically-elusive bird. Everyone was able to see the bird, including Travis, who had just gotten an EPIC lifer. Soon after the swift, a Northern Goshawk was spotted flying high over the group; another Traveling Trinovid first.

Black Swift seen over Endovalley in Rocky Mountain National Park

Black Swift seen over Endovalley in Rocky Mountain National Park

After the Black Swift excitement, we birded around a bit and walked over to a nearby waterfall which, for those interested in geology or limnology, created an alluvial fan. The target bird here was American Dipper, which would be a lifer bird for both myself and Travis! After the short hike up to the waterfall, a few of us started scanning the tourist-filled rocks for a dipper. After a moment or two, a small, gray bird flew up the falls — AMERICAN DIPPER! I got myself and Travis this awesome life bird as we watched up to three individuals work the rushing waterfall for invertebrates. Once we had our fill of Dipper, we hurried back to the vans in order to dash over to Upper Beaver Meadows before we ran out of time.

Travis joins the Alluvial Fan Club with this awesome American Dipper sighting!

Travis joins the Alluvial Fan Club with this awesome American Dipper sighting!

Upper Beaver Meadows is a nice montane grassland filled with stands of Quaking Aspen and dotted with Ponderosa Pine. It was a beautiful place to bird. On the way there, I spotted a small bird on the tip of a pine branch: Mountain Bluebird, another lifer for Travis! We arrived at the meadows and followed the leaders into an area that was closed off to visitors and as a matter of fact, elk, as the large mammals pose a threat to the aspen. One of Travis’ lifers at this stop was a beautiful Dusky Flycatcher who hung around long enough for all of us to get some GREAT looks. A lifer for me, but not for Travis, a stunning male Western Tanager sporting his best red-orange jacket popped up in a bush nearby the Dusky Flycatcher. It was a beautiful bird to enjoy with an awesome set of bins!

This beautiful male Western Tanager gives great looks at Upper Beaver Meadows.

This beautiful male Western Tanager gives great looks at Upper Beaver Meadows.

My time spent at Camp Colorado was truly wonderful! I got around 20 life birds and was able to get Travis some awesome ones as well. I had the opportunity to learn from amazing leaders such as Steve Howell, Jeff Bouton, David La Puma, Jennie Duberstein, Bill Stewart, Birding magazine editor Ted Floyd, ABA president Jeffrey Gordon, and his wife, Liz Gordon.  I enjoyed spending time with these folks and being able to enjoy some awesome wildlife with them! Two major highlights from the trip (for me) were Prairie Rattlesnake and McCown’s Longspurs (there was a third big one, but I’ll leave that for another post by another very stoked camper).

McCown’s Lonspur skylarking over Pawnee National Grasslands!

McCown’s Lonspur skylarking over Pawnee National Grasslands!

The stunning butterflies of the west were fun to watch  too as I added Colorado Alpine, Silvery Blue, and many others to my life list.

Silvery Blue on Mule Deer scat in Endovalley

Silvery Blue on Mule Deer scat in Endovalley

ABA’s Camp Colorado 2013 was the highlight of my summer and is an experience I will never forget!

Happy birding!

Ben Thesing
Tucker, Georgia (USA)