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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lawrence of Suburbia

Last Thursday, a bittersweet email arrived in the early afternoon. A male Lawrence's Goldfinch, Colorado's first, was visiting thistle feeders in Grand Junction, Colorado. I got a message on my phone minutes later- a crew of my buddies were leaving Boulder imminently to race the sunset west to Grand Junction- about a 4-hour trip. With work and family, I couldn't make the run. I was excited that Colorado had picked up another species for the state list (probably #485, pending acceptance of a few others in the queue), but bummed that I couldn't go for it- especially since it would be a lifer for me.

My friends, however, heard the worst words that birders on a chase can hear- "you should have been here a few minutes ago..." As they were driving into Grand Junction, other birders were calling them to report that the bird was on the feeders even as they spoke. But minutes later, when they arrived, the bird wasn't there and didn't show up in the remaining light of the day. In sports they talk about the "quiet bus" that the losing team takes home- I'll bet that it was a quiet car that finally pulled away from the house in the darkness of Thursday night.

Of course, after driving to the west slope my buddies didn't just head back home. They made a night run in some of the state's best areas for things like Flammulated Owl and were rewarded with success. Crashing for the night, they were then back at the feeders 1/2 hour before sunrise on Friday morning. No bird. For almost two hours they waited with no Lawrence's Goldfinch. They were about ready to leave when the bird finally appeared. I can't imagine the relief that they felt when this little stunner appeared among the Lesser and American Goldfinches on the thistle feeders.

Meanwhile, I was back at work on Friday, waiting for news of the bird. The first report came after that morning visit, and an afternoon update indicated that the bird was coming in fairly regularly, about every 1/2 hour throughout the day until evening. For added incentive, one of the LAGO seekers saw a Common Blackhawk at a nearby state park. A couple of other working bird buddies of mine hatched the crazy idea to make the drive on Saturday morning. Drive we did, earning the hairy eye of several state patrollers on saturation duty over the holiday weekend but avoiding any pullovers. We also got news en route that the bird was back, greatly cheering the mood of our car. Once there (almost 5 hours from when I left home) we waited a little over half an hour- one very long half hour- before the bright fellow appeared. NICE!

We enjoyed several short visits over a couple of hours, soaking in the beauty of the little bird. Other birds like Gambel's Quail, Blue Grosbeak, and both expected goldfinches filled in the gaps between LAGO visits. Photography was tough, because the bird was very small and moved about frenetically. I got some DSLR shots but opted to set up my digiscoping rig for subsequent visits in an effort to capture more detail since observers had to stay on the back porch, a bit far away from the feeders for excellent photography. At least the bird favored a particular feeder so I could pre-focus there and pretty much start hammering when it arrived. Lighting was kind of tough, too and I wasn't getting great shutter speed, so I knew most of my shots would be blurred by the bird's movements. So I basically just shot in continuous mode for about as long as the bird was there to try to get a few magic moments when the bird paused. The pics of the bird show it upside-down because it liked one of those inverted thistle feeders- kind of a funny, Audubon-like pose but I can't complain.
Big thanks go to Larry Arnold, who found the bird and graciously opened up his back yard for whomever wanted to go looking for the bird. As of this (Tuesday) morning, there hasn't been news of the bird, but it was around all yesterday. Hopefully that was long enough throughout the holiday weekend for folks wanting to see it to get their chance.


Jeff Gyr said...

Howdy, Bill--

Nice shots of a very cool bird, indeed. Also liked the music/peripherals post. Keep 'em coming.

Meanwhile, I'm contemplating what to do with my own, estivating blog...



Jeff Bouton said...

Dude.. what a stud! (yes I'm talking about the bird) I saw my first Lawrence's this January but only a dull female after hours of searching on 7 different ocassions over the past few years.

I'm VERY jealous... nicely done!