On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
Happy Monday! Here’s a peek at our schedule for On the Road this week.
If I’m not mistaken, this is the first On the Road submission from Winter Wren. Welcome! (Love the nym!)
Southeastern Arizona in August sounds like a very bad vacation destination to most folks, but birders know that it is ideal for a lot of reasons. First among those is that it is the peak of hummingbird migration and vagrancy season, when you can see 10-15 species of these flighted jewels pretty easily. It is also monsoon season, and the regular thunderstorms cool things off reasonably well, contrary to most people’s notions about Arizona in August. So I made plans to head down there in mid-August, driving through the states of KS, CO, UT and AZ on the way.
I did get lots of pictures of hummingbirds, but this initial batch will only include one of those (to whet your appetites for more!), along with some of the birds and scenery I saw along the way.
This young Bald Eagle (Haliæetus leucocephalus) was at the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Management Area, a 64 sq. mi. wetland near Great Bend Kansas. Water in that wetland has been sporadic in recent years, but there was enough to make a side trip worthwhile on my way southwest. In wet years, shorebird numbers at Cheyenne Bottoms can be spectacular in both spring and fall migration. Click here for larger image.
My intermediate destination in Colorado was the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in the San Luis Valley of south-central CO. But along the way I found this stunning dark-morph Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsonii) near Lamar CO. Dark morphs of this species are quite common west of the Rockies, particularly in California, but uncommon east f the Rockies (where I found this one), and pretty rare in my part of Flyover Country. So I took quite a few shots of this one! Click here for larger image.
A bit further west, along CO 10 between La Junta and Walsenburg CO (a lovely lonely drive with little or no cell phone reception), I got some shots of a bird that has photographically eluded me for a long time. This is a Chihuahuan Raven (Corvus cryptoleucus), although you can’t tell that from this picture. It closely resembles the Common Raven, but has a different call and a somewhat different tail shape when seen in flight. This is a bird that lots of North American birders have never seen, an iconic species with a limited range, the High Plains short-grass biome of North America. Click here for larger image.
The other attraction of the San Luis Valley is the Great Sand Dunes National Park, tucked between the Rio Grande River and the Sangre de Cristo range of the Rocky Mountains. You may have heard that the Colorado Rockies got a prodigious amount of snow in the winter of 2022-23, and indeed there were still some tiny isolated snowfields on the fourteeners of the Sangre de Cristos in mid August. Click here for larger image.
The Monte Vista NWR the next morning was not exactly a birding paradise, but there were some things to see. This Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) was having a salamander for breakfast as I pulled into the refuge that morning. Click here for larger image.
There were lots of baby birds of the waterfowl variety, including this Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) mama with some of her ducklings. Click here for larger image.
As well as this Pied-billed Grebe (Podilympus podiceps) mama and her stripey-faced offspring. Grebe youngsters have some marvelous looks! Click here for larger image.
But the highlight of the baby bird category that morning was a flock of at least a half-dozen recently-fledged Marsh Wrens (Cistothorus palustris). They were quite curious, probably never having seen a photographer in their midst before, and gave me lots of opportunities to take their portraits! Click here for larger image.
Among the sparrows who were active at the refuge that morning I found Vesper and (surprisingly to me) Song Sparrows. But the only one who posed for a decent portrait was this Brewer’s Sparrow (Spizella breweri). This species has a large range in the western part of the US, and seems to be doing okay overall, but some of the subspecies populations (e.g., Timberline Sparrow) are declining. Click here for larger image.
And finally, a hummingbird picture, as promised. An adult male Broad-billed Hummingbird (Cynanthus latirostris) feeding on some agave or yucca flower that was planted near the B&B where I stayed. I suspect some of the excellent gardeners here can ID the plant. Click here for larger image.