This summer, I went to an American Birding Association (ABA) birding camp called Camp Colorado thanks to the generous scholarships from the American Birding Association and Columbus Audubon. The camp was located at the YMCA in Estes Park, Colorado, and it ran from July 8th to July 14th. I had a very memorable experience at the camp this year.
On July 8th, I arrived at Denver International Airport and got my baggage. Then, the campers and I loaded the vans, and we started our trip to the camp, located at the YMCA in Estes Park. During the trip, we saw Western Kingbirds mobbing raptors such as the Swainson’s Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk. The Western Kingbird was the first bird that I added to my life list at the camp. We made one stop before arriving to the YMCA at a place called Barr Lake State Park. We did some bird watching and got to see many interesting birds. Our group saw a Willet, a Western Grebe, and an American White Pelican. After we finished bird watching, we resumed our journey to the YMCA. After we arrived there, the campers and I did some bird watching around the area. Our group saw Black-billed Magpies, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Violet-green Swallows, a Green-tailed Towhee, a Goshawk, and other birds. I was amazed at the variety of new birds I saw soon after my arrival at the camp and the beauty of the scenery surrounding the camp.
On the first official day of camp, the campers and I traveled in vans from Estes Park to the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park. We walked along a trail surrounded by montane habitat and riparian habitat. In the tree branches, we spotted Mountain Chickadees, a Western Tanager, and an Audubon’s Warbler. At one point in the walk, we stopped near a stream and spotted an interesting bird called the American Dipper. It was repeatedly diving into the stream and resurfacing onto a rock. I was surprised about how the small bird could manage to deal with the strong current. Afterwards, we returned to the YMCA and witnessed a Northern Goshawk landing in a field and running across it. It was spectacular to see a raptor at such a close distance. Then, we walked to a banding station near the YMCA to watch a bird banding presentation by Scott Rashid. Scott showed us the different sized bands he uses, which ranged in size from hummingbird bands to raptor bands. He banded a Rufous Hummingbird, a Pine Siskin, and a Black-headed Grosbeak. He allowed several of the campers to release the birds once he was done banding them. He is one of only a few dozen people in Colorado who can band hummingbirds. The campers and I then listened to a presentation by Bill Schmoker about the different ecosystems found throughout Colorado. He talked about the plants and birds that could be found in each ecosystem.
On the second day of camp, our group rode in vans to the Alpine Tundra area of Rocky Mountain National Park. We were at high altitudes, so there was a unique selection of plants and animals. We followed a trail out onto the tundra and spotted a pair of White-tailed Ptarmigans on the ground. In the sky, there were Common Ravens, a Golden Eagle, and American Pipits. Near the parking lots, there were Brown-capped Rosy Finches, Pine Grosbeaks, Red Crossbills, and Clark’s Nutcrackers trying to obtain food from people. Besides birds, there were Elk walking on the hills and Pikas moving on rocks near the parking lots. After returning from the alpines, our group had the choice between participating in two workshops. One workshop was Bill Schmoker’s photography workshop. The second workshop was Jen Brumfield’s sketching workshop. The group was divided according to what each group member chose to do. I decided to participate in the photography workshop. Bill showed us the effect of different settings on a DSLR. These settings include shutter speed, ISO, aperture, and exposure compensation.
In the evening, the campers and I listened to David La Puma’s program about the evolution of bird watching and radar ornithology. He showed how field guides have changed over the years and how optics have improved. In the radar ornithology portion of the presentation, David explained how radar can be used to better understand bird migration. For example, radar can be used to identify where migrating birds stop to rest and refuel. Later at night we went owling with Scott Rashid. Scott made Northern Pygmy-Owl calls, but no owls responded. However, we spotted a Great-horned Owl for a few seconds before it flew out of sight.
On July 11th, our group headed to Beaver Meadows to do more montane bird watching. We spotted Western Wood-Pewees, Wild Turkeys, Lincoln’s Sparrows, a Vesper Sparrow, Red-naped Sapsuckers, and a Dusky Flycatcher on its nest. Afterwards, our group made a stop at Fawnbrook Inn, which was a place with multiple hummingbird feeders. I was astonished at the number of hummingbirds that were visiting the feeders. There were many Broad-tailed Hummingbirds and Rufous Hummingbirds. I applied what I learned from the photography workshop to take good pictures of the hummingbirds. I even got to take pictures of a Calliope Hummingbird. Once we were done viewing the hummingbirds, we headed back to the camp. We listened to David La Puma’s presentation about Project SNOWstorm. He explained how the large irruption of Snowy Owls last winter gave the opportunity for people to gather data from the owls. Researchers involved with Project SNOWstorm such as David would place transmitters on the owls to gather data on their movements. Normally, it would be extremely difficult to gather data from the owls because they spend the majority of their time in remote regions near the arctic. The presentation caused me to gain more interest in participating in conservation projects in the future.
Our group woke up very early next morning to prepare for an event known as the Big Day. In this event, the entire group of campers and I tried to spot as many bird species as possible in one day. Before the event started, each of us guessed the number of species we would see. My guess was we would spot 80 species that day. Our first major stop was at the Pawnee National Grassland. I was able to see many interesting plants and animals native to the short-grass prairie. Our group sighted many Lark Buntings, Western Meadowlarks, a Ferruginous Hawk, Grasshopper Sparrows, Loggerhead Shrikes, Mountain Plovers, and Burrowing Owls. We then had a lunch break after birding in the morning. During lunch, we saw a Common Nighthawk perched in a tree, and we were able to get a good look at it. In the afternoon, we continued to bird on the short-grass prairie. Our group viewed the spectacular aerial display of a McCown’s Longspur, and the display provided plenty of photo opportunities for us. In addition to birds, there were Pronghorns, Horned Toads, and even a Swift Fox. Our next stop was at the Fossil Creek Reservoir. The campers and I saw groups of American White Pelicans, an Orchard Oriole, a Bald Eagle, and many Western Grebes. The campers and I then returned to the YMCA to count the total number of bird species we spotted. We counted 89 bird species, 9 more than I guessed. I was impressed at the diversity of birds we were able to see in a single day.
On our last full day at camp, we headed to the foothills of Colorado. We traveled on a trail called the Antelope Trail, which was at a lower elevation than the YMCA. Our group got to see a unique set of wildlife. The birds we saw were Spotted Towhees, Western Scrub-Jays, Bushtits, Lesser Goldfinches, a Golden Eagle, and a Lazuli x Indigo Bunting Hybrid. Also, our group was able to see two Prairie Rattlesnakes under a rock, which was a noteworthy sighting. We could even hear it start to move its tail. At the place where we had lunch, we were able to get a great view of a Lazuli Bunting through the scope and saw birds seen before at the Antelope Trail. Next, we returned to the YMCA to do the two workshops. I chose to do Jen’s sketching workshop. She talked about the basics of field sketching and how to draw a bird. She also talked about the importance of describing the behavior of a bird such as the preferred perch of the individual. She taught us how to draw a Rufous Hummingbird and a Band-tailed Pigeon. She showed how field sketching can help us better understand a bird from field marks and behavior. After the workshop, all of the campers and I met with the instructors to discuss our experiences with birds. Campers had the opportunity to discuss their conservation and community projects such as forming a bird club. The instructors talked about their careers, education background, and favorite birds. Jen Brumfield showed us her bird pictures that she drew with colored pencils. The drawings were impressive and very detailed.
To conclude, my experience at Camp Colorado was highly memorable and educational. I enjoyed talking with other campers and instructors about birds and the environment. I was stunned at the number of new birds that I saw on the trip, many of which are not found in Ohio such as the American Dipper and Calliope Hummingbird. This camp helped me learn more about conservation and was valuable to my birding career. I would like to again thank the American Birding Association and Columbus Audubon for helping to make it possible for me to attend the camp.
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