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Long-billed Curlew. Photo by © Rosemary Kramer.
I first heard about an ABA Camp Colorado scholarship through Eddie Hatchett, who mentors my young birders club. He told my parents about the camp, then they told me, and nothing was about to stop me from signing up! The night I heard that I had won the scholarship, my family and I were in a restaurant. My mom told me that there was a voicemail on her phone for me. I listened to it and it explained how I had won. After I’d listened to the voicemail three times, and pinched myself more than once, I started crying from excitement in front of everyone! The scholarship covered everything, including the camp itself and my flight out there. I later found out that another young birder from my home state of George, Marshall Weber, had won a scholarship out there. So we arranged to get on the same flight, so that we could talk birds the whole time!
Clark's Nutcracker. Photo by © Rosemary Kramer.
As soon as we got off of the plane I saw a life bird, a Western Kingbird, going to its nest. I wouldn’t be going home empty-handed! From the airport, we traveled to Estes Park, Colorado, and, along the way, I saw a three more lifers, all typical Western birds that I would see constantly the next week: Swainson’s Hawk, Spotted Towhee, and Black-headed Grosbeak. The next morning we woke up bright and early Colorado timewhich was about 9:00 for me. The day’s destination: legendary Rocky Mountain National Park! I hadn’t been able to get to sleep because, like the other campers, I had been so busy thinking about the towering cliffs and amazing scenery I knew we would see.
Baltimore x Bullock’s Oriole hybrid. Photo by © Rosemary Kramer.
The national park was incredible! I got some two dozen lifers, among them Black-billed Magpie, Common Raven, Steller’s Jay, Red-naped Sapsucker, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Western Tanager, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Violet-green Swallow, Pygmy Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee, Mountain Bluebird, Green-tailed Towhee, Red Crossbill, and Pine Siskin. That night we played games: Apples to Apples, Kan Jam, and Counting Sheep.
The next morning we went to the Pawnee National Grassland, a sprawling complex of woodlands, buttes, and of course grassland. It was another splendid day of lifers: Lark Bunting, McCown’s Longspur, Burrowing Owl, Ferruginous Hawk, Mountain Plover (seven of them!), Horned Lark, Western Meadowlark, Lark Sparrow, Rock Wren, and Bullock’s Orioles. Especially cool was a Bullock’s Oriole × Baltimore Oriole hybridone of the biggest hits with many of the campers.
Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Photo by © Rosemary Kramer.
The coolest thing we saw was also the craziest. After about 45 minutes at the Pawnee, we were watching a Ferruginous Hawk flying toward a prairie dog colony. Next thing you know, a Swainson’s Hawk started flying at full speed toward the Ferruginous Hawk! In less than 10 seconds, they had clashed together and were dive-bombing and fighting with each other. Meanwhile, a flock of American White Pelicans appeared in the background. It gets better: Two minutes later, while still marveling at the fighting hawks, we saw another flock of birds flying straight toward us: Long-billed Curlews! They went right over our heads and allowed for fantastic photographs and ogling. When they had flown past and we were still watching them, a pair flew out of the grass to join the flock! Six Long-billed Curlews altogether! And after that we were able to see a Burrowing Owl!
Another day, we went bird banding. We caught too many Pine Siskins to count, a Green-tailed Towhee, a White-breasted Nuthatch, a Cassin’s Finch, a Broad-tailed Hummingbird, a House Wren, and a “Gray-headed” Dark-eyed Junco. And, of course, a Mountain Chickadee! While waiting for the birds to get caught, we studied field guides and took tons of pictures. At the banding station we didn’t catch but we sure did see numerous Band-tailed Pigeonsanother lifer!
Prairie Falcon. Photo by © Rosemary Kramer.
A few of us stayed back to look for feathers to ID and study. After a few minutes, Camp Colorado Coordinator Bill Stewart stopped us to point out a Prairie Falconanother liferabout 300 feet away. To our amazement, the bird flew up, hovered, and then dove only about 50 feet from us and in between some cabins! It flew back up and then dove againand did not came back empty-taloned this time! Things got even better. As we were jumping with excitement, the bird decided to fly right for us and low over our heads! Once again, I was glad to have a bulky camera with me.
The next two days, we went to the high-elevation tundra of Rocky Mountain National Park, where we saw such mammals as marmots, elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer, least chipmunks, and golden-mantled ground-squirrels. Lots of cool butterflies, too, and amazing flora. The birds we saw in the park were nothing like the ones in the valleys. They were so camouflaged it was amazing! Especially notable were the White-tailed Ptarmigans; we got good looks at them, and we even found some of their feathers. We almost passed the ptarmigans; they were so similar to rocks! Then again, there aren’t many rocks that preen, so that was a dead giveaway! Other birds at or near tree-line included numerous American Pipits, White-crowned Sparrows, a Brown-headed Cowbird (fed by the pipits), Cassin’s Finches, Pine Siskins, and a male Rufous Hummingbird. An interesting spectacle right at tree-line was a “no feeding area” where all the birds and animals came right up to us and almost landed on us. Some of the visitors included a Clark’s Nutcracker, a “Gray-headed” (Dark-eyed) Junco, and a least chipmunk that sniffed my hand when I wasn’t paying attention! They were all very photogenic.
Evening Grosbeaks. Painting by © Rosemary Kramer.
On our last day, we went on an American Dipper spree! We went to camper Joel Such’s hometown of Lyons, Colorado, and spotted several good birds: a family of Common Mergansers, a Belted Kingfisher, and ubiquitous Savannah Sparrows. Basically, we saw everything but a dipper. Would I miss out on this most iconic of western birds? No! I was not to be denied. Toward the end of our time around Lyons, two other campers and I saw one from the car!
All good things must come to an end. It was time to head back to the airport. En route, we stopped for one last great bird, or, rather, a bunch of them!a parliament of Burrowing Owls. Next thing you know, it was the three-hour plane trip back to Atlanta. Marshall and I both used as time to study all our photos. I took more than 2,000 photos, and added 65 species to my life list in my one week in Colorado!
Camp Colorado is one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my life, and I and hope that other young birders can have the same great experience that I did. Thanks to everyone who made Camp Colorado possible!
Rosemary Kramer is a 15-year-old birder, photographer, and artist. An all-round outdoorswoman, she is a member of her school’s rifle and orienteering teams; other extracurricular activities include hunting, trapping, and fishing. Kramer proudly describes herself as bird-brained, and proclaims, “I will never stop birding!”
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