At 8:30 this morning, I was sitting in my pickup on a graveled road in Weld County, Colorado. To the west, Long's Peak rose into a flat shelf of clouds and, to its north, dappled sunlight ignited the snowfields of the Mummy Range. What was I doing in this remote location at such an hour? One might imagine that dementia has set in, now that I've turned sixty.
The answer to that question was out the side window of my pickup, where a fascinating variety of water birds had gathered to rest and feed on a broad, shallow pool. A large flock of Franklin's gulls, noisy and skittish, dominated the scene, joined by roving bands of American avocets, great egrets, swirling Wilson's phalaropes, a trio of white-faced ibis, a squadron of mallards and an assorted mix of shorebirds. Western kingbirds hunted from the wire fence, American kestrels patrolled the area from powerlines and a Swainson's hawk circled overhead, spooking the nervous gulls. Further down the road, great blue herons, snowy egrets, spotted sandpipers, killdeer and a few more ibis fed along a stream while graceful barn swallows strafed the boggy grassland. By mid morning, a flock of white pelicans circled into the clearing sky, catching a cool, northwest breeze that hinted of the coming fall.
This idyllic site, one of my favorite birding spots in Colorado, is on County Road 48, just south of Latham Reservoir and about six miles southeast of Greeley. The reservoir itself attracts western grebes, white pelicans and a host of migrant waterfowl but is too distant from the roadways to provide close observation. However, the marshy grasslands, seasonal pools and feeder streams to its south offer a true birding spectacle in late August and September; in addition to the birds mentioned above, long-billed curlews, cattle egrets and marbled godwits are also regular, late summer visitors.