Aspen, Pitkin County, Colorado

Aspen trees near Aspen Music Festival grounds

June 25-30, 2017  Sunday to Friday

Central Aspen from gondola returning from summit of Aspen Mountain
A family visit doesn’t normally fit into my blog, but since we managed quite a bit of birding, here goes. BTW, while the plane came in low to land, I spotted a STELLER'S JAY out the window!

It had been ten years since I last visited Aspen. Five years after that visit my younger brother, Bruce, passed and it has been just recently that his wife (my sister-in-law), Barb Fretz, and I have been in touch by email more regularly than once a year.

The idea arose that I come for a visit to show her how I go about birding. After a week of temperatures between 115-120°F in the Phoenix area, I didn't hesitate for a moment. Base elevation at Aspen is 8,000' (summit is 11,200') providing a definite change in climate and safer breathe-ability (Phoenix ground level ozone had reached over 150 when good is 50).

Got  well acquainted with BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDS that visited her feeder (female)

Barb sent this photo after I left (hadn't had 3 at a time feeding during my visit)
Our days proceeded easily. Barb and Bruce used to hike all over the place so she knew great places for us to visit.

At ACES (Aspen Center for Environmental Studies), we found HAIRY WOODPECKER (2),
AMERICAN CROW (6),  AMERICAN ROBIN (2), a couple HOUSE WREN and a bird perched so high and distant, I couldn't discern whether it was a Tree or Violet-green Swallow, so my photo solved the problem.

VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (above and below)

Birding along Roaring Fork River and the base of Aspen Mountain on the East Aspen and Ajax Trails provided as many flowers as birds this time of year.

Me, as we cross the Roaring Fork on our way across the foothills' trail into town
VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWs were the most prevalent bird I saw during my visit and they're just hard to photograph when they're constantly in motion. But as we started on this trail, I caught sight of three BLACK SWIFTs overhead, higher than the swallows -also in constant motion and out of reach by my camera. (Life Bird) Barb suggested their wing movement was "arthritic".

On an evening when Barb had a scheduled event with her volunteer work with the annual Aspen Music Festival, I walked from her place the short distance to the Northstar Preserve where I enjoyed good birds, including CEDAR WAXWING (2) until I heard a crash of thunder. Looking up to the summit of the mountain, I saw it was raining but folks around me were not phased by it. Not knowing the rain patterns, I turned and walked rather quickly back to the house. (13 species)

CEDAR WAXWINGs (above and below)

Northstar Preserve  [photo by Barb Fretz - on another day]
A trip to Independence Pass where my brother's ashes had been tossed to the wind per his wishes, was a particularly nice visit.

We heard but didn't see two Pika

Dark-lored (oriantha) WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWs were the only species I heard or saw at this area.  Other birds on my list are from stops along the "Pass" highway.

WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (oriantha) above and below

Photo of Barb and I as she explained to me how to take our photo with my iPhone
As we drove back down the Pass highway, we spotted a Gray Fox. Always a treasured sight for me. When we stopped at the Grottos along that same road, PINE SISKIN were everywhere! Well, at least six observed; many more "zipper" sounds from within the forest.

Also here was the only DARK-EYED JUNCO I saw on the whole trip.

DARK-EYED JUNCO (Gray-headed subspecies)
Roaring Fork River at the Grottos area
Difficult Campground area with its boardwalk over the marsh proved to be my favorite birding spot. Barb totally enjoyed the early morning hush with just bird "surround sound".
BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEEs appeared to have already birthed a brood.

Apparent fledgling BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE 
Chatter among the chickadees was constant in that area of the marsh where they bounced around at eye level in shrubs about 50' in front of us.

When a good-sized gray bird with mostly black wings and tail flew overhead, I thanked my experience in Arizona's White Mountains for enabling me to call it: CLARK'S NUTCRACKER.

During one of our several visits to the Environmental Center, Barb led me to a place to see AMERICAN DIPPERSs along the Rio Grande Trail.

Standing on the bridge, I checked all the rocks in the rather deep and fast-flowing river for white-wash. The only spot I found was right below me but there were no birds there. So I stood and watched on that side of the bridge.  Sure enough!  One AMERICAN DIPPER flew out into the running stream, dipped in and returned to the side shrubs. And, then, another did likewise. Thinking that was going to be the extent of my sighting, I thanked them for my sighting and Bingo! One flew right up to a float pile of debris a short distance away from me.


Thursday was devoted to showing me how to get around Aspen without a car (as Barb does). We took the bus to a lot of places in town and out.  

Barb in gondola to Aspen Mountain summit
Babs & Barb at Aspen Summit with some 14ers in background

A bus ride "down valley" took us to a transfer location to catch a bus to Snowmass where we again took the gondola to the top (12,500').   

Flags hanging in the village
BLACK-BILLED MAGPIEs visited us at the bus stop.

Before I knew it, my time had arrived to return to Phoenix. There was much much more to my visit than the birds, but, as always, they are highlighted here.

Barb took me around the city; I met some of her friends; we grocery shopped; we ate Thai; we drove down to Basalt where she's exploring a move to get herself to a slightly lower elevation (heart); we checked out the thought-provoking Art Museum exhibits (Wade Guyton, Peter Fischli & David Weiss installations); we sat on the back patio enjoying the flowers, the AMERICAN ROBIN singing, and the comfortable temperatures while we ate dinners.

Barb Fretz and Babs Buck 

It was a special family visit that I cherish. So, until next year!

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View this checklist online at

View this checklist online at

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1 comment:

  1. Extremely smart idea! Plus Colorado is amazing. Looks like a beautiful time outdoors. I would have done the same thing. 120 degrees is not normal! I worried about it the whole time I was there. What if the AC went out and my cats were trapped in a heat cell??!! Thankfully I had the A/C checked before we left and had a house sitter but still.....120 is not a joking matter. Talk about dangerous!