Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Sage Sea

There are some places where the landscapes overshadow the birds.  A very specific and endemic bird lives around the town of Gunnison.  It is a special place for us both and it's one of the few places I don't mind dipping on the Gunnison Sage-Grouse.  Only because it means I get to come back again. And again. And again. 

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Little did we know, our time for finding new birds was over.  After Utah, it was just exploring, hiking and really just loving our road trip.  Whatever we saw was a gift.  After the extremely hot temps of Utah, Arizona, California and Nevada over the past several weeks, it was refreshing to be in the cold and misty town of Gunnison, Colorado. 

I love the grasslands of Southern Arizona so much that when we came to Gunnison two years ago, we fell in love with the landscape. Somehow, when I stand in the miles of grasses, I forget all the problems of the world.  It's like the wind carries all of life's burdens and blows them away.  I had that same feeling in Gunnison among the sea of sage.  When it rained, the sage gave off this most fragrant smell. And we hiked miles and miles within the sage forest.  At one point, I really think I had two of the sage-grouse fly up and bank sharply behind my back.  I caught 7 seconds of these birds before they disappeared.  I'm not counting them until I have much better looks.  I want pictures!

Sneak attack from a curious llama!  This character seriously came out of nowhere!

So I helped make some important markers for ebird since Gunnison is not well mapped out nor ebirded often.  I know this bird's habitat well.  We even went to visit the lek that they visit in April and May. Overall, we spent 3 days in this location walking through sage-grouse habitat.  These secretive birds hang low in the sage brush and feed from these plants in fall and winter.  The weather in Gunnison was unpredictable. It rained off and on each day.  The important part was that it didn't snow like it did last time! 

These dirt roads are long and wind around many rock outcroppings. Just to give you the magnitude of this overwhelmingly beautiful landscape, I put Micheal's car into the pic.

Somewhere in that vast sea of sage are about a thousand sage-grouse:)
The grayish green color of the sage becomes a blue-green during a rain event.  There are rivers and streams in these areas where Aspen grown.  And from within these little corners, Mountain Bluebirds, Red-tailed Hawks, Dark-eyed Juncos and other birds fly. 

Townsend's Solitaire on a cloudy day.
It was a relaxing outing full of fresh air and fall color.  During our personal journey, we made Gunnison our own special place. 

In the small courthouse of Gunnison, we filled out our paperwork for a wedding license.  After 11 years together, it was time.  

When we left the building, it felt strange.  A good strange but still....strange.  I can't explain this emotion, but after many years of being treated like a second class citizen, it felt wonderful to be recognized as a citizen with full legal rights.  It was a moment we'll never forget. 

And that is why dipping on THIS grouse is okay.  It means we get to keep coming back to this place of serene beauty over and over again. 

Our trip into Colorado would bring with it friends and family, happiness and an unexpected farewell.  But with the good and the bad, there will always be birds!


  1. Great post, Chris, The scenery and trees are gorgeous! I like the guardian Llama. Sorry about dipping and missing the Grouse! Hopefully next visit will be your lucky one. Congrats and best wishes to you and Michael. Happy Birding, enjoy your week!

  2. Hi Kreesh! Long time no hear friend, congratulations for the long awaited wedding license, hehe. Those sceneries seem other-worldly, vegetation seem stunted but amazing and awesome. Take care and happy birding.

  3. it is indeed very beautiful with the autumn colours adn wonderul view. Now surely, that red top stands out too much for the birds!!!! Llama canbe very protective and she i just doing her job.

  4. Such a great post and your photos are stunning!

  5. A wonderful post Chris - congratulations and very best wishes to you both.

    You have certainly chosen a very beautiful place - beautiful images especially the first one.

  6. Colorado is the only state in USA that I've spent any time in, Chris, and I share your love of it. Sadly, when I took my wife there, she didn't like it. She felt threatened by the wide open spaces, and didn't like the townships either! Your beatiful post makes me yearn to go back there.

    Best wishes to you and Micheal - - Richard

  7. I can't think of a more beautiful place to get married and return to often.

  8. Thats a great looking landscape - I can see why you would want to keep going back.

    cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  9. Beautiful post. Congratulations on the wedding. Do keep coming back and posting more of that beauty.

  10. Congratulations to the two of you. I've been to Gunnison once, and was struck by the beautiful surrounding landscape, so different from my part of the world where any spot of vacant earth is merely a temporary situation on the way to becoming a forest.

  11. Chris, I hope one day I get to visit and bird in Gunnison too! your photos are stunning! And congratulations, of course!

  12. We loved Gunnison too! Beautiful photos. I am so happy for you & Micheal!


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