Hard to believe and sad, today was our last full day of birding together in Nebraska. It started a bit slow in Carter Canyon, but picked up as we walked down the road. Cedar waxwings and Townsend’s solitaires occupied the tree tops, and red-breasted and pygmy nuthatches fed busily in the pines. The morning belonged to the red crossbills, though, small flocks almost continuously in the air; our tally in a bit less than two hours easily exceeded a hundred birds.
We added considerably to that total on a short return visit to the Wildcat Hills Nature Center. The finch show at the feeders and in the trees gets better and better. On our first dropping in last week, we got to see an evening grosbeak, and this morning brought something even better: a brown Cassin’s finch, generally a rare bird even this far west in Nebraska, and one I think I’d seen only once before in the state. A couple of us missed the bird, so we will stop by briefly tomorrow morning on our way to Denver. (Already!)
We moved on to beautiful Cedar Canyon, where our walk was pleasant and largely uninterrupted by birds. We did enjoy close-up views of the ubiquitous vesper sparrows:
And a very confiding rock wren let us admire the intricate beauty of what too many birders are inclined to think of as merely bland:
Unfortunately, what would probably have been the bird of the day — of the trip, of the year — was the one that got away. I’ve never seen a Baird’s sparrow in Nebraska, but I have a strong and frustrating suspicion that that is precisely what we chased through the grass for a tantalizing half hour.
We soothed our disappointment with a roadside flock that contained clay-colored, white-crowned, and Lincoln’s sparrows along with a brace of blue grosbeaks and two or three lesser goldfinches. All but the Lincoln’s sparrow were birds we’d seen several (or many) times this week, but for some of us, this might have been our last looks for some months at these common western birds.
After lunch we ascended Scotts Bluff in search of swifts. The wind up there was terrific, gusting to more than 50 miles an hour, and the local avifauna made itself sensibly scarce. We saw a couple of acrobatic red-tailed hawks, a rock pigeon or two, and a few spotted towhees doing their best to keep from getting blown off the bluff top.
We crept back to the car, heads bowed and brows furrowed, and drove back down to town. Missing the white-throated swift this time of year is a not infrequent disappointment, but it was eased when we got out of the vehicle at the Emporium (highly recommended) to see two chimney swifts low overhead. Not the apodid we’d been hoping for, but an addition all the same to what has become a very nice trip list indeed.