In Pursuit of Winter

January 2018 Training Update

Dirt trails are one of my favorite things. The right trail is like a good friend, it is there if you need a good start to your day, and is there at the end of a long day when you just need to refocus. I am extremely fortunate to have a fabulous trail system just a short jaunt from my apartment in Gunnison, cutting contour lines through the sage-covered hills behind campus.

The Contour Trails

This proximity to amazing dirt can also make winter training especially challenging, as the trails become unrunnable and close due to snow cover, restricting our training runs to the roads. So, as my roommate and I cruise along the packed snow trail at the end of January, we had to ask ourselves…which wrathful god took winter away? 

Playing on the trail ©Christian Kerr

True, the ability to run trails through the winter will be an invaluable asset to my preparation for a 100k trail race in April and break some dreaded monotony of winter training. However, the intense cold and frequent snows are a part of living in Gunnison, and despite my complaints about both, their absence is both obvious and uncomfortable. Efforts to find actual snow for backcountry ski cross-training become frustrating and difficult, while in previous years actual snow was all but unavoidable.

Rock avoidance has turned into a training staple this season

So I will continue to run the trails, but with hope that soon I will soon be forced to ski them. In Colorado, winter snowpack is crucial to providing moisture to the land through dry summers, with the slow release of stored precipitation from the high country. As we roll into February, we can still see dirt in the mountains, and that is cause for great concern. Appease the snow gods; let it snow!

Enjoying the nearby backcountry ©Christian Kerr

Birder’s Guide to…Shoes?

Hey all! Just a quick shameless plug to go check out the most recent issue of the American Birding Association’s Birder’s Guide to Gear, featuring an article from yours truly! Many other fantastic authors and birders have contributed work here, and is truly worth the read. Find the online edition here, and don’t forget to support the ABA if you are able!BG_Nov2017

Be Bold, Start Cold

The beam of my headlamp jolts as I fall, abruptly illuminating dark tree trunks before merely reflecting off crystalline white snow. With an effort, I pull my leg from the hip-deep posthole I just created. Cautiously, I take another step forward. This is a common occurrence on this crisp New Year’s morning, as adventure-buddy-in-chief Austin Riley and I climb the trail in Rocky Mountain National Park in the pre-dawn blackness.

Before I can even fully see without the benefit of my headlamp, I hear it, the two-part call note of my first bird of 2018, a Pine Grosbeak! Soon we approach treeline and prepare to leave the more or less defined trail, pausing on the side of a frozen lake to equip our boots with crampons and free ice axes from our packs. The wind here is absolutely brutal, with windchill temperatures around -16ºF, and my glove-free hands go completely numb within seconds as I fumble with straps. Through the howling wind, my second bird of the new year gives its rattling call from somewhere in the spruce-fir forest below us, an American Three-toed Woodpecker.

Austin, geared up for the climb ahead

With the snow now much steeper and not a soul having broken the trail before us, the going gets a fair amount tougher and slower. Tucked into some low shrubs above treeline, though, Austin chances to flush the third bird, a rather mystical creature perhaps akin to a unicorn. With pure white plumage and striking black eyes and beaks, a small family group of White-tailed Ptarmigan break from their snow burrows and quickly shuffle a few feet away from us before bedding back down to watch us walk past.

Not bad for an iPhone picture?

As we near our turnaround point well into the alpine tundra below the steep cliffs on the backside of Longs Peak, my first mammal of the year and a fourth bird (Brown-capped Rosy-Finch) make their presence known. Unlike most mammals that live in such cold ecosystems, the American pika does not hibernate. Instead, it survives the winter off of vast reserves of vegetative material that it spends its entire summer gathering. In cold, wind, and snow that makes me extremely uncomfortable even with all of my down and Gore-tex, this tiny, cute Lagomorph lives quite comfortably, as one neeps at us from a snow-covered boulder field.

The sun rises on 2018

The final treat of the day romps into view soon after we reenter the subalpine fir. An American marten cautiously investigates us, curious as to why two humans are also out playing in the snow on such a blusteringly cold morning. It quickly loses interest in us and returns to hunting pika and squirrels, but not before I capture the following video. And for those of you curious, the remaining bird species I saw on this hike were Mountain Chickadee and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and the final mammal was a Pine Squirrel.

My best wishes to you all for a fabulous 2018! Thank you for reading, and I look forward to taking you with me on many more adventures in the coming months!

Sonoran Venturing – Photos

Just a handful of photos from my recent trip to Sonora, México! All photos © Marcel Such.

Birding the basin above Arroyo Santa Barbara for the ReMM Christmas Bird Count


Photography in low-light can be a challenge, but Colima Pygmy-Owl is well worth it
Five-striped Sparrow in its shrub of choice
The trail to Sierra de Álamos was fully socked in, rainy, and windy on the day of the Álamos Christmas Bird Count.
A little break in the weather
Crane Hawk can be a challenging bird in this area of the world!


Finally managed a decent photo of a Greater Roadrunner…even if it was so close I could not quite fit the entire bird into one frame!
Another species that almost never makes it north to the states, the Social Flycatcher!
Birding stinks…when you visit the Álamos dump in search of first state record Common Grackle (lowest left bird), along with the abundant Bronzed Cowbird
Sinaloan Crows were also quite numerous at the dump!
A candid photo of Raymond Van Buskirk, aka the most fashionable birder in the world