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Phillips Co. birds take hobby to new heights PDF Print E-mail
Written by Darci Tomky   

Sunday, May 15 was a monumental day for birding veteran Joe Roller when a sighting of the rare Snowy Egret marked his 200th bird species in Phillips County.

Roller, who began his “crazy hobby” of birding at the age of 12, has traveled to every continent in search of birds. When he’s not traveling the world, this 66-year-old retired physician from Denver makes regular trips in Colorado, including trips to this corner of the state to observe Phillips County birds.

“We can see things that are beyond our bird feeders,” said Roller, who describes birding as a treasure hunt.

With each bird species he can add to his list, birding is competitive for Roller who said it’s exciting to see something unexpected or rare, like the Snowy Egret.

The Snowy Egret, a rare bird for Phillips County, has been seen recently at the Lions
Club Fishing Pond in Holyoke.             —Photo by Glenn Walbek

Fellow birding specialist Roger Linfield, an astronomer from Boulder, started Roller on his Phillips County expeditions a few years ago.

“Birding takes you to some places you wouldn’t normally go,” said Roller. While he travels to every area of the state, Phillips County poses a unique challenge for him since it’s one of the places in Colorado that’s explored the least.

“It’s not just about the mountains,” he said, noting the birds are very predictable there. Eastern Colorado attracts some rare birds, different birds from what are usually seen on the Front Range.

There are about a dozen places in Phillips County Roller and Linfield like to go to observe birds, so they can hit them all in one trip.

Even though there aren’t as many areas with water as other counties in Colorado (and few public places for observation), Phillips County is a good place for birds to stop and refresh or re-energize as they make their way north for the summer.

Birding isn’t necessarily a wild goose chase for Roller, since knowledge of the birds and the environment help him know what to expect from the birds.

Roller said he appreciates the Lions Club for the fishing pond they provide in Holyoke.

That’s where Roller and Linfield saw the Snowy Egret recently. Roller said he wouldn’t be surprised to see this bird on the Front Range, but it’s certainly a rare find in Phillips County.

A small white heron, the Snowy Egret has a slim black bill, long neck and long black legs with yellow feet.

Roller said it’s possible the bird could have spent the winter along the coast of Texas and is now flying north to find a colony to breed in, possibly in Wyoming.

Around the turn of the century, the Snowy Egret was in much danger due to the use of its plumage for ladies’ hats, one of the reasons the National Audubon Society was founded for the conservation and protection of birds.

During his birding trip in Holyoke Sunday, May 15, Joe Roller captured a beautiful
photo of a molting first-year male Summer Tanager, rare in Phillips County, feeding
in the grass. This bird is green in the winter and red in the summer, so it was exciting
to see him part green and part red.           —Photo by Joe Roller

Another exciting find for Roller was the Summer Tanager, a rare bird in Phillips County.

Roller said it was a good time for birding because a strong wind from the north had been blowing for five days.

He saw the Summer Tanager feeding in the grass, which was unusual because they are almost always seen in trees. The bird, who must have thought Roller was a squirrel as he was oblivious to his presence and allowed close approach, was probably exhausted from migrating into the north wind and was too weak to fly up to the trees.

This Summer Tanager was a molting first-year male, half green and half red in color because he is green in the winter and red in the summer.

Roller has also seen a thrush called a Veery (a cousin to the robin) as well as the Hooded Warbler passing through Phillips County.

He observed an interesting phalarope who spins around in the water, creating a tornado-like effect to catch its prey.

Besides the rare birds, Roller loves the chance to see common Phillips County birds like pheasants, prairie chickens, meadowlarks, grackles and blackbirds.

“Start observing what’s in your yard,” advised Roller for those interested in a birding hobby. Start with easy challenges, like determining the difference between male and female robins.

Some places birding enthusiasts might flock to in Phillips County include the Lions Club Fishing Pond, Haxtun City Park, the sewage ponds in Haxtun, the sandhills in the southern part of the county, Frenchman Creek (when it happens to have water) and shallow lakes that form in fields after a good rain.

Besides the thrill of the 200 species of birds Roller has seen in Phillips County, the friendly people, a feeling of neighborliness and memories of his rural childhood all make his Phillips County birding experiences unforgettable.

This male Hooded Warbler’s breeding grounds are far to the east of Colorado.
Seeing this yellow and black bird is a “How lucky can you get?!” experience.
The Hooded Warbler seen in Phillips County must have been migrating north and
got a little lost or blown off course to Holyoke.            —Photo by Joey M. Kellner

Holyoke Enterprise May 26, 2011