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Las Animas County! It's Colorado's largest county, one of the remotest and most rugged of Colorado's counties, and certainly one of the grandest for birding. And Las Animas County was the destination for Colorado Field Ornithologists' fantastically successful 2012 convention, held May 17–20 and based out of the picturesque town of Trinidad.
Las Animas County is bordered on the west by the 14,000-ft. summits of the Sangre de Cristo range, and the county extends east into the shortgrass desert of far southeastern Colorado. In between, one finds lush riparian woods along the Purgatoire River, stunning canyon country, and an endless sea of quiet pinyon–juniper woodlands. We visited all those habitats in Las Animas County, and we made exciting forays south into New Mexico and north to Huerfano County, Colorado.
Speaking of Huerfano County, a highlight for many conventioneers was a stop just off I-25 in the southeastern portion of the county. Field trip scouts had found a territorial male Hepatic Tanager, and the bird stayed put for us throughout the convention. Many birders got to see this bird! And that was just the beginning of the Hepatic Tanager story for us. The Mesa de Maya field trips found a pair of Hepatic Tanagers, and so did an excursion to Lathrop State Park, Huerfano County.
The Hepatic Tanager was our 2012 convention logo, and we were well pleased with our haul of these brick-orange beauties—more commonly associated with the Madrean woodlands of New Mexico and Arizona.
The Hepatic Tanager wasn't the only tanager that delighted us. One of the field trips to the spectacular Beatty Canyon Ranch produced an outrageous nine Summer Tanagers—along with many Gray Vireos, Mississippi Kites, and Red-headed Woodpeckers, a few Black Phoebes and Eastern Phoebes, a Long-billed Curlew, and a Rufous-crowned Sparrow. What an amazing mix of birds! And how perfectly emblematic of the diversity of birding experiences one enjoys in Las Animas County.
Up in the highest elevations of Las Animas County, at the magnificent Bar N I Ranch, we encountered Golden-crowned Kinglets, displaying Dusky Grouse, snow banks, and bears. Indeed, many of the field trips reported encounters with bears.
Hardy birders lingered late into the nighttime hours for owling. Sunday night's trip, led by teen birders Marcel Such and Joel Such, turned up several Flammulated Owls and a surprising Ovenbird.
We are Colorado Field Ornithologists, of course, but we're always keen on exploring beyond the state boundaries. Trips to northern New Mexico introduced us to such birding hot spots as Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge and the marvelous Vermejo Park Ranch, where we found a dizzying array of unexpected birds—everything from Merlin to Yellow-throated Vireo!
Field trips were the undeniable draw for many of the 200 convention attendees, but there were many other highlights. A wonderful treat was a Thursday evening barbecue, provided to us free by our splendid hosts with the Trinidad Tourism Board and the Trinidad–Las Animas County Chamber of Commerce. Colorado Birds Editor Nathan Pieplow emceed an educational and entertaining bird quiz on Friday evening, and he also moderated a fascinating scientific paper session on Saturday afternoon. On Saturday evening, CFO President Jim Beatty presided over a commendably brief yet informative members' meeting; after that, Prof. Brian Linkhart, who happens to be the world's expert on the Flammulated Owl, delivered his keynote presentation on the mysterious world of the tiny, deep-voiced, moth-eating, highly migratory "Flamm."
And the best thing of all about the 2012 CFO convention was you! At CFO conventions, the birds and programs are always tremendous, but what delights us more than anything else at CFO conventions is how birders get together, share and learn together, meet old friends, and make new ones.