I realized that I am not much of a morning person when we were asked to show up for our first SWFL survey at 5a.m. this past Wednesday. My persistent alarm was not well received at 0400, and I had a brief mental argument that 4a.m. was not “morning” at all – more of an extension of the night before seeing as the sun had not even begun to offer a hint of light from over Mount Blanca here in chilly Alamosa. However there was no way I was going to miss out on the opportunity to survey Southwestern Willow Flycatchers, so I threw back my covers and suited up for the day (which consisted of long socks, lightweight cargo pants, long sleeved t-shirt, a bug jacket, hip high waders, and snake gaiters).
Anjelica and I traveled to La Jara, Colorado to meet up with Lisa and Tayler and get debriefed on what would take place with the days’ survey. You see, the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, SWFL for short, is a federally protected endangered species that has critical habitat at the McSimpson Conservation Area just outside of La Jara. Every summer these birds make their way to this same area to utilize the habitat as a breeding ground. Being that they are on the national watch list it is important that we survey the area to keep track of how many breeding pairs continue to return to McSimpson and have a successful clutch that season. I was excited to hear the infamous “pfit-spewwww” sound that was specific to the SWFL and would indicate that they had made it to their summer ground another year.
After a short safety briefing we paired up and were given certain areas to hike into and listen for the iconic bird call. It was not even 6 o’clock and the morning could not have been more perfect. I had only been exposed to a quick visitors tour of McSimpson previously, and was elated to see that we were hiking inside narrow ditches, across fields of bull rush, over flooded meadows, and tearing our way through willows that grew so densely that I couldn’t see Lisa 4 feet in front of me.
It was not only a breathtaking view in every direction, but the cool morning and fact that I was storming through marshes in water boots and completely immersed in SWFL habitat in every sense of the word made for an incredible day. When Lisa and I got to our first designated area and fell silent to listen for the SWFL call, I nearly shrieked with excited delirium when the first “pfit-spewww” rang out over the cattails. They had made it back. And I could not, even in my exhausted state, let that go without celebration.