John Heizer passed away last week. John was a pioneering heart surgeon in Montana and was a well known and loved doctor in Billings. He was also a great birding companion. Although I hadn't visited with John for a few years, I will always treasure a trip that I took with John and my Dad to Colorado one April.
I can't recall all the details but I think that Dad and John had decided that they were going to go see Lesser Prairie Chickens near Campo on the Comanche National Grasslands. I was asked if I would like to go and I managed to make it work with whatever I was doing at that time - I can't remember what year it was but probably about 7 or 8 years ago now.
Anyway, we headed south from Billings and spent the first night in Denver with one of John's sons. I remember his family was very nice and we went out to eat at the in-laws Chinese? restaurant and had some good food. The next day we drove to Springfield, Colorado and spent the night after heading out to the lek site that evening so that we could find our way in the pre-dawn hours the next morning.
The next morning we were successful in seeing the birds on the lek and after visiting a bit we decided we would drive to Gunnison, Colorado to see Gunnison's Sage-Grouse. That night we were in Gunnison and the next morning we watched Gunnison's Sage-Grouse on a lek there. Again, we were visiting after that morning's show about what we could do in Colorado (we really didn't want to head home so soon)- White-tailed Ptarmigan? Brown Rosy-Finches? I mentioned that I hadn't ever seen a Greater Prairie-Chicken and like that we were off to the northeastern corner of Colorado to try find me a Greater Prairie-Chicken. We arrived in Wray in the middle of the afternoon and headed out that evening to figure out how to find the lek in the dark the next morning. When we arrived where we thought the lek should be we found a number of males displaying in the afternoon sun! After watching the birds for a while we decided that there was no need to spend the night since we had just watched what we would be seeing in the morning so we decided to head back to Montana. So in three days ( and I am not sure how many miles) I was able to see three species of grouse I had never observed before and even better I got to spend 3 days with a couple of great people. It is one of my most memorable birding trips and I remember John as a great birding companion and a genuine person.
I still laugh when I think of trying to convince Dad that his watch alarm was set to go off at 10:00 in the morning, every morning (he couldn't hear the high pitched alarm) and wandering through Casper Wyoming trying to find a restaurant that John had liked but had no idea how to get to (his sense of direction on the ground wasn't so good, but he could have probably flown an airplane right to it). I know I have one good slide of John and Dad at the prairie chicken let and I will have to find that and get it scanned and posted.
John was also responsible for getting the first documented record of a Pyrrhuloxia in Montana when he convinced a fellow doctor who had the birds visiting his feeder to let Dad and I stop by to see the birds.