Sunday, February 22, 2009

Recovery at the Refuge

After my very enjoyable first day skiing this winter I had some lactic acid that was screaming to get out of my calves. So I headed over to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge to do some walking. I love the drive in almost as much as anything about the Refuge. I head north from I70, through some light industrial area with warehouses and train-tracks. The four-lane road hits a "T" intersection at the gatehouse, and after pulling through the road is transformed into a two lane road in the prairie. Granted there is still a mountain of rubble left from the old Stapleton Airport runways, but even that is shrinking. The best part about the road is that generally you can take your time driving down it, and you never know what you are going to see before you even reach the visitor center. In the past I have seen Bald Eagles, herds of Deer, and Coyotes just as a kind of appetizer for what awaits in the refuge proper. Today I was looking left as I drove along slowly, and spotted a nest with what may have been a lump in it. I dug out my bins and sure enough there was a Great Horned Owl nesting within sight of the road. I grabbed my camera and got a few quick shots, but the nest was to far to be more than a large blob in a tree.
Being in my car I decided to try something that I haven't done much in the past. I pulled my 2X extension tube out and attached it to my lens. I was able to use my door frame as a solid rest for my arm and got a much more satisfactory image.

After getting a few frames I headed on to begin my actual walking part of my recovery effort. I started off in the same general direction that I normally follow, heading out across a floating bridge on Lake Mary, and then popping up to the road that overlooks Lake Ladora to see what there is in the way of waterfowl. Being mid-day it was not the bird paradise I have seen in the early mornings, but I did see large numbers of both Common Goldeneye and Canvasbacks, with a handful of Common Mergansers thrown in for good measure.

While watching the Lake I enjoyed a Northern Harrier hunting on the far side, out of camera range, but a fun show through the bins. I walked South and East away from the lakes and through open fields and low shrubby growth. There was not much bird activity, but I did see two Bald Eagles ascending a thermal, and two Red-tailed Hawks perched at the top of a large tree. As always I was surrounded by deer, near the lake I had six Mule Deer casually walk behind me through an open field, and later I passed another group lounging under trees.

I crossed back to the East and returned to my car via the Prairie Trail. Unfortunately the clouds were filling in, and aside from the Prairie Dog town there wasn't much activity to be seen. It was a beautiful day for a hike though. I love that in Colorado you can be carving turns in fresh snow one day, and be warm on an easy hike the next. Spring is close at hand in our urban prairie refuge.

Finally as I drove back out I caught site of a Kestrel with prey. I made a quick stop to soak in another great moment at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal.

2009 Count: 61
Lifetime: 91

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