Monday, June 29, 2009

Camping in Pike National Forest

Summer in Colorado equals camping in the high country. Or at least it should, as often as possible. I was fortunate to get a second trip up this past weekend, and once again had a great time. Unfortunately, the birding wasn't spectacular. The Grey-headed, Dark-eyed Junco posed nicely in the early morning light, but that was the extent of good, photogenic birds.
I think the great sleeping in open air, the lack of alarm clocks or even watches, and the presence of good friends on hikes are all conspiring against me. I know that if at some point I can rise in the very early morning hours that I can get a blind set and see some good sights, but until then I am just going to keep going back for the whole experience and let the birds be what they may.

That was not to say that it was an uneventful campsite. Saturday morning we had a prickly visitor! Not wanting a confrontation between the Porcupine and Charlie (one camping couples' six month old Yellow Lab) we encouraged the spiny fellow along by slowly walking behind it and speaking loudly in the areas where it stopped in the trees.

Unfortunately, a porcupine who is being encouraged to keep moving along only pauses in the thick brush at the base of trees, and doesn't dawdle through the spaces in-between.

The highlight of the trip was a hike to Gibson Lake. It was a 6 mile round trip hike, and a nice one at that. Our campsite was conveniently located in the vicinity of the trailhead, and after breakfast and porcupine watch we were on our way.
I did notice a difference in myself while hiking with my friends up to the lake at just below 12,000 feet. What I found was that my group was still in a mindset of reaching the destination, while over the past year I have changed my focus to the journey and appreciating the transitions between habitats. Reaching the lake was rewarding though, a cool breeze across the tundra, trout jumping, streams and waterfalls emerging from snow fields, and groups of Alpine Forget-me-nots coloring our grassy seats on the lakeshore. Poofy white clouds periodically sprang from the ridgeline, but never developed into dark masses that could spell trouble for anyone caught above treeline.
I saw a few White-crowned Sparrows, and Robins - of course, but no Ptarmigan, Rosy Finches, or other high alpine specialities. I also missed a Marmot that had been around before we arrived and failed to photograph a Pika that had disappeared on a boulder slope before I could get it in frame. Just more reasons to get back up there soon!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Family Photo from the Wren House

I ended up back at the Wren house yesterday. I really didn't intend to, but sometimes things don't work out quite as expected. I tried to stop off near a nice bend in the creek where there is a good mix of large trees, undergrowth, and willows. I arrived and found a good spot, just as some kids came by with their dogs to start splashing around. Oh well, it had been quiet when I arrived, it was a bit later than usual, and right in the mid-day doldrums.

So, in an effort to make lemonade from my lemons I continued on to the Wren nest, and was happy to get a group picture with one additional nestling. The close up of the lone individual above was nice as well, I wonder how the brothers and sisters at the bottom of the pile felt about helping him/her get a long look at the world.

It was also interesting to spend more time watching the activities of the adults in the area. There were a pair that spent the whole time I watched in a courtship like chase, around a pair of large trees and through some brush. I don't know if House Wrens raise multiple broods in a single season, or if these two had just had a failed attempt early and were looking for another chance. Either way they were fun to watch, and seemed to be having a blast.

Off to the mountains for another weekend. Hopefully more productive in the photography department but even if not I know it will be fun.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What's in that Hole?

Whose sad looking, hungry face is peaking out of the nest cavity?

I headed out at lunch today to get some outdoor time before the afternoon storms and social activities this evening. In an attempt to beat the heat and (for Colorado) humidity, so that my coworkers wouldn't throw a protest when I returned, I headed for a woody stretch of path running through the Dutch Creek Open Space in Louisville. Even so, walking the first bit through a still, open, field before the cloud cover reached me was a bit warmish. I reached the trees and drank in the relative cool of the shade. I was watching Robins and Grackles go about their business when something small and brown whizzed past me at waist level.
Another was just taking flight from a dead stump on the side of the path. There, inches from the bike and foot traffic, and no more than three feet off the ground - on the front side of the stump was an active House Wren nest.

I stepped back to the far side of the path, pre-focused, and waited for the parents to return. This one gave me a look that seemed to say, "If you have time to stand there and point that thing at my kids why don't you grab some food and stick it in those wide open mouths?" There wasn't much time for looking around though -

soon it was back off to the trees to pick up more carryout.

Back again, those mouths stay open.

A quick breather while on the hunt. It was interesting that once I had moved beyond the nest and onto a side trail I saw five house wrens all actively flying to two bare limbs at times. I am not sure if it was a common meeting point for all the parents between area nests, or what. It was the most wrens I had seen congregated though.

Goshawk Ridge, beyond the birds

The Eldorado Mountain Open Space is located in southern Boulder County, and encompasses the range of environments that are covered by the generalization, Front Range. Each time I am up there I find my self wondering just how I spent the better part of fifteen years in the area, and am just now beginning to make my visits there a priority. As I have documented in many previous posts the area is one that really resonates with something deep inside me, from the grassy hills around Doudy Draw and Marshall Mesa, to the jagged ridgeline of the hogbacks, and the steep meadows hidden behind outcroppings where deer and elk can be seen grazing from across a canyon.
This particular area has a mining history that is at times hidden away and waiting to be discovered beneath the forest canopy, and at others is plainly obvious to anyone in the area. To access the Goshawk Ridge loop trail on Monday I climbed the initial rise, and then turned right, to head north along the ridge to a road cut. I walked slowly admiring the sharp angles of the steep cut walls. A functionality first road, made in a bygone era - here evidence of the blasting holes wasn't worth the bother of cleaning up. I wasn't alone as the history soaked in. The furry guy below accompanied me through the cut, chatting all the while.

The road swung back to the south as it ran back along the western side of the ridge. On the downhill side a micro-environment of lush vegetation and on my left a much drier rocky slope with some evidence of the fire that had charred the eastern side of the ridge. This was the area where I had located the Black-headed Grosbeaks. In addition I found what I believe to have been some form of apple, growing from below up to the roadside. It was so much bushier than the apple tree from my childhood backyard that I had to take another look. As autumn nears I'll have to check back on that.
On the uphill side I had this butterfly pause. In the field I thought Mourning Cloak, but I now see that it is something different. One more item to put on the lookup list.

In the previous post about this hike I mentioned that at the point where the loop trail crosses over the ridge and begins it descent through the ponderosas that I had stopped to observe a lone mule deer as it munched on some grasses. The wind was in my face, so despite this pause to look at me the deer was content to continue snacking. It was only when the turkeys went past that the deer decided to move on.

Those giant ears are a good indication that this is a muley, but the best indicator for all ages and genders is the tail. On a Mule Deer the tail is narrow with a black tip. It looks a bit like a rope that has just barely been dipped in black paint. On a White-tailed Deer the outside of the tail is black with a white fringe, it shows white when the tail is raised to vertical as this more shy species senses trouble.
The coolest way to tell these species apart is when a mature buck is visible. Look at the rack of antlers, on a White-tail there will be a single forward curved prong with smaller individual prongs growing up and back. Mule Deer have antlers that bifurcate, or split, for each new prong. If you see antlers that split, and then split again you are looking at a Mule deer. This works well if you find yourself in a cabin, lodge, or ski chalet and want to impress your friends while warming the belly, or your feet by a fire.

There were several poppy patches in the meadows, and more individual flowers scattered around the area. The poppies completely dominate the other wildflowers in the area with their large blooms and blaze orange color.
As I approached the car Monday evening my pattern of seeing interesting mammal activity continued. This time it was a fox that crossed the road just below the parking area. He was toting something and being mobbed by two angry magpies. While the pictures I got were two blurry to post I believe he had caught a juvenile. The fact that the fox's load didn't seem to have much life left was lost on the magpies, and did nothing to reduce their rage. One of the more sobering views of the natural world around us, but one that make me appreciate a place like Eldorado Mountain Open Space all the more.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hiking the Loop at Goshawk Ridge

Sometimes my attempts at birding put me firmly in my place as a novice, and sometimes that is just fine with me.
Yesterday afternoon was just such a time. I made a last second decision to hike in the Eldorado Mountain Open Space. I did this based on an email received from a member of the CObirds mailing list who has lead me to that area in the past with reports of good sightings or rarities. Yesterday afternoon and evening my streak of not seeing what had been reported to me continued unabated, but the area and birds that I did see more than made up for it. But for a moment lets focus on a family that is still far from being manageable for me, the flycatchers.
The fellow (or female) above was sociable enough, and willing to pose in the dappled sun for a good shot. That said, I have no confidence trying to assign a species name. With each site I visit or guide I flip through I become more convinced that these little fliers will remain unidentified in the field for some time to come. Worse, they are drawing me to a point that I had hoped to put off for at least a year, the reality that I will need to begin to use my ears more for identification.

Oh well, for yesterday at least I can let the flycatcher IDs go as I focused on two new life birds that I did identify, and the great experience I had in an area that is quickly becoming one of my flat out favorites.

The first new add I yesterday was this Lazuli Bunting, makes me think of a tough guy - messed up Bluebird.

In the same area, ironically within tens of yards of the hotspot where I was hoping to add the rarity, I got identifiable shots of this female Black-headed Grosbeak. It was a species that I had to wait for an ID on, until I was able to check the guidebook.

Later, after I had completed my loop, I returned the half mile to the drainage to see if I could sight the target species. I ended up finding the male in the same area where I had previously spotted the female. His portrait suffered as the light faded making exposures take longer. The appearance is so close to the Spotted Towhee that I wonder if I have dismissed these guys in the past.
In addition to the two new species and another twenty plus that I picked up along the way, I did add a species to my Colorado list that I have been watching for all along. As I reached the summit of my hike, I was downwind. I paused as I waited for a lone Mule Deer to notice me, rather than walking right up on it. It slowly lifted its head and took a casual look at me. Then we both noticed movement to the east. The first of a dozen Wild Turkeys crossed the small trail and began working their way up the wooded hillside away from the poppy decked meadow. I found it interesting that the deer followed their lead, and joined the group as it moved off into the cover of the trees. Deer will often use one another as an early warning system. I guess that one decided to join a new herd since none of its own kind were about.

So there it is, one of my first group of Colorado Turkeys. I had such a good time that I know I will be back sooner rather than later, and when I do who knows, maybe I will have listened to a few Flycatcher songs before I head up, perhaps even the song of the yet to be named in this space target bird. I do know that I have all the makings for a non-bird post on this hike it was that good.
2009 Count: 163
Lifetime: 174

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Approach of Night

With fading daylight on Friday evening I decided to quickly check Brunner Reservoir to see if anything was heading to the water for the evening. As I walked the heavily used pathway behind the Community Center and rounded the corner at the inlet I found that I was being watched.

Those burnt-orange eyes belonged to this fine looking Black-crowned Night Heron.

The perch in a willow was only a few feet from this highly trafficked walkway, but the Heron sat still as I took pictures and several families walked past. Even when they stopped and children exclaimed " I see it! I see it!" the bird seemed unfazed.

As I snapped away and tried to get the clearest focus possible the nictitating membrane flashed over the pupil a few times. The light was great to show the comparison between the transparent shield, (above), and the bare eye, (below).

The pure color was mesmerizing as I stood for long minutes watching the changing tone of the sunset reflected on the white of this bird.

On occasion a sidelong glance was needed to let the passing families know who was boss of that willow.

At sunset on a beautiful evening like this the soft textures and warm colors were enough to keep everyone content. For me it was an evening I won't soon forget.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A good thing, I was late to the library.

A Snowy Egret was feeding along the banks of a small pond next to the building!

I worked my way around the pond keeping the sun behind me. After a walker flighted the bird back to where I had started I headed back to my car. As I did I realized I could loop back again away from the pond, and then approach again with a piece of sculpture between us. I did and was able to get these couple of good pics as I did.

It was a great moment, but the best was yet to come.....

Friday, June 19, 2009

Another great morning at Plaster Reservoir

As seems to be the case, once a new bird becomes identifiable they turn up all over the place. I guess that is fitting for a "Common" Yellowthroat. The one I saw this morning was much more visible perched up in a Russian Olive grove.

On the topic of first sightings, I was somewhat surprised to see that I had not yet gotten an Eared Grebe. Well I did this morning. The salad being pulled up from the bottom seemed a bit much for breakfast, but the grebes, pelicans and cormorants were all wearing green at times.

Keeping on the Grebe trend, this Pied-Billed Grebe was out in more open water further along in my walk.

Plaster is a great spot for waterfowl. I had another add for Broomfield, the Blue-Winged Teal below was showing off his distinctive white face in the sunlight.

Nature wasn't all feather this morning though, I caught sight of this guy on the brim of my hat out of the corner of my eye. In the fly tying world it seems like an emerger for a size 10 hook, I think it looks like a flying shrimp with those tails.

Glad I got up close to early this morning, I didn't have time for another shot at Gregory Canyon and the Scarlet Tanager, but an Eared Grebe is a nice consolation.

2009 Count: 160
Lifetime: 172

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A beautiful morning - birds

What a sight to start the day! All those warm colors against a crisp blue sky. Not to mention a juicy green bug for breakfast - Mmmmm Good!

A pair of Mourning Doves were out enjoying the sunshine, they are fledglings I believe - having a more scaly appearance and less distinct eye-ring.

The hatch isn't over though, this momma appeared to be incubating while dad came back periodically with some patching supplies for the nest.
It is certainly a beautiful morning when a Coot can eat a glowing breakfast while swimming on a surface of light.

This jay even managed to make blue on blue look good this morning as he checked me out while flying by. Such a great way to start the day. I hope to get another chance this evening.

A beautiful morning - sans birds

At least once this week I rolled myself out of bed at 6:00 so I could get outdoors before work for some good light. Boy did it pay off! The colors were great and I got enough good or interesting shots to break out separate bird and non-bird posts. Here are the non-birds, starting with an impressive nettle bloom on the lake shore.

The lake itself held some excitement as well, there were multiple bass, (I believe), plucking insects or cottonwood seeds off the surface. Not sure if it will be visible on the web, but its whole body is extended in a backwards "C" below the surface.

A probable Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly stopped to rest in the sun. The yellow got a bit washed out - but nice to have one perch anyway.

I also enjoyed watching this turtle, (Spiny Softshell), swimming along between dives. Bird post from this morning still to come.

"Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world..."

If Bogart were a Finch and smoked double cigarettes I am sure he would have just that expression. In addition to being distracted by the brilliant red above, on my stop at Stearn's Lake and the adjacent farm pond I was struck by just how high the water level is currently. It really isn't much of a surprise given our recent rains, but for two areas that are usually havens for shorebirds there isn't much mudflat real estate. Instead the cattails are sitting in floodplains. The Red-winged Blackbirds are loving it, but I was disappointed that no Bitterns were hanging out, or if they were I still haven't picked up the knack for spotting them. That is one species that I am looking forward to finally locating.

It wasn't all disappointment and classics last evening though. In unusually birder like fashion, (for me) I worked the picture of my lifer Common Yellowthroat above. At first I heard a new call as I was watching for swallows at the farm pond. It was coming from the willows on the bank, and to my ear sounded like a DJ triple scratching - Vee-teh..Vee-teh..Vee-teh. I had to have been looking right at it, but couldn't see anything moving in the vegetation. Finally, after about 5 minutes of the sound moving through the tree I caught sight of movement. I was just about to click a few blocked frames when a flash of yellow shot out, across the road, and into the reeds on the Boulder County side of the road. I saw where the shape had dropped out of view, so I approached and kept him singing with a few whistles/pishes of my own. After another ten or so minutes of his echoing my horrible impersonation of his song he rose up high enough for me to get a few shots through the wide leaves. Not bad when I get to bag a lifer and get to follow it between two counties.
2009 Count: 159
Lifetime: 171

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A day for a walk - finally

I have been eager to get back outside during a workday, but weather, and the addmittedly more important work has been keeping me indoors. When it was finally sunny today I was excited to get a chance to be outdoors in the middle of the day.
Of course this close to the solstice midday light for photography is particularly brutal. Still the Northern flicker above exploded in a red ball off his perch as I was getting a few frames. I just love when they do that. It reminds me of the first time I saw and ID'd a Flicker last fall. It was dusk and watching a brownish shape on a dirt field suddenly explode into color as it took flight through bins really caught my attention.
The birding today was particularly common, and with all the recent rain the vegetation is thick - making spotting birds in the heat of the day unlikely. I did get to watch two Red-tailed Hawks hunting over the prairie dog towns.

This was the one shot where an eye caught enough light to not be a dark cavity on the head. Hopefully some better light and timing this evening or tomorrow morning. Until then - keep your eyes on the skies!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Camping near Jefferson Lake Colorado

Sadly, a busy work schedule has kept me from posting since my three day camping trip last weekend. Tragically, a virus ran amok today, causing my computer to be reimaged and my handful of pictures from the trip were lost.
They weren't that great, and I was surprised at just how little avian wildlife I saw. The common sights were plentiful - Mountain Bluebirds, Virginia Warblers, American Robins, and Common Ravens were all around, but beyond that there wasn't a whole lot of diversity.

Granted, I was with a bunch of friends, and never did wake up as early as I had hoped to make myself a blind down by the creekside willows. But I got to do some good hiking, offroading, eating, and relaxing - all with good company. So really, if the birding had to be bad I am glad it was this past weekend.

The best news is that the Front Range forecast seems to be improving. Hopefully I will make up for the recent lack of pictures and posts with some good shots in the next few days.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nothing Special, but a good way to start the day

I had to run an errand on my way into work this morning, and the place didn't open 'till 8:00, my normal work time. So I was up and ready and had a half hour to spare today. I stopped by Alexx and Michael's Pond to see if there were any goodies around to start my day. What there were, were millions of gnats, or midges, or somethings. Whatever they were, they were prolific. They didn't really bite, but there were so many that getting them in the eyes became a nuisance.
That and keeping moving to get to work in a reasonably timely manner kept the photography more on the aim and fire side of things than any real consideration of how shots would turn out. The redhead against reflected cattails was nice though.

Some birds, like all people, just look dorky at times, despite their activities. This Northern Flicker already looked out of place on a slab of sidewalk, but getting a half inch of vertical jumping for an insect is just over the top.

I also badly focused this shot of an American Coot's foot. Their rarely seen toes are well designed for swimming and perching, but I guess if my toes looked like that I would keep them underwater most of the time as well.

Finally, after I had left and was on my way I had to make a stop and shoot through my window at this young Red-tail. He/she was so focused on something on the ground that I was able to get as many shots as time allowed from fairly close range.

If only I was disciplined enough to start every day with a bit of nature....but then I enjoy evenings as well.