Apr 022011

Today I did my first yard walk of the spring. Up here at 8K feet in Colorado our weather is that behind many folks, and the last big snows are finally melting (with it becoming increasingly hard to imagine new ones, but hoping anyway.)

The yard walk is a look around, a break from the work day but also a re-connect with what’s happening around. Are there turkey feathers to be found? Any fresh scat, or beds to review? Any interesting bird noises? Are the aspen budding? There are also a few daily chores…

Wildlife Garden Daily Chores

  • Check the bird water. Is it clean, is it full/fresh?
  • Check the bat box. Do we have occupants yet and/or today? Any guano below?
  • Check the bird feeder. Is it clean/full?
  • Upload the wildlife cameras. (okay, perhaps weekly)

Today though, there is also a little spring cleaning:

Wildlife Garden Spring Cleaning

  • Put out the insect theatre (we had solitary bees in here last year :)
  • Ensure any winter-only bird feeders are put away (from the bears/raccoons)
  • Ensure the bird boxes (emptied and opened over winter) are closed & ready for business
  • Put out the “welcome mat” hummingbird feeder…

Broad-tailed Hummingbird on a Hummer Stick

When to put out Hummingbird feeders?

I always put out a humming bird feeder on April 1st. No, not as a joke, as a welcome mat. I live on the side of a hill, the draw I’m next to is big/wide and often explored by eagles and other raptors. Not sure, but I feel it is a thoroughfare for the returning broad-tailed hummingbirds (hoping the smart scouts cross the saddle into this draw) and they notice the big red feeder welcome mat. Anyway, I believe in ‘claiming’ my share of the buzzing critters early, and letting them know this is a good spot to stay for the summer. Since I typically report the first hummingbird sightings for my canyon I’m either right (or just a little obsessed w/ these guys. :) [BTW: I take the feeder in at night so it doesn't freeeze.]

I hardly ever see a hummingbird before April 15th (tax day for some, hummer day for me) and then only a scout or two for a day or so. The full invasion doesn’t occur until March 1st. Still, from April 1st onwards I enjoy listening out for them.

Hummer Sticks

Opps, almost forgot the important & stress reducing hummer sticks. Be right back…

Apr 012011

Back in February, when things were cold and snowy, this season’s raptor watch began. Boulder County Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) organize closures and monitoring for a number for nesting species, and when I volunteered I was lucky enough to get Peregrines. I hardly knew that Peregrines were in Colorado, and now I get to watch them. Closely.

Peregrine Falcons by Andrew Baksh

Peregrine Falcons by Andrew Baksh @BirdingDude

Last year I watched a pair preen, feast on prey, mate, and ultimately fledge two chicks. Last week I heard a stoop (loud above my head.) This week I watched an unsuccessful stoop. I feel so privileged to be able to write those words. Peregrines are amazing creatures, and I am lucky to be able to get to know this species. The ‘scream’ of a Peregrine is now in my blood for life. :)

This week’s hike up to the birds was quiet. A belted kingfisher greeted me at the trail head. A few spotted towhee are back to claim the airwaves with their song. A small group of Scrub Jay were a nice bonus for the hike, as were the rafter of Turkey at the top.

Last week the millipedes were out in force on the trails, and this week they were joined by grasshoppers, wasps, butterflies and caterpillars. Luckily for them, the bluebirds have been, flocked, staged and moved on up into the mountains, but with these staples of the food chain here, the other birds will soon be back. Not here, not quite yet, but the Meadowlark are back in town. Bugs beware.

Here is to a nice long season, welcoming in both spring and summer, and to lots of Peregrines.

This summer (after the Peregrine chicks have fledged) I’ve signed up for the Bat Monitor program, and I’m excited at that opportunity. Volunteering is a great way to regularly get outdoors. Give it a try where you are.

Note: OSMP have granted permissions for me to write about my Falcon Watch experiences. I do NOT post locations nor timing details in an effort to preserve critter privacy.

May 112010

Wow, what a wonderful (long) weekend of wildlife!

Wildlife Drive

Not one but two Shrike, it must be Skrike Time

Friday we went for a drive, ostensibly looking for Golden Eagle. On the way out of the canyon we saw our herd of “canyon greeters” (the Coal Creek Canyon Elk herd) but also a less usual visitor, a shrike. We didn’t get close enough for an id, but it was a welcome visit. A few miles, a pair of coyote later, and we were stopped at the lookout point for eagle. To our surprise another shrike (likely a Loggerhead Shrike) came and posed on a fence post right next to us.

We saw more Elk, the obligatory Mule Deer herd (browsing the valley), and a Turkey Vulture recycling a Red Fox before we came upon the Golden Eagle sitting high on a power pylon. Today the bird was resting, preening; attempting the important work of maintaining the flight equipment.

Migrants Return

On Saturday both our local singers returned, almost as if they arrived back together. The house wren — our most energetic singer — was back from migration, and already singing from atop one of ‘his’ two bird boxes (allowing his lady choice of abode.) The green-tailed towhee — loud and glorious — was happy to pick a bush to sing from. Two of our most anticipated birds, back the same day … a wonderful event!

Barr Lake State Park

Sunday — a mother’s day treat — a trip to Barr Lake State Park. We arrived in time to catch the last available spots on the Eagle Express a naturalist guided open air ride to the eagles. We should have made reservations, but this day we were just very lucky. When you go to Barr Lake, book the ‘train’ … it is great for the young and old, and still fun for those in between.

On the ride out we saw a bull snake swimming across the canal, various orioles, and scads of crazed western kingbirds. Too cold (this year) for the carp to be splashing their mating rituals (and that is quite a sight), but the bald eagle were nesting, as were the swainson’s hawks. Perhaps the best aspect of the ride was the northern harrier that put on an amazing show by gliding feet above the reeds. A mule deer gave backdrop to the aerial display off by wandering gently past the harrier.

Barr Lake was alive with life, but perhaps the best part of the day were the many bull snakes.

Bull Snake Show

We came upon a pair of snakes right as the male was making his advances. He’d been patient and taken his time (or so we were told by other observers) but now was pressing his advantage. She recoiled, and puffed up her head (see her pushing out her cheeks) but instead of giving up he chose to strike. He hit his target precisely and grabbed her behind the neck, and now secure from her fangs he attempted his moves. We are not sure if he scored in the ensuing tussle but the two of them writhed and splashed in the waters of Barr Lake for almost a minute before separating & going in opposite directions.

He's making his advances

She doesn't seem interested. Note the puffed up head.

Not sure the outcome (in terms of mating) but he pushed his point. They tussled for a while (part of it underwater) then separated.

Mar 252010
Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon photo courtesy Boulder OSMP

As I’ve mentioned, I am participating as a volunteer in a Falcon Watch program. I’d hoped, but never realized how much I would gain from it.

My assigned location is inhabited by Golden Eagles, Buteo (Red-tailed Hawks, Ferruginous Hawk), and Falcon (Pergerine Falcons, Prairie Falcons, American Kestrels) and more. Peregrine Falcons are special; from their awe inspiring hunting technique, to their precarious history, to their grace and beauty. Having seen my first Peregrine Falcon out in the wild (other than those protected by the RSPB at Symonds Yat in Gloucestershire) last summer in Cornwall, I was thrilled to find out they were here in Colorado, and even more thrilled that I’d be watching a nesting site.

Weeks of observation from our group of dedicated volunteers and rangers, through cold and snows, and finally we were rewarded with a sighting of a (likely female) peregrine. She’d made it back from migration, and was waiting (seemingly patiently) for her partner to return from his separate location. A week or so later, and the “honey, I’m home” moment was observed. So starts this season on the cliff face…

My luck has been running high on this program. I’ve religiously made my weekly visits, I go early (to catch the dawn wildlife traffic) and I’ve typically been blessed by clement weather. I’ve seen and heard birds I’ve not seen before, and birds I love to see again and again. Same for mammals, and as the spring kicks in I hope invertebrates & plants. I’ve learned from the rangers, from the other (many more experienced) volunteers, and much from regularly spending time in this wild place. Tracks in the snow, signs, sounds … it is so wonderful to spend four hours each week dedicated to nature, and to citizen science.

One of the experienced volunteers spotted a female peregrine (the same one, she believed, that she’d monitored last year.) None of the group had seen one until now, but this identification was solid and detailed. After a few weeks of seeing GOEG (Golden Eagle) — amazing in itself — but no falcons, and especially no PEFA (Peregrine Falcon), the anticipation was high, knowing they were in “in territory” and that I might possibly see one. An hour of up-hill, lugging binoculars, a spotting scope and full-length tripod on top of a pack full of back-country gear was decent exercise. Getting to the slope and getting set-up took it’s time, but I was there/waiting…

Without fanfare a PEFA flew into the canyon, gave an audible or three, then settled to top of the rocks. There I was, staring at my first Coloradan Peregrine Falcon, hundreds of feet above me on the cliff top. Thrilling. I was able to bring her into view in the spotting scope, view her adult horizontal markings, and really observe her. For 30 minutes she sat, casually observing the things around. Preening, resting on one foot, totally aware of all around her yet casually disinterested. Waiting.

The experience of watching this graceful bird, being able to watch her intimate behaviors was beyond a thrill. It was truly, truly exhilarating. That moment will last with me for a long time. A few weeks building to this, and a more than satisfying reward.

A week to the day later found me sitting atop some scree with views open to the skies, once again hoping to see this lady. I’d not been waiting long when not one bird, but two … two PEFA flew into territory. Together they explored the valley, cliff faces and then on to the cliff she’d been waiting at. Thirty minutes or more they spent poking around the cliff, the cliff that presumably they’d nested at last season. Some brief jaunts around the valley, but mainly cliff exploring.

Now I’ve seen not one but two peregrine falcons in Colorado. I’ve watched them, and am starting to connect with them and their year’s endeavors. I cannot describe how exciting this is, and how privileged I feel to participate.

If you enjoy connecting with nature, consider participating in such a falcon watch.


Note to those concerned: I’ve checked with OSMP on what I should (and should not) post on this topic, and now and during the nesting season will limit my comments to those that do not convey more information than can be found on the OSMP website.

Feb 212010

I was out hiking the other morning and came upon a critter I’d not encountered before. Okay, I’ve seen the species (I believe it was a red fox) however it wasn’t red, nor silver, nor white (albino/leucistic) … it was jet black!

I didn’t know such a coloration existed for a red fox, but doing some research it seems they do occur naturally. This guy was not going to hang around for me to see if s/he had a white tip to the tail, s/he ambled up the hill (with the typical fox bounce in the step) and disappeared over the rise.

S/he left quite an impression with me. A wonderful start to a hike. One more indication of how there is so much new and exciting to learn outdoors…

Black Fox on the Hill

Black against the snow

Black Fox Silhouette

Black, not that a Silhouette can show that

Feb 152010
Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon photo courtesy Boulder OSMP

This year I applied to be a Raptor Nest Watch volunteer with Boulder Mountain Parks & Open Space. I found out about the opportunity on the Boulder county nature-net mailing list (from the Boulder County Nature Association) and found myself thrilled at the opportunity to monitor nests of eagles, osprey, falcons (and other species.) Bird of prey are so spectacular, and yet other than the few standouts like the eagles/osprey so hard to identify in the field (for the non-native birder, like me.) As such, ever since I applied I’ve been excited about what I’d learn.

I was lucky enough to be accepted into the program, and assigned a nest site not too far from my home, and in a beautiful location (not that they all aren’t around here.) I was assigned peregrine falcon, a bird I hadn’t even realized was around here. I saw my first Peregrine Falcon (at least first since perhaps in childhood) when in Cornwall, UK last year. I was hiking along the clifftops and a parent/offspring duo flew past me granting me a wonderful close-up. Having them here in Colorado, near my home, wow … awesome!

I’ve never been much of a joiner, and I like my nature empty (except for wild critters, my iPhone to record my wildlife, and my dog at camp) so this application was a first for me. Amusingly perhaps I’ve joined the volunteer program that suits this preference best, since observers perform their observation duties by themselves and exchange reports via e-mail. Still, I’ve met others in the team (for this site) at the orientation meeting and on a field trip, and both times enjoyed their company. It is nice to know who they are, to understand the pleasure we all share from the outdoors, and to get and share reports on the site. Working behind the computer of a day it is wonderful to be vicariously taken outside, to connect with this wildlife location.

My first solo trip for the weekly two hour observation duty met with decent weather, and clear skies. Falcons (other than Kestrels, which are partial migrants here) are only just returning to Colorado so there is not much falcon activity, however the Golden Eagle put in an appearance high above. A pair of these massive & majestic birds rode the thermals along the ridge-line (rising, tucking wings and diving to rise again as if having a roller-coaster of fun) before resting on the rocks above. Townsend’s Solitaire were the ‘dawn’ chorus, with American Robins soon taking over as the noise makers.

All in all a very pleasant time of putting the busy world aside for a while and sitting watching the natural world while contributing to natural science. I am so grateful of this opportunity, and am looking forward to the nesting season ahead.


Note to those concerned: I’ve checked with OSMP on what I should (and should not) post on this topic, and now and during the nesting season will limit my comments to those that do not convey more information than can be found on the OSMP website.

Jan 042010
Bald Eagle eating fish for supper

Bald Eagle eating fish for supper

To end 2009 we took a family trip to Lake George, CO.

I went up early Christmas afternoon to get the icicles out of the cabin. I arrived shortly before dark and was welcomed by a couple of Bald Eagle. The adult had a fish, perhaps from the ice fishermen or perhaps from the South Platte river. The more cautious bird, apparently a juvenile, stayed behind.

Despite the low light these birds treated myself, and a couple of other wildlife lovers (who gathered in freezing temperatures to take photographs) to a nice close up.

Wow, what a present. :)

The time offline at the cabin was a wonderful family week of sledding, cross country skiing and ice skating and hiking in the hills. Amongst the tracks in the snow (and how I love reading the tracks to see what is where) I found & followed a pair of mountain lion tracks and vicariously enjoyed their stalking the deer.

At times the weather turned bitterly cold, and then the birds and critters came to the feeder. It was great to share the week with these guys…

Stellers Jay -- Whats Up?

Steller's Jay -- What's Up?

Fluffy Seed Eater

Fluffy Seed Eater

Aberts Squirrel ... don't get your tongue stuck!

Abert's Squirrel ... don't get your tongue stuck!

Oct 282009
Coal Creek Canyon Elk

Coal Creek Canyon Elk

I’ve been working too much recently, a confluence of events but the results (hopefully worthwhile) will be announced shortly. Still, one result … a tired/unfocused brain (way too prone to wildwalking in Twitter-land) and an antsy body. With a big snow storm (foot or more) expected to hitting the next day or so, I needed to get out and #playoutdoors. The goal of “go see the Elk” came to mind, a wildlife goal, time to go wildobs’ing…

I grabbed my binoculars, camera (not taken her out enough) and iphone and set off to the bottom of the Canyon. There is a winter warning for an approaching snow storm, and I know the Elk like to move down into the flatlands (down from the rugged foothills) when storms approach. I wanted to find them.

As I approached the the place I hike I stumbled upon a mule deer foraging openly on bushes, then a red-tailed hawk sitting high on a tree above. (I’ll post photos of both later.) I wandered out into the hidden valley and found it such a wonderfully warm/calm fall day I really couldn’t help but to sit and just enjoy. Gosh, yes … fall is my favorite season in Colorado.

Black-capped chickadee (they always look so sharp and dapper) and magpies kept me company, although one small wasp didn’t seem to want me there. Hmm, quite a few wasps and other bugs about on this warm day … I wonder if (and then how) they’ll survive this coming snow.

No Elk to be seen in the hidden valley (I didn’t expect them there, too ‘claustrophobic’ for daytime) nor on the plains (I did there.) After a few minutes sitting a movement caught my eye up the hill. A herd 50 or more strong was coming over the railroad tracks, slowly making their way to the plains. I’d gotten ahead of myself (or at least the Elk) and was there before them. So, I returned to where I’d started (the closest point to them) and savored the scene.

I stopped to photograph a fluffy caterpillar [have an id for m? please comment] (how late in the year is s/he?) and that moment delayed me just enough to reach a fence line just in time to enjoy a northern harrier doing it’s ‘circuits and bumps’ over the field. Gosh, I was getting far more than I’d hoped for, a simple yet wonderful wildobs’ing trip.

It might not have been the most energetic or adventurous trip out, but it sure recharged my wildlife batteries. Yum!

May 192009
North Table Mountain

North Table Mountain

I was preparing a guest posting for the excellent The Grass Stain Guru website and wanted an outdoors photo of WildObs Observer (iPhone application) for the posting. I was taking a hike in one of my current favorite open spaces North Table Mountain and so I took my iPod and my camera. I felt a little weird doing “a photo shoot for an iPod”, and I am no photographer, but I had a fun trip out. [Click any photo for a closer view.]

Perhaps it was because I was slowly moving (taking a photo here, another there) but I also had a very natureful trip. A skunk wandered by me uninterrupted by my presence. Massive bees buzzed past me going about their business. I discovered rock squirrel (a first for me.) I saw lizards and birds I had not seen this season. It was quite a memorable trip.

Colorado is living up to it’s “colorful” name right now with glorious wildflowers, and even a seasonal waterfall. Yes, this open space is one of my favorites right now.

At the start of the trip. I am sure there is a fly catching bird (perhaps Kingbird) in there somewhere, but clearly my arm isn’t long enough to get both the iPod and the critter in focus. [I tried with the skunk, even risking myself by getting close, but the photos just didn't work out.]

Photo Shoot for a Wild iPod

Photo Shoot for a Wild iPod

Ok, a rock … that seems a good place to try. Nice background w/ the mesa:

Rock iPod

Rock iPod

Wildflowers, now there is some color.

Wildflower iPod

Wildflower iPod

Here is what I really came for. Up on top of the mesa some flowering cacti:

Scenary iPod

Scenary iPod

Ok, the water “fall” is a trickle, but still worth a shot:

Waterfall iPod

Waterfall iPod

More blooming cactus:

Flowering Cactus iPod

Flowering Cactus iPod

More color:

Wildflower iPod

Wildflower iPod

Again, a bit of a daft endeavor but a fun way to get some exercise and be outdoors amongst nature.

Apr 172009

Lake George is a wonderful little lake: built as an ice producer for the miner at Cripple Creek, newly refurbished after muskrat undermined it’s dam, currently undergoing random dredging attempts, below 11 mile canyon and next to the South Platte River (when it is but a stream.) It is also next to the cabin we go to.

Lake George (albeit now full)

Lake George (albeit now full)

This weekend it saw frost/rain/snow but also sun/blue skies. Each walk around it was a different and invigorating experience. Spring is building on the lake.

There were more water fowl (mainly coot & ducks) than it normally sees; a vast array of species. Luckily I had a sister-in-law wildlife biologist (central flyway) to help me identify the species ‘cos I was lost amongst the masses. Gadwell, Pintail, Cinnamon Teal, Canvas back, Merganser, Bufflehead the list goes on. It was great to see them out enjoying the lake and feasting on it’s weed before they moved north. A mass of life.

On the cold mornings (after a spring snow) there was a thin layer of ice on the lake, and frost on the ground & cat tails. Red-winged blackbirds were settling in, with males singing to the world. A Belted Kingfisher stalked along the Platte, it’s call clear and distinct. On the muddy banks (even down at the water’s edge) mountain & western bluebirds took advantage of the damp ground to find food. Nice to see all these guys back for the season.

A couple of muskrats showed themselves to us in the river. Swimming away oblivious to the fact that they’d been the primary cause for a $1M & multi-year dam repair job (they’d just  been doing their thing & burrowing.) These guys remind me of the (somewhat cuter) water voles of the UK, just bigger/more gangly. Encounters with them make me smile.

The Tarryall Mountains red, and further enhanced with sunrise light, surrounded a low patch of cloud (technically fog I guess) from the remaining evaporating snow. The view from lakeside over the water and to this sight in the west was breath taking. Slowly the fog moved up and dissipated.

Turkey vultures (firsts for the season) demonstrated their amazing gliding skills, effortlessly skimming high and then low (almost brushing the ground) as they search for carrion. Ugly with the red faces yet beautiful in flight. Again, a welcome return for the season.

No bald eagle this weekend, but before we left we had one quick search for “a large white bird” my wife noticed flying over/down to the lake. Our inquisitiveness was rewarded by the gift of (separately) a white American Pelican and an Osprey both fishing the lake (although the Pelican took the more sedate approach.)

Spring is growing fast & strong at Lake George, CO.