Driving down County Road 57 on the edge of the Pawnee National Grasslands, I saw a flurry of avian activity on a barbed-wire fence just ahead. I pulled over to see three of the four birds had moved off a bit, leaving one little bird sitting alone. Well, “sitting” isn’t quite right, because its legs were sticking out at odd angles. “Resting” isn’t correct either, because there wasn’t much peaceful about the scene. The small brownish bird was “stuck.” I edged my truck a few feet ahead to try and get a better idea what species I was looking at, but that didn’t help. It’s hard to identify a bird when it is missing its head.Read more
This post is brought to you by the Fuzz Brothers, my dogs Digger and Jake. Digger, a large Airedale, and Jake, a surprisingly tough mix of every little foofy dog I always said I hated, are not fans of fireworks. Not one bit. As the days neared the Fourth of July, their anxiety levels steadily rose. Despite the fireworks ban and extremely dry conditions, my neighborhood sounded like the battle scenes from an Avengers’ movie played in Dolby Surround Sound. So, to alieveate the poor dogs’ stress on the loudest day of the year, I decided to take them on an Independence Day drive to one of the quietest places in Colorado — the Pawnee National Grasslands. My other Airedale, Mary, would historically go on trips like these, but she is now old and mostly deaf, and so the fireworks don’t even register. Anyway, she would rather nap.Read more
Nothing sparks the attention of a neighborhood like a new family moving in. On a quiet block of well-kept, mid-century homes, an unlikely pair took up residence in a penthouse condo formerly occupied for years by . . . red-tailed hawks?? Yep, these aren’t the typical new suburban arrivals, they are great horned owls. This pair, and especially their offspring, have united neighbors much more than backyard BBQs and block parties ever would. Read more
If you cruise along just about any road in Colorado that passes through marshy or wet land, or hike by a lake or stream, you are likely to see red-winged blackbirds. Sleek and black, with bright orange, red and yellow shoulder patches, the males are what you will notice first — sitting on a cattail, wire fence or power line singing their conk-la-lee! song. Males sing to mark their territory and attract females, both of which they will aggressively protect. I once saw a red-winged blackbird repeatedly dive-bomb a belly boater that had ventured too close to its territory. Read more
In the pre-predawn haze on a northwest Colorado prairie, every dark spot, smudge or blot you see is a greater sage-grouse — until the gathering light proves they’re not. As sunrise approaches, the “sage-grouse” become the rocks, sagebrush and clumps of dirt they actually are. But you know the birds are there because you hear them — everywhere. It’s not the distinct call of a western meadowlark (also heard in the mix) or other prairie bird, but much more otherworldly. It’s like the sounds the exotic-cute indigenous critters would make as they surround the Zachary Quinto version of Spock on some far-off planet in a Star Trek movie. Whether we know it or not, the occupants of Mick and Nancy Sommer’s 4Runner are in a contest to see the first real greater sage-grouse. I end up taking bronze. Read more
Sunset Serenity at Barr Lake State Park. Photo by Sue O’Shields
It was a beautiful early summer evening—perfect for a boat ride on the lake at Barr Lake State Park. Eight of us met at the park’s boat ramp, donned life vests and settled in the comfortable seats. Ranger Jake Zanetell backed the boat into the lake and we were off!
The evening light was soft, the clouds pastel and the breeze pleasant. It was fun to be among the waterbirds instead of looking at them from the shore. For an hour we glided across the nearly mirror-smooth lake, tucking in near shore to watch for wildlife. Buoys swayed gently in the water, some topped with gulls. These buoys mark the boundary between the waters of the park’s wildlife refuge and those where boating is permitted.
According to Michelle Seubert, park manager, Barr Lake has offered pontoon boat rides for about a decade. “The park’s boating safety program has received funding from the U.S. Coast Guard,” she explains. “This enabled us to purchase the boat and the life vests—and to help visitors who don’t own boats to learn about the park and enjoy the lake.” Read more
Have you ever seen a brilliantly colored bird disappear into a thicket of brush and wondered what it was? Maybe while walking along one of Colorado’s many rivers you saw a small, robin-sized bird dipping and diving about in the rocks and were amazed at how the bird managed to cling to the rocks as water tumbled over it. Or perhaps while you were washing dishes at your kitchen sink you happened to see all the birds at your feeder scatter as the shadow of a mysterious hawk flashed across your yard. Whatever the case may be, bird watching and bird identification is an ever-growing hobby, almost an obsession, for many folks throughout the country. Here in Colorado we have countless opportunities to view many species of birds in a variety of habitat.
Getting into bird watching is fairly simple. Here’s what you need to get started: Read more