Sunday, December 25, 2016

Plains, Cranes, and Trains

Back in late October Rocky and I set off to watch the Union Pacific #844 pass thru western Nebraska on the way to the Great River Crossing celebration in Memphis.  There was cold rain falling out of low gray skies as we left Denver.  I wondered if we'd made a mistake, but as we got closer to Sterling, the skies cleared and the temps climbed back into the low 50s.  We camped at North Sterling Reservoir State Park out on the eastern plains.  Its up in the sand hills a few miles north of Sterling.   Nice big vista in all directions, especially of the higher ground of Petz Table to the north where there is a huge wind turbine farm. I was sitting there in the sun reading when I heard the sound of sandhill cranes.  I was having a hard time determining where the sound was coming from when I realized it was coming from the sky.  Way way up high were wave after wave of cranes migrating south.  The were so high it was difficult to see them with the naked eye.  I had to really zoom in to bring them into clear view.  They kept coming over all afternoon, and finally about dusk a flock settled in a field off to the east.   Out across the reservoir, which was down by like 40 feet, were hundreds of white pelicans.  Hundreds of them.  The shore was white with them.  The morning of the second day we got up and drove about 40 miles northeast to Lodge Pole, Nebraska where the #844 was scheduled to stop about 11AM for servicing.  On the way we drove by a marker for the Pole Creek Pony Express station.  We got to Lodge Pole in plenty of time, which was good because the train was early.  I could hear that steam boat whistle for miles as it worked it's way west.  Rocky did not like the huge smoking, hissing, clanking machine, so I took him back to the truck while I watched the crew service the engine.  We stopped in Sidney, Nebraska on the way back for a runza - German cabbage burger.  Love em.

During one of our late October trips to Lake Pueblo I could see the Junkins fire still burning on the slopes of the Wet Mountians a few miles west of the park.  It flared up pretty good one afternoon.  I didn't see any slurry bombers working it but with binoculars I could see the flash of helicopter rotors as they did bucket drops on the hot spots.  The tankers had been flying in days previous.  They worked out of the Jeffco airport near the house.  I heard and saw them taking off and landing all during the day for several days.  One big C-130, an old Neptune piston with jet assist, and a small four engine jet tanker I had never seen before.

Early November was very very warm and sunny, so Rocky and I took off to look for the super moon down at Lake Pueblo.   We saw the usual suspects of canyon towhees, curved bill thrashers, and scaled quail.  The later drove Rocky nuts.  They would march into camp and then when they discovered Rocky they took off running enticing Rocky to chase them, but that's not permitted.  He finally became content to just watch them.  We sat by the campfire waiting for the super moon to rise in the east.  Man that thing was bright!  Lit up the landscape most of the night, while owls hooted in the trees.

Also during that November warm spell we had a great horned owl land in the neighbors tree one afternoon.  He posed for pics for all the neighbors.

The last couple of days we've had an immature bald eagle hanging out down at Lake Arbor.  We saw him two days straight either out on the ice eating some fish and a dead goose, or sitting on a perch in a cottonwood that over hangs the lake.  He was gone today.  I wonder if it was a wintering eagle or offspring of the breeding pair over at Standley Lake not far from here.  I know I saw two eaglets in their nest in the spring.

We're into deep winter now.  Days are short and while I'm anxious to get out and camp, those long cold nights are not very appealing even though we stay nice and toasty warm in the camper.  I just need some good sun and a good meal in the dutch oven.
Historical marker for the Pole Creek Pony Express station near Sidney, Nebraska.

Waves of migrating sandhill cranes above North Sterling Reservoir State Park.

More cranes at even higher altitude.

Union Pacific #844 being serviced at Lodge Pole, Nebraska.

The Junkins fire was still burning on one of our early fall trips down to Lake Pueblo.  I could see helicopters doing bucket drops when the fire blew up in the afternoon. 

The curved bill thrashers always visit camp down at Lake Pueblo.  If I leave the camper door open by accident they will even go inside looking for a goody.  

Another usual suspect down at Lake Pueblo are the scaled quail.   
View from camp on the super moon trip to Lake Pueblo.  

The super moon over Lake Pueblo. 

You don't see a lot of prairie dogs down at Lake Pueblo anymore, but every now and then you find one. 

Connie and Rocky on a winter's day walk around Lake Arbor looking for the eagle.

Immature bald eagle at Lake Arbor in Dec. 2016.

The eagle had just finished eating a fish it had snatched away from a gull.

The Lake Arbor eagle again.

We hear owls hooting in the neighborhood every now and then.  This one spent an afternoon trying to snooze in the neighbors big maple tree.  He was quite a hit with all the neighbors.  
Huge flocks of white pelicans at North Sterling Res. in late Oct. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pueblo Spiders

Year or two back I was camped at Lake Pueblo State Park, having dinner on a beautiful, warm, late Sept. evening.  Out of the corner of my eye I caught movement down around my feet.  I jumped up when this big tarantula marched by - a big brownish tan spider.  I thought, what the hell.  Is that thing a pet escapee from a near-by trailer?  I ran to the truck to get my camera, but by the time I got back I couldn't re-find the giant spider.  It was trucking right along when I first saw it.  In the morning when the ranger came by checking camping permits, I told him about the spider.  He said, oh, yes, some falls they come out in great numbers, mostly males looking for mates.  In all the years I had been coming down to Pueblo I had never seen one before.  I had no idea we had tarantulas in Colorado.   I did some research when I got home and found out they are quit common in the southeast corner of the state, and indeed, some falls the males do come out in numbers looking for mates.  You never see them the rest of the year.  I guess sometimes they are so numerous there will be hordes of them marching across the roads.

So earlier this week, Rocky and I set out for Pueblo to look for giant spiders.  The first morning we had walked down to the lake shore for Rocky to take a swim.  On the way back to camp there was a spider trucking along up on the flats.  They can really move along.  Got a couple of pics.  Rocky didn't quite know what to think of it.  I didn't let him get real close.  I kind of kept my eye out for them the rest of the time we were sitting around camp.  They seem pretty docile, but I don't know what Rocky would do with one if left to his instincts.

Didn't see a whole lot of other wildlife.  Lots of bunnies, he usual curved-bill thrashers and canyon towhees were around camp. Saw the resident osprey catch a fish.  We camped in the same spot we camped in a couple weeks back in late August when we saw all the little lizards.  No sign of them this time.  I wonder if they have already gone in for the winter?  It was quite warm this trip, but no sign of them.
Camp at Lake Pueblo State Park.  Rabbit brush is about the last thing to  blossom  in the fall. 

Cruved-bill thrasher checking out camp.

Tarantula at Lake Pueblo State Park, Sept 25, 2016.

Curved-bill trasher at Lake Pueblo State Park.

Two cedar waxwings along the Arkansas River below Lake Pueblo Dam.

The morning we left we saw a flock of cedar waxwings down along the river.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Sunflower Jungle

We cut down two gangly fir trees in the backyard this spring.  We didn't have the stumps removed, but wished we had as they were rather ugly right next to the pond area.  As spring progressed, we noticed a bunch of sunflower plants starting to grow in the area around the stumps.  We decided to just let them go.  They turned into a sunflower jungle hiding the stumps.  They have also attracted a flock of American and lesser goldfinches.  They have been a joy with their constant song and bright colors.  They continue to feast on the sunflowers everyday, and have completely cleaned out maybe a third of the flower heads.  They also enjoy bathing and drinking at the smaller of the pond waterfalls.   Hopefully they'll stick around for the winter.

Our butterfly bush has attracted a number of butterflies this summer.  First it was a number of tiger swallowtails, and now in the last week a bunch of painted ladies.  I did a story once on an elementary school program where students grow and release painted ladies as part of a biology project.  I think they still do it, so I wonder if these are freshly released from a nearby school. Butterflies are just amazingly beautiful.

We don't get a lot of hummingbirds during the summer, but we do get a few in spring and late summer as they migrate.  They love the butterfly bush in the backyard.   They like the pond waterfalls, too, hovering at them to get a drink.  Haven't gotten a good sharp photo so far.

Rocky and I took a trip down to Pueblo a week or so back.  It was a nice cool, showery break towards the end of August, almost fall like.  Don't usually go down to Pueblo until later in Sept., but the cooler weather made it appealing.  Camped next to a large clump of western red cedars that was home to family of little lined lizards.  There were large adults and tiny little babies.  I think at one time I counted up to a dozen visible at one time. When the sun was out, they came out in force to sun on the south side of the cedar clump.  They drove Rocky crazy.  He kept trying to catch them, but had no luck.  They were bold, yet very fast.  They would watch him as he stalked them, then dart under the cedars at the last minute when he lunged at them.  He finally grew tired of the chase and just sat there watching them.

One morning I saw a flash of yellow and black at the pond.  At first I thought it was one of the regular goldfinches but it looked to big.  I grabbed the binoculars - male western tanager!  Grabbed the camera and managed to get a shot before he jumped up into the nearby dogwood.  We had one visit the pond this spring during migration.  I wonder if it was the same one, passing thru on his way south.  The red on the head appeared somewhat mottled, but maybe it was just because he had just taken a bath in the waterfall.
Male and two female American goldfinches enjoying at drink at the smaller of the two pond waterfalls.

Pair of goldfinches working on the sunflowers.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch harvesting sunflower seeds. 

Lizard at Lake Pueblo State Park, late Aug. 2016.

Two lizards sunning at Lake Pueblo State Park in late Aug. 2016.

Painted lady at the butterfly bush.

Painted lady enjoying nectar at the butterfly bush. 

Tiger swallowtail at the butterfly bush.

Western tanager after bathing in the pond waterfall.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Let's See

Let's see, where I have I been lately.  Well, Rocky and now Connie that she's out of school, we go down to Lake Arbor on our walk everyday.  Tons of baby ducks and geese this year - tons of them.  Never seen such a bumper crop.  And the little pond down at the end of the street which is maybe a third of an acre has produced 27 baby mallards this spring!  Connie, Rocky and I went camping along the Arkansas near Buena Vista right after school was out.  Nice weather, except it's always windy there in the mornings.  Cold air draining down out of the upper valley in the morning, I think, to fill the valley as the air warms and rises down around Salida.  I have went to Pueblo to paddle and fish in early June, and to the upper Colorado around Hot Sulphur Springs to paddle and fish.  Spent a few hours over at Margaret's Pond in Westminster awhile back.  It's a small pond, but apparently very productive as there are at least six big snapping turtles that call the pond home.  Course I'm always on the lookout for birds where ever I go.  So here's a few pics from those locales.
Walking around Margaret's Pond recently I was being observed by a Kestrel.  Very striking birds that are here all year long.

Margaret's Pond supports at least six large snapping turtles.  At any one time you can often find them sharing a couple of large logs on the west side of the pond.  

In the irrigation ditch that feeds Margaret's Pond I found a pair of beautiful wood ducks.  They were cruising along pretty fast and didn't get a sharp pic of the female.  

My camp along the upper Colorado River near Hot Sulphur Springs .  Great little State wildlife area that is free and right along the river. One of my fav spots to camp.  I got lucky and got the choice spot right next to the river under some cottonwoods.  Nice river sounds.  

An osprey sitting on eggs on a nest at William Fork Reservoir in late June.  Sky was smoky white from nearby wildfires   up along the Colorado/Wyoming border. 

During the summer Lake Arbor near our house is frequented by several snowy egrets.  This one was foraging in the shallows near the bridge.

At my camp along the Colorado, I was serenaded almost constantly by this song sparrow.  Very pleasant.  
Rocky and I checking out the roaring Arkansas River just above Buena Vista this June.  The north end of the Sangre de Cristos are off in the distance.  No wonder they named Buena Vista as they did. 
Lots of the smaller fringed leaf white primrose along the upper Arkansas near Buena Vista, but in the rocks along the road was this larger species.  Such beautiful, delicate white flowers.   Just love them.  

Shrine to the gods of the Colorado or chipmunkcs?  I don't know.  I was sitting there watching chipmunks climb a cottonwood in my camp when I noticed this odd little shrine in a hollow of the tree.  You suppose someone had sacrificed something to the chipmunk gods?  Kind of spooky.  Looks like something out of King Kong!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Fishing Convention

The fish were floppin, the grebes creeking, pelicans cruising, frogs chirping, doves cooing, gulls crying - it was a spring cacophony, and a  fishing convention.  Rocky Dog and I went camping out to Jackson Lake State Park out on the high plains two weeks ago in late April.  It's only about 60 miles north east of Denver to Jackson Lake, a fairly large irrigation impoundment near Fort Morgan.

We arrived early afternoon and set-up camp right next to the lake.  I counted, and on average you could hear a large carp flopping in the shallows every five seconds.  Amazing.  Took Rocky a bit to adjust to it.  He wanted to swim out and get whatever that was. Off across on the eastern half of the lake I could see a large congregation of white pelicans, western grebes and gulls.  Next morning we woke about dawn to a cacophony of bird noise.  There was a huge bunch of birds out fishing.  Pelicans were scooping up fish and flipping them up to swallow.  Grebes were catching crayfish every dive only to have many of them stolen by marauding gulls.  It was amazing. A real fishing convention. It was so immense and so hopelessly backlit there was no way to really catpure it with the camera.  I just sat there and marveled at it.  It didn't last that long.  Then, they were mostly gone.  Off to other area lakes, or on to the migration journey, who knows.

I had gone out to Jackson hoping to photograph some bbb migrants - big beautiful birds - but I really didn't see that many.  Maybe a week too early?  Been such a cold wet spring, maybe migration is just late this year.   Lots of blackbirds, lots of chatty western kingbirds, all twitterpated with spring love, but I only saw one bullock's oriole, one western tanager, and one brown thrasher and those were just glimpeses while driving.  Also saw the usual turkey, a high flying bald eagle, and lots of cormorants.  Walking early one morning, we came across this family of foxes.  Momma fox had five kits.  She ran off, but the babies were curious and kept coming up out of the culvert to see just what Rocky was. He was, of course, captivated by the little foxes.  Just stood there watching them with me. y

Drove up Bear Creek Canyon the other day to do some birding in the Liar of the Bear Park.  Again, I was disappointed not to find any really bright migrants.  Maybe cause there was a large group of school kids on a field trip.
Common grackle at Jackson Lake State Park.  Their irri   is just amazing. 

I think this is a brown thrasher.  It was pretty far away.  I have seen them at Jackson Lake before. 

There was a momma fox and five kits living in a culvert not far from our camp.  I heard them yipping during the night.

Did see a black-headed grosbeak.  Always lots of wrens around.  Several wrens and nuthatches were fighting over a nesting hole.  I think the nuthatches won out, but it was quite a commotion.  Found another pair of wrens cleaning out a hole for nesting.

Western kingbirds were everywhere, all twitterpatted with spring. 

Lots of great blue herons at Jackson Lake.

Hundreds of white pelicans at Jackson Lake. 
Pair of black-headed grosbeaks at Liar of the Bear.

I'm not very good at identifying butterflies, but got this one at Liar of the Bear.

Black capped chickadee at Liar of the Bear feeding in the blossoming wild plum.  

Killdeer down at our local pond in Arvada.

Sand lily at Liar of the Bear. 

Wilson's warbler at Liar of the Bear. 

Wren cleaning house at Liar of the Bear.

One of my fav wildflowers, a little yellow violet.