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.