With the high plains sizzling in 90+ degree heat, I was desperate to escape to somewhere cooler. Plus, I really wanted to see some birds. That’s why I headed to the hills—or, more accurately, mountains. There’s an advantage to living right next to the Rockies. In less than an hour, I was at 7,700 feet, surrounded by ponderosas, birding at Manitou Lake. A day-use area popular with the fishing crowd, this five acre lake is also a birding hotspot. You have to get there early, especially on weekends, but the abundance of wildlife is worth the extra effort.
I visited this lovely lake three times in the past few weeks, drawn by the pleasant surroundings as much as the birds. The first trip, with my friend Sue, yielded such harder-to-find species as a pair of Soras (above, left) and a Virginia Rail (above, right) with youngsters in tow! (According to another birder we encountered, we just missed seeing the Wilson’s Snipe.) Tree (below, right)and Violet-green Swallows swooped overhead, keeping the marshy area relatively mosquito-free. Belted Kingfishers streaked over the water, while a Great Blue Heron (below, left) slowly flapped past. Spotted Sandpipers wagging their tails poked for breakfast along the shoreline.
My highlight on that trip wasn’t a bird—it was a beaver. I’ve seen dozens of beaver dams, but until now, I’ve never seen the builder. I only got a glimpse as he flapped his tail and dove into his underwater entrance, but it was enough to make my day. A few minutes later, a dislodged muskrat headed in the opposite direction. A bit later, a weasel peeked up at me from under the boardwalk I was crossing. And you can’t miss the Mountain Cottontails hopping through the grass and nibbling the wildflowers.
The lake is created by a dam, and a stream flows out to the north (photo at top). My second trip, a few days later, was with a larger group of birders, and we spent most of our time looking for flycatchers and other riparian species in the willows and pines along its banks. One highlight was a nesting Cordilleran Flycatcher (above, left), with the “baby” almost as big as the parents and clearly almost ready to fledge. There were other Empids, but I’m not enough of an expert to tell them apart if they aren’t singing. Yellow Warblers, Pine Siskins, Lincoln’s Sparrows (above, right), and Pygmy Nuthatches skulked in the underbrush and flitted through the branches.
My most recent visit was over a long weekend. I dragged my non-birding family with me to camp at Colorado Campground right next door. A short trail leads straight from the campground to the marsh, and I was up at dawn to see what I could find. Again, the birds were plentiful and happy to pose, and I spent a happy hour before heading back to help make breakfast. Later that morning we all walked to the lake, enjoying the flowers along the way. Our almost-3 granddaughter was fascinated by the dragonflies and the huge White Pelican that sailed majestically across the dark water.
Manitou Lake is owned by the city of Woodland Park. There’s a $6 entrance fee ($3 if you qualify for a senior discount with a Golden Age pass).