Some days just seem perfect. The sky was intense blue, without a single cloud in sight. Temperatures? The mid-70s. Crowds? For the first hour or two, we had the entire place to ourselves. A light breeze stirred a few leaves, birds chirped in the willows, and squirrels chattered from the pine branches overhead. I was so glad we’d chosen to spend the morning at Manitou Lake.
Situated just north of Woodland Park, Colorado, the lake offers picnicking and fishing, and abundant birding. This late in the season, the swallows were gone, already on their way south, but plenty of other migrants were still hanging around. We arrived at 7, when the park opens this time of year, paid my $3.50 entrance fee ($7 if you don’t have a national parks pass), and parked at the south end of the lake. From there, a boardwalk takes you through the marsh to the trail on the other side. It’s one of my favorite birding spots.
The lake was clearly warmer than the frosty air, and mist swirled over the water. As I started down the boardwalk, I realized that a thin layer of ice glistened on the wooden planks, making my footing a bit slippery. I looked down, intent on staying upright, and noticed a series of raccoon tracks following the same route. I must have just missed seeing the bandit, as the footprints were obviously recent.
The birds were just waking up as the sun finally peeked over the mountain range to the east. I encountered a flock of Song Sparrows and a Gray Catbird breakfasting on some current bushes laden with ripe fruit. Nearby, a row of willows hosted more sparrows plus at least one Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
Reaching the dirt trail on the far side of the lake, I turned around and headed back westward in order to get the sun behind me. There’s an open spot where the boardwalk crosses a bridge over the inlet stream. On both sides, mud flats attract various marsh birds—I’ve seen Virginia Rails, Soras, and Spotted Sandpipers here more than once. This morning, I was surprised by a trio of Wilson’s Snipes. I approached slowly, trying to get a clear shot with my telephoto lens. They stared at me with my tripod and long lens, but didn’t seem particularly upset by my proximity. Finally, I got the shots I wanted. With the photoshoot over, the birds seemed to sigh in relief—and then promptly tucked their heads and went to sleep.
Sensing movement on the other side of the bridge, I caught a glimpse of two Soras making for the cattails. Flap, flap, swoosh, and they were out of sight. No photos of them today.
I slowly headed back to the parking area, where I’d left my ever-patient husband. It turns out that he was having fun using his phone to take pictures too. I love how he captured the lake area!
A large flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers was gleaning insects by the water, and one flew up to the fence right in front of me, just begging for a portrait.
A trio of Common Mergansers was spending their morning preening, before finally hopping into the stream and paddling away.
It was now almost 8:30. Cars and pick-ups were disgorging people holding coolers and fishing rods. I decided to move to the north end of the lake, where I could follow the stream below the dam. As I made my way down the embankment, I noticed clouds of midges backlit against the dark stream bed. More Yellow-rumped Warblers were flying back and forth through the insects, gulping them down as fast as they could. They’ll provide good fuel for the birds’ upcoming migration.
I hiked down to the south end of the park, where Pete met me with the car. We pulled out some camp chairs and settled in to relax. After about ten minutes, I realized that the Ponderosa around us were full of birds, which were finally emerging now that we were quiet and still. Steller’s Jays, robins, more warblers, and White-breasted Nuthatches flitted from branch to branch and hid behind the long needles.
A Red Crossbill refused to pose, taunting me with his tail end, then flying off into the sun. Western Bluebirds feasted on moths and other larger, winged insects, but only behind the tall, dried weeds and grasses, where I couldn’t quite isolate them for a photo. Even the Red-tailed Hawk soaring overhead disappeared the moment I grabbed my camera.
So, I didn’t get all the photos I would have liked. It makes me appreciate the birds who cooperated even more. Besides, we got to spend time together in a perfect spot on a perfect day.