Birding in Winter

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I have a tendency to be a fair-weather birder. Give me warm, sunny days, balmy breezes, and sparkling blue ponds and lakes. Trees are full of leaves, bugs, and birds. With all the summer migrants in town, trip lists run long. Singing males are easier to spot, and the rituals of mating and raising young, offering additional opportunities for the wildlife photographer.

It has taken me a long time to appreciate winter birding. Temperatures dip below freezing and it may snow. Roads can be treacherous, providing unwanted excitement just getting to the birding destination. Many birds have heeded to call to migrate, and those left behind tend to be drab, matching the winter landscape. And then there’s the silence. I hear no songs, not even much chirping. Yes, there are birds out there, but where?

And yet…

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Looking for Birds, and Fish

One of my favorite birding sites, especially in winter, is Eleven Mile Canyon, near Lake George, Colorado. It may seem odd to head up the mountain—to over 8,000 feet—in winter, but I’d rather have cold than crowds of people camping, picnicking, and especially fishing. Besides, the stream runs even in the most frigid conditions, at least under the ice. Typical sightings include Bald Eagles, Common Ravens, Mountain Chickadees, Song Sparrows, and always American Dippers.

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Manitou Lake Revisited

Manitou Lake Sunrise

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.

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Back to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

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Home to birds, mammals, reptiles, and very nice people—Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has it all. Last winter I made my second visit there, five years after the first. It may have been snowing at home in Colorado, but southern Florida was supposed to be warm—wasn’t it? The day before had been lovely, but this morning dawned damp and gray, with tendrils of fog creeping over the wetlands. I arrived at 7, just as the admissions office opened, knowing I had to be done to meet Pete for lunch. Well, a late lunch, at least! I wanted to make the most of my time as I walked the 2.25 mile boardwalk.

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A Visit to Castlewood Canyon S.P.

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Not to stay home on a gorgeous Saturday morning, I joined our Audubon chapter field trip to Castlewood Canyon State Park, located on the Palmer Divide between Colorado Springs and Denver. At elevations between 6,200 and 6,600 feet, the park includes ponderosa forest, dry shrubland, high prairie, and riparian areas. This diversity allows for plenty of birds, a colorful array of wildflowers, plus some pretty impressive scenery. Our loop trail along the canyon rim, down to (and across) Cherry Creek and through the riparian willows, then back up to the parking lot clocked in at 3.2 miles, but you could easily add some side trips. Continue reading “A Visit to Castlewood Canyon S.P.”

Is This a Rare Bird?

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Ducks paddling, egrets darting for fish, cormorants spreading their wings in the sun, pelicans heading for splash down… I couldn’t wait to return to J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge last February. It was my third visit to the refuge, which is more than I’d ever expected, being that it’s 2,000 miles from home! Located on Sanibel Island, on the west coast of Florida, it’s the perfect spot for a birder to view most of the Florida regulars, plus a few special visitors. And this time, we had a very special visitor indeed. Or not.

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