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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Vulnerable Pests

House Sparrows_Gretna-LA_LAH_1853House Sparrows are frequently despised by North American birders. An invasive species, they commandeer nest cavities needed by native birds, hog feeders, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. Agricultural pests, they’re the target of various, and usually unsuccessful, “control” strategies, yet I have to admire this species. In spite of all our attempts at thwarting them, House Sparrows continue to thrive.

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Saving Mother Earth

Polar Bear @Denver Zoo 2009-02-14 LAH 351r (2)Save the monarchs. Save the rhinos. Save the polar bears. When I was growing up, it was save the whales. If you are on any conservation mailing lists, you know that there are plenty of beloved creatures in danger of extinction. Of course, these organizations all remind us that the way to save these poor, benighted creatures is to send money, lots of money.

This isn’t to say that these species aren’t in danger. And it isn’t that I don’t care about monarch butterflies, polar bears, or rhinos. I’ve been an environmentalist since my childhood, and I’m passionate about conservation.

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Black Vultures

Black Vultures_EvergladesNP-FL_LAH_4670When we first saw the sign, during our recent visit to Everglades National Park, we thought it was funny. What can a bird do to our car (besides the obvious, I mean)?

Then we looked around. Black Vultures were everywhere—in the trees, on the ground, and yes, pecking at the cars. Most people had used the tarps provided to protect their cars, but one black sedan was left exposed. Perhaps the owner didn’t believe the sign. We watched, amazed, as several birds carefully pecked off all the black rubber around the windows. It looked like they were eating the wipers as well. And let’s not forget the extremely acidic vulture droppings burning their way through the nice, shiny paint job.

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Resolved: Join eBird

ebird-welcomeDo you watch birds? And if so, are you a “lister”? That is, when you go out to look at birds, do you keep a list of which species you’ve seen?

While most of us start listing for our own sense of accomplishment (or compulsion!), those notebooks can actually help ornithologists determine where the birds live, whether their populations are thriving, stable, or in decline, and the human and environmental factors affecting them.

At the same time, we birders can benefit from one another’s sightings. Are you looking for a particular species to add to your life list? Did you know that you can find out where others have seen that bird?

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Ghost Bird

ghost_bird_01-1This Friday, the Aiken Audubon Society and Bear Creek Nature Center will be airing “Ghost Bird.” If you live anywhere near Colorado Springs, Colorado, I highly urge you to come learn more about the elusive Ivory-billed Woodpecker, believed to be extinct since the 1940s. Does it still exist? Here’s what the movie’s creators have to say:

Ghost Bird wades into a murky swamp of belief and obsession in this cautionary tale about birders, ornithologists and the citizens of Brinkley, Arkansas who are certain they keep seeing a giant woodpecker that’s been extinct for over half a century.

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Cottonwood Creek’s Xeriscape Garden

cottonwoodxg_lah_2470Successful gardening in Colorado means choosing plants well suited for our arid climate. Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) maintains two demonstration gardens, featuring beautiful perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees that are adapted to limited irrigation. Many people are aware of the large garden at the CSU headquarters on Mesa Road, overlooking Garden of the Gods. I wrote about it in April. But very few people are aware that there’s a second, smaller garden in front of the Cottonwood Creek Recreation Center at 3920  Dublin Blvd., just west of Rangewood Drive.

iris_cottonwoodxg_lah_2504While much more limited in scope, this garden provides plenty of inspiration for a homeowner seeking to conserve water and still enjoy a beautiful landscape. When I visited in mid-June, a large swath of Stella ’d Oro daylilies were in full bloom, their bright golden yellow accented by the soft lavender of the surrounding Walker’s Low Catmint. The colors were repeated in lovely deep blue irises, purple Jerusalem Sage, and pastel yellow Moonshine Yarrows and Pineleaf Penstemon.

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The Ubiquitous Canada Goose

canada-goose-fcnc-2009-01-21-lah-649Canada Geese are everywhere. They blanket golf courses, leave droppings on city park lawns, and foul ponds. They are a significant agricultural pest, especially of winter wheat. They’re even implicated in plane crashes, such as US Airways Flight 1549’s emergency “splash down” in the Hudson River last January.

You can find them on any body of water, even transient wetlands devoid of food. You hear honking and look up to see them flying east or west as well as north and south, arranged in their ragged v-formations. They seem so abundant that it’s hard to imagine they were ever endangered, but at one time the “Giant” subspecies (Branta canadensis maxima) was thought to be extinct!

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Green is for Gardens

aquilegia-caerulea-blue-columbine-cottonwood-pass-summit-15july05-lah-005“The Green Guide, National Geographic’s source for greening your life.” “Green Home—everything you need to create a healthy home environment.” Green-collar jobs, green building, and green news. Green is certainly the color of the decade. Yet, long before green became such a household buzzword, gardeners were growing green plants. Isn’t gardening the original green industry?

Gardening is a partnership with nature. Therefore, it is only fitting that we create our landscapes with an awareness of how our actions in our gardens impact the environment. Over the next few months, I plan to post a series of articles on how to garden green. Hopefully my list will inspire you to come up with ideas of your own. I’d love to hear your input.

dsc_7100Green gardening requires an understanding of ecology. What vegetation would naturally grow on this site? What stress factors do these plants need to cope with? Will the plants grow in sun or shade? Is it windy? How hot and cold will it get here?  How about yearly rainfall? Is the ground level or sloping? What is the soil like? Is it acidic or alkaline, clay or sand? What bugs or other animals eat plants in this area? Understanding how plants grow, and how they are adapted to their surroundings, lets us choose a landscape in harmony with nature.

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Preserve Wetlands—Buy a Duck Stamp!

2003 CO Duck Stamp c Cynthie FisherThe purchase of a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, more simply known as a “Duck Stamp,” is one of the best ways you can promote wetlands conservation. Since its inception in 1934 as a federal license for hunting migratory waterfowl, this program has generated over $670,000,000 that has been used to purchase or lease 5.2 million acres of waterfowl habitat that is now included in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The stamps are only $15, and 98% of that is used for habitat preservation! With a decline in the number of hunters, it is more important than ever that conservationists, and especially birders, purchase Duck Stamps. As a bonus, having the current year’s stamp allows you free access to any National Wildlife Refuge, many of which now charge admission fees.

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