Where Did All the Flowers Go?

Aquilegia_Colorado Columbine_Emerald Valley-EPCo-CO_LAH_5416rWhere did the wildflowers go? It was the end of June, and we were making our annual pilgrimage along  the trail through Emerald Valley, on the slopes of Pikes Peak. This time we weren’t just looking for birds, but for blooms and bugs as well—in fact, the birds were the least of our priorities. There were bugs, especially as the day warmed, and we saw some excellent birds, but where were the flowers?

Emerald Valley usually has a wide assortment of wildflower species, including many of my favorites—Colorado Columbine, Shooting Stars, various Penstemons, and three species of orchid. This year, columbines were in short supply, the only Shooting Stars were creekside in the moist soil, and I didn’t see a single clematis blossom.

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Neither snow nor rain…

Chico Basin cows 4922

Last Saturday promised to be a great day. We were heading to Chico Basin Ranch. The ranch describe itself as a:

… 87,000-acre family-run, working cattle ranch that operates on the high prairie 30 miles southeast of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Its sprawling ranges of shortgrass and sandsage prairie, spring-fed lakes, creeks, and pools are home to diverse populations of birds, pronghorn, deer, fish, prairie dogs, coyote, badgers, and much more. … In addition to our cattle business, the Chico offers education, farming, recreation, sporting, arts, and hospitality programs.

It’s one of the best birding sites in our area, well worth a trip any time. In addition, they were hosting a “Birder Brunch” on Saturday, a free breakfast for those of us who bird there. I was eagerly anticipating good food, good company, and a day of exceptional birding. However…

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Photographing Raptors

Red-tailed Hawk_SEColorado_LAH_4705fAfter weeks of subfreezing weather, Saturday morning dawned with a promise of warm sunshine and blue skies. As the sun rose, we were already on our way, heading out onto the short-grass prairies. Pikes Peak receded into the rear view mirror. Our focus was on the trees and telephone poles along the road. Seven of us had piled into two cars, bristling with binos and telephoto lenses. It was time to photograph raptors!

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Birding the City

Western Scrub Jay_CBC_COS_LAH_8753-001“Two juncos.”
“OK, what kind?”
“One Grey-backed, one Pink-sided—oops, there go half a dozen more! Were they Slate-sided?”
“Oh, I can’t tell! Just write down eight Juncos!”
“Over there—that looks like a Bushtit. And another, and… there must be 50 of them in that bush!”

Counting birds isn’t always easy, but that what I did Saturday. I was participating in Audubon’s 114th Christmas Bird Count, something I’ve done off and on for the past ten years, ever since I discovered the joys of birding.

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Exploring Corral Bluffs

corralbluffsco_lah_0442-1Vast open spaces, blooming yucca, and constant wind were our companions on a recent hike to Corral Bluffs, an area under consideration as a new El Paso county park.

Most recently a stop for cowboys and their herds on the drive from Texas to Denver, the proposed park has a long history, dating back 65 million years. It’s hard to believe that the high plains grassland was once a sea-level swamp! Numerous fossils are being uncovered by paleontologists surveying the eroded bluffs—including a crocodilian head, as well as numerous small mammals and petrified wood.

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