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.
It was another hot day. Usually by now, the weather has moderated, but we’ve been in the middle of an unseasonable heat wave and I was completely wilted. I was yearning to go birding—my new job had kept me indoors far too much lately—but the only time available was from mid-morning through early afternoon—the hottest time of the day. As much as I wanted to get outside, I had to ask myself, why bother?
Often, I think the birds are smarter than the birders. When the heat gets oppressive, they don’t stand out in the sun with binoculars. No, they adapt. Most migrating birds fly at night, feed in the early morning hours and just before dark, and rest during the heat of the day. Birders know this, which is why most field trips start early. But sometimes, our schedule just doesn’t allow us to do what we know is optimal. We have to take what we can get and make the best of it.
Still, I thought, maybe I could emulate the birds, and manage to both enjoy nature and stay cool at the same time.
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.