Blown Away—Birds and Hurricanes

Hurricane_Dorian_(peak_intensity),_September_1,_1240Z

Palm Warbler_CapeCoral-FL_LAH_5520Dorian isn’t the first hurricane to pound the Caribbean, although she was definitely one of the biggest. Now she has churned her way through the Bahamas—dumping four feet of rain in some places—and along the southeastern coast of the U.S., causing tremendous flooding, demolishing buildings, and taking lives. Pete and I visited South Carolina and Florida last winter, and we’ve sailed the Abacos Islands in the Bahamas. Birds were everywhere. Now, I think of all those birds struggling to survive in the midst of those 150+ mph winds, and I wonder—how do such fragile creatures survive a hurricane?

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The Hummers are Coming!

Broad-tailed Hummingbird_RedRocksRanch-Hwy115-CO_LAH_3795

The bee balm (Monarda) and mint hyssop (Agastache) won’t bloom until mid-summer, and the flowers on my California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) appear even later. Yet, despite the lack of these hummingbird favorites, the birds are on the move, heading north to nest. While I like to think that I’m aiding their survival, I know they will do fine without me. Still, I’m hustling to fill and hang my feeders. It isn’t that the birds need me—I need them!

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Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes_BosquedelApacheNWR-NM_LAH_9089You’re out in the yard enjoying the garden, or lying in bed in the stillness of the night, when you hear them. It’s a unique sound, a resonant, nasal honking, sounding much like a high flying traffic jam. I may be challenged when it comes to distinguishing warblers or sparrows by their calls, but Sandhill Cranes are so distinctive, even I recognize them as they fly by. Summer is over, and the cranes are heading south. Since I’m in Colorado, their destination is likely Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, in central New Mexico, although they range as far south as Mexico and Cuba, and as far west as Siberia.

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It’s Spring!

House Finch_CarsonNatureCenter-LittletonCO_20100406_LAH_1980Usually, Colorado’s seasons have little to do with the calendar. This may be the vernal equinox, but we still expect snow and it’s way too early to plant those tender flowers and veggies. After gardening in California for years, I’ve mostly adapted to the challenge here, but from March through mid-May I would drag around the house feeling frustrated that I couldn’t plant anything the least bit frost-tender.

Then I started birding—and to the birds, March means spring! As a birder, there’s plenty of activity to keep me glued to my binoculars.

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Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Visitor Center_BearLakeMigratoryBirdRefuge-UT_LAH_3884Want some great birding in northern Utah? I recently discovered a real gem—the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. It’s located on the northeast corner of the Great Salt Lake, just northwest of Ogden off I-15/I-84. The day I visited—midweek in early April—I almost had the place to myself. It was just me and plenty of birds! (Don’t confuse this place with Bear Lake NWR, in Idaho, which is also well worth a visit.) Continue reading “Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge”

The Early Birder…

American Avocet_AlamosaNWR-CO_LAH_2180… catches the bird. While it’s not wise to be an early worm, being an early birder pays off. You’ll see more birds than those who sleep in and, if you’re a bird photographer, you’ll have better light to capture them by.

I was once again reminded of this during a couple of back-to-back visits to the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, in south-central Colorado.

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What Time Should I Expect You?

Mourning Dove_FCNC-CO_LAH_0385.nefWhen does migration bring new birds to Colorado? I’ve been pondering that question ever since I started birding. As a gardener with years of experience, I know when to plant each crop or flower. I know that 70° afternoons can be followed by 3° nights. Yes, April is like that—don’t be fooled.

But migration varies from species to species, and even sometimes from year to year. Instead of learning when to set out a dozen veggie varieties, I have to become familiar with the timing of hundreds of birds. For the most part, that’s still a huge mystery to me.

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