A Tale of Two Chickadees

Black-capped Chickadee_Wenatchee-WA_LAH_3690While Black-capped Chickadees are familiar birds over the northern half of North America, Mountain Chickadees are a western specialty. True to their name, they care found at higher elevations from the Rockies westward to the Sierras and Cascades, and as far north as the Yukon.

Mountain Chickadees are also selective about their habitat, preferring to hang out in conifer forests. This is why we enjoyed them at our last house, where we were surrounded by ponderosa pines. Our current home is in a new neighborhood lacking mature trees. Hoping our old friends would still come and visit, we included two fairly large Austrian pines and a dwarfed cultivar of a limber pine, (Pinus flexilis ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’) in our new landscape. It took three years, but the birds are finally here.

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Birding Manitou Lake

Below dam_LakeManitou-CO_LAH_2110With 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.

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Seeds for Colorado

Glass Gem Corn. Photo: Seeds Trust Facebook page
Glass Gem Corn. Photo: Seeds Trust Facebook page

I love getting seed catalogs in the mail. The flowers are so big and bright, and the veggies are worthy of blue ribbons. Everything looks absolutely perfect. Just order these seeds and you too can have results like this!

Except, we live in Colorado. There’s a very good reason most seed companies are situated in places like South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Oregon, where the soil is fertile and the climate is conducive to growing most crops. With our erratic weather, often we don’t have time to ripen those luscious tomatoes. Long-season flowers freeze before they bloom. Isn’t there a seed company for us?

Yes, there is. Appropriately named High Altitude Gardens specializes in short season, cold-hardy varieties that thrive at higher elevations. If you live in the mountains, this is the seed catalog for you!

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Mountaintop Birds

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My husband and I aren’t the only ones who escape the heat by fleeing to high altitudes. A number of bird species do the same thing. Instead of migrating to the arctic, they head for the hills.

I was a first-year birder, a mere fledgling. Our local Audubon chapter was offering a trip to the high country. Of course I signed up. Surely there were amazing birds to be seen at such rarefied heights. I was expecting something new and exciting— a Williamson’s Sapsucker, perhaps, or one of the rosy-finches. Maybe we’d even spot a well-camouflaged ptarmigan!

We piled out of the cars at the top of the first pass, and I raised my binoculars to scan the scattered patches of melting snow and dwarfed willows. There! What as that moving in that patch of wildflowers? It’s a… it’s a… robin? I came all the way up here to see a robin? I have plenty of robins in my yard, munching on my gooseberries and chokecherries!

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Bird Mania—The 2011 CFO Convention

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I just got back from my first birding conference—the annual Colorado Field Ornithologists’ Convention. This year it was held in Grand Junction, on the western slope of the Rockies. My friend Debbie (above) and I enjoyed three days of beak-geek heaven, plus a full day each way for the 5 hour drive from home. Sometimes life can be pretty sweet.

As a newbie attendee, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. However, I had heard about the amazing field trip possibilities. After reading all the glowing descriptions on the conference website, I signed up for three outings, one a day. As far as the rest of the activities… well, I’d just have to wait and see.

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