Spring 2017 Part 2

Rocky Mountain National Park was splendid yesterday! The blue blue sky, decorated with gently drifting whipped cream clouds that only occasionally shaded the sun.

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Sprague Lake

Our goal for the day was to find bluebirds and spring wildflowers.

We always start our birding adventures in the park by stopping at the Alluvial Fan picnic area. In that one place, an open forest of aspen and Ponderosa pine at the foot of steep rocky walls, we saw and heard: ruby-crowned kinglets, robins, magpies, ravens, Stellar’s jays, yellow-rumped warblers, pygmy nuthatches, a brown creeper, broad-tailed hummingbirds, mountain chickadees and downy woodpeckers. We watched as a pair of mountain chickadees cleaned wood chips out of a newly-excavated cavity in the trunk of an aged aspen. The downy woodpeckers, who must have done the excavation, tried to fend off the chickadees with loud, scolding calls and threatening attacks, but it appeared that the chickadees won. We could have gone home completely satisfied with our birding experience at that point, but we were still on a bluebird quest.

The park was filthy with ruby-crowned kinglets though. Everywhere we stopped we heard their distinctive complex song. It starts out soft and slow then builds to an incredibly loud and rapid crescendo – quite impressive for such a tiny bird!

Elk had separated themselves in male and female herds. The males’ velvet-covered antlers were still in the growing stage, and they had not yet lost their winter hair so they looked a little ragged. The females, on the other hand, were sleek and proud-looking. We did not see any elk calves, but surely it won’t be long before they are born.

At Sprague Lake the song of the kinglet competed with the witchety, witchety, witchety, witch of the common yellowthroat. Two pair of mallards dabbled in the water of the lake and a Canada goose couple honked their presence.

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Dabbling Mallard Butts

Still no bluebirds, but hummingbirds buzzed all around us.

Finally, at Beaver Meadows – mountain bluebirds, looking, themselves, like pieces of the sky. The meadow had several large exclosures surrounded by too-high-for-elk-to-jump fencing. Perched on the top of fence posts, male and female mountain bluebirds scanned the grass below for insects. YAY!

Spring flowers were still scarce. Mountain ball cactus was blooming – a real treat – as were field chickweed (mouse-ears) and tiny bunches of sandwort and bluette, but pasque flowers were not be found.

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Mountain Ball Cactus

Trail Ridge Road was open only to Rainbow Curve since snowbanks along the roadside were still a few feet deep. We are definitely pushing the “springtime in the Rockies” envelope.

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Spring 2017

I was working in my studio, the window of which looks onto our balcony and my little birdbath, when I heard an especially loud and insistent finch song. I slowly turned my head to look at the balcony and watched a male finch trying to get the attention and approval of a female finch.

He lowered his tail and dropped his wings to reveal a bright red rump patch, while simultaneously raising the red cockade feathers on his head. The female seemed to ignore him as she drank from the birdbath. He hopped down to be close to her and she hopped three rails up and away from him. For a few seconds they continued to hop from balcony rail to balcony rail; he getting closer to her, she getting farther from him, yet giving him a coquettish fluff of her feathers. Then she flew away. He followed.

I always feel blessed when I am witness to the natural behavior of nature’s creatures. The house finches that live in my immediate neighborhood continue to thrill me, as those of you who follow my blog know by now. However, I am also hearing rufous-sided towhees as I walk to the train in the mornings, and blue jays and chickadees.

Jim and I have been to our favorite natural areas during the last month, but have not scared up any bluebirds! Our friends in Montana tell us that they have ALL the bluebirds this year – both mountain and Western – that’s why we don’t have any. We’ve seen meadowlarks, song sparrows, swallows, kingfishers, killdeer, goldfinches, and many ducks, but it’s the bluebirds that tell us it is spring. Our trip last week to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal wildlife refuge was a bust for birds and bison babies. We did see some big bulls though.IMG_1660.JPG

Lilacs have been in full bloom for weeks now; I wish you could smell the sweetness of their flowers.
IMG_1657.JPGA late snow and frost made short work of the pink and white Japanese cherry and crabapple blossoms. Tulips are blooming, many surviving the snow, and trees are leafing out.

Chokecherries scent the air.

We are off to Rocky Mountain National Park this morning. I’ll get back to you.