Colorado is blessed with five national parks, six national wildlife refuges, eight national monuments, and many other designated natural areas and historical places. Something we often forget living in urban Denver as we do. Yesterday promised to be a warm, windless spring day so Jim and I ventured out on a field trip. This time to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge; a 15,000-acre expanse of short grass prairie in the middle of Denver. Last year at this time we spotted “little red puppies” (as a good friend of ours from Jackson Hole describes bison calves) among the herd of bison that live on the refuge, as well as a group of coyotes hunting rodents at the moist edge of meadow. This year was a waterfowl cornucopia.
The air was a warm, gentle caress, the sky, bluebird blue, and the temperature 70 degrees. A perfect day be outside. We started off at the visitor center where starlings were singing a medley of bird songs, and a pair of Say’s phoebes called to each other from the tops of tall posts. The runoff from mountain snowmelt hadn’t reached the prairie yet, so plants were still dry and crisp. The vast population of cottonwoods still bore bare branches, but the water was open. Pairs of Northern shovelers dabbled in all of the ponds and lakes, their beautiful plumage in full courtship brilliance. Here is our list: blue-winged teal, common goldeneye, ruddy ducks, common mergansers, hooded mergansers, buffleheads, gadwalls, mallards, greater scaups, coots, redheads, and Canada geese. Magpies, meadowlarks, red-winged blackbirds and song sparrows were in attendance, although in small numbers just now. We learned that by the end of April, our list of spring migratory birds could be quite long.
We spotted only five bull bison – no babies, a small herd of white-tailed deer, and four mule deer. To our delight, the ever-present prairie dogs whistled and scampered everywhere. As we were leaving the refuge we spotted a great-horned owl feeding her two owlets, nestled in a hollow-cottonwood-limb nest. We thought this was a great end to our day until we pulled into a parking area adjacent to a small slough and saw a pair of avocets feeding in the shallow water. Avocets are so beautiful – I wish I had a photo to include here, but they were too far away to photograph. We drove away from this slough and stopped at another slough where a second pair of avocets plied the muddy water for food. It was a great birding day, and only 40 minutes