Moving Website Locations

To everyone who has enjoyed reading Colorado In Depth and At Altitude, I am moving it from a stand-alone blog into a blog as part of a new website AmyLawSciGeek.com.

When I started Colorado In Depth and At Altitude , it was supposed to be exclusively a nature blog about Colorado. But over the years, I’ve found my interests broadening to where I felt I needed to rebrand the site. AmyLawSciGeek.com offers a new layout and better access to parts of my website, including the photo gallery, my books and a new/old interest of mine in dyslexia, as well as continuing to share my thoughts and photos in a blog.

Please come visit me at my new website!

Sleeping Bees

While I was out rummaging in the garden several mornings ago, I made a surprising discovery:

I found a bee asleep in one of my hollyhock blossoms.

You’ll have to take my word for it, I suppose. But you can kinda tell by the way she is deep inside the flower, and yet not gathering pollen.

Metallic green bee asleep deep in a hollyhock blossom. See how she is covered in those big white pollen grains? It look like she just couldn’t go any further and had to sleep.

I knew bees slept — I don’t know of a creature that doesn’t, except things like protozoans and bacteria and such.

Bumble bee sleeping on the outside of an opening hollyhock flower.

But I had always assumed that bees go back to their hives to sleep.

Huge bumble bee sleeping on a sunflower.

By the time I took this photo of a huge bumblebee sleeping on a sunflower, the bees were beginning to warm up, and wake up. The next bee I saw was slowly flexing its abdomen to get the juices going. Then it took off.

When I went inside, I had to look up “bees sleeping in flowers” on the internet. Right? I mean it’s what you do. There I found this article on Bored Panda.https://www.boredpanda.com/bees-sleeping-flower-nature-wildlife-photography-joe-neely/?utm_source=duckduckgo&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=organic. Really great post! Interestingly, the scarlet globemallow that the bees there are curled up in is a close relative of hollyhocks. (On a photographic composition note, notice that the photographer kept zooming in on the bees until they filled the frame. Nice technique. I did that for two shots here, but held back a little for the other one because I wanted to show the bees in context.)

Owl Wing Feather Adaptations

It turns out that cottontail bunnies have more to worry about in the neighborhood than just hawks and coyotes.

As my husband and I were walking the dogs this morning, we found a Great Horned Owl wing feather lying next to the sidewalk. This stealthy hunter takes birds, skunks, mice — and rabbits.

Great Horned Owl wing feather. It probably dropped out because it was a bit worse for wear, and needed to be replaced.

And owls do so silently. The tailing edge of their wing feathers are frayed, preventing the air from generating noise-producing turbulence as it passes over and under the wing.

The trailing edge of the feather, an the bottom of the picture, has evolved to be frayed to keep the air from popping when the owl beats its wings.

But scientists have recently discovered another adaptation on feathers that helps owls keep quiet as they fly — a comb-like set of barbules on the leading edge of the feathers. These small structures “break up the turbulent air that typically creates a swooshing sound. Those smaller streams of air are further dampened by a velvety texture unique to owl feathers and by a soft fringe on a wing’s trailing edge. These structures together streamline the air flow and absorb the sound produced.” (https://www.audubon.org/news/the-silent-flight-owls-explained)

The “comb” on the leading edge of the feather helps to disrupt the turbulence, and make owl flight even quieter.

After whipping out my trusty camera and snapping these photos, I left the feathers by the sidewalk. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty, it is illegal to collect any native birds or their feathers for any reason.

Baby Bunny Gets Nailed

Yesterday evening, I heard a hawk screaming in our front yard. When I went out to see what was going on, I saw it “mantling” over something it had caught.

You can see the fur of the bunny beneath the hawk’s sharp shins.

When I looked closer, I realized it was a baby cottontail rabbit. We have been overrun by cottontails this year. I’ve heard that it is because the most common predator to keep them in check, coyotes, have been hit hard with canine mange.

On the other hand, an early fall cold snap in New Mexico last year decimated the migrating songbird population there and in surrounding states.(https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/southwest-bird-die-caused-long-term-starvation-180976643/) We’ve had far fewer songbirds around this summer as a result.

The combination of fewer songbirds and more cottontails probably prompted this sharpie to try its hand — er — talon — at a baby bunny.

Notice that the bunny fur is almost the same size as the hawk. Remember that birds are very light for their size.

But this baby cottontail rabbit was only a little smaller than the hawk. When a family came walking down the sidewalk, they startled the hawk off its “kill”. To everyone’s astonishment, the baby bunny bounced up and scampered back under our blue spruce tree, although it did have a nasty gash on the side of its head.

The only one disappointed was the hawk.

National Nature Photography Day

Today is National Nature Photography Day! In honor of nature photography, I decided to go through my catalogue, and pull out a few of my best photos that I never had occasion to share with you before. Enjoy!

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My brother enjoys nature photography as well. But he loves taking photographs of big trees. So when I saw him looking up at the big trees while framed by a maple on a path in the Hoh Valley of Olympic National Park, I knew it was perfect for him. I call this one “Wonderland”.

Mating Coopers Hawks

I saw these Coopers hawks building a nest when I was out walking my dogs one morning in 2009. I came back as soon as I could with my camera. What so unusual is that the female is actually a juvenile. When she is an adult, her plumage will be the same as the male’s. So that actually makes the picture a little weird…

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I like to take photos of flowers looking straight down into the flower to capture their structure and symmetry. This Mariposa lily turned out really well.

In 2014, the Denver Botanic Gardens hosted an exhibit of Chihuly glass sculptures. https://www.botanicgardens.org/exhibits/chihuly I was really impressed by it, so when I went out into my garden later that summer and saw the head of this purple coneflower glowing in the evening light, I knew I had to try to capture it.

2011 was a warm summer that didn’t cool down until September. Then, we had a cold front come through that dropped a lot of rain, and at the higher altitudes, snow. Suddenly the garden was full of hummingbirds who had been lulled by the mild weather into thinking they might not have to migrate that year. Nope. They still gotta go south. But we were delighted to have them stop by for a drink.

Less air = bluer skies

We all live in a thick layer of air called the atmosphere. On average it is about fifty miles thick.

But as you go up, the atmosphere gets noticeably thinner. At the top of Mount Evans (14,130 feet or 4306.8 meters), there is 1/3 less air than at sea level. That means less air between me and the deep blue sky.

Amy on Mount Evans. Longs Peak, sixty miles away in Rocky Mountain National Park, is in the background.
Yes, the sky really was THAT blue.

Amy on Mount Evans. Longs Peak, sixty miles away in Rocky Mountain National Park, is in the background.
Yes, the sky really was THAT blue.

A Flicker and Two Hawks

My husband and I walk the dogs every morning, three quarters of a mile up the hill, then loop around and come back. It’s kept the covid pounds off, mostly.

It also provides the occasional benefit of letting us seeing some wildlife.

As we started up the hill earlier this week, I saw a funny knob on a tree just a few feet back from the sidewalk. I focused on it and realized it was a female red-shafted flicker, sticking her head out of a hole she’d pecked into a chokecherry tree.

The tree is just a few feet back from the sidewalk, and the hole is right at eye level. We are worried that there will be too much traffic for her to feel comfortable enough to raise a family. But there isn’t much we can do about her choice of nest sites except swing wide as we pass it.

As we worked our way around the neighborhood, we heard the loud, almost honking cry of a Cooper’s hawk. Contrary to what we’ve been trained by movies to expect, the only hawks that make the classic screaming sound are Red-taileds and Swainson’s. But we recognized the honking call because there have been Coopers nesting in this area for over a decade, (Coopers Hawk Misses┬áDinner) although I doubt the actual birds are the same. Regardless, we spotted the bird as he flew to his mate sitting on the nest.

Female Cooper’s hawk sitting on her nest.

At least we won’t have to work very hard to avoid her nest. But we will keep an eye on it, too, and see if any chicks hatch.

Speaking of screaming hawks, later that same day, I heard a hawk screaming as it landed in a neighbor’s yard. I grabbed my trusty camera and tripod and got a couple of shots.

By the time I got in position, this Swainson’s hawk was still preening and fluffing its feathers. Something really upset it. I suspect it got too close to a crows nest someplace, and they mobbed it.

Swainson’s are the same size as Red-taileds, and look somewhat similar. But they have longer wings; if you look closely, you can see that its wings extend beyond its tail as it sits on the branch. This bird is what is called a “pale morph.” You can’t see it here but its wings are white underneath, and it has a white chest. You can just make out some banding on its tail, but it is fairly light, too. But it does have the signature “chocolate bib” that all Swainson’s have.

I don’t know if it is nesting nearby. We had a Swainson’s come through the neighborhood last year too. (Hawk Conflict) I don’t think it was the same bird, but it might have been. It was as pale as this one. We’ll keep an eye out for it, anyway, and see if we can find out if it is nesting nearby.

Cold Ducks

In the last three months, we’ve had 8″ of moisture. That’s an incredible amount of water for a region that normally sees 14-16″ for the entire year. It has been a cold, wet, gloomy spring.

This morning, the dogs went berserk at something in the backyard. When we looked out, we saw a male and a female mallard duck. This is unusual, because the nearest open water is at least 2 miles away.

Here is the male mallard pushing his way through the snow towards our bird feeders. We think he was looking for grain that the other birds spill out of the feeders, but our corgi eats it up as fast as it hits the ground.

In this photo, the male is eating some grass. I don’t think it agreed with him, because he stopped after only a few mouthfuls.

This is the only shot I got of the female mallard. She is on the far side of a little fencing we have to keep the dogs from wearing a path in the grass by chasing squirrels.

My husband called them “cold ducks” — a play on them being out in the snow and the wine called “cold duck”. Get it?

I am ready for spring.

A Few Critters in Yuma, AZ

My husband and I took a quick trip to Yuma, Arizona last week. We left in a spring snowstorm that dropped three inches of wet snow on the Front Range area. We arrived in Yuma to 90 degree days.

Amy in front of a saguarro cactus in Phoenix. Notice my pasty winter skin.
Ocotilla in bloom.

We were lucky to go down in the spring, when the ocotilla were in bloom.

We only had a little time for getting out into a wetlands. But while we were there we got to see a few critters.

Snowy egret — big white wading bird with black legs and yellow feet.

This snowy egret was wading in a much diminished Colorado River just below the famous Yuma Territorial Prison Museum.

Desert spiny lizard, I think

To say that “this is a lizard I saw in Yuma, Arizona” doesn’t actually seem to narrow things down any. I haven’t studied lizards much, but a little research suggests that this is a desert spiny lizard. I think. Regardless she wasn’t very worried about us.

Roadrunner dashing away from us.

The lizard may well have been worried about this roadrunner, which we saw just a few moments later. I am particularly proud of this shot, in spite of a little blurriness, because I don’t actually remember going through the thoughts “There is a bird. It’s a roadrunner. I want to take a picture of it.” Instead, my reaction was all instinct — the shutter was clicking before I was conscious of bringing the camera up. That kind of instinct doesn’t kick in for me very often, but here, it resulted in a decent picture.

Next time, we’ll have to go down when we can spend more time in the wildlands. But for now, it was a good trip.

Snowmageddon

The Front Range got our long anticipated (some might say dreaded) monster snowstorm over the weekend. Totals for snowfall were in the 22-27″ range where I live on the west side of Denver.

Twenty-two inches.
Twenty-seven inches.

While we were all digging out, our furry friends were having problems of their own.

Don’tcha just hate it when you get drool-cicles?