Nest watch

Yesterday I went out to the Red-tailed Hawk nest that I’ve been watching. Here’s what I saw: Bullocks oriel-5

As I arrived, I saw the flash of orange of a Bullock’s oriole. These showy birds live in the mountain shrub community of the foothills. Always a pleasure to see them.

 

Killdeer

Several Killdeer live in the marshy area next to a gravel parking lot. I always have a really hard time seeing these birds — either they blend in well with the surrounding gravel and dirt, or they are in the rushes hiding.

RT nest with plant

Of course, I always search the nest to see what’s happening there. This time, I noticed something a little odd. Do you see it? The spot of green on the rim is a plant growing in the twigs. I don’t think hawks would let a plant grow up in the nest. With that, I have to reluctantly say that this year, the Red-tailed Hawks nested someplace else.

But they’ll be back, and so will I.

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Summer can’t be far away…

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…we’ve had our first hummingbird at the feeder.

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A Little Housekeeping…

My husband and I were in the back yard recently, and saw our resident black-capped chickadee family checking out a gourd bird house we put out for them.

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First, they enlarged the opening a touch.

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Then mama chickadee checked out the inside.

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She brought some bedding in to see how it worked with the decor.

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It was good, but something about the gourd just wasn’t quite right. They abandoned this nest, and have set up housekeeping somewhere else.

But it was fun to watch them check it out.

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Hawk Nest Monitoring Begins

As many of you know, I volunteer for the Jefferson County Open Space along the Front Range of Colorado. Last year, I worked on a new-to-me program, hawk nest monitoring. The nest I watched last year seems to have been abandoned, so I moved to a new spot this year, watching Red-Tailed Hawks.

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Nest on a ledge in an old quarry. The fine wavy lines on the orange rocks to the left are ripples in the fossilized beach sands that make up Dakota sandstone.

So far this year, there hasn’t been any activity by Red-Tailed Hawks at the nest itself. A couple have landed nearby, but they didn’t approach the nest. They still have a few weeks before they need to decide where they want to raise their young this year.

I did see a pair of Red-Tails come by, but I think they were migrants, on their way further north. The Dakota Hogback is a major hawk migration route, and this nest is very close to the hogback.

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I was only able to photograph one of the migrating Red-Tails, and that was against a cloudy background that makes it hard to appreciate their colors. But this bird has classic Red-Tailed markings — dark head and leading edge of the wings, dark “commas” where the flight feathers begin, white underside with a dark belly band. And of course, a red tail.

But I did spend a pleasant couple of hours watching 50 Dark-Eyed Juncos scratch in the dirt.

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All Dark-Eyed Juncos have dark eyes and pinkish bills. But Dark-Eyed Juncos come in four different color variations. The dark headed bird above is an Oregon morph.

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Male pink-sided Dark-Eyed Junco.

I would have called this a tri-color bird, but it is officially called a pink-sided Dark Eyed Junco. The sides look more orange or tan to me, but again, I didn’t get to name it.

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Female pink-sided Dark-eyed junco. See how her colors aren’t as intense?

At the same time I was watching these little guys forage in the foreground, about 20 Mountain Bluebirds looked for food about ten yards distant.

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With their striking blue colors, these guys are noticeable when they fly by in a flock.

 

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Male Mountain bluebird going after something it’s seen on the ground.

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As with many bird species, the females lack the bright colors that the males wear. But you can still see a line of blue just under her wing and onto her tail.

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Great Horned Owls Laying Eggs

I got up to let the dogs out around 4:00 this morning. While I was standing at the door waiting for them to finish, I heard Great Horned Owls hooting back and forth.

Great Horned Owls are laying their eggs now so their young will have hatched by the time prey like rabbits and mice are making their forays out of their nests.

Although Great Horned Owls normally hunt at night, every once in a while they are out in the day.

Broomfield CO owl

To see well at night, owls have very large eyes. In fact, owl eyes are so large that they are fixed in their sockets. This owl has turned it’s head completely around to see what’s happening behind it. Courtesy Randy Law

These large predators have the biggest range of any owl in North America, from the arctic tundra to southern deserts to semi-tropical forests, although they hunt better in semi-open areas. Their territory certainly includes my suburb in the foothills.

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Look at how far into the owl’s feathers the handler can put his finger! No wonder they can nest in the arctic. This bird is captive because its other wing is broken, and it can no longer hunt for itself.

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This Winter’s Weather Patterns

I’ve been obsessing for the last couple of posts about how dry we’ve been this winter. This image from the NOAA GOES satellite says it all: Screenshot-2018-3-4 Western U S Infrared, Enhancement 4 - NOAA GOES Geostationary Satellite Server.png

The blue is storm clouds — Winter Storm Quinn, to be exact, that dumped feet of snow on the Sierra Nevada. It hit the Colorado border and turned north to hammer Wyoming and Montana. Now it is making another U-turn and started into the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas. These states are under a winter storm warning.¬†Quinn will make its way to the storm weary east coast later this week.

What do we get? Nothing. Nada. Zip.

And this is the storm pattern we’ve had all winter.

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Spring Knocking at the Door

They may be having bomb cyclones in the East.winter storm riley. They may be getting feet of snow in the West. Winter Storm Quinn Pounding the West But in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, for better or for worse, Spring is knocking at the door.

How do I know that Spring is on it’s way? As I walked the dogs this morning, the air smelled, well, spring-y — wet and peaty.

The birds are beginning to sing. I heard the “wicka wicka wicka” of northern flickers.

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And the “chi chi chi chaaa” of spotted sided towhees.Spotted towhee in Gambel oak-07_edited-1.jpg

Not to seem ungrateful, but we could use a little helping of the storms to either side of us.

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Snowpack Levels Low

Many people don’t realize that the western part of the United States is generally arid to semi-arid. The Pacific Northwest gets biblical amounts of rain, of course, because of the coastal mountain ranges wring the water out of the wet air. Every range of mountains east of the coast catches the ever drier air, and squeezes a bit more moisture out of it. In summer, this water usually falls as rain.

But in winter, the moisture falls in the mountains as snow. The snow builds up over the course of the winter into a thick covering called snowpack. The snowpack only begins to melt in the spring. Depending on how deep the snowpack is, it often lasts into mid summer, giving regional cities and farms a long lasting reservoir of water.

The most important river in the Southwest is the Colorado River, fed by the Green, Upper Colorado, Gunnison, Uncompahgre and San Juan basins. The entire Southwest, including Arizona, Los Angeles, San Diego and the Central Valley of California depend on the rain and snow that fall in these basins that feed the Colorado.

So about this time of year, I begin to watch the snow pack in the mountains to see how dry our summer is going to be. Red is below average, green is above average, white is average, and grey is non-reporting either because it doesn’t have snowpack or there was a glitch.2018-2-23 NRCS Map Jan 2018.jpg

In January, it was looking pretty grim. (January Snowpack) Only the Northern Rockies were in good shape. That didn’t actually surprise me, because we in Colorado hadn’t had any real snow falls in November, December or January.

But starting in February, we’ve had a bunch of little storms. Most of them have dropped less than 3 inches of snow, but it has begun to build up. (February Snowpack) The snowpack isn’t deep enough to make anybody breath easy yet. But the storms have added enough to give us hope that we won’t have water restrictions this summer.

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NRCS National Water and Climate Center

It all depends on the next three months. Spring is our wettest season, by far. If mother nature is kind, we can make up the deficit.

Fingers crossed.

 

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Zoe the Corgi Snores

Zoe is a small dog — I think she is the smallest dog we’ve ever had — just about 20 pounds. She is small enough to pass under Tegan, who is not a tall dog.

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Tegan and Darwin, each 35-40 pounds.

 

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Tegan and Zoe, who weighs 21 pounds.

 

Zoe pointy nose

Zoe has a pointy snout.

For a corgi, Zoe has a pointy little fox nose. When she sleeps, she likes to tuck her nose under something — a pillow, or a blanket, or your sleeve. It’s as though she’s worried that she’ll suddenly start to float off if she isn’t moored by her snout.

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Zoe is held in position by her nose under Tegan’s leg.

She likes to sleep on our bed, and she has taught Tegan to do so as well. Tegan stays at the foot of the bed, but Zoe rambles around and over everybody else. The obvious answer is to keep putting her back down at the bottom of the bed, but that requires waking up multiple times through the night to re-position her, so it happens only rarely.

Zoe often snores. For such a petite dog, she snores surprisingly loudly.

All of these factors came together last night when she stuck her little nose IN my ear, right up in the ear canal. And began to snore.

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Cedar Waxwings

Out for a walk with the dogs today, I saw robin-sized grey birds with subtle yellow bellies flitting from branch to branch in a crabapple tree, eating the shriveled fruit. As I looked closer at them, I saw that they had crests!

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From Birds of Pennsylvania, Dzung Tran

Birds of Pennsylvania

Cedar waxwings!

I’ve only ever seen these strikingly beautiful birds once before, for just a moment. I’m grateful for a second look. In a way, it’s strange that I haven’t seen them more often, because according to Birds of North America, cedar waxwings live in Colorado foothills and up all year round.

Even better news is that, with the planting of fruit and ornamental trees, and the reduction of pesticides, cedar waxwings are on the increase. Yippee!

I used to carry my camera with me every time I took the dogs for a walk. I got a lot of great photos that way, and I would have gotten some nice ones today. But somehow, I got out of the habit. I therefore had to download these magnificent photos from the internet.

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From Adventures in Mothland, David Beadle

Adventures in Mothland

Maybe I’ll start hauling my camera along again…

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