Hummingbird wants that flower…

Some days everything, including my camera, just clicks.

Yesterday was one of those days.

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This female Broad-tailed Hummingbird tries to get nectar from American vetch.

 

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But she can’t quite get her beak into the drooping flowers.

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Animals don’t usually sit still and work this hard to get something. It just makes them too much of a target.

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But the vetch is in a really cluttered area. She can’t get the nectar by hovering in front of it.

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The vetch must be loaded with nectar to make it worth her while to work on it for this long.

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But finally, she is rewarded, and gets to enjoy the nectar.

May your weekend be full of rewarding projects.

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“…Active Rattlesnake Incident…”

I was just finishing up my hike when I heard a woman scream. As a good citizen, I went back to check that everything was okay (or not). The woman was standing on the concrete path, with her two dogs. Five feet further on, a rattlesnake was stretched halfway across the concrete. The woman and her dogs were fine, but startled — she had almost stepped on the rattlesnake.

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We stayed a good distance back from the snake. The sidewalk here is probably 10 feet wide, to accommodate bicyclists passing each other.

The woman told me that she often sees snakes on the trails. There are a lot of rattlesnakes along the foothills west of Denver. (Don’t Kill the Snake!) She just didn’t think about a snake on the concrete sidewalk.

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Don’t be alarmed — I have a really awesome zoom lens on my camera. I am actually standing in about the same place as the first photo was taken. You can see the rattles at the end of the snake’s tail, and the distinctive pattern that helps it hide in the grass.

While we were discussing the event, two other women came up. We told them about the snake, and they became very agitated — both of them were terrified of snakes. They discussed going back the way they had come, but that would have been a long way to go back.

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A really awesome zoom. I was surprised at how big the scales were on the snake — they kinda stick up from it’s body.

The woman with the dogs had us hold one while she picked up the other dog and carefully walked along the far edge of the sidewalk six feet away from the snake. She came back for the other dog, picked it up and carried it past the snake (I was impressed — these were border collie sized dogs).

The two frightened women decided to follow the dog owner past the snake. They passed safely, and were shaken, but fine. I admired them for facing their fears.

After everybody went by, the snake retreated to under a trash can. Despite what the snake thought, this was not actually a good place to hide if somebody decided to be a good citizen and toss their trash.

I called the incident in to Jefferson County Open Space dispatch to get somebody to move the snake. They told me to call Jeffco Sheriff’s Department because this “was an active rattlesnake incident”. I called JSD, who switched me to Animal Control. Animal Control wondered if the snake’s exact location might be in the City of Golden. They advised me to “spray some water on the snake to encourage it to move along.” REALLY???

By the time everybody had finished passing the buck, the snake had wisely decided enough was enough, and moved on without any further interaction from people.
At no time did the snake do anything more threatening than flick out it’s tongue — no coiling, no rattling, just prudent retreat.

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This was probably the scariest photo because although I was still ten feet away from the snake, suddenly I couldn’t see it in the grass. I took this shot blind.

This incident points up a couple of things:

1. We often get so absorbed in our lives that we don’t see threats even when we are literally about to step on them. The woman who first found the snake had seen them before, and had a healthy respect for them, but had tuned that threat out of her head because she was on a concrete path, rather than on the trail. The snake was there anyway. So stay alert! This goes double if you like to put in the ear buds and zone out.

2. Snakes really don’t want to be around people. I mean, they can’t eat us, but they can be hurt by us. So what’s the point of being around us? This guy was sunning itself when we blundered onto it. Through the entire encounter, it stayed really still to see if we would just continue not seeing it. At the first possible moment, it slithered away.

3. We handled the situation reasonably well. We didn’t poke at it. We didn’t try to kill it. We kept the dogs away from it. We gave it plenty of space, and it left by itself. What could we have done better? Stayed alert and recognized it long before we got close. Backed off even more after we first encountered it and let it escape more quickly.

Here are some good websites that talk about how to avoid snakes, and what to do if you get bitten anyway. WikiHow: Avoid a Rattlesnake Attack https://runnerclick.com/how-to-handle-a-snake-encounter-on-the-run/

Enjoy the outdoors, but stay alert! It’s the critter’s home, we’re just visiting.

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Swallowtail Butterflies

Several weeks ago, we had orange and black Monarch butterflies migrating through the Front Range. They seem to have moved on.

But we’ve still got big butterflies in the area — yellow and black swallowtails. I’ve seen two different types of swallowtails. The western tiger swallowtail is lives along waterways and in woodlands, as well as suburban areas. It’s caterpillers eat aspen, cottenwoods and green ash. The eastern version of this butterfly …. hmmm…. lives in the east? That’s all I’ve found to separate the two.

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Western tiger swallowtail on Canada thistle.

 

The other species of swallowtail that I commonly see in the west Denver area is the two-tailed swallowtail. Predictably, it has two tails.  These butterflies lay their eggs on green ash and chokecherry, although the adults evidently like the nectar from our milkweed plants.

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Two-tailed swallowtail on milkweed.

 

It’s a hard life being a butterfly. This poor guy has survived a lot.

Damaged two-tailed swallowtail butterfly on milkweed.

Swallowtails lay their eggs on their preferred plants. The eggs hatch out into caterpillers, which proceed to feed on their host plants. When winter comes, these larva spin a chrysalis (cocoon), in which they overwinter.

Unlike Monarchs (Monarch Butterfly Migration) or Painted Ladies (Painted Ladies migrate across North America! Painted Ladies Part Two), swallowtails only produce one generation a season. The adult swallowtails emerge in May and June, and continue to be active in the same area through August, feeding on plant nectar, as the butterflies above are doing. Sometime in the summer, they lay their eggs.

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Monarch Butterfly Migration

Thanks to the nice weather, I worked out in the yard for a good bit last weekend. As I worked, I saw and heard our normal back yard wildlife — feisty squirrels, black-capped chickadees, house finches, Northern flickers, dragonflies and big yellow swallow-tail butterflies. Then I saw something unusual — an orange butterfly. I assumed it was a Viceroy, because it flew right past the big patches of milkweed we’ve let grow for the Monarchs that might wander through our yard (Bees and Butterflies).

Then I saw another. And another. None of them were landing anywhere in the yard, but I decided to try to photograph them anyway. Maybe one would alight just long enough for me to snap a shot.

As I watched them more closely,  I began to have a niggling feeling that maybe I should check my butterfly identification books. In the meantime, I took a few photos.

Monarchs are orange with black stripes. They differ from very similar Viceroys in that Viceroys have a stripe along their lower wing. Otherwise, they are almost identical. So the photo on the left, taken in our back yard, is a Monarch! I’m glad it stopped by.

Starting in March, Monarchs migrate from Mexico and Southern California to Canada every year, reaching their northern limits in late June. We get our first Monarchs about the same time.

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Monarch feeding on milkweed in our backyard.

There are lots of astonishing facts about Monarch and Viceroy butterflies. One fact about the Monarchs is that, although they migrate long distances every summer, no one butterfly goes the whole distance. Instead, the overwintering generation heads north in early spring. They mate, lay their eggs and die somewhere along the way. The next generation of monarchs hatch and head north. They mate, lay their eggs and die somewhere along the way. It takes at least four generations to get to the northern-most point in the Monarch migration! The fourth generation then makes the return trip south, and overwinters in the same trees its ancestors did last year. As with other butterfly species (Painted Ladies migrate across North America!), nobody knows how they do it.

You can watch Monarchs as they travel at this website: Lerner Monarch Butterfly Migration Map Spring 2018. They even have a site where you can report your observations! What to Report

 

 

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Need a break from the heat

Denver hit an all time high temperature of 105o F (40.5o C) on Thursday. Fires rage throughout the West. Politics are just as heated.

I need a break from the heat.

Although I couldn’t get to the high country recently, I still have some good photographs from my trip up to tundra last month.

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Claytonia megarhiza

Alpine spring beauty

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These little flowers peaking out from the big fleshy leaves are Claytonia megarhiza, Big rooted spring beauty. And they do indeed have thick roots that go down up to 6 feet!

 

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Alpine or dwarf clover

I didn’t take the time to get a good picture of the leaves, so I couldn’t decide if this was alpine or dwarf clover. No matter. I love it’s perky flower poking above the soil.

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alpine primrose

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Alpine primrose

The dramatic two-toned flowers make these alpine primroses easy to identify. Each alpine primrose plant produces just one flower a year. The boat-shaped leaves collect water during the dry alpine summers.

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American pipit

While I was taking photographs of flowers, an American pipit flew in to forage nearby. These birds nest on the tundra in the short summer, and retreat to the forests below in winter.

Maybe this month I’ll get back to the high country to cool off in person.

 

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Snow pack. Or Not.

In mountains where snow builds up — any snowy mountains — there is a unique form of water storage. It is the snow itself, and it is called snow pack. Here in Colorado, we rely on the delayed release of water from snow pack melt to slowly recharge the resevoirs into early summer.

Fall River Cirque Early Summer

June 14 2015. Fall River Cirque, Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park.

Above is what snow pack in the alpine tundra looks like. This photo was taken three years ago on one of my favorite places in the world, Trail Ridge Road, in Rocky Mountain National Park. The snow pack actually isn’t deepest in the alpine; that honor goes to the spruce-fir forest, the highest forest that can grow in the Colorado Rockies. And on this drive, there was a lot of snow in the spruce-fir forest. It’s just easier to see the snow without the trees.

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May 30, 2018. Mount Evans looking south to South Park.

We’ve been hearing this winter and spring that it has been dry in the high country — little snow pack has built up. Last week I went up to Mount Evans, west of Denver, to see for myself. Above is the snow pack — or lack of — in the Front Range. As I drove up, there was no snow in the spruce-fir forest. None. At all.

I realize that the comparison isn’t exact — Mount Evans is 50 miles south of Rocky Mountain National Park.

But I went up to Mount Evans two weeks earlier than I did Trail Ridge. There should have been more snow up there. A lot more snow.

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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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