We’ve had some windy days lately. Two days ago (October 20, 2019) we had gusts up to 40 mph (miles per hour) — it was hard to walk in that wind!
As we battled the blustery weather while walking the dogs, I happened to look to the west, where I saw lens-shaped clouds hovering over the tops of the mountains.
Once inside, I decided to clean up some photos on the computer. I happened across this shot of Longs Peak from near Estes Park from fifteen years ago.
North Face of Longs Peak, October 2006
What caught my eye initially was the odd shaped cloud over the east face of the mountain top — just like what I’d seen while walking the dogs. This is called a ‘lenticular cloud’, meaning lens-shaped. Lenticular clouds indicate that the wind is really ripping, pulling relatively moister air up to the top of the mountain, where it forms a cloud as it crosses over. Although these clouds seem to stand still, in reality, they are constantly forming on the near side, then evaporating on the far.
Notice the snow blowing off the ridge to the right (west) and dropping into the basin below the summit. This extra snow helps build glaciers.
According to the Rocky Mountain National Park Service Wind page, in the winter, the average daily wind speeds on Longs Peak are 65 mph, so the average is higher than our peak wind speed on Sunday. It often blows at over 100 mph, and the maximum wind speed recorded was in excess of 200 mph!
Suddenly, I’m more appreciative of our relatively calm air.
Due to complications last summer, my husband and I weren’t able to volunteer with Front Range Pika Project last fall. We were determined to make it this year.
If you have been following my blog for several years, you might remember that two years ago, in 2017, my husband, my son, my son’s girlfriend and I visited a pika site near Grand Lake, on the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. We were disappointed that year to find the site abandoned.
This year, I was a little faster on the sign-up, and found a more promising site. This one was on the lower edge of the tundra, at 11,961 feet. The trail to get to the site was just 2 1/2 miles long!
What I forgot was that the parking area was at 10,440 feet. When we do the math, that’s an average grade of 14%. Hmmmm…..
By the time we’d gone 100 feet up the trail, my husband and I realized this was going to be a lot harder than it would have been twenty years ago. But we took it slow, and stopped frequently to rest. It took us two hours to go the two and a half miles, but we did it.
As we came onto the tundra, we had to skirt around a wetlands created by snowmelt draining off the surrounding peaks. The snows pile up here in winter.
We heard squeaky-toy squeaks of pika calling before we got to the talus. And once we got to the talus, pika were very obvious.
We immediately saw a little pika scampering across the rocks. It was running to a small patch of plants at the base of the talus.
Good pika habitat needs a pile of rocks jumbled together to form lots of nooks and crannies. It needs lots of plants nearby to eat, and to cut for hay. And it needs deep winter snows to protect the pika from predators, howling winds and bitterly cold temperatures. This was very good pika habitat.
What I hadn’t expected is that the pika had two speeds: still, and running. There was no walking between tasks. They hustled.
Pika gather the plants and dry them, turning them into hay. They then eat the hay through the winter. That means that pika have to gather enough plants to feed themselves for 8-9 months of the year.
It takes about 62 pounds (28 kg) of forage to feed a pika through the winter. That translates to 14,000 trips to gather this much hay. No wonder they hustle.
What these little guys can’t take are temperatures over 75o. They are climate-change indicators. If their world warms too much, they will not survive.
I went out to get the mail during the heatwave last week, and saw sparkles in the air. Then I realized it was a dragonfly. I was sure some six-year-old girl must have dusted it with golden glitter. Further inspection revealed that this was an all natural glitter-glam golden dragonfly, known to scientists as a meadowhawk dragonfly, Sympetrum sp.
Honestly, it was more sparkly than this — I just couldn’t capture how much this dragonfly winked with gold.
Gotta love how nature surprises and delights! I don’t know anything about dragonflies, but now, I want to learn!
Monarch butterflies are beginning visit our milkweed plants, which always makes us happy.
Although milkweeds can be a trap for honeybees (https://amylaw.blog/2016/07/17/bees-and-butterflies/), they are required for Monarchs to feed and lay their eggs. Monarchs are in steep decline due to habitat loss and herbicide use, so we try to help them out when we can, by growing milkweeds in the odd corners of our yard.
It’s been almost a month since I last posted about the eagle chicks. A lot’s happened in that time.
Before they can live independently, the chicks need to learn how to eat on their own. The parents have brought the chicks a rabbit to eat, but then they left. The chicks have to figure out how to get into the carcass on their own.
With those razor-sharp beaks, you wouldn’t think that would be a problem, but it seems to have stymied them here.
They must have figured it out, because when I checked in a couple of hours later, the rabbit was pretty much eaten.
And so it went…they practiced flying, and hopping and tearing into prey…
…with an occasional tug on a sibling’s tail…
…until one day, there were no chicks in the nest.
As a violent spring storm crosses the country, the temperatures along the Front Range of Colorado are hovering in the low 40 degree range, and may dip below freezing tonight, and the drizzle we’ve had all day may turn to snow.
Yet hummingbirds have been in the area for a month. These little guys have to burn through a lot of energy to survive a cold wet storm like this.
Fill up, little hummer! We’ll keep it coming for you!
The day after I last posted, I noticed new behaviors with the Bald Eagle chicks — they began stretching and flapping their wings…
…and they began feeding themselves — just a little at first, but it’s a milestone.
As with all new skills, wing-flapping takes a lot of practice, and the willingness to fail. They need to practice until they get it right. Once they try to fly, they have to get the basics right the first time.
One of the Eagle chicks spent a fair amount of time staring into the camera this day. I suspect that the lens caught the light and that caught the attention of the chick.
More wing-stretching. Only one chick stretches at a time, often in sessions of fifteen minutes or more at a time. They have also moved closer to the edge of the nest.
A new twist to the wing stretching — hopping as they flap.
I don’t know for sure that this is the same bird, but as I pointed out last fall, it is a little unusual for them to be hunting in the semi-wooded suburbs.
And this bird is hunting. Another neighbor said that he came out to get the morning paper, and it was ripping up a rabbit it had caught in his front yard. He said it didn’t fly off as he approached, so he decided to get the paper later.
Today I heard a Crow burbling as it flew fast overhead. It joined another to harass the Red-tail, at times almost driving it into the ground.
This is one of the few times I have seen both the chicks go after the same morsel of food.
Notice that the unhatched egg is no longer visible. I don’t know if they carried off, or if it just finally got buried in nest material.
One of the things that has really surprised me has been the constant remodeling of the nest. Here the male (I think) has brought back a new branch. He hasn’t trimmed it yet, so it obscures the rear chick.
The adult bird really has no idea how big this branch is, and just smacked the chick in the foreground with it.
The chicks are beginning to stretch their wings.
As the chicks grow, they are becoming more active, and more curious. The chick in the background has been wrestling with the piece of wood, while the one in the foreground seems to be checking out the camera. Notice that their juvenile feathers are coming in.
It was a windy day in Platteville — the nest was rocking back and forth a fair amount. This chick very deliberately stood up, spread it’s feet, and started stretching it’s wings, evidently enjoying the feel of the wind going over them.
Mama eagle shades the chicks. At this point, they are 9 days old.
Up until this day, I hadn’t seen them out of the central depression, where the failed egg remains. But once they started exploring, they rambled all over.
I’m a little annoyed, because Mama eagle is in the way of a nice shot of the little ones. There were two cameras on the nest, but the bomb cyclone took out one of them, so I can’t switch for a better view.
Oh! I get it now! Mom providing shade for the chicks while they sleep. Now that I understand what she’s doing, I see that she actually shades them a lot.
You can see the remains of a fish at her feet. The failed egg is still in the nest, too.
She spends a lot of time feeding them.
The last couple of days, the male has been covering the chicks up with nest material. I have no idea why.
The male has covered the chicks up. The female finally took nesting material out of his beak and put it back where he had picked it up. Hah! I could practically hear her saying “Will you just stop?”
Not only have the chicks grown, they are beginning to lose their downy feathers, and their beaks and talons are turning from black to grey.
Above: The female has already fed the right hand chick the first half of the fish in her beak. A previous fish is in the left foreground.
I always thought that it was kinda a free-for-all at feeding time for birds — the chicks opened their beaks as wide as they could and the adult dropped food into the biggest mouth. That hasn’t been the case with the eagles — one chick is fed until it is full, then the other is fed. This could be a problem in lean years, but the male has kept the nest full of fish this year.
It took her 8 minutes to feed the second half of the fish to the left chick. By the time she finished, all that remains of the fish are under her talons — not much. She feeds them several times a day, not always as much, but a lot.