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.

Gold on the trail! Or not.

The several days of light rains in Apex Canyon have washed a lot of fool’s gold down into the erosion control dams that cross the trail. Those portions of the trail glitter!    Fool’s gold has a gold color that fooled many beginning prospectors from the ancient Greeks to the Colorado gold rush. It didn’t help that pyrite is often found in the same metamorphic rocks – like gneiss and quartz pegmatite veins – as gold. In the early days of the gold rush in Colorado, “green horns” (folks new to the west) would see a scatter of pyrite on the surface of the mud in their prospecting pans and think that they were rich. The old hands at prospecting knew better – while iron pyrite is very light, and stays on the surface of the mud, gold is very heavy and sinks to the bottom.
In fact, apart from their color, fool’s gold and true gold are about as opposite as two minerals can get. Chemists and geologists know fool’s gold as iron pyrite (FeS2). Where gold is soft, heavy and doesn’t rust (oxidize), iron pyrite is hard, light and rusts very easily. And when it rusts, it loses it’s glitterImage.

Project BudBurst Begins in Jeffco

Several months ago, I responded to an add in the local papers for volunteers for Jeffco Open Space. At their open house, they had many different options — desk

Chokecherry ready to bloom. Notice that the tiny flowers are still folded up on most of the blossoms.

Chokecherry ready to bloom. Notice that the tiny flowers are still folded up on most of the blossoms.

worker, naturalist, trail maintenance. All these were possibilities, but the option I signed up for in the in was that of plant monitor for Project Budburst.
At the training session for Project Budburst, they asked us why we had chosen that particular program to volunteer with. People gave variations on the idea that they wanted to be out in nature, to enjoy the plants. When it was my turn, I told them that I signed up because I like to fill out data forms. That got a laugh, as I knew it would. But I wasn’t joking. If I want to be in nature, I grab my stuff and go for a hike. What I had been craving, the need Project BudBurst will fill was Doing Science.
The data forms are not the point, of course. It’s collecting the measurements and comparing them to other locations and other years. What could be more fun than to see how ecosystems change through time and space?

Chokecherry past flower. It took just four days for all the flowers to blossom and drop their petals.

Chokecherry past flower. It took just four days for all the flowers to blossom and drop their petals.

I’m monitoring three plants: chokecherries, ponderosa pine, and a grass called big bluestem. I visit Apex Open Space two to three times a week to see what growth stage the plants are at. This information will be used for everything from pollen alerts to trail closures as bears search for berries. And of course, through the years, it will give ground data on Global Climate Change.

This spring started off slow — too snowy for the plants to be doing anything. But a month ago — just a month! — and the snow storms tapered off. The plants exploded in growth, trying to make up for lost time. Chokecherries went from first blossom to last in just four days,  and are now working on producing fruit.

Ponderosa pine producing pollen. Notice the yellow pollen flying out after I flicked the tiny male cone with my finger.

Ponderosa pine producing pollen. You can see the yellow pollen grains flying out after I flicked the tiny male cone with my finger.

The ponderosa pine have just put out their first needles, and at about the same time, begun to produce pollen. I can tell; people around me are sneezing and sniffling with pine allergies.