Monday, December 19, 2011

Red Fox Sparrow

On December 18, we had a new bird for our yard list, a Red Fox Sparrow.  It appeared around 11 am for a brief time, long enough to determine that it was a Red Fox Sparrow rather than a Sooty Fox Sparrow, but then it flew off.  Fortunately, it returned in late afternoon and hung out where we had spread millet on the ground, offering Nancy a clear view to photograph it.

It breeds in the high Arctic from Alaska across to eastern Canada.  It obviously migrated this far south, but is quite unusual up here at 8000 feet, 40 miles northwest of Fort Collins, CO.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Elk Viewing in Rocky Mountain National Park

On October 5, we spent the late afternoon and evening with an elk herd in Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park.  The herd consisted of a dominant male and 35 cows and young.  On the far periphery were 7 other big males.  The herd bull was very busy keeping his cows together, checking to see if any were yet in estrus, and fending off the other 7 bulls in the distance.  We spent a total of about three hours observing these interactions and took many photographs.  While there was a large crowd lined up along the road watching like us, they were all very quiet and respectful, and the park staff were extremely pleasant as they made certain people stayed back away from the herd.  It was as fine a wildlife experience as one can get anywhere in the world.  Here is a sampling of the photos we took:
The big bull, bugling to assert his claim on the cow herd,
Keeping the cows together.
Is she receptive yet?
Maybe she'll be more receptive if I don a gorgeous hairpiece.
Back from pushing other bulls away.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Birding Oregon's Central Coast

Flowers on the sea in loving memory
(Bird photos by Nancy Bell, others by Chuck Bell)

In August 2011, we flew to Oregon to take part in a family ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of Nancy’s brother’s death.  Dan had lived in Portland and was married to a wonderful gal from Chile, who has two lovely daughters.  She hired a boat from Depoe Bay for the ceremony. It was an important closure for Nancy, as Dan's ashes were scattered at sea and he was fondly remembered by his widow, her two daughters, his son Gregg and several of Dan's close friends.  The ceremony at sea was followed by a dinner at the beach house of one of Dan's friends.  His son Gregg, who is an accomplished restaurant chef, prepared a beautiful baked salmon.

We stayed several extra days to explore this beautiful coastline, which neither of us had ever visited before.

We stayed in the town of Newport, which was centrally located for the ceremony and for some of the better coastal birding in the region.  

We relied on the excellent Central Coast Birding Guide, which is available on the web, to decide where to go each day, what to look for and how to find it.  We also found it essential to consult the tide tables, as shorebirds were virtually non-existent at higher tides.  We were fortunate in hitting a spell of very good weather, as this coast can be very rainy.  The coastal rain forests attest to that.  Though we had sun nearly every day, we also had some fog in the mornings, and it was cool enough that we needed jackets most of the time, even though we were there in high summer.

While we stopped at least briefly at nearly all the spots mentioned in the birding guide, from Lincoln City down to Florence, our favorite site by far was Seal Rock State Park, about 10 miles south of Newport.  We went back there several times, trying to hit it at low tide when the Surfbirds, Black Turnstones and other shorebirds were accessible on the rocks near the beach.

Black Oystercatcher

Black Turnstone

Surf Scoter
Greater Yellowlegs

Harlequin Duck in winter plumage

Pigeon Guillemot in winter plumage

Semi-palmated Plover

Poor Nancy.  One evening as we stood on the Newport fishing pier, she leaned her big camera out over the water to photograph patterns in the bottom and the lens hood fell off.  It went into 6 feet of water, as the tide was high.  We decided we had to write it off and checked replacement prices when we returned to our motel.  We were astonished that a new one would cost more than $400, and in any case, none were available because of the damage to a Canon plant by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  As the tide dropped, we returned to the area just before dark and walked what beach was exposed but found nothing.  Dejected, we went for dinner, and just as we were thinking about going to bed, Chuck said, “It’s now low tide and I’m going back for a last look.”  Using our small travelling flashlights, we scoured the now vast expanse of exposed harbor bottom and voila! , about 100 yards from the pier was the lens hood half covered in sand.  We were ecstatic, to say the least.

While photographing birds was our primary focus, we also enjoyed the sea lions, especially along the docks in the old part of Newport.  We had hoped to see them well at Sea Lion Caves but were very disappointed there, especially with its expensive entrance fee. 

At another beach, we were treated to a beautiful array of starfish, clinging to exposed rocks awaiting the returning tide.  A Western Gull thought one of these beautiful creatures would make a good meal.  But his eyes were bigger than his gullet.  He carried this prize around for nearly half an hour but never could manage to consume it.

We also went inland around some of the coast's deep bays to see what we could find.  Long-billed Dowitchers were migrating through, and Nancy got a wonderful shot of a Green Heron.

Long-billed Dowitchers
Green Heron
But we really best enjoyed driving along the coast, and even on our last day, before we had to head for Portland Airport to fly home, we stayed out as long as we could.  We were rewarded with a wonderful “farewell” sunset.

Climbing Up to the WWII B-17 Crash Site

Aspen frame the mummy in the Mummy Range
It was another in a string of absolutely beautiful Colorado blue sky days, and Nancy, Linda, Charley and I headed up to Pingree Park.  The aspen were in high color, and illuminated the hillsides up to timberline.  Our plan was to head up the Stormy Peak Trail to see the remains of a B-17 that crashed into the mountain 58 years ago.  The aspen along the trail up the mountain were beautiful.

As we climbed, the weather got a bit dicey, with an unpredicted thundershower hovering over the top of Stormy Peak.  But eventually, after climbing 1200 feet in 3 miles, to an elevation of 10,250 feet, we came out into a boulder field and saw the pieces of plane wreckage.  Miraculously, the clouds cleared as we entered the clearing and the sun came out, illuminating the pieces of wreckage strewn across the mountainside.

The history is that on October 18, 1943, a B-17 bomber from Lowry Air Force Base in Denver slammed into the side of Stormy Peak at 10:45 in the evening.  It started a forest fire that spread into Rocky Mountain National Park.  It took two days to evacuate the bodies of the 8 airmen from this remote site.  Fairly large pieces of the wreckage remain.
A piece of the plane's tail section

A strut

One of the four engines

Another of the engines
 It was a very interesting hike.  It took us about four hours, including a short stop for lunch.  We again enjoyed the color along the trail on the way down.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bugs at Home

In the late summer and fall the Rabbit Brush in front of our house attracts large numbers of nectar feeding insects.  It is the only large flowering bush in the area right now.  Using her macro lens, Nancy sat out there one morning and photographed the array of insects feeding on the bush.  

Painted Lady Butterfly on the Rabbit Brush
Earlier in the year, she captured nice photos of other insects.
Bee on Gallardia under our kitchen window

Beetle on Golden Banner in Molly Moon Meadow

Ctenucha Moth in Oregon

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Golden Aspen and Hoodoos -- the Colorado-Wyoming Border Country

Sunday, September 25
The forecast for today here in the foothills and mountains of Larimer County, Colorado was splendid.  We awakened before dawn, and the moon in the eastern sky foretold a very clear, dry day.

We decided to head north of our home to an area we used to visit often but haven't seen for a couple of years.  We took the county road north out of Red Feather Lakes and found ourselves in a blaze of color as the road wound down through the aspen.

We emerged into the open at Prairie Divide, near where Chuck used to live.  It is a geographical feature that was on the early aviation maps as a place where a small plane could safely put down if in trouble.

We continued north on this road to a favorite old haunt, a piece of U.S. Forest Service land that is known as Bull Garden.  The large pond has become nearly choked with reeds over the years. We noticed one lone American Coot and remarked that the Red-winged Blackbirds had all migrated out.  There were still good sized flocks of Mountain and Western Bluebirds, clearly on the move.

Our dog Charley heading for the water.

Bull Garden with Black Mountain in the distance.
Back on the road, we dropped into Cherokee Park, where legend has it that a band of Cherokees had traveled from Oklahoma looking for a better home and were attacked by a group of Utes in this area.  From there, we continued west along Sheep Creek, where old fences attest to the long history of cattle ranching in this area, which several years ago we helped continue by gathering cows from their summer pasture and driving them down along the creek.  

From there, it was just a short way through the rolling sagebrush hills to Sand Creek, where we enjoyed the blaze of color and the snow-capped peaks of the Snowy Range in the far distance.

We turned north following the Sand Creek Valley toward Wyoming but had to stop several times to enjoy the incredible color of the aspen.

As we came over a hill, it seemed like we could see forever.  And we could indeed see as far as the city of Laramie way off in the distance.

Then Chimney Rock came into view.  It sits right by the Colorado-Wyoming Border, and it was the prominent feature of a large holding known as Chimney Rock Ranch, which has now been split up at least to some extent into smaller acreages.  But the land around here remains as beautiful as ever, including the sandstone cliffs opposite Chimney Rock. 

Then it was on north in Wyoming, still heading up the Sand Creek Valley, to an area with bizarre rock formations known as "hoodoos."  They are basically sandstone columns with limestone caps.

We also enjoyed watching a herd of pronghorns, and Nancy got close enough to get a nice picture.

Then it was time to take the long road back home.  

It was a truly wonderful way to spend a beautiful autumn day.