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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Home again

The mountains of Colorado are spectacular.  A foot-and-a-half of snow only added to their beauty and mystery.  The state certainly lives up to its moniker "Colorful Colorado" and our ten-day visit there was almost everything that I could have hoped for.  Almost.  The one disappointment was the birds.  I hardly saw any!

I had hoped to add several new species to my life list.  In the end, I only got three, but one of those was  unexpected and amazing and it somewhat salved my disappointment over not seeing more.

It happened on Thursday, a couple of days after the big snowfall, when we were hiking some of the trails in the Rocky Mountain National Park.  We were in the Sprague Lake area and there was a lot of bird activity in the trees.  I was scanning the trees with my binoculars.  Most of the birds were chickadees and nuthatches, but then I saw a flash of red in a distant tree.  The birds were in a restoration area which I couldn't enter so it was not possible to get closer, but as I focused my binocs, my mouth fell open and my heart skipped a beat as I realized I was looking at a Red Crossbill!  I had never seen any of the crossbill species.

Because of the distance, I was not able to get a really good picture, but here is that wonderful bird.  You can get a sense of its uniquely shaped bill.

 There were at least five of the birds in the tree.  Here are two more of them, in profile, and again you can see a bit of those fantastic bills.  For me, these birds would have made the trip to Colorado worthwhile if I had seen nothing else!

But even though birds were scarce, I did manage to photograph a few others.  For example, there were two species of chickadees present.

This is the Black-capped Chickadee which could be easily mistaken for our own Carolina Chickadee.  They are close cousins.

This is the Mountain Chickadee which sports a white eyebrow and is a great lover of pine trees.

We didn't see many water birds at all, except for Canada Geese, but I did manage to photograph this juvenile duck feeding in one of the icy mountain streams at the national park.

When it turned to face me, I could see that it was a Northern Shoveler with a bill almost as wide as its head.

At Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, I photographed this red-shafted Northern Flicker clinging to one of the iconic red rocks of the park.   

There were plenty of the little snowbirds, Dark-eyed Juncos, around both before and after the snow.

Back at the Garden of the Gods, the Townsend's Solitaire, a member of the thrush family, sang its pretty song for us.

The corvid family was well represented by crows, jays, and ravens.  I believe this is a Common Raven which is walking along a snow-plowed street.

Another corvid, Clark's Nutcrackers were numerous.

Black-billed Magpies were the ubiquitous bird of the area, seen in parking lots as well as on mountain trails.

The Florida Scrub Jay is an endangered species, but I can report that its cousin, the Western Scrub Jay, is doing very well.  This was only one of many seen on the trip.

My vote for the cutest bird seen on the trip would have to go to the Red-breasted Nuthatch.  Many of them were seen in a flock with chickadees in the national park at the Sprague Lake area.

Several times during the trip, I remarked (my husband would say "complained") about the quiet.  Not that I abhor quiet, but I am attuned to birdsong when I am outdoors and most of the time in Colorado I didn't hear any.  Sometimes I heard the bugling of elk, but seldom did I hear birdsong.  When we pulled into our driveway late yesterday afternoon and I opened my car door, the first thing I heard was a Carolina Wren song, followed closely by a Northern Cardinal and then a Blue Jay and then the whole backyard chorus came together.  Every tree held the rustling of wings.  The background music of my life.  Home again.


  1. I love that background music too, I'm surprised you didn't hear bird song in Colorado. How strange. Wonderful photos!

  2. I'm sure that at a different season of the year - spring, for example - the woods would be full of song, Jayne, but while we were there, perhaps because of the snowstorm, the quiet was remarkable. It just brought home to me what a birdy place we live in here in Southeast Texas.