Monthly Archives: September 2020

September 27, 2020

This morning my better half and I drove out to Buffalo Creek for mountain biking (and leaf peeping).  We saw a few Woodhouse’s Scrub Jays, White-breasted Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadees, and a Hairy Woodpecker.  And we saw a few Abert’s squirrels, the all black kind.  I wasn’t carrying my telephoto lens with me, so no pictures of creatures.

Aspens as seen from the Colorado Trail

Aspens as seen from the Shinglemill Trail

At midday we took the dog for a walk in the Bear Creek Greenbelt.  It was quiet.  My better half spotted this Black-crowned Night Heron:

Black-crowned Night Heron

In back yard news, I haven’t seen a Broad-tailed Hummingbird in a couple of days; they may have left on migration.  I’ll keep the nectar feeder up just another day or two.

On Friday and Saturday, several House Finches looked to be ailing–lethargic and warty growths on their feet.  I suspect avian pox.  So yesterday–Saturday–I took down all the sunflower seed bird feeders in our back yard.   The back yard has grown quiet.


September 25, 2020

On our early morning walk in the Bear Creek Greenbelt with the dog it was extremely dark and  the moon (a waxing gibbous) was out of sight.  Both of us carried flashlights.  At the small pond north of Bear Creek we saw a couple of muskrats.  We heard what we thought was a dog barking in the distance.  It kept barking–three barks, then quiet, then three barks.   I wondered what kind of person would let a dog continue to bark well before 6:00 a.m.   I asked my better half, “Are you sure that’s a dog?”  My better half thought it was.

As we were returning home on the paved path next to Bear Creek we heard the barking again.  It sounded closer.  Then we heard it again–above us!   I shined my light in the tree canopy.  There it was:  a Great Horned Owl.  I shut off my light.  We could just barely make out its silhouette.  And then it barked again, three barks at a time.  This was not a hoot, nor a screech–it was a bark.  It barked for another minute or so, then flew off.   As it flew off, it dislodged a few leaves, making it the noisiest take-off of an owl I’ve ever heard–usually they take off in complete silence.

I checked a few websites, including The Cornell Lab, for sounds that Great Horned Owls make.  I finally found a website that has a recording of a sound similar to one that we heard:

It’s the third call under Squawks, but it’s only a double squawk.  What we heard, loudly and repeatedly over about fifteen minutes, was three barks.

September 24, 2020

This morning I departed for Rocky Mountain National Park at 4:30 a.m. hoping to see a White-tailed Ptarmigan, which have been seen as recently as September 15 at Medicine Bow along the Trail Ridge Road (according to eBird).  However, when I got to Medicine Bow, I found that the trail was closed due to nearby wildfires.

So I continued west on Trail Ridge Road and eventually parked beside the road behind several other cars.  Bull elks were bugling–though they couldn’t be seen.  The sound was otherwordly.

Dawn along the Trail Ridge Road

A little bit after dawn along the Trail Ridge Road

Scene from Beaver Meadows Picnic Area

Aspens as seen from the Trail Ridge Road (west of the Continental Divide)

I saw far less wildlife –including birds!–than I usually do.

Young elk (west of Medicine Bow)

Pika along the paved trail at Rock Cut

At a park next to a parking garage in Estes Park a few dozen elk had gathered, including this dozing bull elk:

Bull elk

Back at home, I saw two Broad-tailed Hummingbirds buzzing around the back yard.  Every day I wake up wondering whether they’ve left for Mexico yet.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Another visitor to our back yard:

Say’s Phoebe

September 23, 2020

Yesterday and today I’ve caught glimpses of a single Broad-tailed Hummingbird still hanging around the back yard.

This morning I caught sight of the adult White-crowned Sparrow and the scruffy Spotted Towhee in our back yard:

White-crowned Sparrow

Spotted Towhee

This afternoon a noisy flock of Bushtits stopped by our back yard for some suet.

Bushtit (female)

Bushtit (male)

September 21, 2020

This morning we walked the dog before dawn in inky blackness.  We each had a flashlight, though, and so we were able to see two beavers at the dam, as well as a racoon hunting downstream.

This morning we saw a single hummingbird only fleetingly.  The photograph below shows that it’s not the one we saw yesterday:

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Also this morning I watched a White-crowned Sparrow forage underneath the pine tree and the sunflower seed feeder.

In the late afternoon we saw two hummingbirds chasing each other.  One posed obligingly on the branch I put up yesterday:

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

The sunflower seed feeder continues to be extremely popular with the House Finches, Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Red-breasted Nuthatches.   I’d read that Red-breasted Nuthatches like suet, but the suet feeders is visited only by Downy Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Black-capped Chickadees.


September 20, 2020

This morning as we were walking the dog in the Bear Creek Greenbelt, we joined three other early-morning walkers to watch a beaver just east of the dam:


We checked the new beaver lodge at the pond north of the creek.  The beavers had recently felled a tree nearby and had been chewing the bark off.  My better half has been turning the tree to expose more bark.  Each morning we can see that the beavers have chewed off the exposed bark.

On the way back home, my better half spotted this Black-crowned Night Heron east of the dam:

Black-crowned Night Heron in fall foliage

We loaded up the mountain bikes and drove out to Staunton State Park.  The ranger at the entrance told us the trails wouldn’t be crowded–they’d been expecting 200 more cars by the time we arrived just after 9:00 a.m.  As we found out, the probable reason is that the aspens are not yet in full color; they’ve just begun to turn golden.

But it was still lovely riding.  We headed up Staunton Ranch trail, then across on Boundary Line, and down Mason Creek.  I had my camera, which was set up for landscape photography, in my backpack, but I never took it out.

Back at home, a single Broad-tailed Hummingbird is still hanging around our back yard.  It’s the one with the feathers growing back in.  We’re wondering whether its migration was delayed because of it, and when it might be fit enough to take off.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

In the picture above you can see the western end of the field behind our back fence.  Over the weekend, an electrical crew took down three utility poles that lined the northern edge of the property.  We reckon that underground utilities will be installed as the property is developed into a small subdivision.  Red-tailed Hawks were fond of perching on the top of them.   I was fond of watching the Red-tailed Hawks.

Other bird perches are now missing as a result of the Russian olive eradication project.  We enter the greenbelt where it borders a horse farm.  On the greenbelt side there was a small stand of trees where I’ve seen Bushtits, Orange-crowned Warblers (in spring), and nearly all the usual birds from time to time.  It was anchored by a large Russian olive tree, which has been felled and carted away.  Now the stand of trees looks like a forlorn, scrubby patch.  Down the path there was another large Russian olive tree that marked a turn to the left.  Just the other morning my better half saw a Great Horned Owl perching there.   Flycatchers were fond of that tree, as were crows, magpies, jays–you name it.  It’s gone now, too.

As the crew has removed the Russian olive trees, it has left behind small branches.  I nabbed one this morning and attached it to our back deck, near the bird bath and the nectar feeder.  I hadn’t even finished attaching it when the lone Broad-tailed Hummingbird alighted on one of its branches.  Once it leaves us to migrate south, I’ll put up a different feeder, one that the songbirds will like.  My hope is that the feeder will become popular–like the sunflower seed feeder in the backyard that attracts a dozen birds at a time–and I’ll be able to photograph birds on the branches who are waiting their turn at the feeder.



September 19, 2020

We didn’t make it down to the Bear Creek Greenbelt this morning until at least an hour after dawn, so we were surprised to see this creature:


It was looking for a meal on the north bank of Bear Creek, just west of the beaver dam.

This morning while on our back deck I saw only one, very skittish, Broad-tailed Hummingbird.  Although I didn’t get a good shot, I could see that it had a full set of feathers.  I figured our visitors over the past few weeks took off last night on migration.

However, later in the afternoon I saw that two hummingbirds still hanging around, including the one I photographed the other day with the feathers growing back:

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

September 18, 2020

A couple of Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are still hitting the nectar feeder on our back deck.  This one, unlike the one I photographed yesterday, has a full set of feathers:

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

A split second later:

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

After work we took the dog for a walk in the Bear Creek Greenbelt.  A Belted Kingfisher taunted us down the length of Bear Creek.  Mallards have returned to the creek; we saw three sets of a dozen or more.  The males are regaining their breeding plumage.  Near the beaver dam a mixed flock of several hundred Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds flew in.  They didn’t bother this Black-crowned Night Heron in the least:

Black-crowned Night Heron

September 17, 2020

This morning I went out to Barr Lake State Park to watch a program about the bird banding program run by the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies.

I was a few minutes early.  Here’s Barr Lake, draped by the haze of the wildfires:

Barr Lake

I didn’t have much time to look for birds before the program started.  I saw just a couple:

Spotted Towhee

Green-tailed Towhee

Then I walked down to the birding station.  Meredith McBurney, assisted by volunteers including Diane White and Charlie Chase, conducted the program.  There were six of us visitors for the 9:00 a.m. time slot:  a family of four (a young woman with two young children, home-schooled and impeccably behaved, and her father-in-law, visiting from Sarasota), a volunteer from years past, and me.  At the banding station, there were benches for visitors and several tables set up underneath a mesh sun shade.  Volunteers had made a circuit around the mist nets, some twenty of them, and had brought back birds in colorful bags:

Fresh catches from the mist nets

Meredith would take one of the bags and bring forth the bird within:

Meredith reaching into one of the larger bags

Spotted Towhee

In this case, it was a Spotted Towhee, a “recap,” or recapture.   That is, the bird had been previously banded just a day earlier.  Meredith would identify the bird for another volunteer doing the recording and give the number of the net it was caught in.   Then, if it hadn’t already been banded, she would read off a band number and band the bird.  Then she would take measurements, weigh the bird, and check how much fat it had by blowing on the feathers of its belly.

Examining the bird

Finally, she would select a visitor to release the bird.  She let the two young children release the first two birds she’d banded:  a Wilson’s Warbler and an Orange-crowned Warbler, each of which had weighed only seven to eight grams and which were fairly calm.   For the release of the Spotted Towhee, which weighed several times as much as the warblers and which had bitten her several times, probably piqued from being captured a second time in about as many days, she selected me.  She asked me to cup my hands, and then she placed the bird, on its back, in my hands.  The bird, disoriented in this position, didn’t move.  Then Meredith asked me to jiggle my hands gently.  The bird righted itself and flew off.

Here is Meredith with an Orange-crowned Warbler:

Orange-crowned Warbler

With a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow:

White-crowned Sparrow

With a Townsend’s Warbler:

Townsend’s Warbler

As Meredith was banding the birds, a juvenile Swainson’s Hawk flew by.  Volunteer Charlie Chase explained that the juvenile Swainson’s Hawks liked to patrol the nearby ditch, which was dry, for mice.  Soon they would migrating to Argentina to spend our winter.

Then the family and I got to accompany Charlie Chase as he made a circuit of the mist nets, which is done no less than every thirty minutes.

As we made the circuit, we saw several birds had been caught, including this Orange-crowned Warbler, which Charlie delicately worked free from the net

Orange-crowned Warbler

Working free a Wilson’s Warbler:

Wilson’s Warbler

Working free a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s):

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Holding a Swainson’s Thrush he had just worked free:

Swainson’s Thrush

After he worked each bird free, he deposited it into one of the colorful bags and gave it to one of us adults to carry.  Before I knew it, the program was done, and the 10:00 a.m. crowd (of six masked visitors) was learning how the banding station worked.  A last look at Barr Lake before I left:

Once I got back home, I checked the back deck for hummers.  Before long, a Broad-tailed Hummingbird showed up.  As shown below, it’s growing back a few feathers:

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

There were also two White-crowned Sparrows in the back yard, the first time I’ve seen them in our yard.  Here’s one:

White-crowned Sparrow