Saturday, February 16, 2019

Moraine Park - Where Alpine Beauty Begins

"Moraine Park"

During the early winter, ice chips are sprayed down from the Great Divide into the Moraine Park Valley. Heavy clouds lurk towards the horizon erasing from view the big peaks that confine the isolated meadow.

The glacial gorge was gradually created by the corrosive forces of ice, wind and rain. One of the eroded land’s last dynamic remnants is a wild, winding river known as the Big Thompson.

At this point in its course, the creek meanders lazily through the gentle grassland. Some of the most distinguishing features are the protruding boulders that seem to stand upright during the season’s low tide.

The yellow-ochre field is gouged by muddy, black banks that slide into the sandbars of rocky rubble. Tangled rows of red-violet willows adorn the deep fringes of this gorgeous waterway.

It’s a heavenly region tucked away high in the northern Rockies where Colorado’s alpine beauty begins. As the grandeur continues to sprawl south, there are innumerable nooks and crannies that are going to take more than a lifetime to explore.

Early winter

Moraine Park Valley

Heavy clouds lurk

Big peaks confine the meadow

A dynamic remnant

A wild river

Alpine beauty

Ice chips

Big Thompson River

Meandering lazily

Sandbars of rocky rubble

Gouged through an ochre field

Muddy, black river bank

A heavenly region

A lifetime to explore

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Mount Evans Snowscape - Mixed Media

"Mount Evans Snowscape" Mixed Media

It's a cold and windy day in a spectacular basin known as Upper Bear Creek. Buried under a blanket of fresh snow, Mount Evans is a lofty landmark that imposes it’s iron will on the local weather patterns.

Tethered to the foreground, sturdy evergreens are built to withstand the brutal storms that wreak havoc on this hidden valley. Here, heavy snow clings to the blue spruce creating an intricate pattern of dark and light.

This time of year, the landscape can only be expressed with mostly cool colors like blue and green. Surprisingly, there’s also some pink and yellow washed into the high peaks looming above the white glen.

Such a difficult medium to work with, watercolor painting demands that you relinquish control. Most of the fluid brushstrokes are allowed to flow freely as they encourage you to let your imagination run wild.

Strokes of colored pencil are scribbled across the textured surface, giving a loose suggestion of the vast wonderland. Icy skies set the ominous tone that permeates the arctic atmosphere, instilling the inhabitants with a sense of dread.

It’s an uncomfortable morning devoted to tramping around on treacherous terrain. The risk involved in such an undertaking is worth it though because being immersed in such pristine surroundings is an unforgettable reward.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Swainson's Hawk - A Graceful Buteo

Swainson's Hawk

Soaring majestically on summer thermals, the Swainson’s Hawk is a graceful buteo of the Great Plains. It gets its name from an early 19th century illustrator of natural history, Englishman William Swainson.

Found mostly east of the Continental Divide, the species’ light phase is quite elegant. This narrow-winged hawk has dark flight feathers, white underwings and belly, a finely barred tail and a handsome rufous bib.

Once a mated pair finds a site near the top of a solitary tree, they build a large stick nest and aggressively defend their isolated home. They feed the chicks a steady diet of rodents, rabbits and reptiles.

When not in breeding season they voraciously eat a large amount of insects. They devour so many that in some rural regions of North America they are referred to as a grasshopper hawk or a locust hawk.

The most remarkable behavior displayed by this amazing raptor is the astonishing, yearly migration to Argentina. In late summer they flock up by the thousands and the entire population flys to South America en masse.

As the birds make their incredible journey they’re funneled through Central America and by the time they reach Panama City, the sky becomes darkened by the feathered horde. I’ve never witnessed such an event so I can only imagine what a surreal sight it must be.

A graceful buteo

Named after William Swainson

The light phase is elegant

Grasshopper of Locust Hawk

An amazing raptor

The birds make an incredible migration

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Teton Wildflowers - Watercolor

"Teton Wildflowers" Watercolor

During the dead of winter, I start yearning for the sound of birds and the scent of wildflowers. What better way to spend some down time than daydreaming about warmer weather while sketching with brushes and watercolor.

The Tetons are an impenetrable domain of jagged alps straddling Wyoming’s western frontier. Filled with flora and fauna, this rugged wilderness erupts with surreal beauty during the fleeting summer.

Blue trees cascade down into the forest meadows where fresh prairie grass is dotted with a profusion of Indian paintbrush. Looming above this American Arcadia, the spectacular peaks take on a tinge of pink during the peaceful mornings.

The geography is situated at a unique geologic junction. An extraordinary place where the northern plains were folded, buckled and exploded, creating the youngest mountain range in the Rockies.

There are no foothills as the outrageously steep pinnacles span over the surrounding landscape. It may be hard to believe but after spending time in the Teewinot, the natural charm found there might rival the grandeur of colorful Colorado.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Frozen Foothills - The Beauty of Snow

Beauty of snow

Deprived of sunlight, January is a dark month defined by brown meadows, black forests and gray brush. This forbidding time of year is exacerbated by isolation, solitude and endless waves of bad weather.

The storms come steamrolling down from the divide, dumping incredible amounts snow in a short amount of time. The wind-driven event shrouds the valley in a ghostly rampart that erases everything from view.

The next morning as cloud cover dissipates, warmer air is released into the atmosphere allowing an arctic chill to settle over the frozen foothills. The glistening, fresh powder instantly transforms the dreary landscape into a winter wonderland.

Pure, white snow brightens the area’s muddy palette as the trees appear greener, the grasses more yellow and the bushes more violet. The sparkling sky is a smooth gradient blended from cerulean to cobalt blue.

The forest is decorated with laced pine whose needle clumps collect drifts of plastered snow. The limber warriors are built to withstand the burden of heavy weight as they bend into impossible angles without breaking.

Making a trail through the park’s hard pack is a bear but the glorious scenery is worth the slog. The place is completely quiet except for the crunching of boots and the lively caws of a few hardy crows.

Springtime in the Rockies reinvigorates the soul while the summers are short and sweet. Fall is a magical time of year but there’s nothing in the mountains that compares to the beauty of snow.

Frozen foothills

Glistening, fresh powder

Winter wonderland

A brightened palette

Decorated with laced pine

Needle clumps collect snow

Limber pine are built to withstand weight

Glorious scenery

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Kountze Lake - Teeming with Waterfowl

Common Goldeneye

Kountze Lake is a man-made reservoir located in the middle of the city of Lakewood. During spring and summer, the central oasis is a hotbed of activity for both birds and animals but it seems to be busy this time of year too.

Upon entering the preserve, a vacant woodland was sparse with inhabitants save for a few fox squirrels. At the waterfront from out on the pier, the partially frozen pond was teeming with babbling waterfowl.

Canada Geese were shown in force, far outnumbering the rest of the birds. Conspicuous amongst the herd, a few white-headed floaters must have been hybrids of the Canada and the snow with their speckled plummage glittering in the evening sun.

Also basking in the warm sunlight, a male mallard’s already iridescent coloring sparkled even more brilliantly. The shovelers segregated themselves from the rest of the pack, staying close to shore on the rocks while forming a striking silhouette.

Most active of the bunch was a goldeneye that kept diving into the frigid water, disappearing for several seconds at a time. We weren’t expecting to see much wildlife on such a cold, winter day so we were surprised to encounter so many birds at such a small, urban lake.

Eastern fox squirrel

Conspicuous amongst the herd

Canada Goose x Snow Goose hybrid

Iridescent mallard

Northern shoveler

A striking silhouette

An active goldeneye

Disappeared under the water

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Bald Eagle - A Regal Bird of Prey

Bald Eagle

Back in 1872, Benjamin Franklin argued against the Bald Eagle’s nomination as the United States national symbol. The shifty bird’s frequent thievery prompted him to write that the bald eagle “is a bird of bad moral character”.

Franklin believed the wild turkey was a better selection because it was “a much more respectable bird”. While it’s true the bald eagle is an opportunistic feeder that will scavenge carrion and steal prey from other raptors, it’s also a fearsome hunter.

This huge, dark-bodied bird, with a seven foot wingspan, white head and tail, razor sharp beak, deadly talons and extraordinary yellow eyes is a fish’s worst nightmare. Although seafood is it’s favorite meal, the bald eagle will also strike turtles, snakes, ducks, geese, muskrats and rabbits.

The regal bird of prey can only be observed in North America but you can find them just about anywhere on the continent. They build some of the largest stick nests on earth with some measuring eight foot across and weighing up to two tons.

They prefer to make their home near an aquatic habitat such as lakes, rivers, reservoirs or oceans. If the local water source stays thawed during the winter, the cold tolerant eagles will reside in their territory all year long.

Mated bald eagles are paired for life and share all domestics tasks from nest building to hunting to caring for the young. They are devoted parents who faithfully safeguard the yearly clutch of two eggs and dutifully teach fledglings how to fly.

During the mid-to-late 1900s, the bald eagle population was decimated by hunting and poison, necessitating urgent conservation and a ban on DDT pesticide. The maligned bird became a national symbol despite support for awarding that honor to a turkey and now the resilient raptor has fully recovered from the brink of extinction.

A fish's worst nightmare

A regal bird of prey

Cold tolerant

A national symbol

Back from the brink