Saturday, April 25, 2015

Bluebirds - Territory, Temperament and Fire

Mountain Bluebird

The annual return of mountain bluebirds to Noble Meadow is a sure sign of spring. This year though, curious newcomers have burst onto the scene. Western bluebirds can now be observed foraging in the splendid field. Hopefully, this stubborn pair of creatures can set aside their age-old differences and find enough space to coexist up here.

The longstanding feud between these beautiful birds is based on territory, temperament and fire. After years of intense study, biologists may have discovered a behavioral difference that seems to give the western bluebird an advantage over the mountain bluebird when it comes to this geographical dispute.

Western bluebirds are facultative cooperative breeders. Meaning, some adult offspring postpone breeding for a year or two to help their parents raise nestlings. A young, male western bluebird has two life choices. He can stay at home and care for siblings in exchange for a small piece of family property or he can strike out on his own in search of new land.

In general, the bold explorers are aggressive and independent while the timid homebodies are peaceful and nurturing. The more assertive westerns will outcompete mountain bluebirds and displace them from prime habitat. The passive type of western bluebird soon follows and creates a more stable, permanent population.

Historically, the fascinating relationship between these two species has always been complicated. For thousands of years natural wildfires used to cleanse the valley forests. Woodpeckers were first to colonize these burn areas and create cavities in the dead and decaying trees. Mountain bluebirds arrived next and happily inhabited these ready-made nest sites.

Later, the feisty western bluebirds would gradually appear and within 20 years completely drive out the mountain bluebirds. Able to survive in a harsh environment where the westerns cannot, the mountain bluebirds retreated to the high country and waited for the next lowland fire to re-set the process and start over. This rhythmic tug-of-war went on for generations.

A hundred years ago, humans began to drastically reshape the western landscape. Fires were suppressed and lush valleys were logged and cleared for agricultural use. As a result, fragile bluebird habitat was destroyed forever. Western bluebirds virtually disappeared and a few, adaptable mountain bluebirds fled for the hills. The birds became critically endangered.

Devised by conservationists, ranchers and birders, a desperate plan to save the beleaguered birds featured trails of man-made nest boxes that were placed 100 to 300 yards apart. The miraculous effort was an immediate success as mountain bluebirds came flocking back to inhabit the shiny, new structures.

Just like before, western bluebirds slowly showed up and eventually expelled the mountain bluebirds. The nest box campaign undoubtedly saved the birds but it may have also created an unintended effect. The western bluebirds have established an enduring, low-elevation home and with no fires to reset the landscape, mountain bluebirds have no chance at winning back that life zone.

Currently, the westerns tend to dominate the lower meadows and fields so most mountain bluebirds will be restricted to higher elevations, a place where the westerns have been unable to expand. This is because the negligent explorers don’t support nesting females during incubation and birth. As a result, western nestlings are often unable to survive late-spring snowstorms.

It appears as though these two species will be permanently segregated with some instances of overlap occurring at the middle elevations. This delicate balance of give and take is just another example of the ever-evolving relationship on earth between nature and man.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next at Noble Meadow but with camera in hand, rest assured that I’ll be keeping an eye on the situation. I enjoy the sight and sound of both of these lovely, little birds so if all goes well, I will continue to luckily see their splashes of brilliant color in our ochre meadows.

A sure sign of spring

A curious newcomer

Male westerns have to make a choice

The westerns are more aggressive

Mountain bluebirds have adapted to the high country

Mountain bluebird female

Western bluebirds dominate the lowlands

Mountain bluebirds are restricted to higher elevations

Western bluebirds are gradually appearing

What will happen next?

A splash of color in an ochre meadow

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Echo Lake - A Beautiful Pearl

Echo Lake, Colorado

“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.” ~ Christopher McCandless

Positioned in an area known for its precious metal, Echo Lake is a beautiful pearl set below a string of snow-capped peaks. It’s nestled just beyond Squaw Pass at the base of the Mount Evans massif. Known for its turbulent nature, the passive reservoir was rendered mute during our visit.

We encountered the place during calm weather and experienced an unusual sense of peace and tranquility. Still sleepy beneath a blanket of deep snow, the placid lake was a circle of serenity. From atop a steep overlook, we could see the white wilderness gradually rise above a black forest.

Long shadows were cast quietly across the surface of the frozen pond. The alluring landscape was a perfect place to recapture an adventurous spirit. Trudging through that ghostly forest, there was something mysterious about its appearance that invoked a stoic soul to passionately search for more.

Echo Lake is a beautiful pearl

A string of snow-capped peaks

Nestled below the Mount Evans massif

A passive reservoir

A placid circle of serenity

A rocky overlook

A white wilderness

Rises above the forest

A quiet, frozen pond

An alluring landscape

A ghostly forest

Search for more

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Snow Over the Rockies - A Picturesque Storm

Storm over the Rockies

"The sun'll come out tomorrow bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there'll be sun." ~ Annie Bennett

During a peaceful day in the Front Range foothills, the big peaks became embroiled in a picturesque snowstorm. Unwilling to yield, rays of rebellious light continued to stream through the wild blue yonder.

Full of obvious indifference, great gray clouds descended onto the scene. The outlook turned ominous almost instantly as the gradual process of image disintegration occurred before my very eyes.

As the turbulent weather continued, mountains melted into the tempestuous firmament. The beautiful beginning forecasted a picture-perfect future but after the promising start, just like that, the sun was gone.

A peaceful day in the foothills

Mount Evans

The big peaks

Embroiled in a picturesque storm

Rebellious light

Clouds began to gather

Dark clouds descend

The outlook turned ominous

Mountains melted into the firmament

The sun will come out tomorrow

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Gore Range Twilight - A Heavenly Glow

The impressive Gore Range

North out of Silverthorne on a late fall evening, I made a desperate rush up Ute Pass Road to beat the fading light. Backlit by the setting sun, the blue mountains were outlined with a heavenly glow.

From an elevated plateau on the other side of the valley, the steepness of the rugged range appeared exaggerated. Positioned at such a high vantage point, the horizon looked like shark's teeth.

The jagged Gore Range had shattered the Colorado sky. Shooting across the panorama of pretty peaks, I was able to snap several pictures but as darkness devoured the landscape, a shaky hand forced me back down the hill.

Below on the Blue River, the silvery summits had disappeared. Stretched out across the contours of undulating hills, only dark shadows betrayed the mysterious behemoths looming above.

Blue mountains were backlit

A heavenly glow

An elevated plateau

Other side of the valley

The peaks are extremely steep

Shark's teeth

The rugged Gore Range

The sky was shattered

Darkness began to devour the landscape

Silvery summits

Mysterious behemoths