Saturday, January 20, 2018

Abundant Wildlife - A Mild Winter

Hooded Merganser at Crown Hill Lake

On a warm, winter day at Crown Hill Park in Wheat Ridge, Colorado there was abundant wildlife to watch. The inconspicuous refuge is embedded into the outskirts of a bustling, urban corridor.

Upon entering the preserve, a coyote was seen pouncing for voles in the wide swath of grassland that encircles the main lake. The stealthy predator was a beautiful canine that has adapted well to life in the big city.

Out of the sky, a steady stream of Canada Geese made a noisy landing at the surface’s icy edge. Some of them slid into the open water where they floated freely while others stayed on shore and tucked their beaks into a wing, taking a quick nap.

On that Saturday morning a strange looking bird was a surprise visitor that appeared suddenly onto the scene. I was lucky to observe a group of hooded mergansers, four males and one female, fishing in the frigid reservoir.

Such striking birds, the males sported white crests that were fanned out in all their glory while the female flaunted an outrageous tuft of orange head-feathers. They kept submerging under the water only to reappear a few moments later, croaking like chorus frogs the whole time.

Around the next bend, I saw four northern shovelers gleaning the water’s surface for tiny, edible organisms. Their species has developed an enormous, scooped bill that allows them to strain their favorite foods from the shallow wetlands.

On land an eastern fox squirrel was out and about searching for something to eat during such a fine morning. Wary of strangers, he scampered up a barren tree and from a secure niche glared down at me with an annoyed scorn.

Just as I was preparing to depart, a few emanating ripples caught my attention, leading me to believe that there was another creature present. I peaked through some tangled brush and glimpsed a foraging muskrat but as soon as he detected me, he was off in a splash.

Even though it was time to go, I didn’t want to leave because I wanted to discover what else might be out there. The last thing I saw was a kestrel perched high in the woods and sitting perfectly still while watching over a field of wilted grasses.

I undertook the journey with low expectations because I usually don’t see much activity during January as it’s always been too cold. This year, however, it’s completely different with the temperatures being so warm.

Sometimes when Nature doesn’t appear to act the way she’s supposed to, it fills me with great concern. On that day I tried not to worry about the changing climate and instead - I just enjoyed the nice weather.

Crown Hill Lake

Hunting for voles

A beautiful canine

Canada goose at the icy edge

Floating freely

Hooded mergansers

White-crested male and an orange-crested female

Northern shovelers gleaning for food

An enormous, scooped bill

Fox squirrel out and about

Glaring with scorn

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Bergen Peak Summer - Watercolor

"Bergen Peak Summer" Watercolor

It’s a warm, summer day in Evergreen, Colorado where Elk Meadow is dry and yellow. Weathered ranch structures provide contrast with the profusion of fresh wildflowers.

The imposing Bergen Peak serves as a darkened background while low clouds drift across the shimmering, blue sky. At 9,200 feet, its lofty summit is a regional landmark.

People don't describe this mountain as awe-inspiring but the views from the top are. Bergen doesn't attain the same status as a fourteener and some even dismiss it as just another foothill.

The lovely crag is just down the street so I’ve spent lots of time on its steep slopes. Over the years I've learned not to underestimate the gentle giant because it can become quite surly.

The easy accessibility and excellent trail system make this park a local hot spot. During the summer, the paths are flooded with hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers and horseback riders.

The resilient mountain takes a beating from heavy usage but if you're not careful it’ll bite back. I've gotten sick from racing to the summit and taken some nasty falls while descending steep switchbacks.

I've gotten caught in the meadow by thunderstorms and have been nearly struck by lightning. One morning during the fall rut, I got chased off by a herd of irritable elk.

I now understand that when I'm on Bergen Peak the unstable terrain, abundant wildlife and unpredictable weather can transform an ordinary stroll into an exhilarating adventure.

Bergen Peak may not be the most beautiful mountain in Colorado but I always bring my camera. It's not the toughest to climb either but I always get my heart pounding.

Despite the chaos and crowds, if you know when and where to look, peace and solitude can always be found. Bergen Peak is definitely one of my favorite places in the Front Range to go hiking.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Christmas Blizzard - A New Beginning

White Christmas at Bridgeport, Nebraska

After a long spell of unseasonably warm weather, an unexpected snowstorm slammed into Bridgeport with a vengeance. Western Nebraska was transformed into a winter landscape of dark woodlands set against the white sandhills.

During an expedition to document the blizzard’s dramatic effects, I was guided by a pack of friendly farm dogs. An Australian Shepherd and two Schnorgies plowed through eight inches of snow, blazing a trail along the banks of a winding, black creek.

I followed them closely but I missed the shot when they flushed a flock of migrating mallards. Further on as we approached a particularly fine looking tree, a great-horned owl took flight and flapped quietly across the frozen prairie.

Throughout the day, bitterly cold temperatures continued to drop and a band of heavy snow kept falling. From an overlook above the valley, the normally far-reaching views were condensed into a blur of powdered forest fused with the milky sky.

Trudging through deep drifts far from home we found ourselves right in the middle of a windy whiteout. Even in such harsh conditions, the pups were delighted to pounce and play as I struggled to keep up while crossing a dormant cornfield.

By dusk on the last day of the storm, a spectacular sunset spread a sense of relief across the land. Warm rays emanating from the horizon seemed to signify December’s end and symbolized an inspiring hope for the new year’s beginning.

Dark woodlands

Guided by an Australian Shepherd

Plowing through snow

A winding, black creek

A fine looking tree

Bitterly cold temperatures

A blur of powdered forest

The pups were delighted

A spectacular sunset