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

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