Saturday, September 15, 2018

Cedar Waxwing - A Silky Bandit

Cedar Waxwing

We are in the middle of fall so most of the local birds have left for the season but some interesting species that we don’t normally see are currently passing through on their way south. Last week we watched as a flock of silky bandits raided fruit from the bushes that surround Evergreen Lake.

The Cedar Waxwing is a beautiful bird painted with a shiny palette of brown, gray and lemon-yellow. It’s most striking characteristics are the regal crown, yellow-tipped tail, a devious black mask outlined in white and the brilliant-red wax droplets accenting the wing feathers.

The happy, little gang of marauders gorged themselves on berries and other sugary fruit to the point of intoxication. A few of the birds ventured out over the water in order to capture tasty insects while still on the wing.

They flitted about from branch to branch while calling to each other with a thin whistle and they took great delight in splashing around the shallow creek. Unfortunately, the late travelers didn’t stay for long as the weather is starting to turn.

I’m sad to see all of our colorful, summer visitors pack up and leave but I’m happy to have the quiet, rocky trails back to myself. It won’t be long now and this place will become a deserted sanctuary for the snow.

A silky bandit

A beautiful bird

Colored with a shiny palette

Yellow-tipped tail

A black mask

They eat fruit and berries

They flitted from branch to branch

They didn't stay for long

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Spotted Towhee - A Hefty Sparrow

Spotted Towhee

Rustling through the leaf litter below the dry scrub brush that laces the steep, Colorado foothills is where you’ll find a hefty sparrow known as the spotted towhee. Such beautiful birds, the males have a white belly, orange sides and a black head, throat and upper parts. The back and wings are flecked with white spots while the red eyes are the defining characteristic.

During the early spring, those males creep up to the top of the thicket and sing all day long while trying to attract a mate. In the breeding season they eat mostly insects but they’ll also dine on acorns, berries and seeds. They’re nest cup is built deep inside a sharp briar and usually concealed somewhere near the base of the shrub.

A close cousin, the eastern towhee, used to be considered the same bird as the spotted towhee and in the past they were called the rufous-sided towhee. During the last ice age large ice sheets split the continent down the middle, isolating the separate birds into eastern and western populations. Today, scientists classify the spotted and the eastern as two completely different species.

Rustling through leaf litter

Dry scrub brush

A hefty sparrow

A beautiful bird

Orange sides, black head and white spots

The red eye is a defining characteristic

Singing all day

A different species

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Golden Foothills - The First Hint of Fall

Golden Foothills

Framed by wildflowers, a big, violet boulder marks the beginning of the way up into golden foothills. Around the bend, a slope of mixed vegetation leads to a broken ridge and the blue storm clouds beyond.

The first hint of fall is a surreal splattering of yellow leaves below a pine bough of arched and broken branches. In the low light, a grove of turning aspen seems to glow when set against the coniferous forest.

Their white trunks undulate like wispy ghosts disappearing into the darkness. Under threatening clouds, some must stand alone engulfed by a sea of black trees while we get drenched by a deluge of freezing rain.

A boulder marks the beginning

Slope of mixed vegetation

A surreal splattering

Glowing aspen grove

Wispy ghosts

Some must stand alone