Saturday, March 31, 2018

Early Birds - Bringing the Mountains Back to Life

Early Birds

After a long, dark winter, the mud season is upon us and the bleak landscape is taking on a more encouraging atmosphere. Elk are on the move and our feathered friends are beginning to make their presence known.

The predictable arrival time of some of our most common birds is a trustworthy indicator of the upcoming seasonal transition. The availability of fresh water seems to coincide with the appearance of these early birds.

The first to show are male red-winged blackbirds as they begin establishing territory at the local wetlands in February. Dressed in formal black with a red and yellow wing patch, their familiar call breaks winter’s long silence.

The robin’s evening song betrays his presence as these surprisingly hearty birds seem to tolerate early spring’s cold and snow as well as anyone. They spend most of their day hunting for insects in the dried meadow grasses.

Canada geese come next as they arrive in pairs and land on the lake’s shimmering surface. They float about the ice-cold water with ease, creating picturesque reflections that are shattered by wind-driven waves.

By mid-March, mountain bluebirds burst onto the scene as they suddenly occur in droves and takeover the foothill’s grasslands. This time of year, during the breeding season, their blue coloring is so saturated it seems unreal.

Just the other day, we saw a few mallard ducks peddling cautiously across the pond as they seemed uneasy in new surroundings. The male was particularly striking with his green head sparkling iridescently.

There are many more species on the way as we’re expecting to see flickers, finches, sparrows and meadowlarks very soon. It’s an exciting time of year with flashes of color and continual chirping gradually bringing the dormant mountains back to life.

An encouraging atmosphere

Elk are on the move

Red-winged blackbirds show up first

Robins are surprisingly hearty

Shattered reflections

Bluebirds take over the foothills

The blue coloring is unreal

Mallard Duck

An exciting time of year

The mountains are coming back to life

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Winter's Last Stand - A New Beginning

Winter's Last Stand

After such an unusual season distinguished by sparse moisture and frigid temps, a blustery weather system arrived the day before the first day of spring. With time dwindling down, winter decided it wasn’t going out with a whimper.

Blowing in from the north, the storm didn’t unleash a tremendous amount of snow but the ferocious winds were brutal. About six inches of white powder coated the landscape, falling through cold air that plunged to nearly zero degrees.

The dark morning spawned a sinister gale that stole your breath and spattered your face with tiny bits of ice. Crunching beneath boots through a near whiteout, the windswept trail was almost impossible to perceive.

The stiff breeze was funneled down through the gulch, creating deep drifts in some places and patches of bare ground in others. Troublesome Creek was thawed and the ribbon of blue flowed freely into a pair of stair-stepped ponds.

The turbulent skies cleared, offering symbolic hope for a new beginning and a brighter future ahead. We shall proceed with caution because spring is our snowiest season so we’re not necessarily out of the woods just yet.

A blustery weather system

Not a tremendous amount of snow

A dark morning

Troublesome Creek was a blue ribbon

Turbulent skies cleared

A brighter future ahead

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Wild Iris Meadow - Watercolor

"Wild Iris Meadow" Watercolor

Wild Iris Meadow is a wonderful park located just beyond Evergreen, Colorado. It’s a warm Spring day but the weather is about to change as storm clouds have gathered over the snowbound Mount Evans Massive.

The black guidelines are scribbled in with a felt-tipped pen, setting the tone for the simplification of the pretty scene. The bright colors are derived from a palette of pure yellow, green and blue.

The loose brushwork is a difficult technique because it’s uncomfortable to let the fluid medium flow with uncontrolled freedom. Soft passages of warmer pigment spread unchecked across the painting’s lower foreground.

Working in this way provokes great difficulty while dealing with the immediacy of an unforgiving medium. Despite its challenges, hopefully, this quick sketch captures the surreal beauty of a pristine wilderness.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Northern Flicker - A Unique Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

We’re starting to see some unmistakable signs of an early spring. The daylight is lasting much longer, the snow is melting quickly and the lonely, winter trails are beginning to burst with new birdlife.

First to arrive this year were the red-winged blackbirds, then house finches appeared and then flocks of Canada geese searching for open water. I’ve also seen several mountain bluebirds as they’re decorating our brown meadow with a splash of bright color.

I like to observe the gradual changes that occur in the mountains during the seasonal transitions. I enjoy watching the birds come in and begin nesting but one of my favorites won’t show up here until it gets a bit warmer.

The northern flicker is a unique woodpecker that spends much his day on the ground, poking his beak into the ground while searching for insects. He announces his presence by establishing territory with a familiar call that echoes loudly throughout the pine forest.

These elegant birds are colored brown with a barred back and wings, spotted underparts, black bib and a white rump. The ones we see here are called ‘red-shafted’ because of the red wing and tail linings and the males sport a red ‘mustache’.

Because he spends so much time down in the dirt, the northern flicker engages in an unusual preening activity. Dust particles picked up by the flicker absorb oils and bacteria that are harmful to the bird’s feathers.

To clean himself thoroughly, the flicker squishes ants and then preens himself with the remains. Ants contain formic acid, which kills small parasites embedded in the flicker’s skin and feathers.

While hiking the summer trails, the flicker is flushed from the grasses and flashes white as he flies for the safety of a higher perch. Despite their off-beat hygiene and raucous call, I’m looking forward to encountering the northern flicker once the weather gets warmer.

One of my favorites

A unique woodpecker

A familiar call

An elegant bird

Bars, spots and a red mustache

A higher perch

I'm looking forward to encountering the flicker

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Pikes Peak - A Soulful Mountain

Pikes Peak

Traveling south through the heart of Colorado, the Rocky Mountains form an almost impenetrable barrier to the west. Rolling away to the east a broken forest clings to the numerous buttes and bluffs that are a prelude to the big peaks.

This time of year the southern mountains are speckled with white snow as much of the powder has been whisked away by a relentless breeze. The frigid wind blows down across the corridor making outdoor activities utterly miserable.

Rising out of the rugged terrain, Garden of the Gods is a glorious gateway to the soulful Pikes Peak. The unforgettable scenery features red sandstone slabs that stand out sharply against the dark greenery growing below.

Dominating the view at Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak has been inspiring explorers, gold seekers and artists for over 200 years. It’s named after the accomplished adventurer Zebulon Pike who first beheld the majestic, purple mountain in 1806.

When gold rushing 59ers set out for Denver in a quest for mineral riches, they emblazoned their wagons in fresh paint with the famous words "Pikes Peak or Bust!" The rocky monolith still commands the southern skyline and has become a lasting symbol for the entire Front Range.

American songwriter Katharine Lee Bates was so influenced by the extraordinary vista from the summit that she wrote the lyrics to America the Beautiful. The popular anthem is actually a superb tribute to the unique beauty and vastness of the Colorado landscape.

An impenetrable barrier

Speckled with white snow

Garden of the Gods is a gateway

Soulful Pikes Peak

Red sandstone slabs stand out

Dominating the view at Colorado Springs

A majestic mountain

A rocky monolith

A symbol of the Front Range

An extraordinary vista

Unique beauty of the Colorado landscape