Monday, February 24, 2020

The Bald Eagles of Barr Lake - An Idyllic Home

The Gazebo Boardwalk at Barr Lake

Bald Eagles nest and breed in the North but in the fall many of them migrate south and inland searching for a milder climate. They prefer to spend the winter months in tall trees near a large body of open water where they can survive on fresh fish.

Barr Lake is the perfect haven for these majestic birds of prey as they flock to this oasis on the eastern plains more than one hundred strong. Since it is the non-breeding season, the eagles are more tolerant of human incursion into their habitat, allowing you to catch a glimpse of what their life is really like.

Surrounding the reservoir, a barren forest of writhing, twisted, tortured cottonwoods is the perfect place for the birds to perch and gaze down upon their awesome domain. They are built to withstand the cold but on the chilliest days, they remain motionless on the tallest treetops.

When the weather warms, the eagles become more active and social and that is when their entertaining antics are fun to watch. Big, aggressive adults steal catches from seagulls or even from one of their own while others saunter clumsily along the ice line scanning the water for food.

The most spectacular part of their sudden liveliness is the aerial display of playful soaring, diving and tussling. Their vocalizations seem to express the sheer joy to be blessed with the incredible ability of masterful flight.

Come February, a large contingent of migrants arrives from the South and when combined with the residents, it is possible to identify more than one hundred unique individuals in a single day. It is an exciting place to be when the sleepy habitat begins to come back to life.

Other bird species are on their way but the bald eagles are leaving soon as they must fly to their northern breeding grounds. There is a mated pair, though, that returns to Barr Lake every spring where they make the same, enormous nest their idyllic home.

They saunter on ice

The adults are aggressive

They are more active and social

It's possible to see 100 different eagles in one day

The eagles are tolerant

They perch in the treetops

The habitat is coming to life

Playful soaring. Photo by Lukas Miller

An aerial display. Photo by Lukas Miller

Masterful flight. Photo by Lukas Miller

Barr Lake is a haven

Tortured cottonwood trees

The reservoir is partially frozen

An awesome domain

It's fun to watch the eagles

An idyllic home

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Winter Storm Kade - Small Flakes, Big Snow

Winter Storm Kade

Just hours after a furry groundhog in Pennsylvania prophesied a swift spring arrival, a brutal winter storm hammered the foothills in Colorado. It was a classic example of the old adage - Big flakes, small snow. Small flakes, big snow.

The tiny snowflakes poured like rain through a bitterly cold night, resulting in a smothered landscape buried below deep snow. The crystalline powder was piled into fragile drifts that shifted in a brisk wind.

After experiencing our least snowiest January in 50 years, the blizzard was a stunning slap in the face, snapping us back into the reality of winter conditions in the mountains. The glorious daybreak was punctuated by a bright sun whose sleek rays leaked through the branches of a dense woodland.

The low, diffused light spread throughout the forest creating a curious combination of fluorescence and shadow. Seen across the valley from a high vantage point, Bergen Peak was a regal monarch robed in white, a frozen monument revealing the true power of the most recent weather system.

Trudging through the labyrinth of timber, rock and ice on such an extraordinary day was an exhilarating experience. The slippery descent emptied into an isolated meadow where a dilapidated homestead was a weather-beaten tribute to all of the resilient inhabitants of the Rock Mountains.

A brutal winter storm

Small flakes, big snow

A smothered landscape

Crystalline powder

A glorious daybreak

Low, diffused light

Light leaked through the dense woodland

Snapped back to reality

An extraordinary day

A regal monarch

A dilapidated homestead

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Mule Deer Morning - Always a Thrill

Mule Deer Morning

The local wildlife is becoming more active because the morning light is brighter and the winter weather is warmer. The forest is slowly waking to the sound of flickers, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers.

Recently, while walking through a drowsy woodland, I stumbled across a small herd of deer. I found them on a rocky hillside foraging for brush, branches and anything else they could find.

They were a tight-knit bunch of females and yearlings and they were unconcerned by my presence. Because hunting is not allowed in the area, they tolerate the intrusion of humans into their domain.

If anything, the mule deer were intensely curious as they contemplated my activity. I remained quiet and still and watched while they gracefully negotiated the mountain’s rugged terrain.

Fortunately, I was able to document this intimate encounter. I had my phone with me so I was able to take some pictures and get a quick video in order to capture their extraordinary movement.

The muleys gradually made their steep ascent up to the ridge and vanished from my view. It was a fleeting interaction with an animal that is considered quite common but for me, an unexpected path-crossing with these impressive creatures is always a thrill.

A rocky hillside

They were curious about my activity

An intimate encounter

Impressive creatures

They made a steep ascent