Friday, May 29, 2009

Mountain Climbing (well almost)

Wednesday was a beautiful day for a hike in Palmer Park. We left home around 10 a.m. to begin our 4 hour hike up and around the top of the park and back down again.

Just minutes from our house by foot, Palmer Park is about 500 acres of beautiful views and challenging mountain-like trails. It is frequented by mountain bikers, hikers, birders and horse-back riders.

Pikes Peak was in the distance as we went around the bend.

Since Wednesday was the Air Force Graduation, we were treated to an aerial display by the Thunderbirds.

Who says bees are endangered? This was a busy hive!

This is probably the same Western Wood Pewee we saw the other day.

There is a large, flat prairie at the top of the trail and the wild-flowers were beautiful in the sunlight. I'm working on my close-up shots - but I don't have the technique perfected yet. I need lots more practice.

The swifts and swallows were flying everywhere - but they are impossible to photograph as they move so quickly and erratically - so it was a real treat to get this picture and even more so when I found out the bird is a Violet-green Swallow. They are the only swallows in the area to have white above the eye. I had never identified one before.

Colorado Springs, along with other parts of the west are famous for red rocks. The color comes from the high iron content.

I'm pretty sure this is a Cooper's Hawk. Look at the dark head, grey neck, red eye and banded tail.

This is a different Cooper's Hawk - and a lousy picture - but it shows the bands on the tail better than in the last picture.

We don't see too many hawks in the park - maybe one every other day - so we were pleased to spot two in the same day.

On Thursday we decided to hike somewhere new and went to Red Rocks Canyon - 787 acres of open space between Manitou and Colorado Springs, just south of Highway 24. The property features rock formations comparable to the Garden of the Gods.

We packed a picnic lunch, lots of water, our binoculars and cameras and headed out.

We hiked one of the more difficult trails - around four and 1/2 miles with an elevation of over 600 feet. There are over 13 miles of trails, so we will return again.

This is a young male Bullock's Oriole and is more yellow than the orange adults.

We identified two White-breasted Nuthatches, one in the thick pines at the top of the trail and this one near the end of the trail.

There is a small lake, home to a family of Canadian Geese. All of the adult geese were banded.

I suspect this cute little guy will be banded in the near future - but for now he is just learning to peck for food and use his legs.

The red rock formations in the canyon are a haven for rock climbers. We saw several groups with full gear and what seemed to be instructors teaching them to climb.

Maybe sometime soon we will try Barr Trail - the trail that goes to the top of Pikes Peak. My father climbed to the top when he was a teacher at Colorado College in the early part of the 20th century - before he was called to serve in World War I. At age 62, I probably won't make it to the top - or even close - but you never know if you don't try!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A New Tenant

It looks like we have a House Wren that is seriously interested in one of the bird houses that Bill built and mounted on the tall fence in the back yard.

The diameter of the opening is important when building a bird house and this house has an opening that is exactly 1 and 1/8 inches across - perfect for wrens and chickadees.

There is no perch outside the opening as this encourages larger birds who may raid the nest.

Bill and I have gone hiking for the last couple of days - Wednesday in Palmer Park and today in Red Rocks Canyon. I have some new pictures and will post more tomorrow.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Happy Memorial Day

Bill and I started the day today with a short hike in Palmer Park followed with a brunch at Nancy and Joe's. Thanks Nancy for a great meal and even better company! We really enjoyed meeting your sister Susie and her husband Arturo.

The whole gang posed for me to take a picture: Nancy, her sister, Susie, Lucy, Joe, Arturo, Mike and Bill.

Nancy is a wonderful hostess and I couldn't resist taking a picture of the table before we sat down to eat our Memorial Day feast of baked French toast (I got the recipe) and a chorizo sausage casserole. Yum! I ate more than my share.

Last Thursday, Bill and his sister finally closed on a house in Denver that they have had on the market for over a year. Check in hand, we stopped on the way home and Bill bought himself a new set of binoculars and me a new camera. It is a Nikon Coolpix with 12.1 megapixels and a wide 24 X zoom. I have a huge learning curve with the new camera - so bear with me.

On Friday, Bill and I headed to the park, each with our own set of binoculars and me with my new camera.

A snow-capped Pikes Peak was peeking through and above the low clouds and early-morning mist.

We took one of the more difficult trails on the north end of Palmer Park.

Climbing up the rocky paths is challenging - but I love it.

I walk slower than Bill - so he has to wait for me to catch up. The sun washed out the center of this picture. I'll have to change settings when I'm in the bright outdoors.

I love this beautifully weathered gnarled tree stump that we passed on the trail.

This Spotted Towhee was deep in the bushes - but I was able to zoom in for a decent shot that didn't fall apart when I cropped it.

I think this bird is a Western Wood Pewee.

The Pewee is abundant in Colorado at the present, but populations are declining about one percent each year.

Both this picture and the next one are of Black-billed Magpies. The first picture is not in the correct focus - but it shows the blue colors of his wings and tail.

Magpies have beautiful long tails and markings - but are not well liked by most people because they are loud and obnoxious.

The wild Lilac bushes were in full bloom and they smelled delicious. The Humming-birds loved them too and were everywhere! We could hear them flying around the entire time we hiked.

We have a Lilac bush in our yard that Bill planted five years ago. This was the first year it had any flowers - we counted three. Maybe next year.

This Western Scrub Jay posed for a picture - but for only a very short time.

Bill took my picture as I rested on the rocks near the top of the bluffs. My blue socks have birds on them (Pileated Wood-peckers) and were a gift from our friends Mike and Mel.

Until we went to Florida, I thought they would be the only Pileated Woodpeckers I would ever see. Mike and Mel kept promising me I would see one in their yard - but I never did - so they bought me the socks instead.

I don't know what this is - but the bushes were beautiful and smelled wonderful.

I was practicing taking pictures with a close-up setting. If you look closely, you'll see an ant on the flower. I never saw it until I got home and enlarged the picture on the computer.

My camera lens was just inches from these yellow flowers. It's amazing they can grow in the arid, rocky soil.

More pretty yellow wild flowers. I didn't use the close-up setting for this picture and the focus is not as sharp.

I was delighted to see this cute chipmunk and be able to get his picture before he scampered away.

This is, I think, a Scaled Quail. Bill took this picture at his daughters house in Midway - north of Pueblo and south of Colorado Springs.

We were there for a party to celebrate the high-school graduation of his oldest grandson, Kyle. I think this cute bird wanted some of the delicious pulled-Pork Kyle's dad, Tim, made for the occasion.

Today we celebrated another grandson's eighth birthday and the fifth anniversary of the wonderful day when Bill and I first met. We were introduced with the help of E-Harmony.Com. We had corresponded for a short time before meeting face-to-face at a local coffee shop. The rest, as they say, is history.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Walk in the Park

After just a couple of visits to the Physical Therapist, my knee was feeling up to a hike in Palmer Park. Bill and I headed out in late afternoon. I had the binoculars and Bill had the camera - so these pictures are his. I keep telling him he needs to start his own blog!

My goal was to get a decent picture of the Spotted Towhee that we saw in the Park when my camera was in the shop.

We headed up a deer trail on the side of the bluffs following a Towhee who was singing in the thick brush ahead.

The wildflowers were beautiful - but the Yucca was sharp!

Along the unmarked trail we spotted this Northern Flicker sitting in his nesting cavity looking out on the beautiful view below. It was really hot, so we sat on some boulders and joined him for awhile. All I needed was a cold drink.

This was the best of the pictures of the Spotted Towhee that would fly ahead just as we got close enough for a good look.

In the valley we spotted this American Krestrel - the first one I've seen and identified in the park. This is a small but very colorful hawk that eats lots of grasshoppers.

This is the other hawk we spotted. I think it's a Red-tailed Hawk - but I'm not sure.

After we reached the top of the bluffs, the weather changed - dark clouds were boiling in the sky, the wind picked up and we could feel cold, refreshing rain starting to fall. Since we did not want to be on top if it started to thunder and lightening, we quickly headed down.

Early the next morning we headed out again. This time I had the camera! Two deer were out for their morning walk.

They crossed the path not 10 feet from where we were standing and I got lots of pictures.

Further up the path, I was finally able to get some decent shots of the Spotted Towhee. They are abundant in the park and you can hear them singing throughout. I wish I could coax them into the yard!

We are fortunate to have this beautiful park in our neighbor-hood. It's big enough that we always see something new and can hike on a multitude of well-marked trails. Once inside, you would never know you are in the city.

There is always lots of wildlife.

Check out this beautiful Western Scrub Jay. As you can see from the cactus, Colorado Springs is high desert. We have almost as many sunny days (over 300 a year) as southern Florida.

My last picture of the day. I think it's a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, but I'm not positive as my camera won't let me zoom in close enough for positive ID. I really need a new camera!