Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Momma and the Night Visitors

Last night around midnight Bill woke me from a sound sleep and told me the raccoons were in the yard again. A mother raccoon and her four babies were at the pond - turning over all the stones we had so carefully placed.

Boy, they were cute! It took me several minutes to put something on and to get outside with my camera.

By the time I started taking pictures, Bill had made enough noise that they had retreated to the fence - but were not sure they really wanted to leave.

I had no idea if the pictures I took would really show anything - I was just aiming into the darkness and shooting. I did have the flash on.

Momma raccoon is hiding behind the leaves peeking to see if I would leave so she can go back to the pond.

Bill says raccoons are really the squirrels we see during the day - that have morphed into raccoons during the night.

Momma finally gave up and left. We caught them before they did too much damage and I don't think they came back after we went back to bed as things seemed to be intact this morning when we got up.

But I'm sure they will be back. I'll keep you posted...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bumps on the trail

Yesterday, Bill and I took what we thought would be a simple hike in Palmer Park. It was a beautiful, hot day and we got a late start as I had an earlier appointment with the hematologist and then had to go visit the vampires to have blood drawn. Since I am taking Coumadin to prevent blood clots associated with Factor Five Leiden, my blood is checked on a regular basis.

Hiking was tough. I was tired, hot and thirsty. We had packed a lunch and Bill had his backpack filled with water - but neither seemed to help.

Along the trail, we spotted this House Wren building his nest. I was grateful for the rest while we took pictures. This one isn't very good, but if you look closely, you can see the wren behind a large branch, with a stick in his mouth at the entrance to his hole in the tree. He had to turn his head a couple of times to get the stick inside - but he did. Male wrens select three possible nesting sites. The female chooses the one she wants to use - and then they finish lining it with softer material before she lays her eggs.

This looks like a dandelion ready to fly its seeds where ever the wind blows - but it isn't. This seed puff was almost four inches across! I don't know what it was - but it was neat.

We finally got back home three hours after we started. I went directly to bed and slept soundly for two hours. We have no idea why I was so tired - but the nap and lots more water seemed to take care of what ever it was.

Today, I was anxious to get back on the trail - just to prove I was okay. We went to Cheyenne Canyon to hike up Mount Cutler. It's about a mile to the summit starting at an elevation of 6785 feet and climbing to 7200 feet. This is a picture of the view about half way to the top.

The trail was not difficult - an easy climb on gravel and dirt. The trail is well used and we passed quite a few other hikers.

Bill is almost to the top.

The views of Seven Falls below - in the distance - are amazing. You can see three of the seven falls in this photo.

This is the view at the top. I wish the pictures did it justice. We stopped to sit on a fallen tree and have our lunch - chicken sandwiches, trail mix (with bits of chocolate), cinnamon chips and lots of water. Nothing ever tasted so good.

When we hike, we take ski poles that Bill altered to make into hiking poles. They make climbing hills much easier. He carries a back pack with a 2 liter water bladder, extra camera batteries, lunch, rain gear (ponchos from the Dollar Store), toilet paper (and zip-lock bags to carry out what we use), a few dollars and his cell phone. We both carry binoculars and cameras. Thanks to a local yard sale, I now have a back pack and will carry over-shirts or jackets and more water for the longer hikes.

The view was spectacular, but we needed to head back down. I didn't know it at the time, but Bill was starting to get a migrane - maybe triggered by the chocolate - and he didn't have his pills.

I had just about given up hope that we would see any new birds, when this small Dark-eyed Junco caught my eye. Several junco species have been lumped together and called Dark-eyed Juncos. This is the gray-headed variety with a prominent rufous (orange) patch on his shoulders.

Just after stopping to photograph the junco, I slipped on the gravel on a steep hill and fell on my butt. All I hurt was my pride - but Bill had to help me up. At least he didn't take a picture first.


I love sitting in the backyard. I enjoy listening to the sounds of water flowing from one pond to another; I love hearing the birds and the crickets. Fortunately, the sounds of civilization around us are muffled by shrubs and fencing so I can enjoy these things with only occasional interference.

We see Towhees in the yard almost every day now. I throw sunflower seeds and dried cherries under the bushes for them to find - but sometimes the squirrels get them first.

The fledglings are starting to appear. This is a common Sparrow that is just learning to fly. We also have baby squirrels and it's fun to watch them as they climb down the fence, into the yard to look for seeds in the gardens. The Western Flicker babies have left their nest, as have the first batch of noisy Starlings. Yesterday I saw a Brown-headed Cowbird baby with a much smaller mother feeding it. Cowbirds lay their eggs in other bird's nests so the babies are raised by other types of birds - sometimes to the exclusion of their own young.

Bill's Pond Lily has just started to bloom. The flowers are so beautiful they almost don't look real. Last night the raccoons went fishing in the ponds - but all the fish were accounted for this morning - and the lily was intact.

Our other garden flowers are in full bloom. I tried to get a picture of a butterfly sitting on these, but it flew away before I could get the camera ready.

These yellow flowers come back each year from seed. They even move from garden to garden.

Our built-in sprinkler system keeps the lawn and gardens watered. This Towhee decided the water was perfect for a quick shower.

As I was sitting on the patio, this female House Finch landed on the table and posed for a nice close-up.

We had a great visit with our friends, Tom and Cathy. After a nice day in Cripple Creek, Cathy and I went for a short hike in Palmer Park and I think she really enjoyed climbing on the bluffs. I wish they could have stayed longer so we could have hiked more.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Busy, busy, busy

Last week, Bill and I went on our most challenging hike to date. We started on Gold Camp Road at the Section 16 access to Palmer Red Rock Loop and began climbing - up and up and up. About halfway to the top we stopped to eat our picnic lunch. Just about when I thought I was going to die from exhaustion - a couple of cute little things jogged past us and I told Bill that if that old lady with the walker passes us - I'm giving up hiking!

Well the 3 mile hike to the top - with an elevation climb of over 1500 feet - was well worth it. The views were stunning - but you can see it was starting to cloud up and it looked like the sky was getting ready for another batch of the afternoon thunderstorms we have been getting used to lately.

This would have been a great picture if it had included his head - but I've had fun trying to identify it. I think it is a Black-headed Grosbeak.

After reaching the top of the mountain, the trail meanders around a canyon and down to the starting point. That part of the trail is fairly easy, but twice as far as we had already come. It looked beautiful, but the weather was starting to concern us, so we elected to go down the way we came up. By the time we were halfway down, it started raining. Fortunately, we had purchased more rain ponchos from the Dollar Store. At the bottom of the trail, the red clay was wet and slippery! We were covered with mud by the time we reached the car - but had a great time anyway. Next time we will finish the loop.

That evening, I played my first game of Bunco - a game of chance played with three dice. Players take turns rolling the dice and trying to accumulate as many points as possible to win each of six rounds. The game is played at tables of four in competing teams of two. Nancy was our hostess and organized the whole thing - recruiting the players from Einsteins - and we had a ball. The game is easy - but I still lost more games than anyone else - so I left with the boobie prize - a dozen rolls of toilet paper.

Over the weekend we headed to Denver and Jim and Julia's wedding. Jim is the oldest son of our good friends Mike and Mel.

Julia was stunning and Jim was nervous. What a happy day!

Mel and Mike were all smiles. They are very fond of Julia and are glad to welcome her to the family.

Mike and Mel relaxing at the reception with friends from Missouri, Cathy and Tom - who will be stopping in for a visit later this week.

We sat with Moe and Shirley, their beautiful daughter, Laurie (a brand new mom!), and Tom and Cathy. Moe and Bill have been friends since elementary school. Moe is a master gardener, pond designer and builder and craftsman extraordinaire. Formerly he restored antique furniture - now he designs and builds model airplanes, cars, trains and anything else that tickles his fancy.

The day after the wedding we were invited to a family barbecue at Mike's daughter's house in Broomfield, Colorado. Mike was the cook - and it was all Bill could do to keep from taking the spatula away from him! Instead he practiced being a back-seat griller. Despite Bill's "help" everything was delicious!

Just as we were getting ready to leave, the wind started blowing, the temperature dropped and the sky opened up. Driving away, we encountered rain, hail, thunder and lightening. There was a tornado watch - and guess where it was centered - Broomfield!

I went to bed very early last night - exhausted from all the partying. When I got up this morning, there was a new sign on the fence by one of the vacant birdhouses. Bill had asked Moe to make it and Bill put it up while I slept. I'll have to get him to make one that says "Home Tweet Home."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Palmer Park

Bill and I had the best hike in Palmer Park! We hiked the north side starting at the stables, up and around and back down. The temperature was in the 60's and it was perfect! But why didn't we pack a picnic lunch to eat along the way? Boy was I hungry by the time we got home. Bill's homemade gumbo tasted dee-licious!

We stopped to check in on this Northern Flicker. We have flickers that stop at the bird feeder in our backyard everyday. Yesterday, I saw four flickers together and assume three were fledglings. I wonder if this female has babies in her nest.

All during our walk we hear more birds than we see. The Towhees - which are abundant in the park - were singing back and forth.

Look at this beautiful - all natural - rock garden beside the trail. I love the high desert terrain.

I call this a cute little bunny but Bill calls it hawk bait.

Three White-breasted Nuthatches were searching this old log for insects. This one stopped long enough for me to get this picture - my favorite of the day. We also saw a Red-breasted Nuthatch, but he was too quick for me to get my camera focused.

Mr. Lizard was resting on a rock.

He must be a distant cousin to the alligators we saw in Florida. Look at that scowl!

It's difficult to tell in this picture, but this little Hummingbird was bright green.

I was pleased to see that the Black-headed Grosbeaks are still in the area. I just wish they were still in my yard!

Look at these beautiful wildflowers. I just can't get over how vivid the colors are this year.

The Never-Ending Pond Project

These pictures are already outdated. Just as I think we have finally finished the pond - we decide to change something. We moved the bird feeders away from the garden area as I did not like the droppings on the rocks and flowers. The sides have been rebuilt so many times - I've lost count. We are on the sixth (at least) major rebuild of the main falls. We've made so many trips to Pioneer Sand and Stone to find the perfect rocks for the pond that I feel I need to remember the salespeople in my will.

Yesterday, we emptied most of the water out of the lower pond and put foam behind the falls. Let me tell you about this foam. It's purple and expands to 3 times its original size - so after you apply it, you watch it grow - like the original blob - from behind the stones (where it belongs) to surround the pretty browns, reds and golds with its ugly shinny purple. Once it stops growing - you can take a knife and cut away the parts you don't like. It's messy - but the final result is that the water flows on the outside of the rocks (where you can see and hear it better) instead of running silently under the rocks. So far we are pleased with the results - but I'm not so sure about the top rock on the main falls. If I could just find one that is a little thinner and redder....

The birds don't seem to care - they liked all of the versions of the falls.

This Lesser Goldfinch played and played - splashing water and sliding down the rocks.

This one has more green on his back than some of the others that come to the feeders. The larger American Goldfinches have more bright yellow - but we haven't seen too many this year in the yard.

I took this picture on one of our recent hikes in Palmer Park. The wildflowers have been especially beautiful with brighter colors this year. On the news this morning they commented about the wildflowers saying the vibrant colors are due to the recent rains and mild weather.

This is a Mountain Chickadee - the first one we have identified. Bill took this picture (and dozens more that show nothing but blurry feathers and pine needles) as this little bird quickly flitted from branch to branch.

As we see and identify birds, we check them off in our "Birds of Colorado" Field Guide. So far I have checked off over 2/3 of the birds in the book - but still have about 60 to find. Almost half of the birds we have yet to see here in Colorado, we saw while in Florida - especially shore birds like herons, egrets and ibises.

In "Birds of Colorado" by Stan Tekiela, the birds are sorted by color - all the ones that are mostly yellow are in one section, red in another, etc. It makes it easy to find a bird when you have no clue as to its type.

The other references that I use to help me identify the birds we've seen are: "The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America," "Peterson Field Guides, Western Birds," and "Stokes Field Guide to Birds, Western Region." I also have an Audubon Guide and a couple of beginner books that I have outgrown.

Today is cloudy and a little chilly - a perfect day to hike in the mountains - so I'm off...