Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hummingbird Wars

It's been a peaceful summer at the hummingbird feeder - until now. The Rufous Hummingbirds have returned from their summer breeding in Alaska, Western Canada, Washington and Oregon and are terrorizing their way through the Rockies on the way to their winter homes in Mexico.

Mr. Rufous (named for his reddish-brown color) has decided this feeder is his and he spends the day guarding it! If anyone dares to come close he dive bombs the intruder to scare them away then returns to his post to continue to defend his territory. It's quite a show.

Prior to his arrival, our regular summer residents, the Broad-tailed Humming-birds, nicely shared the nectar. Their wings create a high-pitched buzz that advertises their presence. If I move slowly when one is at the feeder, I can actually get it to perch on my finger.

Take a close look at their legs - actually just feet. They cannot walk - they can just perch - but they more than make up for this deficiency in flight. They can fly forward, backward or just hover in one spot. They really are amazing little birds.

These are both female; the males have an iridescent throat patch that looks bright ruby-red in the sun.

Many people think humming-birds are attracted to the red color of the liquid in the feeder and add red food coloring to a sugar and water mixture, but commercial red food coloring actually harms the birds. We mix 3 parts boiling water with one part sugar and change the mixture every week.

Mr. Rufous has a couple of regular look-out points. His favorite is an Aspen Tree in the northeast part of the backyard.

He keeps a sharp eye on the feeder. Sometimes we have a dozen birds buzzing around doing aerial acrobatics.

Taking pictures of these small darting birds is quite a chore. Not only are they fast, they always seem to land with their back to me - and if I try to move from my position, they quickly take flight. I must have taken 300 shots to get just a few so-so pictures.

Today is cold, damp, dark and dreary - not a good day to capture iridescent colors.

More Fledglings and a Hail Storm

We are seeing young birds everywhere. The new fledglings usually appear plumper than the adults, gather in groups with their nest mates and chirp for momma to come feed them.

This is a young female House Finch that I encountered this morning on the way back from my walk. Her coloring is very similar to what it will be when she reaches maturity.

Young American Robins like this one perched on our little fisherboy pond ornament have speckled breasts until their first birthday.

This young Starling looks confused. She wanted to get into the bird feeder but wasn't quite sure how to go about it and finally left without eating.

I saw these young Kingbirds in a tree along side an urban trail that runs from downtown Colorado Springs east to Powers. We sometimes ride our bikes along this trail out to Einsteins for coffee. This morning I was out for a short stroll to look for birds and a couple of geocaches that I knew were along the trail.

This young Goldfinch seems to like sitting on top of the waterfall as we have seen him there a couple of days in a row.

We've been back to Pulpit Rock Park to hike and look for caches. This is the view from the top. One of the caches was in a large rock formation on the steep side of the hill. It was in a cave-like setting that a brown bear used for his winter nap earlier this year. Rattlesnakes have also been seen at this location - something I did not mention to Bill until AFTER our hike!

Another cache was at an entrance to the park - just off a cul-de-sac in a very nice neighborhood. The directions said the cache was small and very well camouflaged - so we had to look everywhere. I even kicked over a large pile of dog poop in case that was the great camo job! Off to the side of the trail were piles of branches carefully set to define the edge of private property. In one pile was a tree branch about 2 inches thick and 10 inches long. The cache owner had carefully cut a 2 inch piece off one end of the branch for a lid and drilled holes inside both pieces to set in a small plastic capsule. The cache logbook was in the capsule. I'm amazed we found it!

While hiking back to the car I found a potato shaped red rock with an opening at one end. The inside was hollow. I thought this would be the perfect camouflage for a micro-cache! I printed a logbook, rolled it up inside a plastic capsule that used to contain a fever thermometer and placed it inside the stone. Bill and I hiked to the top of the bluffs in Palmer Park and hid it under a tree just to the side of the trail.

We named our cache "Leverite" because when Bill hikes with his grandkids and they ask him what something is he answers "Leverite - leave 'er right there!" Our cache was published on at 6:44 p.m. and the first two cachers found it 31 minutes later at 7:15 p.m. Guess it wasn't as clever as I thought!

We have a beautiful bunch of 4 o'clocks that can't tell time as they don't begin to open until after 6 p.m. They are gorgeous first thing in the morning before the sun hits and they close for the day. This year we have yellow and red flowers. Some years we also have white - but you never know until they bloom.

As I was sitting here typing, it got very dark and windy. The thunder and lightening was loud and close. It started raining cats and dogs - and as is usual here in Colorado, it started to hail.

The hail was only pea-sized here but close by it was the size of golf and baseballs. The afternoon news special showed broken windows and dented cars. I know phones are ringing off their hooks at insurance companies all over Colorado Springs. We were lucky.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pulpit Rock Park

Laura and Hannah joined us for an early morning hike in Pulpit Rock Park here in Colorado Springs. Pulpit Rock is a mountain pillar that climbs to 6,532 feet in the heart of the 586 acre Austin Bluffs Open Space bordering the UCCS campus.

There are about 10 miles of designated trails around the park and we walked about 4 miles of them including climbing a social trail (an unofficial trail that diverges from an existing trail) to the top of Pulpit Rock. The views were spectacular. We enjoyed a picnic lunch with delicious chicken sandwiches, chips, trail mix and water at the top. We did a little geocaching along the way and located two caches. One was a partly camouflaged Mr. Potato Head (the clue was "Big Red Nose") hidden in a Pine Tree, the other was a small camouflaged plastic container that was hanging on a tree at the edge of a cliff. We all signed the logs and I left Buffalo Nickels for the next cachers to enjoy.

Geocaching has lead us to parks that we would otherwise never know existed. Many caches are hidden in places with particularly wonderful views or extra-neat rock formations. The hobby challenges your skills and encourages an appreciation of parks and open spaces. The rules prohibit placing a cache anywhere that would harm the environment, disturb a delicate eco-system or be dangerous to participants. Cachers are encouraged to "trash out" - carrying out not only your trash, but picking up after others who were not as considerate. (we always carry a trash bag in our pack) and otherwise leave spaces exactly as you found them - or better. Besides, it's another excuse to hike!

We seem to have lots of Dragon Flies this year. This one stopped long enough for me to get his picture. Pretty neat!

This week we will celebrate three birthdays, Bill's daughter, Laura and grand-daughters Hannah and Sidney. The festivities begin today and Bill is smoking a ham for the occasion. He's also making garlic smashed red potatoes and fresh Olathe corn. I'm in charge of the baked rolls and the cole slaw with apples, raisins, carrots, nuts and blue berries. Yum, I'm hungry already!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Some Adorable Babies

Just look at these adorable fluffy balls of feathers! The baby House Finches have left the nest and they seem to like sitting on the ledge just outside our bedroom window.

Here is another youngster - a little older - but still dependant on mom for some of her food.

The Pikes Peak Hill Climb was this weekend. Before the race, they had a promotional event downtown. As we were heading up the street, we looked back to see this biker doing high jumps. It was quite a show.

The Budweiser team was there. The Clydesdale horses are huge! We watched as they hitched them to the wagon.

Even the dog was there.

On Monday, we took two of our grandsons hiking in Red Rocks Canyon Open Space. We stopped at newspaper rock to pick up a geocache and have a picnic lunch. The name comes from all the carvings in the rock - some going back to the mid-nineteenth century (or so they would lead you to believe).

This Ruby-crowned Kinglet was flying back and forth. The white eye ring makes her eye look bigger than it really is. These are very small birds - only about 4 inches long. The males have a small, hard-to-see red spot on top of their heads, thus the name.

We also saw this deer followed by her fawn heading down the hill.

This is grandson Nate sitting on top of the bluffs in Palmer Park. We had to go over to the park to pick up a cache that we had hidden. It was not approved because Colorado Springs has rules about not placing caches on park property. We placed another on city property that was OK because it was just outside the actual park boundaries.

The cache name is Numis-Cash and has an assortment of cool numismatic collectibles - like buffalo nickels, wheat cents, Kennedy half-dollars, tokens, elongated coins, etc. So far half a dozen people have found it and have written nice notes in the electronic log at

Our roses are still beautiful - but some of the other flowers are starting to show age. It must be time to start thinking about heading back to Florida.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Austin Bluffs Park

Bill and I decided to hike somewhere new this morning - Austin Bluffs Park. We could see it on the map - and we had the coordinates where we should park - but finding it was a challenge! It is near the intersection of Austin Bluffs and Union where there has been a lot of construction, so the street configuration has changed.

We finally found the parking area and headed for the trail. The first thing we saw was a warning about Mountain Lions and what to do if you see one. Did I really want to climb here??

We hiked to the top and, naturally, we looked for two geocaches hidden on top. The view of Pikes Peak was awesome.

The first cache was hidden in a rock crevice behind the Pine tree in this picture. We were both searching the area - but Bill found it first. It was too small to leave anything - so we just signed the log and moved on to the next one - further up on the bluffs.

The climb was quite challenging. The trails were not well marked and very hard to follow. We climbed up and over several rock formations on our way. The footing was slippery

This is the tree where the second cache was located. The picture is sideways because I took it shortly after I fell and hit my knee on a stone. I needed to sit a few minutes for the pain to subside and to make sure the bleeding had stopped.

Ouch! The hike back down was interesting - but I made it and am now sitting with my leg elevated and I have ice (actually a bag of frozen blackberries - we didn't have any peas) on my knee. It's swollen and is turning pretty shades of black and blue (or maybe that's the bag of blackberries leaking!) - but I'm sure it will be fine.

Mr. Squirrel likes the new waterfalls. I seem to take a lot of pictures of the squirrels. They have been my adversaries (and pains in the neck!) trying to steal all of the bird food - but now I'm finding them kinda cute.

The chickadees are back. This is a Black-capped Chickadee. According to my "Birds of Colorado" they can easily be attracted to bird boxes and can be tamed and hand fed. I might have to try that - once I'm back on my feet.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tree Swallows in the Park

These are young Tree Swallows waiting for mama bird to return with food. Tree Swallows are the first swallows to return in the spring. They eat insects - which is a very good thing!

When they see their parent returning with a juicy bug, they flap their wings and open their mouths and seem to be saying "ME, ME - FEED ME!".

Each time the parent returned to her chicks, she fed another. You can click on this picture for a larger view of mama feeding her chick. She never landed, feeding them while still in flight.

These pictures were taken during our early morning hike today in Palmer Park.

We headed out shortly after 7 a.m. to hike on the north side, parking at the lot near the horse stables. Our goal, besides a great hike, was to find three geocaches. Mr. Squirrel was eating a pine cone near one of the caches.

Just as we were approaching our first cache, we saw these two deer.

They seemed almost tame and were not scared away as we approached.

We located the cache in a camouflaged pill bottle hanging in a tree like a Christmas decoration. After signing the log we reset our GPS and headed to the next cache.

We hiked another mile before our GPS told us we were in the right location. Can you see where the cache is hidden in this picture?

I climbed up and saw a pile of smaller rocks under the large out-cropping. The cache was hidden under the rocks. We signed the log, left a token and headed for the third cache.

It was quite a climb to the top of the park to locate our next treasure. The trail wound around so we left the trail and bush-whacked our way up, climbing over rocks and through thick brush. The cache is in this picture. Think Christmas.

Bill took a short break to enjoy the view near the cache. After a delicious picnic lunch, we headed back to the car. Three hours and three and one-half miles later, we headed home, tired but pleased with ourselves.

Back at the homestead, the squirrels are still figuring out how to get to the feeders. I think they would also like to get into the bird houses!

The Black-headed Grosbeaks are back. This is a female and you can see why they are called Grosbeaks.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Columbine Ranch

On Friday, Bill and I went to Silverthorne in the Colorado Rockies to attend an RC airplane event at the Teke family farm and flying field. After checking in to our motel, we went to the Columbine Ranch, part of the vast Arapaho National Forest, for a hike and to locate a geocache.

The fields of wildflowers were amazing!

Look at the view in the background.

The trail began as a nice easy walk through sage brush and flowers.

We climbed 100 feet on the last leg of the walk - passing this outhouse on the way.

The cache was just off the trail hidden in the fork of a fallen tree. We signed the log, took a yo-yo and left a token.

We saw several beautiful and colorful moths playing in the wildflowers.

Our two mile hike at the Columbine Ranch was really just an easy stroll so we decided to look for another cache. The Eagles View cache was located at the top of a half mile trail (with an elevation gain of over 300 feet) winding through a beautiful pine forest. The view at the top was awesome.

We easily located the cache, signed the log and headed back down the steep hill.

We had a delicious picnic dinner before checking out the flying field and returning to our motel for the night.

Very early on Saturday morning we headed to the Teke's. This is the grass runway and the view of the mountains. Through my binoculars, I could see a herd of elk on the side of the mountain.

Some attendees camped on the 40 acre property and others began arriving shortly after we got there. It was a beautiful day and conditions for the electric planes and gliders were perfect.

This looks like a Bald Eagle - but it is just one of the many planes we saw fly.

Our hosts, Ron and Tanya Teke spent their day cooking. These homemade cherry danish were served for breakfast. Lunch included pulled pork, brisket, sausage, cole slaw, baked beans and a variety of homemade pies. Yum.

A flock of Lazuli Buntings called the farm home.

There were small rodents popping out of burrows everywhere. Some people called them pocket gophers - others said they were Richardson's Ground Squirrels.

This juvenile Horned Lark was singing on top of the house.

Teke's dog, Leslie. She was a cross between a beagle and a lab and looked like a very small lab. Her personality was also more like a lab as she did not bark or howl. Nice pet.

We spent two days at the RC meet and met some really great people. Bill crashed one of his planes, could not get another to taxi on the grass runway and successfully flew a third plane. We ate more than our share, enjoyed the weather and the view, and bought 2 bottles of insect repellent to try and keep the very annoying deer flies away. If invited back, we will not miss this meet in the future!

On the way home we saw longhorn cattle and buffalo grazing along the side of the road. They were an excellent excuse to get out of the car and stretch our legs.