Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend

Both of Bill's daughters and their families are great outdoors people. His youngest, Terri and her family are camping this weekend in Pike National Forest. On Friday, we joined them for the afternoon and had such a good time that we might just have to get a camper so we can join them more often. The kids were busy every minute - so much to do!

We usually see the eastern slope of Pikes Peak, but today we were looking from the west.

Notice the Antelope in the foreground of this shot.

Terri's son tells me this is a doe. At nine years old, he is quite the accomplished outdoors man. He chopped wood; built and maintained the campfire; helped cook dinner in the hot ashes; rode his 4-wheeler over the dusty trails and practiced shooting a tin can off a log. Naturally, his younger sister wants to do everything he does. She made dessert, cooking marshmallows on a stick over the camp fire. I had not had s'mores in years - and boy were they good!

The next day we again headed west - out of Canon City and along the Arkansas River to watch Laura and Tim raft the rapids. They are both rafting guides and this was just another day on the water for them. This picture shows a raft (not theirs) that had just flipped people into the water.

Another shot of the same raft. You can see the swimmers in the rapids. Laura tells me there are three huge rocks at this location - and the water was rising so quickly from the snow melt that they went from class III rapids on their first run earlier in the day to class V rapids on this run.

The second raft - the one Laura and Tim are in - had better luck going around the rocks, except they were sideways. The first raft was stuck in the whirlpool for a long time. You can see how hard they were digging their paddles into the water trying to get free. By this time, the swimmers were downstream.

All is well that ends well. The swimmers made it to shore further down the river and were picked up after their raft finally got out of the whirlpool.

There's Laura and Tim in the middle - looking up at the camera. I was set up with a tripod standing on top of a picnic table.

Bill and I kept driving from one outlook to the next, setting up the cameras and waiting for the rafts to pass.

It was quite a ride! Click on this image for a larger view. They were tired after two runs.

Today we are heading back to Canon City to ride the train through the Royal Gorge and have dinner at the White Water Bar and Grill afterwards. Should be fun...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Out and About - a Lovely Stoll Along the Trails at The Fountain Valley Nature Center

Yesterday, Bill and I went down to the Fountain Valley Nature Center to walk and see if we could find any interesting ducks.

This was a very nice surprise - a Yellow Warbler (male) and a new life bird for us both.

Yellow Warblers are not especially uncommon - we just had not been fortunate enough to see or photograph one before. According to my guide book, the males arrive back in Colorado in late April followed a couple of weeks later by the females. We did not see the female.

One of my favorite birds - a Great Blue Heron. His colors are more distinct than most I see - less overall grey and more white and dark blue.

Fountain Valley has Red-winged Blackbirds everywhere! This male has his full breeding colors on.

This is the female Red-winged Blackbird and you can see just a touch of orange on her wing.

Barn Swallows were thick in the air around the Nature Center building. They fly so quickly that I can never get a decent picture. I don't often get the opportunity to photograph one that is sitting down. Pretty birds.

You can't mistake the profile of a Belted Kingfisher - sitting in a tree over the lake hunting for fish.

The ever-present Canadian Geese were along the banks of the lake - but it was obvious they had spent time walking along the trails as we side-stepped their numerous "presents."

According to the signs, beavers make their home at the center. I didn't see any yesterday - or on previous visits - but did see this tree they had obviously cut down.

As we were heading back to the car, I spotted this adorable little bunny sitting very still by the side of the trail.

Back at the feeders in the yard, we had a couple of Blue Jays come to visit. It was interesting to watch them as they repeatedly displayed - bobbing up and down. I had never seen that behavior before in a jay. They reminded me of the way the Burrowing Owls signal they are uncomfortable with your presence - but we were watching the jays from inside the house. This picture was taken through the kitchen window.

In other news, Bill and I just began a free trial of Netflix - DVD movies by mail. So far we've watched "Avatar" and "The Bucket List" - and tonight it's "It's Complicated." Since we've never been to the movies, all of the selections are new to us. So far the experience has been good - there is a huge selection of movies and TV shows to choose from and the DVDs arrive quickly - within a day or two. We have learned to clean the discs with window cleaner before viewing them to prevent picture distortion. I love that there are no commercials and it's much cheaper than upgrading our Direct TV service. However, its likely to be expensive in the future as now we are considering a new flat screen HD TV and Blue ray player - but I want to wait until our current dinosaur dies and we are sure we want to continue watching movies instead of TV.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Visit to the Dentist

We had a delightful surprise yesterday when we spotted another Western Tanager in the yard and he is still hanging around here today.

They are usually gone by now. I keep notes in my guide book - and this is the latest they have migrated through in the past several years. I don't blame them one bit for staying further south just a little longer - I wish we had!

This morning I went to the dentist and had my teeth cleaned by a young, energetic dental hygienist. I know that doesn't sound very interesting, but I am also a dental hygienist and I marvel at how the profession has changed since I graduated from Penn Dental in the mid-60's.

We were trained to work standing up in our stiff white uniforms, white stockings & shoes and perky little caps, that had to be set just so on your head. The faculty was as concerned with the length of our hems as they were with our scaling and polishing techniques. All of our hems had to hit at exactly the same distance from the floor (they used a ruler) so that when we stood as a group side-by-side - all our hems lined up. Now we had girls in the class that ranged from just under 5 feet to our basketball star at just under 6 feet. The short gal was happy - but the tall one definitely was not!

Pierced ears were the newest rage back then - but we were not allowed to wear any jewelry. One evening at a social gathering, we all decided to pierce our ears. I did several pairs by putting an ice cube behind the ear lope to numb it and sticking a needle through. The next day we all showed up for dress inspection with band-aids covering our new earrings. Our clinical instructor was not happy!

I got married during my time at Penn (I subscribed to the early and often approach to marriage) and after that was not allowed to socialized with the girls in the dorms. They were afraid I might discuss like no one else had ever heard of it!!

Clinical techniques have changed so much since those days - I'd never be able to go back - but it was fun (and paid well) while it lasted.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Flying Squirrels

The weather has finally warmed-up but today the wind gusts are so strong that we keep watching the tall trees expecting them to fall over any second. Our neighbors are trading trash and I'm sure I see squirrels flying past the windows. The dust is always a problem when we have so much wind - which is my excuse for blogging instead of cleaning! (Why do it twice?)

This is an American Goldfinch - the first we've seen this year. We've also had several of the Lesser Goldfinches at the thistle feeder. We haven't seen the Bullock's Orioles for a couple of days and think they have moved on - after we bought them a new feeder and kept putting out orange slices (they ignored both - preferring the peanut butter smear).

The White-capped Sparrow has also disappeared along with the Yellow-rumped Warbler. We still have our regulars - woodpeckers, hummingbirds, jays, finches, robins, doves, sparrows and chickadees along with Grackles, Starlings and an occasional Magpie. We think the Mountain Chickadee babies have hatched in the birdhouse as both the male and female are making trip after trip to get food and bring it back to the house.

Yard work continues as we see what flowers and bushes are coming back - and those that didn't make it. Bill enjoys working in the gardens as do I. I'm still taking life a little easier after my hospital stay - but am getting stronger every day.

The ponds are looking pretty good. We think the motion detector lights that Bill installed are keeping the raccoons away - except we seem to have two fish missing. Bill has decided not to put any more pond plants in as that is what the raccoons make such a mess of - and he's decided they are not worth the headaches. He does have 2 pond lilies and we put in some duck weed.

This female Black-headed Grosbeak came to check out the accommodations the other night while we were visiting with good friends Nancy and Joe. We've been watching for the male grosbeak but so far he has not made an appearance.

Yesterday, we went down to Midway to have dinner with daughters, Laura and Terri and their families. The terrain is quite different even thought we are only 30 minutes south of the Springs - and so are their birds. This, of course, is a House Finch - but he has much more red then the ones we see in our yard.

This bird had us scratching our heads - we had no idea what it was. After looking at the pictures, we've decided it is a Green-tailed Towhee and a new life bird!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Another Beautiful Visitor

Our backyard continues to delight us. When we returned home from an aborted trip to Yellowstone Park (we got as far as the hospital in Denver - but that's another story) we found this Bullock's Oriole enjoying the berries on the bushes that grow by our back fence.

The peanut butter we smear on a hanging log lured him over to the bird feeder. I scattered cranberries around, put out a slice of orange and added an oriole feeder with sugar water to the array of hanging feeders we have in the yard already. We would like to encourage him to stay the summer.

Bullock's Orioles are west of the Mississippi while their close cousins, Baltimore Orioles are found in the east.

His markings are spectacular - bright orange and yellow with black cap, eye band and chin. His wings are black and white. The female is a duller yellow-green with less black. They are both beautiful.

At one point, there were two pair of orioles in the bushes and it was prettier than a Christmas tree.

This is the last glimpse we had of the Western Tanager before he left for another year.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Right On Schedule

The Western Tanagers are one of the prettiest birds we see in our yard. As I noted in my last blog - we've been on the look-out for them. In past years, we've seen them around the middle of May and they stay for about a week.

Sure enough, we had out first sighting yesterday, and today, he has been playing hide-and-seek with me every time I get the camera out. I have a couple of dozen pictures of his various body parts - but this one is the first picture of his whole body.

When I first spotted this bird at the feeder - I thought it was a Goldfinch. I now realize it is probably the female Western Tanager as they arrive and leave at the same time. So far, we have only seen the one pair so I don't know if any more will arrive to dazzle us with their striking colors or not. They are always the highlight of our birding month.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Birds are Back

Things seem to be going well in the backyard. The ponds are up and running and the motion activated flood lights are keeping the raccoons away - for the time being. The bushes are trimmed back and the grass is mowed. It's been too cold to plant our flowers but that hasn't kept the birds away.

This beautiful Yellow-rumped Warbler, the most common warbler in Colorado, is enjoying the pond. I remember my father telling me that May is warbler month, so I have been on the look-out for some less common types - but so far this has been the lone visitor from the warbler family.

The Downy Woodpeckers like the peanut-buttery mixture we spread on the log feeder. Unfortunately, so do the Starlings - which means we have to butter the log almost every day.

Back at the birdhouse, the Mountain Chickadees have definitely moved in. I really enjoy watching them go back and forth.

This poor Robin must have been cold. I think he fluffed out his feathers to stay warm. We had another snow squall this morning but it didn't amount to anything. I am so-o-o ready for warm weather!

The House Finches are abundant - along with English Sparrows, Scrub Jays, Robins, Grackles, Starlings, Mourning Doves and Robins. Lots of Hummingbirds have buzzed by. The White-capped Sparrow is still hanging around and yesterday I caught a glimpse of a Chipping Sparrow. Hopefully, the Western Tanagers will arrive soon. They only stay about a week so we've been watching for them and have made sure there are plenty of berries scattered around. Today I saw our first Towhee of the season (they like the berries too) and a couple of Blue Jays stopped by for a drink. I certainly enjoy our yard!

My daughter, Pamela, sent me these beautiful Spring Tulips for Mother's Day. I've enjoyed them so much!

Tonight, I'm hosting Bunko and have been busy baking, cleaning and moving furniture getting ready for a dozen lady friends. Our house is small, so the coffee table, chairs and a lot of the clutter is hidden in the bedrooms.

For dessert, I made a fruit cocktail cake from a recipe I've had since the 60's. Good thing I tested the recipe earlier this week, because it needed tweaking at our mile-high altitude. The first test cake exploded all over the oven and the second one looked more like a pancake - and was so chewy you would have thought I used gum in the recipe. I made the third one this morning - and it LOOKS right. Bill calls it my $100 cake. Guess I won't know until tonight if it tastes good - but I figure if you squirt enough whipped cream on it - no one will care.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Score is Tied - Racoons 1; Bill 1

While Bill and I were busy working on our ponds, Mrs. Mountain Chickadee was busy at the birdhouse. We aren't sure that she has taken up residence yet but she sure was busy going back and forth.

I finally caught her coming out of the birdhouse!

I set out lots of nesting materials. She seemed to like the soft strands of cotton best.

And took them back to the birdhouse that Bill built last year.

After the raccoon massacre, we had to tear the entire upper pond apart again and clean it out. At this point we still did not know if we had any fish or not as the lower pond - where the fish were - was still too muddy to see any signs of life. Today when we drained the lower pond we were delighted to find all five of the fish that made it through the winter. They have been relocated to the upper pond.

Today we cleaned out the lower pond - AGAIN! We also started the difficult process of rebuilding the main falls.

Yesterday, we went to Lowe's and bought a motion activated flood light. Bill mounted it outside our bedroom window with one light aimed at the pond and the other into our bedroom (to wake us up). We needed to set the sensor low enough that the raccoons would trigger it.

Guess who got to test it! Once we were happy with the settings, we relaxed for the night. We no sooner went to sleep than the light came on - shinning into the bedroom waking us up and out at the pond. I sprang for the window and sure enough, there was a big ole raccoon staring back at me. I saw motion off to the side and decided it was the rest of the gang leaving the scene of the crime. We were awakened one more time through the night and the light worked great - scaring them away.

This is our next line of attack - Critter Ridder. It is not harmful to the animals - but the peppery smell and taste acts as a deterrent to keep them out of the yard.

The Hummingbirds must be migrating through the area as we have had several different kinds stop by for a drink. This is a Broad-tailed Hummingbird - the ones that buzz when they fly. We see (and hear) them early in the morning and towards dusk.

Last night this Black-chinned Hummingbird also stopped by. The iridescent blue colors on his throat were gorgeous - but hard to photograph.

The color only showed when the light hit him just right. I was amazed at the length of his bill - much longer than other hummingbirds.

I took this with a flash at dusk as I was trying to show the bright red throat on this male Broad-tailed.

We've had other visitors to the yard. This is a Western Scrub Jay - noisy but beautiful.

This White-crowned Sparrow has spent a lot of time looking for seeds and berries on the ground - especially under the feeders.

He is probably just passing through and will nest more towards the mountains. The females will arrive later.

The neighborhood is looking great - with lots of these beautiful ornamental flowering plum trees along the street.

Tomorrow, two of the younger grandchildren are spending the day. We hope the weather cooperates so we can be outside - maybe go for a hike in Palmer Park.