From Plains to Forests
I had a long weekend that was filled with sunny days, warm weather and the Colorado outdoors. For those who have never visited Colorado, it’s a very unique and beautiful place, even more in Boulder County. It’s the place where the Great Plains of the central US meet the Rocky Mountains. A great place to experience and learn about a wide variety of ecosystems and wildlife if you’re into that. In Boulder County you have five distinctive life zones and respective ecotones from east to west: Prairie/Grasslands, Foothills/Lower Montane, Montane, Sub-alpine/ Upper Mountain and at the very west Alpine/Tundra. I spent Saturday out east near my home in Lafayette, CO in the mixed-grass grasslands and Monday I was up in the Ponderosa Forests of the Foothills up the Canyon. It’s amazing how in a 35 min drive you can go from what looks like one world to another.
On Saturday I spent may day walking through the grasses, stopping at wetlands and lakes and looking for birds. Actually my first encounter with wildlife was a Black-tailed prairie dog colony on my way to some wetlands. I also saw a pair of Red-tail hawks soaring above, looking for a snack maybe? The most memorable thing I saw that day was a flock of about 60-80 Red-winged Blackbirds and European Starlings, they moved in unison from the grass to the cattails and back, often crossing my path leaving flashes of iridescences as they whizzed right by. They are so common I think some forget how special they still are.
On MLK day, I went up to the Ponderosa Forests several miles outside of Boulder, and hiked steep inclines through muddy trails and icy turns. It was a great time! You feel like a kid stomping through the mud, getting dirty with no worries. It wasn’t birding expedition, I didn’t even bring my binoculars, but that didn’t stop me from seeing and hearing them. The hike was quiet except for the pocket of chickadee chirps hear and there. They are such active little birds it’s always hard to get a good look at them, but their call is unmistakeable. While walking down through a more open part of the forest I could hear their chatter and see several of them bouncing among the branches of some pine and on the rocks below it. It look like they were having a good time too, can’t complain when the weather is working with you, right? Farther along on my way, in a slightly denser section of the forest I saw Abert’s Squirrels. They are very interesting critters of the Ponderosa pines, almost exclusively found in Ponderosa forest they have adapted to eat the pines year round, eating seed bearing cones in spring, summer and fall, and feasting on the inner bark of twigs during winter.
I had a great time exploring and learning a little more about the different regions that are at my reach. Learning about a place makes the connection to that place secure and longer lasting. Challenge yourself to learn about your surroundings, not just the birds, but the rocks, plants, trees, mammals and everything in between, will make the experience of walking through your ‘backyard’ much more meaningful.