April 2009 Archives

The Colors of Mud Season

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While I love all the seasons on the ranch, mud season- the period of time between the closing of the ski mountain in mid-April and the arrival of summer in late May- is my favorite.  The tourists have gone home, and many of the locals leave town for a few weeks for warmer climes.  The weather varies dramatically from day-to-day - sunny, rainy, snowy, blowy.  Flocks of birds migrate through the area, while other flocks stay and begin the breeding cycle. 

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As the snow melts, the ranch transforms itself practically overnight from white and brown to a dazzling green - so green it almost hurts your eyes. Green grass, green buds, green leaves, even green frogs cover the landscape in all directions.  And shortly following the greening of the ranch, splashes of yellow begin to appear.  Golden daffodils bloom in my front and back garden, sometimes poking through the white snow that has fallen overnight.  The dull brown winter plumage of the American Goldfinch suddenly transforms to the bright


 canary yellow that seems more typical of tropical species rather than North American birds.  But my favorite yellow - a kind of yellow-orange - shows up in the form of a single Yellow-headed Blackbird that visits the ranch each spring.  I know he has arrived when I hear his raucous call, reminding me of the sound of a rusty hinge. (Click hear to hear his song).  He sports a brilliantly yellow head, neck, and chest, and flashes white wing patches when he flies.  He joins the throngs of other blackbirds that frequent my feeders during mud season, but with his flashy yellow coloration and his unique call, he grabs the spotlight. 

Yellow-headed Bl.jpg

Evening Grosbeak.jpg

This morning we were visited by a small flock of Evening Grosbeaks comprised of 4 males and 1 female.  While they are not uncommon in the Rocky Mountain area, their numbers have significantly declined in recent years throughout most of the lower 48 states.  They are an irruptive species, which means they usually move south from their breeding grounds every other year or so during the winter. However, they tend to drop by my yard most commonly in spring and fall. I am always surprised when they show up since our ranch is slightly lower in elevation than their usual habitat. The bright yellow, black, grey, and white plumage of the male is stunning. Their large conical bills are perfect for cracking sunflower seeds, and they have been known to devour the entire contents of a sunflower feeder in a single visit.   During their all-too-brief visit this morning, they spent their time nibbling the new buds on the chokecherry trees and ignored my  sunflower feeders.  With any luck, they will pop in again this spring, and perhaps, their "cousin"- the Black-headed Grosbeak, will show up for a visit as well.


Otterly Amazing! - Part 2

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For the past two days I have observed a single River Otter on the north bank of the Yampa River opposite our tree house.  I have watched him both walking along the river bank and swimming in the river. The tree house provides a perfect observation "tower" and camera blind.

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Hawk on snag.jpg

Both Red-tailed Hawks and Great-horned Owls frequent our ranch. The Red-tails work the terrain for mice and voles from sunrise to sunset.  I often see them sitting on top of snags or telephone poles along the county road that leads to the ranch.  The Great-horned Owls hunt the same prey in the same area, but from sunset to sunrise.  The majority of the Red-tail population leave Northwest Colorado before the winter sets in, but a few hardy souls stay around throughout the winter.  The Great-horned Owls remain here all year round, but make their presence known only as spring approaches when they begin to hoot back and forth to each other at night.   In the last two weeks, the Red-tailed Hawks have begun showing up everywhere in the county. Yesterday, I counted 7 of them along a 10-mile stretch of the highway.  On our ranch we have a pair of Red-tail already sitting on a nest.   This is the third consecutive year that we have had Red-tails nesting, and the second year they have re-used the same nest. 

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Great-horned Owls do not build their own nests, but rather take over other large nests, especially Red-tailed Hawk nests. Last year a pair of Great-horned Owls commandeered an old Red-tail nest that was within viewing distance of our house.  From our hot tub deck through my spotting scope, I watched those owls raise and fledge three owlets over the course of several months.  I had hoped that the owls might re-use the nest this year, but three active owlets took a toll on the nest, and they have apparently chosen to nest elsewhere this year.  I still hear them at night when I walk the dog, but, to date, I have been unable to locate their "new" nest. This spring,  I am planning to replace their old nest with a man-made structure of chicken wire, designed to function as a nest, but without falling apart as natural nests do.  I am hoping that will bring them back to rear their young year after year.  While my heart soars whenever a Red-tail flies over the ranch, nothing equals the thrill of spotting or hearing the Great-horned Owl within my ranch territory. 

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This page is an archive of entries from April 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

March 2009 is the previous archive.

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