18 April 2014
Today was a glorious spring day here in the Cody area – Mom’s apple tree sprouted leaves, and there are leaves starting to peek out all over town. Lawns are greening up rapidly.
Today Yellowstone opened, but we opted out since the weather there was dreary and drizzly – plus the boardwalks in most of the Upper Geyser Basin were closed due to 3 or 4 carcasses that would likely bring in the bears.
So this afternoon, we headed north to Bridger to look for an old refrigerator to turn into a smoker. And we found a few at the Carbon County Appliance Repair place – nobody there, but we left a message and saw there’s a drop box for the money. So we’ll head back up as soon as we find out more.
On the way back to Cody, we stopped at the Great Blue Heron rookery – about half way between Belfry and Bridger – since we noticed a few of the nests were occupied. Not a stitch of wind there – and you could smell spring in the air. It looks like there are a couple dozen of nests there – at least from the count we made from the photos.
But while processing the images, I noticed a differently shaped and colored head. A Canadian Goose. Here’s a screenshot of the image at 100% – click on it to see it larger.
Not sure if it was just visiting for a bit, or it it had set up house and was on eggs. I’m hoping to get back there before the leaves are on too heavily with a scope to take a closer look. Once at home, I shared the photo of the goose with others and it’s sparked some interesting discussions – from thinking it surely wouldn’t nest there, to pointing out that geese do nest at times on platforms built above a pond, but normally they aren’t 4 stories high.
A little farther along, we heard the gorkling of Sanhill Cranes and discovered with binoculars one standing and one on a nest. We definitely need to revisit this area.
I haven’t yet had time to get this entry printed out with the photos and enter it in the physical Field Journal I’m keeping, but that’s simply because we decided to make the long trip over to Gardiner so we could spend at least a few hours in the Park this early. In part for the geysers (an entry will be shared over on my other blog, Geyser Watch), but also for the phenology notes. More to come on that here as soon as possible.
Despite waking to a surprising 8″ of snow on the ground here in town, we still ventured out to look at a few houses on this gray day. Guess who we saw:
And actually, we saw three pairs of Sandhill Cranes in this field and another one (possibly two, due to the car roof blocking the view) flying overhead. They were a bit far for the reach of the lens I brought with me, but it’s good to know they’re here. Not all will nest in this area, but one pair has been found nesting not far from this spot in past years.
A couple of the cranes were smaller and got us wondering if Lesser Sandhill Cranes were what we were seeing or simply a size difference. A closer look at other photos and doing a bit more research on them will help – unless you happen to know if the Lesser Sandhill Cranes nest in the Yellowstone area or not – and would be kind enough to share your knowledge in the comments. The two in the photo above were similar in size and already stained by iron rich mud (making them reddish rather than gray).
And, I also saw my first pair of Killdeer near one of the houses we looked at. The bluebirds were all over the place and we saw an active hawk nest that will be difficult to find a spot to go back and watch it, but I want to at least identify what kind of hawk it is if possible.
The snow condensed throughout the day (reaching at least 30° F today), but there’s still 4-5″ of great snowman building snow on the ground. All this wonderful moisture will green things up around here. Hoping, though, that the temperatures rise slowly over a few weeks rather than rising suddenly and sending a torrent of water from the snowpack up higher.
Moving is definitely a process. We’ve got the 3rd load moved and another set of observations from the back route we take to get from Colorado to Wyoming.
We drove this route just three weeks ago. On that trip up, we saw an amazing number of Bald and Golden eagles. This time – three. One Bald Eagle soared next to us as it paralleled the road in South Park, clocked at about 65 mph. They are amazing birds. The other two were Golden Eagles seen around the Saratoga area. All we can figure is that they are now hanging closer to their nests as nesting time should be starting here soon for them if it hasn’t already. We also saw fewer hawks as well.
Between Saratoga and I-80, we saw this tightly packed band of elk racing along. No sign whatsoever of what spooked them into this run. We wondered if this was one of the desert herds or if they had just come down out of the mountains. Either way, it was interesting to see them running in such tight formation.
Another bit of phenology was seen in Cody itself. After washing the road grime off the truck, we noticed a Rock Dove or Rock Pigeon holding a twig in its beak and wandering around with it. Looking them up to learn more, it seems that was likely a male who had found a nest site and was bringing nest material one twig at a time to the female he had attracted. He will help incubate the eggs and feed the young, and at least one resource says they can have 5 or more broods each year. They, like the Eurasian Collared Dove, were are not natives here, but the Rock Doves were introduced in the 1600s and have flourished throughout North and South America. These were also the messenger pigeons used in WW I an WW II. Interesting to note they’re already nesting.
We took a drive out to look at another house and while passing Buffalo Bill Reservoir, just west of Cody, there was a large chunk of open water. The locals we were with said it was frozen over just last week. At one point that line of open water was quite distinct, and we figured out why. The wind blew the ice off. The wind has been bad this winter up here. And, with the hot springs in various spots in the reservoir, the ice isn’t solidly thick. Give that Wyoming wind an inch and it’ll take miles.
Beck Lake in Cody also showed some open water on the northeast corner. When we arrived at dusk it was thick with birds. So we drove out Friday evening to see who was there. Mallards, Canada Geese and Common Goldeneyes were all well represented.
The bucks around here still seem to have their antlers in tact. They also still mingle with the does, but the interest level from the bucks seems to be down considerably.
Get outside and see what all is going on in your neck of the woods!
One of my problems with creating a phenology report on Fridays is that it doesn’t mix well with how I record the rest of life (Monday – Sunday). So, from now on, my goal is to get a weekly write-up done to come out on Mondays as often as possible. So here we go – this one for the Pikes Peak region.
Phenology Week 1: 30 Dec 2013 to 5 Jan 2014
Weather: The week was fairly warm on most days. We received 5.5″ of snow this week at the house. This came down on Saturday – much of it in large fluffy “all’s right with the world” flakes. Powder like this lets me simply sweep the deck of the snow with a broom. Love that.
Birds: The year starts fresh with a new list of birds seen this year. I’ve not had time to get out much – so have mainly just enjoyed the dynamics happening at the bird feeder. I noticed two or three Pine Siskens – almost always hanging out with the Cassin’s Finches (a handsome one posed for the photo above). A few years back the Pine Siskens were thick – I would guess 50 or more in the group that hung around here. But one showed up sick, and in a short time we had only a handful left. They’re easily susceptible to infections – and so the feeders all got a good cleaning and bleaching here. We also told the neighbors who I hope did the same, but the sickness took a toll on the flock. It’s nice to see them back and joining forces with the Cassin’s Finches to make it through the winter.
Wildlife: On Saturday while sipping coffee in the morning and watching the world waking up to overcast skies and snow on the way, we noticed this buck battling a small, much battered small Ponderosa pine tree. He was with a couple of does, but he wasn’t all that interested in them. But he distracted me. I noticed a gash in his side – not bleeding, but obviously a war wound from this season.
After watching him, I noticed the gate to the dog yard was open, and a doe walking near it. Racing downstairs, I saw I was too late and she and a cohort of hers were already in the yard.
So grateful I noticed them before letting the dog out. We let them nibble away in there waiting to see if they would exit the way they came in. Each time they ventured to that part of the yard, they would hesitate, I imagine because from there, it narrows, as opposed to opening up as they came in. Mike eventually headed out and walked down and around to hopefully gently herd them out.
They ended up going over the fence and nobody was hurt – and the buck in charge of that harem didn’t see Mike as a threat, but just moved along with the rest of them. Lesson learned: double check that the gates are shut after we finish moving things for the day.
Anymore we travel through Colorado ‘the back way’ – avoiding the mess of the Front Range completely except for the stretch through the Breckenridge and Summit County. That means we go through the Parks – South Park, Middle Park and North Park. We see much more wildlife and it’s just gorgeous.
Comparing notes from our Thanksgiving and Christmas trips, most of the reservoirs went from not much frozen to completely frozen over, and ice fishermen out on many. The only one with a good chunk of open water was Lake Dillon in Summit County. (Others were Green Mountain Reservoir, Wolford Mountain Reservoir, Boyson Reservoir along with various lakes along the way).
While we often see Bald and Golden Eagles along much of the way, the main concentration seems to be between Walden, Colorado and Saratoga, Wyoming. And we see many hawks as well. I’m working to get better at identifying these birds with many different looks, so take photos in hopes of identifying them later on. I have a new camera (more on that later), so am still getting used to it – and our new truck isn’t the greatest when it comes to shooting from the passenger’s seat, but I did get a few.
Light conditions weren’t optimal on the Christmas trip either way – the clouds forcing me to up the ISO to 800 or more in order to keep the shutter speed up to 1000th of a second or faster, so they’re a bit grainy. But these weren’t taken with the intent to use them for anything more than help to ID the birds and for examples of this type of on-the-move photography.
These photos also help me remember the locations to revisit if I do want to linger a bit in the area to get some stock photos. Such as this spot just outside of Saratoga, WY that seems to be the nesting spot of what I’m guessing might be Great Blue Herons. It was nice of the Flicker (on the left) and the Magpie (near the center of the tree) to be there for scale. There were more nests in a neighboring cottonwood.
We also played “Count the license plates” along the way. On the way home, we counted 36 positively identified states, 2 probably identified states and one Canadian providence. By far the top 3 most often seen (other than Colorado and Wyoming) were 1. Texas 2. California and a surprise in third place – Minnesota.
Overall, up and back, we saw a couple dozen Eagles, tons of Ravens in pairs and in large groups, American Crows, Candian Geese, Flicker, Magpies (most were seen alone, except for one pair), waterfowl (which I need to start learning), and of course, some of the regulars at Mom’s feeders (song sparrows, house finches and juncos). We also saw lots of Pronghorn (mainly in South Park), deer (everywhere – mostly mule deer, but also a couple of white tails), and a coyote following some cattle in the snow, listening for anything they might have disturbed that could become its dinner.
Documenting this way really is a fun way to make the miles slip by.
This last weekend we had quite a good cold front move through. That must have been a signal of some sort because the winter flock returned Friday through Sunday. I first noticed the Evening Grosbeaks twittering away in the trees. Then a molting and very sorry-looking Steller’s Jay – I hope to get a shot of him – only a couple of top knot feathers. The Mountain chickadees and a couple of Cassin’s finches showed up on Sunday. The Clark’s Nutcrackers showed up with a couple of youngsters as well.
They all came to the feeder, looking for a meal. When one didn’t come, they headed to the shop wall to pick it clean of moths. So, in the mornings, I’m now giving them a small amount that I know they’ll eat up before the end of the day (want it empty at night to keep the bears from snooping around). There’s plenty of food for them to find, but I also want to let them know we’ll be here this winter, keeping it full for them.
Fun to have them back – as well as a few of the summer birds – a band-tailed pigeon sat on top of the feeder for quite some time this morning.
We also still have hummingbirds around – rufus and broad-tailed mainly – but it seems some may have left for warmer climates already – the cold front likely moving them along. The aspen trees are starting to show lighter leaves and a few yellow branches or spots here and there – mainly on the trees that are stressed for one reason or another.
Still July, but the weather is reminding us that fall is not all that far off. I’m looking forward to the monsoons leaving us in August or September so we can get some of the outside chores done for the year (wood for the winter, painting the house, etc.).
Since we know we’re moving – and likely this is our last summer here, I want to document some of my favorite things I’ve loved about living here.
Hummingbirds in the morning and evening
In summer, we keep a hummingbird feeder up 24/7 on the upper deck which is 3 stories up that hangs just outside our bedroom – too high for bears to even attempt reaching it. Not only is the view up there spectacular, but I thoroughly enjoy falling asleep to the zing of the hummingbirds and waking to them as well, though that only happens on the weekends since we’re up before the birds most days. Getting up early, though, also has the added benefit of watching the shadow of the Earth make its way across the sky.
Sipping coffee and watching the forest wake up is one of my favorite things.
Update: Just finished the layout and added it to the H section of my 2013 field journal. I actually just printed the words onto Bristol Cardstock (from Office Max) and printed out the photo on my Canon Selphy and glued it to the page. Punched the holes and added it to the Field Journal. Simple. Quick. Easy. Photo Journaling at its best.
It feels good to be home long enough to get a handle on where things are, phenology-wise. We arrived home from our trip to already be well into the monsoon season – and it’s been a good one so far. Beautiful crisp mornings give way to the warming of the day that builds clouds. They drop rain in the afternoon and evenings, cooling it down into the 50s for a good night’s sleep. If the pattern holds true to years past, the monsoons will let up sometime in August, giving us the warm days (and still cooler nights) where things will start to cure out.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been watching the moths under the shop light each morning – not taking photos of everything, but getting a good sampling of which varieties show up. Usually the wall of the shop is pretty well covered each morning. But the other morning, we had hardly any. At first I thought it was just the rain overnight – and that had an impact, I’m sure, but the lack of them continued even after nights of no rain.
Then the other day while sitting on the deck reading, I found myself noticing a whole heap of birds around – all of them pretty much silent except for some bluebird fledgelings. Even the usual noisy Steller’s Jay was quietly working its way around a tree. I know they’re supposed to be silent while nesting, so maybe that’s at least his or her excuse. I noticed a host of Pygmy Nuthatches, chickadees and a few others including a Cordilleran Flycatcher (formerly known as a Western Flycatcher). The day before I saw a Western Tanager less than a quarter mile up the road from the house. Getting up early the next morning, I noticed the early birds catching the moths on the shop.
What brought in all these birds now? The hatching of the Spruce worm moths (reminder to self: write down that they hatched on week #29 of 2013).
Almost every spruce and fir tree around is full of them – but not quite as full as last year. Watching the birds feasting on them in all various stages has helped to knock down their numbers a bit. I’m sure we’ll still lose a few spruce trees to them, but others might make it through with the help of the birds.
We have a new bird that showed up last week at the feeders. The bright yellow bill caught my attention as did the stripes on the head. Turns out to be a White-crowned Sparrow. We usually don’t see many sparrows here, so this one has been rather unusual.
Reading up on them, they normally hang out by willows – none of which we have on the property, but just over the ridge in almost any direction is a creek full of them. Perhaps the spring snows has brought him to the feeders. Another source said they often crowd out Juncos from their nesting spots – and we have lots of juncos and places for them to nest.
The other day while cleaning up the bird feeder leavings from the ground below the deck, I came back from hauling yet another bushel full to the dumpster to find nearly 30 Juncos milling about in the freshly exposed dirt. We have lots of Juncos – many will stay and nest here under the juniper bushes or brush piles we have yet to dispose of. I’ve been watching them pair up and chase each other. And picking up trash that blew in from the renters next door in our valley, I had the chance to sit quietly and watch a pair check out the appropriateness of a juniper bush down there. A piece of trash was in there, so I quietly moved in, removed the piece and stepped back. They hardly even moved.
And, for the past few months, Mike and I (and the dogs) would hear an odd screeching noise. Just once. In various places in the house. Not a critter in the house, because there wasn’t any pitter patter of tiny feet on the other side of a wall or ceiling. It came at all times of the day and night. We debated what it might be – a bat? We listened to all sorts of bat sounds on the internet and that wasn’t it.
Then I checked the owl sounds. That was it. Which one, we’re not sure, but it was an alarm call. Only once – so just enough time for you to get ready to really pay attention again. Of course, now that we’ve identified the odd sound, we’ve not heard it again. It’s not surprising to hear an owl who’s found a good food source. The rabbits, birds and now chipmunks that are out and about would be just right for an owl. I’ve checked around the property for pellets, and found none…yet.
The Woodpeckers are drumming away each morning and pairs have been seen going from one tree to the other, checking it out, doing some test drills. And on that walk to pick up trash, I noticed a tree that’s not doing well. Turns out to be absolutely filled with neat, tidy rows of holes – sapsucker holes. I imagine we’ll lose that one this year, but will continue to watch for the sapsuckers on it.
Also saw the first robins back – splashing in a puddle in the driveway left by one of the spring snows. There were three of them. Hard to get photos of them as this batch isn’t habituated to humans. They’re skittish and spook even when standing far back from the front door where I took this photo with a zoom lens (photo’s also cropped). As soon as I lowered the lens, they bolted. sigh.
I love spring snows simply because they’re sort of magical – like this morning – you wake to a world covered in an inch of white and by afternoon, it’s soaked into the soil. Each inch like this leaves behind it a touch more green. It reminds me of some sort of mixed media effect that only shows after the initial application has disappeared.
We saw a bull elk not far from the house the other day, already starting to show the nubs of this year’s antlers. Mike is stopped some mornings to let the herd of 300-400 cross the road in front of him. It actually happened twice last week. They were on one of the old ranches in the area as we headed to dinner one night – many of them are starting to look a bit scruffy as they begin to shed their winter coats. The deer around here are doing the same.
I need to get out and check on the first plants around here again – after living here for nearly 20 years, I’ve found where the first flowers are usually found, which aspen trees send out their catkins first, etc. I really need to add in a map of the area with the locations on it to add to the phenology notebook.
Get outside to see what’s happening in your neck of the woods.
On Sunday, the 24th, the Gray-crowned Rosy Finches returned in the same numbers as before – around 100-125. The flock had split up, but then group after group descended on us for over an hour, much to the disgust of the other regulars who hung in the trees nearby, watching the crowd.
Part of the flock lifted and headed in the direction of another known feeder in the area. Those that stayed shared pretty well with the Evening grosbeaks, chickadees & nuthatches, as well as with the Downy woodpeckers. This continued for the bulk of the time before the rest came back in.
In checking up on these guys, it seems they’ll be heading north soon to nest in Canada and Alaska, so maybe they’re hitting all the feeders to load up for the journey. I’ve seen one today at the feeder, along with many (well 7 or 8) Red Crossbills, (who still have not shown up with fledgelings yet, but I suspect they are not far) and the other usual suspects at the feeder. But seeing one Rosy Finch means the rest are near here somewhere. Hope to see them crowding around again – you might, too, if you keep half an eye on our webcam.