Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Another beautiful morning on the prairie

I felt the need to hike out on the prairie at PCC to renew my naturalist skills and to regenerate my spirit. And it was well worth the trip. As I got close to the riparian area, I saw a large raptor sitting on a bare branch at the top of a cottonwood. It stayed there until I got pretty close, close enough for this picture.

 The Swainson's hawk then took off to the north, calling its mate as it lifted out of the tree. A wonderful sight and sound. I watch the hawk catch some lift and climb up pretty high into the almost clear blue sky.

The Swainson's is one of my favorite raptors because it is such an adventurer. It summers here in North America, but winters on the Pampas in Argentina. Quite a flier.

As I watched this beautiful critter climb up a couple of Air National Guard F-16s took off with a lot of sound. Not sure if it was the jets or me that spooked it, but a mule deer buck jumped out of the tall grass and galloped off to the east. I had seen a white-tailed deer buck jump out of the tall grass a month back. We normally don't see any deer at PCC, so this was special. Here's a picture of the buck as it headed over the hill.

I continued to walk north toward the large pond and was serenaded by red-winged blackbirds, meadowlarks, and a few coots who were swimming in the pond.

Now comes the part where any kids reading the blog have to stop reading. A couple of western kingbirds were engaging in some XXX rated behavior.

I sat on a bench by the pond and sprayed myself with Cutters to keep the deer flies and mosquitoes away while I sat there.

I noticed a western kingbird on a branch in front of me and took a picture of it. Suddenly, another kingbird flew in and mated with the one sitting there. Some of these birds have no modesty. Here's the female as I first saw here and then as she and her partner mated.

Then something really great happened. The male flew off and the female immediately flew a few feet away to a nest that I hadn't noticed. She sat there for a bit, probably getting ready to lay eggs, The male headed north a bit and set about fly catching, which is what the kingbird does. I was hoping he was catching some deer flies because they can sure be nasty.

You'll have to look hard to see the birds beak poking up and to the left in the nest.

I was really pleased with the pictures I got and with the morning in the field. I'm going to have to make an effort to get out there at least once a week. I'll be going out to West Bijou, our 10,000 acre piece of prairie this Saturday. That will be my first trip out there this year. I'll get to visit the bison herd and hope to see the golden eagles that are raising a pair of fledglings again this year.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

July 4th weekend

This is a weekend of extremes here in Colorado. Last night's late news had clips of youngsters skiing at Arapahoe Basin and the weather showed that we were in the 90s in Denver and will remain so for the rest of the weekend. The mornings, though, are wonderfully crisp, cool, clear, and full of pollen from trees and grass. It's a time of lots of sneezing. We have a linden in the front yard that is in full bloom and smells just heavenly. But it too, makes us sneeze.

We had our first Saturday bird count out at the Plains Center yesterday, and the morning was glorious. The ample rains of early June along with the ample sunshine later in the month have made the prairie lush and soft. It is also a time of regeneration. We saw lots of prairie dog pups scampering back into their burrows as we drove toward them. We were treated to seeing two nestling red-tailed hawks sitting in a nest that we drove directly under, one parent flying high above us calling with that nasal, descending note movie makers love to use in wilderness scenes. Except they use it for the call of eagles.

We found a herd of a dozen antelope out in the middle of the PCC area. When we looked closer, we saw that two month-old fawns were grazing with their moms. Later, I watched another, younger fawn, probably under two weeks, settle down into the grass and just vanish from sight. I've never seen that. The grass wasn't that deep, but that little critter probably snuggled into a shallow depression in the ground a few inches deep and disappear. Fawns are born without scent so predators that hunt by smelling their prey can't find them. Their coat is also spotted to help them blend in with their surroundings so they are not visible. I can vouch for their invisibility, even when I watch one slowly disappear.

Hawk nestlings and antelope fawns made the morning very special, but Karen, one of the other birders, suddenly shouted that she had spotted three owlets. I stopped the suburban, and we all got out to look. Sure enough, there were three young owls sitting together on a branch that slanted up out of the creek. They looked like they had been evenly spaced on the branch there just for us. They watched us with their huge yellow eyes and we looked back. Owls are difficult to spot once the cottonwoods get their leaves. So we counted ourselves blessed to have seen three of them all together like that. I sure wish I'd have brought my camera with a long lens. What a wonderful picture that would have been. Now I'll just have to remember it.

Speaking of remembering things, this is the 4th of July weekend, and I can't help but remember my comrades in arms, classmates, friends, acquaintences, who gave all that we might have the freedoms we enjoy. I wonder on these few days a year that we consider our freedoms and those who sacrificed to protect them, how their families have suffered through the years, parents, wives, children, grieving their loss. And unfortunately, the losses continue this year as flag-draped caskets return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It seems to me, and I hope I am wrong, that as a nation, we've lost sight of how important those freedoms are that so many suffered and died to protect. Since 9/11, we seem more concerned with personal safety than freedom, allowing our government to erode our freedoms and intrude more and more into our private lives. And we are more willing than I remember, except, of course, for our treatment of American Japanese during WW II, to let the freedoms of others, Muslims and Arabs, to be threatened. We are so fearful that we are willing to let others be persecuted without stepping up to protecting their freedoms.

When the US had the draft, people were more interested in whether or not we went to war or sent our military into combat. More people had more skin in the game. Today, most people don't even know someone fighting for our liberties. We're willing to let what is essentially a mercenary force fight for us. So days like Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Veterans Day become mere holidays. As we move further from WW II, Korea, and Vietnam, the less the general populace seems to remember what those days are about. They've become three-day weekends, picnics, and chances for spring skiiing.

I'm stepping down from my soapbox and heading out for the store to get some stuff for a family get together to celebrate the nation's independence. I'll try not to let so much time go by before the next blog entry. That is if anyone's still reading my blog.