The Birds, Wildlife, & Stars of the Mesa

One of our favorite places to go not too far from our home base is the grand Mesa Wilderness.  It’s only about 1/2 hr to the exit off I-70, then about another 1/2 hr all of the way to the top.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of fun stuff from the canyon floor to the Mesa vista to see … to the contrary, there are subjects to see all along the way.  On this couple of days in late spring, I thought I would share some fun images.

I was speaking to someone today about birds that you see in one locale (i.e. state) that you don’t in another … such birds are what I call “ho hum” birds … the ones that are quite plentiful.  See, when i lived in south Florida, I loved to see white-crowned sparrows, since I didn’t see them all of the time … or hardly there at all.  Here we see them pretty much all over … and in all stages.

500_4923Then there’s the pine siskin … a never seen (usually) bird in south Florida, but another uite common bird in the western Colorado geography.  I have been having a great time photographing them.500_4733500_4749The western kingbird is a beautiful flycatcher, which is common here and known to winter in south Florida … that doesn’t mean that I’ve photographed one there … for I wasn’t known for my knowledge of “non-raptor” birds.  LOL850_4386Some birds which migrate through Florida during migration, actually spend their summers here in Colorado … such as the beautiful yellow warbler.  500_4840During the summer, they nest here and that’s when my skills as a bird ID’er really get challenged … fledglings are seemingly everywhere.500_4770I absolutely love the yellow-dumped or Audubon’s warblers.  They have the most striking combination of black, gray, and white, with a sprinkling of beautiful yellow as well (this is the male).

500_5064Speaking of beautiful … the lazuli bunting summers here as well and it’s quite a thrill for me to see it when I’m out and about.  I was fortunate even to get a few who visited my back yard feeder.500_5354Singing birds are such fun to encounter as well.500_5506Not only do we have western kingbirds, but we also have eastern kingbirds (OK, truth be told I THINK that this is an image of one … but even if it isn’t, we do have them).850_4167Of course, my favorite of all types of birds are the ones in the raptor heading.  All kinds of raptors … from hawks to owls to eagles to falcons and everything in between.  Prairie falcons are quite fascinating raptors in the falcon family.  We never had them in Florida, so I’ve learned a lot about them lately.  It nests on cliffs and can often be found there or searching for prey on the prairies.850_4268850_4319The most common raptor we have is the red-tailed hawk.  Contrary to belief not all red-tailed hawks actually have red tails, but you can be pretty sure if you see a red tail, that’s what it is.  Other clues are things like belly bands and patterns on the back of the birds when perched.850_4096Wait a minute … now that’s not a raptor or even a bird.  Actually when up on the Mesa, Tom enjoys flying his RC glider sailplanes.  LOL.  It’s always fun to hear people talking about it when they see it flying about.850_4345Of course, the Mesa is not only birds.  In fact, there are lots of wildlife species up there too.  There are smaller animals such as the squirrels and the chipmunks … which have been quite habituated.850_4352500_4055850_4356850_4370Several times we’ve also encountered some nice healthy-looking coyote.  It always amazing me how they freeze their action when spotted until they assess that you’re not a threat … at which time they go about their normal day and hunting.850_4157Then there are yellow-bellied marmot and in the late spring, there are lots of them.  Both adults and their young can be found scurrying about.  Of course, the interactions of the young are simply fabulous to observe.  Sometimes their play fighting takes on quite the realistic look.  LOL500_5587-EditLike pika, young marmot gather up grasses and run their payload into the cracks and crevices of the rock piles they live in.500_5836-EditThen there’s the nighttime skies over the Grand Mesa.  Trust me, it gets pretty dark up there and it’s fabulous to take in some astro photography up there.  If not, you can still enjoy the millions of stars and the Milky Way as it rises over the night sky.  The perfect way to end the day … or I should say night … on the Mesa.850_4473-EditNext Up:  A favorite Colorado pastime in the autumn

© 2018  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy       


Winter Raptor Visitors

During the winter, western Colorado is home to many raptors.  Some are residents … some just passing through.  All are fascinating to watch as they go about their business.  The Grand Valley Audubon Society hosts what they refer to as “Tomacanbac” field trips.  It’s sort of a play on words … for the field trip actually originates in Grand Junction and goes to Mack, CO and back.  😉

One of the most prominent raptors soaring through the skies in the winter are the bald eagles.  On an given day, you can look up and find them at various different ages.  One day Tom and I actually visited a local park and found 14 bald eagles!  No overlaps either … we could physically see all 14 at the same time!  Love it.DSC_2488When we’re not seeing bald eagles, it’s the golden eagle which steal the show.  While the balds hang out mostly near the water areas, the golden can be seen perched on top of poles, bluffs, mesas, and of course, soaring in the skies.  DSC_3164In south Florida, our main staple raptor was the red-shouldered hawk.  Not here … in CO it’s pretty much the red-tailed hawk.  They seem to be everywhere.

What a thrill it was to witness an altercation between the golden eagle and a red-tailed hawk, who incidentally was the aggressor.  As the golden was soaring by, out of nowhere came the red-tailed hawk, all ready to get up in the golden’s face.DSC_3157As the red-tail got closer, the golden simply turned to get a glance at it.DSC_3158It changed it’s direction slightly, as if to brush the red-tail off a bit, but it was relentless in its pursuit and kept attacking the golden.  DSC_3159DSC_3160Eventually, the red-tail hawk and the golden eagle parted ways without too much contact, but it’s always so impressive when the smaller raptor attacks the larger, more powerful one.DSC_3016On the other end of the size spectrum is the American kestrel.  It’s also quite common out here, often seen in the farm lands on just about every block.  DSC_3196Other hawks such as the ferruginous hawk are a thrill to see.DSC_3261A personal favorite of mine are the northern harriers … especially the males, know as the “gray ghost” for obvious reason, which are easily distinguished from the darker reddish brown females.  They say you see females to male in ratios of about 4 to 1, but not on these days … they were seen more like 1 to 3 … males rule!DSC_3205One of the coolest, and most cooperative, sightings during the two trips I attended was this one … it remained a big question as to its identity.  Some thought sharp-shinned, while others thought Cooper’s hawk.  After our leader sent these in to the experts, it was determined to be a 1st year Cooper’s hawk.  What a gorgeous and very tolerant bird.500_3405This hawk practically seemed to be working it for the camera … as it it were dropping clues along the way.  LOL500_3370-Edit-EditAnother great sighting was this one … the prairie falcon.  To me, it looks a bit like a larger version of the kestrel, with a single eye stripe.  Since this day, Tom and I have seen them in various locales … always a thrill to observe and photograph.500_3510A bit off subject, we often find these slying about in the overhead skies.  Apparently, these guys land at GJ airport, where they re-fuel, and then make their way to Colorado Springs.DSC_3166So, basically you  never know what you’re going to find in the overhead skies.  Often, it doesn’t even matter if it “should” be there or not.  Can anyone remember when Jacksonville, FL had a visit paid by a SNOWY OWL?  True story.  🙂

Next up:  Other local fun

© 2018  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography