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

http://www.tnwaphotography.com              www.tnwaphotography.wordpress.com

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An Environmental Success Story

In early spring, we took a quick trip out to Colorado.  We arrived into Denver in the darkness of the late night, so stayed overnight near the airport.  We decided that we would check out the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, not far from downtown Denver.

Much of the land has transitioned over the years from farmland to being used by the army to produce chemical weapons, and later their dumping grounds for the weaponry developed there.  It was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) and designated a “Superfund” site, being considered an environmental disaster.  After 23 years and $2.1 billion dollars in the clean-up efforts, the remediation and clean-up work was considered complete.

Consisting of currently 15,988 acres of national wildlife refuge, it’s one of the largest urban refuges in the USA.  The complex is home to 330 species, including the endangered black-footed ferrets, which were re-introduced there.  One of the species that was influential to the refuge’s existence is the bald eagle.  DSC_4221I had often seen images of the bison there with either the backdrops of the Rocky Mountains or downtown Denver.  I hoped that we could get some of the same.  Sure enough, before too long, we came across 2 bison grazing in the grasslands.DSC_3655Further along, there were more.  I couldn’t help but wonder if those bison appreciated the wildlife refuge, where they could roam freely, with those amazing scenic landscapes.DSC_3801-EditA few of the areas are fenced off a bit, which made those images a bit annoying, but it sure was a beautiful day and the bison didn’t seem to care.DSC_3856At one point, we encountered a herd of bison, roaming from one side of the road  to another, and often, back again.  It made traveling down the road a bit challenging.  LOL_DSC2119These bison seemed a bit more skittish than others that I’ve encountered before.  At one point, I got out of the opposite door of our vehicle to get a better image … well outside safe distances for photographing bison.  To my surprise, I startled them and them stammered a bit, to which I quickly got back in the car.  The last thing I wanted to do was alter their behavior.DSC_3970DSC_3881-EditTrue to natural bison behavior, they preferred to hang out together in the herd.  There were a few young ones, which we would observe nursing on their moms.IMG_3286Of course, the Arsenal is more than bison.  Though we didn’t see the black-footed ferrets (except the ones in the exhibit viewing area), but we did see LOTS of prairie dogs!DSC_4128A good variety of birds were seen as well.  The northern flickr, which is a favorite of mine, was spotted in a nearby tree.  It didn’t feel like cooperating for the camera lens, so I left it alone and kept driving.DSC_4077The western meadowlarks were out in force as well, though fairly erractic in flight and a bit further out than I’m used to in Florida (our eastern meadowlarks, of course).DSC_4206Always a thrill for me to witness observe, and photograph were the red-tailed hawks.  Several times while we were there, a few circled in the thermals above us.DSC_3723-EditDSC_3711-EditNear the waters within the refuge, we spotted lots of birds, though most were a bit further out as well.  The Barrows goldeneye in flight was a fun subject.DSC_4092The Canada Goose was present in pretty good concentrations and some were seemingly nesting along the roadside as well.  This one let me get low and close for a head shot.DSC_4091-EditYes, we enjoyed our time at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge … where it’s living proof that good things can happen at bad places … for both the benefit of man and nature.  🙂_DSC2140As we were driving away, one of the MANY prairie dogs was spotted checking us out.  It seemed to be saying … “leaving so soon”.  LOL  Ok, maybe not!  if you ever get the chance, I highly recommend to visit this urban gem.DSC_4295Next Up:  Back to the wetlands of Florida

© 2017  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com