Preble’s Jumping Mouse is a subspecies of the Meadow Jumping Mouse that only lives near streams along the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming and Colorado. If you’ve been to the front range lately, you know that new housing communities and the commercial developments that go along with are spreading EVERYWHERE. Which means that the habitat of the Preble’s Jumping Mouse is swiftly disappearing, resulting in its listing as an endangered species. As a result, in Colorado Springs, strips of land along streams are being set aside as mouse refuges. Which is why, next to my office at work, I have this view.
The patch of trees is anywhere from 250 to 400 yards wide. On the other side, construction is underway for a highway extension, a condo complex, and a huge shopping mall. If you enlarge the above photo all the way, you can see one of the road graders in the gap between the trees.
But still, we do have that strip of trees. A small creek named Monument Branch runs down the middle. I’ve recently gotten in the habit of wandering out at lunch with my binoculars and following a faint path through the scrub oak and ponderosa pines along the creek. If I’m careful about which direction I look, it feels like I’m a lot more out in the wilderness than I really am. (These photos were not all taken on the same day.)
Enlarge this next photo and you can see Pikes Peak in the distance on the left. It looms much larger when you’re actually here.
I occasionally see wildlife other than birds—Eastern Fox Squirrels, Desert Cottontails, and, once, a Mule Deer. I haven’t seen a Preble’s Jumping Mouse. For one thing, I began exploring the area in November and they hibernate. For another, they’re nocturnal.
About half a mile west of my office, the creek opens up into a large field. Two fake cement waterfalls have been built, which tells me that more development is on the way in that area. I’m guessing that when all the local building is done, my path won’t be nearly as enjoyable, with buildings visible on all sides, a lot of traffic noise, and the litter and garbage that comes with it. Thanks to the mouse, there will be some open area left, but I’ll have to see how long I wish to continue going there.
But in the meantime, I’m enjoying it. I walk pretty much the same stretch every day at lunch. I go about a mile, and it takes about half an hour. There aren’t a lot of different birds around—some days there aren’t a lot of birds, period. In the 12 times I’ve gone out, I’ve seen as few as six individual birds of four species and as many as … who knows … of 10 species. That “who knows” is due to the American Tree Sparrows which forage down in the grass and flush ahead of me. I can never tell how many I’m seeing and how many I’m seeing multiple times. Anyway, in my 12 walks to date, here’s what I’ve seen in order of how many different days I’ve seen them.
Black-billed Magpie 8
White-breasted Nuthatch 7
Mountain Chickadee 7
American Tree Sparrow 7
Dark-eyed Junco 6 (of at least 3 subspecies)
Black-capped Chickadee 6
Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay 5
American Crow 5
Song Sparrow 5
Brown Creeper 5
Red-tailed Hawk 4
Common Raven 4
House Finch 2
Spotted Towhee 1
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
American Kestrel 1
Several of those birds can’t be seen in Illinois, but all of them are pretty common out here. But it gives me a nice break in the middle of a day of sitting at a desk. Thanks, Preble’s Jumping Mouse. I owe it all to you.