Broad Tails and Sharp Shins

I was looking out the library window at work yesterday. I spotted a female Broad-tailed Hummingbird fly into a ponderosa pine and land in a nest. I meant to bring my camera to work today, but forgot. I borrowed the much better camera owned by CBS and took several photos. This is the best, although I had to angle through a window so it’s not terribly sharp. 

The nest is made of spider webs and gossamer (which is just another word for fine spider webs). The hummingbird then covers the outside with lichen, moss, and bits of tree bark to hide it. I think this one is still sitting on eggs. When the young hatch and grow, the nest actually expands until it looks more like a dish.

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As I was walking away, I heard a bit of a commotion behind me. I turned and saw the resident Sharp-shinned Hawk perched on the railing about 20 feet away. 

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It stayed about 10 seconds. I happened to take a photos just as it took off. 

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Be Very Careful

A large spider was crawling on the outside of the window near my office. I angled my shot so Pikes Peak was in the background and …

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Sky Show

It’s been hot in Colorado lately (although it really is true that the low humidity makes it much less miserable. Still, with the higher altitude and thinner air, the sun in intense. I’ve been walking later in the evening, which gets me outside at sunset. I took the following four photos within 15 minutes or so of each other. 

That’s Pikes Peak in the distance, which is southwest of Monument. In other words, the sun was way off to my right as I took this photo. I’m not sure why I got the burst in the middle of this photo, but I’ll take it.

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The lights of downtown Monument line the bottom of this photo. 

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Bird #482 — MacGillivray’s Warbler

oporornis (from opora, autumnal, and ornis, bird) tolmiei (in honor of William Fraser Tolmie, friend of John Kirk Townsend) — MacGillivray’s Warbler was named by John James Audubon for his friend and editor, Dr. W. MacGillivray.

Saturday, June 17, 2017 — 11:20 pm

Eagle Peak Trail — Pike National Forest, Colorado

I was carefully hiking down the steep slope of Eagle Peak. Young Chase, who had encouraged and guided me on the hard climb up, was about 50 yards ahead of me. We passed through a grove of aspen and were making our way down along Goat Camp Creek. I heard a singing bird and knew it was a warbler. I also knew that the habitat—thick brush along water—was potentially good for MacGillivray’s Warbler.

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MacGillivray’s is the only wide-ranging North American warbler that I’ve never seen. And I didn’t mind the excuse to take a break. I listened to the song a couple times, then pulled out my phone and found the song of the MacGillivray’s Warbler. It was a match. 

But as soon as I began playing the song on my phone, the real bird stopped singing. I repeated the recording several times and saw a small bird flit into the lower branches of a bush about 20 feet away. I didn’t have my binoculars or good camera, but I could clearly see that it had a yellow belly, gray hood, black chest, and white eye ring. I had my bird.

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As I looked, it took off and flew right at me, passing within inches of my head. I saw it briefly in a second bush along the creek. Then it flew to a branch in an evergreen right above my head. I took several photos with my phone, but they just show a back-lit tangle, and I can’t find anything in them that looks like a bird. 

Young was waiting patiently, and I didn’t want to disturb the bird any longer. I put my phone away and continued down the trail.

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Eagle Peak

Eagle Peak is one of the more notable mountains along the Rampart Range west of Colorado Springs. It rises like a pyramid behind the Air Force Academy, with a bare rock face that stands out among the other tree-covered mountains. Young Chase, whose basement we’re currently living in, encouraged me to climb it with her on a warm Saturday morning.

We drove in through the north gate of the Academy with no issue—we just had to show our drivers’ licences. We parked in the lot for the visitor center. Here’s what the peak looked like from there.

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We hiked up a dirt road for about a quarter mile to the trail head, then cut off into the woods. We followed Goat Camp Creek, a small stream that could be heard more often than seen.

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This was the most impressive view of the stream.

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Next to the waterfall was a tree with a large hole at the base. Young set down her back pack and opened it and pulled out the little red chair. I didn’t know she had brought it along. I had toyed with the idea but decided I didn’t want to carry it. But she had gone downstairs to get a spare pair of hiking poles and grabbed it. Young climbed into the hole and asked me to take her photo. I grabbed the chair and took a second one.

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The trail was steep and uneven. I had to clamber over rocks and tree roots in many places. I had the same issues as when I climbed Mount Herman—I felt fine but frequently got dizzy. About half the way up, the trail flattened out for several hundred yards through an aspen grove.

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The path then climbed steeply through a long patch of scree. The surface was loose gravel on which it was hard to get a solid footing. There were rocks scattered throughout, some of which were firmly planted and some of which moved. I caught a bit of a second wind on this stretch and made my best speed of the day. Something unbelievable happened along about here—we caught up with and passed two other hikers.

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For the final hundred yards to the summit, we were bouldering. The blue dots mark the trail, such as it is.

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The view from the top was amazing. Pikes Peak stood out to the west. The altitude at the summit of Eagle Peak is 9,368 feet, a climb of 2,128 feet in just over a mile. 

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We could see a lot of other high peaks way off to the north.

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Looking south toward downtown Colorado Springs.

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The view to the east was the most impressive, with the Air Force Academy spread out below.

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We stayed on top for maybe 15 minutes. The sun was intense, but a brisk wind kept things pleasant.

Going down wasn’t as tiring, but it was harder going. I slipped several times on the steep, loose gravel and only just kept from wiping out.

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On the way down, I spotted a lifer, a MacGillivray’s Warbler (next post).

About where I saw the bird, Young insisted on taking a photo of me. The fact that I look like an old man on crutches isn’t just a pose.

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The hike wiped me out. It was close to 90° once we got out of the breeze on top. I had two bottles of water, which weren’t nearly enough. I had to take a seat on a rock for a couple minutes not long after this photo was taken because I was feeling light-headed and came close to taking a header on a rock. 

When I got home, I looked up Eagle Peak Trail on the internet. Here are a few of the comments I found. 

  • It is a tough climb, along a pretty rugged trail.
  • Quite a work out, but views make it totally worth it. Only gave it 4 stars because of how hard it was on the knees on the way down (loose gravel, steep grades).
  • The trail to the top could rival the Manitou Incline, gaining 2,000 feet of elevation in 1.25 miles. It is steep and eroding and needs work.
  • Eagle Peak isn’t the highest mountain in the Pikes Peak region, but this trail is so steep and unrelenting it may feel like it—with a grade that can rival the Manitou Incline in steepness. But at least that has railroad ties. The trail surface on Eagle Paek is loose gravel that can challenge even the most sure-footed hikers on the descent.

After reading all that, I didn’t feel so bad about my slow, stumbling pace.

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Monument Sunset

The sun is intense in Colorado. We’re a lot closer to the sky with a lot less atmosphere to block the rays. I’ve begun walking later in the evening, when it begins cooling off. (And it does cool off. Days around 90° still have nights around 50°. 

Anyway, while we’ve been living in Monument, I’ve gotten in the habit of hiking up the hill through the neighborhood and then along a second road that runs parallel to the Rampart Range. The whole walk is just under 5 miles, but gives me a good workout because half of it is uphill and all of it is at 7,000 feet.

I took a shot down the road toward the sunset and messed around with filters. Here’s the way it looked when I posted it to facebook the same night.

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I thought it came out pretty nicely, but I messed about with it some more and came up with this. I’m not sure which one I like best.

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K’s Old Fashioned Burgers

When we got to Buena Vista, we were hungry. We’d struck out food-wise in Aspen and it was now seven hours since we’d eaten. I pulled over in a gas station and checked online for a food recommendation. There wasn’t anything terribly exciting, but K’s looked like it might be fun. 

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It was busy, but I found a shady parking spot in the back facing a small park. We each got a cheeseburger, Sal’s with fries and mine with fried mushrooms. I also got a corn dog.

They have a goofy system there. I ordered my food outside, then went inside to pick it up. The girl at the register told me my food would be ready when they called “Kenny Rogers.” (The woman in front of me was Celine Dion.) When “Kenny Rogers” was called, I stepped forward. Another girl held the bag with my food and looked at me suspiciously. She asked in a doubting voice, “Is that you?” I said, “Yes. Can’t you tell?” She begrudgingly gave me my food.

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All of it was good. None of it was great. If you’re in Buena Vista and want something passable in a fun setting, K’s is the place. After I ate, I wandered through the park to the banks of another stream swollen with snow melt.

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Independence Pass

Route 82 east of Aspen is a narrow blacktop that winds up into the mountains along the Roaring Fork River. In places, the river and canyon walls squeeze the road down to a lane and a half. Every place that was barely wide enough next to the road was filled with parked cars and trucks. We managed to find places to park a couple times and got out to look around. 

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There was still quite a bit of snow in the woods and above timberline. 

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The parking lot at the Continental Divide was packed. I managed to find a spot next to the outhouses. The thing most people seemed to be fascinated by was the snow. We had to wait a couple minutes to get this photo by the sign because an oblivious couple were taking photos behind the sign of each other standing in the snow. They made no effort to get the sign itself or any of the amazing views in the photos. They just wanted the snow.

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We hiked a short trail up over the tundra.

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The mountain in the middle of this shot is a 14er, but I forget which one.

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Here’s a close-up of the same mountain. We were at 12,095 feet, so the summit was still another 2,000+ feet above us.

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I was hoping to scare up a White-tailed Ptarmigan or a Brown-capped Rosy Finch, but with the crowds, I didn’t figure I had much of a chance. As it turned out, I was right. All I saw were several White-crowned Sparrows, a Common Raven, and a Horned Lark.

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The road down the other side was just as beautiful, if somewhat less harrowing.

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At the bottom, we happened upon Twin Lakes. I pulled into a day-use area and passed an empty fee station. It was in sad shape and looked like it hadn’t been manned in years. We got out and walked around for maybe 15 minutes. Sally decided right off that this was her new favorite place in Colorado.

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I heard an unusual bird song and tracked it down. I misidentified it as a Vesper Sparrow, even though the song bothered me. I took a short video and figured out back at the house that it was a Brewer’s Sparrow. In my defense, I’d last seen one in 1984 in Arizona.

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When we pulled out, there was a guy in the fee station. He looked at me as I passed, and I just smiled and waved. We still had the Rifle Falls State Park sticker on our windshield. That may have saved us. 

I would very much like to visit Independence Pass on a weekday when the crowds are elsewhere, but even busy, it was a beautiful stretch of road. 

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Aspen

We’re in Colorado now. We have to check out Aspen, right? I was a little turned off by the drive north from Glenwood Springs. The mountains were pretty, but the road was obviously built to handle huge amounts of traffic. There were bus stops every half mile or so, even in areas that seemed rural.

We parked downtown and walked a bit. The sun was scorching. We looked for a place to buy an inexpensive lunch, but we were kidding ourselves. After checking out several places, the cheapest we found was a shop that offered $18 lamb and something sandwiches. We gave up. We returned to our car and left. 

Please understand. I don’t begrudge the rich their money or their entertainment. The town just had nothing for us. I’m not sure we could have afforded bottled water. And I’m also pretty sure that if I had money, I wouldn’t be spending it on the kind of stuff offered in Aspen. Or maybe I would. We’ll never know.

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One of the most popular destinations in Colorado is Maroon Bells, a pair of peaks that rise above a mountain lake. It’s so popular that during the busy season, you can only get there on a shuttle bus. I inquired at an information booth and found out the busy season started the day before. To get there, we would have to drive to a parking lot where we could pay $10 to park and catch the $16 (for both of us) shuttle to the spot. Or we could take a free bus from town to the place where we could catch the shuttle. It seemed like a lot of hassle and money to look at a mountain, so we decided to come back another time, maybe in May, when we could drive right to the spot. The woman in the booth seemed astonished that we balked at spending a mere $26.

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Rifle Falls State Park

We spent the night at a Comfort Inn in Rifle. The town, located on the Colorado River, got its name because somebody at some distant point in the past, left, or found, a rifle leaning against a tree. I guess it had to be called something.

In the morning, we drove north on a narrow blacktop road through a valley full of beautiful farms. This is one thing I’m finding amazing about Colorado. Drive for miles through dry scrub and suddenly you’ll come across a patch of lush farmland along some tiny creek. There will be farms and crops and livestock. And then you’ll go around a bend and be back in the scrub. It all has to do with elevation and water, I know, but the differences can be startling. 

Rifle Falls State Park is tiny, and most of it is taken up by a campground. We arrived early and most of the campers had not yet begun to stir. We paid our $7, parked in the tiny day-use lot and walked a quarter mile to the falls. See what I mean about patches of lushness?

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After admiring the falls for a while, I discovered a trial that led along the cliffs to the right. The rocks were full of holes and crevices, many of them amounting to caves. 

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The trail climbed gently up behind the rocks, and we soon discovered two ponds. I know there’s a state fish hatchery nearby, and I’m thinking these ponds are, or were, part of it. There were two guys fishing in one of them.

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The trail led to the top of the falls. There were metal platforms that stuck out from the edge of the cliffs so we could look straight down at the water or out over the valley.

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That’s when I discovered the secret to the falls. 

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I believe there really were falls here historically, but for whatever reason, they are now being enhanced. The trail curved down below the falls again. Campers and other day-users were arriving and it was getting busy by the falls.

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We hung around for a couple minutes and enjoyed the cool breezes in the shade that contrasted sharply with the hot sun.

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I found an American Dipper in East Rifle Creek.

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We also happened upon a cooperative Northern Rough-winged Swallow …

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and a Black-billed Magpie.

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Neither the falls or the park are worth a long trip, but if you’re in the area, it’s worth the 11-mile drive off I-70 to spend a pleasant hour or so.

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