Thanks to Preble’s Jumping Mouse

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
Bushtit 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.

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Tuba Christmas and the Festival of Lights Parade

We spent the first Saturday evening in December in downtown Colorado Springs to see the Christmas festivities. First came Tuba Christmas—115 local tuba players who had just gotten together a couple hours earlier to practice. It’s not really about the music.

As you can see, the weather was pleasant and the view was nice.

We had about an hour to kill before the next round of festivities. We hung out in an Einstein Bros. and watched people walk by.

As parade time approached, I went outside and secured our spot next to a lamppost. You can see Sally in this shot, still sitting inside.

And here’s the entirety of the Festival of Lights Parade. There’s no sound in a time-lapse movie, so I added some—a song that was playing on one of the floats.

Here are some stills from the video. Some of the bands were good. Some weren’t. The floats were a mixed bag also. In short, it was a typical small city Christmas parade, but watching it at night in a large crowd made it fun. The last float had Santa, and much of the crowd, us included, headed out into the street and followed him for a block or so.

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Coming By You — Got a Gun

I spent (invested) the morning of the first Saturday in December birding in and around Colorado Springs. A Greater White-fronted Goose was seen on Friday in Memorial Park, in the older part of town, so I went there first.

I didn’t see that particular goose, but in the 20 minutes I hung around, I saw:

  • Canada Goose
  • Snow Goose (one white phase that took off with a flock of Canadas right after I arrived)
  • American Wigeon

  • Bufflehead
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Cackling Goose (at least one, probably more, but I don’t count these unless the bird in question is decidedly tiny.
  • Common Goldeneye
  • American Coot
  • Rock Dove
  • American Crow

On a more exciting note … While I was looking at the geese, I heard a woman screaming “Help me!” back near where I parked my car. I’m apparently not the guy you want around in an emergency, because it hardly registered with me. But then a guy came running along the shore. He yelled at me, “Coming past you. Got a gun.” 

That registered. It turned out that a large dog had gotten loose and was attacking the screaming woman’s small dog. The owner of the large dog pulled it away long before the running man arrived on the scene. Crisis over.

Anyway, I’m not sure what I could have accomplished even if I had been paying attention. “Coming past you. Got binoculars” is unlikely to be much of a help in an emergency unless someone is panicking because they can’t i.d. a bird.

I drove down to Fountain Creek Nature Center and spent a couple hours there.

Here’s what I spotted:

  • Gadwall
  • Mountain Chickadee
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • American Coot
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Canada Goose
  • House Finch
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Mallard
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Song Sparrow
  • Northern Flicker (so close I had to back up to get the whole bird in the picture through my binoculars)

  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • American Goldfinch
  • Pine Siskin
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Cackling Goose (probably a couple hundred with a handful of Canadas)
  • American Wigeon
  • Great Blue Heron (pointed out to me by a very nice older woman birder)
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For the past eight or ten years, we’ve gone to downtown Chicago to see, among other things, the Christkindlmarkt in Daley Plaza. We didn’t make it down last year before we moved, so when we learned that Denver had one, we decided to go.

I got downtown late on a Sunday afternoon. I knew I had to find a parking garage, and that it would cost me between $14 and $20 for a couple hours. We circled the area a few times, then followed some cars into a likely-looking garage. The woman by the door asked if we were visiting someone who lived in the building. It turns out I’d pulled into the lot for a high-rise apartment complex. When I found out, I asked if we were supposed to be there. She said they rented to the public when spaces were available and that they were a lot cheaper. We pulled into our assigned spot and headed upstairs through the ritzy lobby and past the security guard. This was the outside of the building. The market was directly across the street. 

We walked from one end of the market to the other in about five minutes, even with taking our time. It was about a 10th the size of Chicago’s.

It still wasn’t dark, so we wandered around the area. It was about 65° out and we saw many people in shorts. We were in our shirt sleeves and carrying our jackets. Among other interesting sights, we saw a woman sitting at a small table. She had spread out several stuffed animals in front of her and she was engaging them in lively conversation. When we walked back past her a few minutes later, she was beating them with a stick.

We headed up the 16th Street Mall, which I had been led to believe was filled with interesting stores. It wasn’t. It was filled with shoe stores and boring stuff like that.

It was close to dark when we got back to the market.

We walked through slowly again, and Sally decided to buy a clay toy shop that has smoke come out of the chimney when you put a candle inside.

While she was doing that, I took photos of the sunset—or what I could see of it. 

We headed back to our garage, past the security guard. Another woman was at the door. She took our ticket and charged us $3 for an hour and 45 minutes. If we go back, we’re going to remember that apartment building. 

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We wanted to see the Christmas lights in Denver, which meant we had some time to kill. I found a large antique mall called The Brass Armadillo west of downtown, and it successfully occupied much of our afternoon. 

It was your typical antique mall—a lot of junk, some fun stuff, a few good pieces here and there.

They had a snack bar decorated with Pepsi stuff. The woman in green on the far right who is glaring at me works there. She saw me carrying a sign and called me over to tell me she could bring it up front for me and give me a number to hold to pick it up when I was ready to pay. I told her that wasn’t necessary. Three more times over the next hour she came up to me and made the identical offer. The last two times I was with Sally. On both of those occasions, she told us that she used to have a booth at the mall and that she bought most of her stuff from this one dealer back in the corner. She then proceeded to tell us about some item she bought for one price and sold for a much higher. We saw no indication that she remembered either of us from any of our past conversations. 

I found a Pepsi blackboard for $25. My instincts tell me it’s original, not a reproduction. I thought that was a good price and figured, even if it turned out to be a reproduction, I only paid $25. I found two more almost identical elsewhere in the mall. One had the same logo with a blue border. The other had a newer logo with a yellow border. Both of them were priced around $140. (The magnets didn’t come with it.)

Sally wanted to find a picture for a particular place in our house. I wanted her to buy this, but she didn’t like it. I know she’s secretly kicking herself for not getting it. 

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The Butterfly Pavilion

This small building in the Denver suburb of Westminster is a zoo of invertebrates. 

There are three exhibit rooms inside with cases and tanks filled with octopuses, crabs, spiders, ants, bees, etc. A woman was sitting in the first room with a tarantula she called Rosie. Anyone who wanted could hold it. When I saw that I’d get a sticker for my bravery, I went for it. With its weight distributed on eight legs, it hardly felt like anything. The lady had a hard time coaxing it off my hand—apparently it liked me more than it liked her.

That’s a full-size model of a giant squid on the wall above Sally.

The main feature was an atrium filled with tropical plants and butterflies.

We walked around the room twice and sat on a bench for a while. Some of the butterflies were stunning, but most of them were either up near the ceiling or grouped on clusters of flowers that were high above our heads. We stayed maybe an hour and a half. I’d go back if I was in the area with a couple hours to kill.

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The Colorado Model Railroad Museum

We visited Greeley for much the same reason we visited Fort Collins—just to say we’d been there. But unlike Fort Collins which at least had a few attractions, Greeley was pretty dull. We walked up and down main street and found absolutely nothing of interest. We at lunch at a Rudy’s BBQ which won’t be in business long. It was the lunch hour on a Saturday when a lot of people were out and about, but there were only about eight people in the place. The Texas Roadhouse next door was packed.

My main goal was to visit The Colorado Model Railroad Museum. It fills a metal building along the tracks and was surprisingly popular. 

The model railroad winds around on several peninsulas. Other railroad-themed displays line the walls and a second-floor balcony. Many of the visitors were engaged in a scavenger hunt among the display, looking for dinosaurs and gorillas and such, but we weren’t given the list of items to find. 

This being Colorado, part of the scene depicted a forest fire. You could push a button to light up the orange lights and make smoke.

There were maybe four trains running, one of them with a Christmas theme. It didn’t seem like a lot of action for the size of the display.

The track wound around behind a wall to an area done up to look like a port, complete with a model of the Edmund Fitzgerald. 

We walked through the caboose, but there was a young couple in there getting their photo taken, so we didn’t stay long. And that was pretty much it for Greeley. We ate supper at Chick-fil-A, then went to see Coco at a theater in the mall near our hotel. We didn’t know anything about the movie except that it was put out by Pixar Animation. It seems like Disney has completed its takeover of the studio. The animation was amazing, but the story was totally Disney—a Hispanic lad travels to the land of the dead on Dia de los Muertos and fights to get an ancestor remembered before he disappears forever. It was a hunk of seriously twisted theology disguised as a harmless children’s movie.

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Lory State Park

We were in Fort Collins and we wanted to hike. Our afternoon plans were in Greeley, which was about 30 miles southeast, so it didn’t make sense to go too far west. We headed to Lory, the nearest state park. There weren’t a lot of people when we arrived, but it was filling up fast when we left. It’s my opinion that the park exists primarily to give the people of Fort Collins somewhere close by to go to.

I mean, it was pretty, but there are thousands of prettier places in the state. It might have been more impressive if we had taken the uphill trail to the top of a large rock formation. But the trail we took led over a couple of rises to the shore of the Horsetooth Reservoir, a large and rather unimpressive man-made body of water. 

I carried my binoculars and spotted four birds on our two-mile hike. Not four species—four individual birds—two magpies, a flicker, and a Common Loon that was drifting out in the lake. There were a few gulls too far out to identify, and gulls don’t count anyway.

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Fort Collins

On the Friday after Thanksgiving we went to Fort Collins because …

We didn’t really have a reason. We headed downtown in search of a reason to be there. Here’s what we found.

A tribute to Andy Warhol on the campus of Colorado State University.

Downtown, with a lot of crafty stores and an impressive amount of Christmas lights.

We happened upon Mary’s Mountain Cookies. I bought a turtle cookie. Sally bought an almond sugar cookie with frosting. We didn’t get around to eating them until the next day, but they were very good.

For supper we went to Totally 80’s Pizza. The pizza was edible (but I still have yet to find any evidence that anyone in Colorado knows how to make pizza), but the place was fun. It was decorated as a museum of the 1980’s and brought back a lot of memories.

The night was still young. We wandered the aisles of a Barnes & Noble for an hour, then went to see The Man Who Invented Christmas at a theater very close to the Hampton Inn where we were staying. It was a fictionalized account of how Charles Dickens came up with the idea of A Christmas Carol and, thereby, changed the way we celebrate Christmas. It was fairly slow moving and didn’t have a lot to do with Christmas, but it beat sitting in a hotel room.

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Swetsville Zoo

Bill Swets was a farmer who created his sculpture park just for fun. He fashioned about 180 creatures out of scrap metal and machine parts. The all sit in a dilapidated yard along the Cache la Poudre River near Fort Collins. The city in encroaching swiftly and the zoo probably won’t last long if someone doesn’t start taking care of it.

The park doesn’t have quite the scope and flair of Dr. Evermor’s Sculpture Park in Wisconsin, but it’s got it’s highlights. In no particular order …

A little jab at Bill Clinton.

Probably not worth a long drive by itself, but if you’re in the Fort Collins area, it’s definitely a fun way to spend a half hour or so.

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