Birding Highs And Lows

So little divides utter joy from abject sadness.

Like many Colorado bird lovers, I made a September pilgrimage to a Denver suburb, where a perspicacious birder had discovered an uncommon avian species. As the rare bird reports poured into my Email inbox for four successive days, I tried to suppress the little voice in my head that told me I might be missing the chance of a lifetime. Why did I wait? If I don’t have to drive to and in Denver, I won’t—the traffic is awful. I made a pact with myself: If still reported on day five, I would take it as a hint to try my luck. It was, and I set my alarm for 4:15 for the following morning.

My anticipation woke me at 3 AM. My earlier departure time enabled me to make it to my destination before the worst of the rush-hour, even though columns of cars were already jammed along stretches of the Interstate at 5:30 in the morning. It was still dark when I arrived, and once the first light colored the horizon, I strolled along the creek bed, where the bird in question had been sighted repeatedly. Right around 7 AM, I heard an unusual vocalization, recognizable to me from recordings. A few minutes afterward, the subject of my desire appeared from its nocturnal hidey-hole and assumed a prominent position on a tree branch suffused by sunshine.

If it’s possible to fall in love with a being one knows only from photographs, it had happened to me. Laying eyes on the actual bird, I was swept off my feet. Long-tailed, with radiant jetblack feathers and a massive beak, its gentle gaze and relaxed attitude have captured my imagination ever since. Until about a week before, I had never even heard of a Groove-billed Ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris), but now I relished my first date with this unusual creature. At first glance, it resembles a corvid or grackle, but it is actually related to cuckoos. I spent about 40 minutes with Black Beauty then, and returned again after exploring the vicinity. It was still near that original tree, and seemed to enjoy basking in the sun’s warm rays. Maybe it also enjoyed basking in the attention from me and others who had come to make the acquaintance of what can only be called a celebrity.

Groove-billed Anis hail from Mexico, but make occasional excursions into Texas and sporadic visits to other states (click here for its Cornell Lab of Ornithology bio). There had been four previous sightings in Colorado, most recently in 1982. How did this lone avian end up at the foot of the Rocky Mountains? Speculations range from having escaped a cage to having been trapped in a truck or train car, but chances are that it came under its own power.

I share my fellow birders’ concern for the bird’s well-being. What will the future hold? Will it fly south to escape what could be a very harsh Colorado winter? Will someone try to capture and transport it, if not to Mexico, then at least to Texas? There are more questions than answers when it comes to these types of rare occurrences. As hundreds of us add this bird to our life lists, do we assume a special responsibility, or do we let nature take its course?

It is one of life’s certainties that what goes up must come down. Only a few days after experiencing this high, the results of a comprehensive longitudinal study published by the journal Science brought me back to earth—a much impoverished earth. The report concluded that the bird population of the United States and Canada has suffered a dreadful 29% decline since 1970, resulting in the heart-rending loss of nearly 3 BILLION birds. Some sub-populations are even more severely affected. Grassland birds, for example, have experienced a devastating 53% drop. The various reasons are mostly human-induced: destruction of habitat, toxic chemicals, climate change, house and feral cats…(read more about it here).

It is challenging not to give up hope in the face of these grim facts. I don’t like to be cynical, but I have lost faith in (wo)mankind. We are the most short-sighted and destructive creatures to have walked and altered the face of this magnificent planet, which is crying sad tears—as am I.

Welcome Autumn

As our globe gradually tilts farther from the sun, the days in the Northern hemisphere are growing noticeably shorter. The light appears more luminous, sunrise and sunset more vibrant, the nighttime air more crisp.

Leaves and grasses slip out of their summer attire. In what must be one of nature’s most congenial chemical cascades, chlorophyll, having diligently performed photosynthesis all summer long, goes on sabbatical, and the hitherto concealed yellow, orange, and red hues take a brief but boisterous bow on the autumnal stage, to everybody’s enthusiastic applause. Even the plumage of certain birds seems to emulate the flamboyant fall foliage.

Ripe fruit weighs down branches and fills hungry tummies. While many migrants take their leave in search of warmer climes with more abundant food, we resident creatures stay in place, and resign ourselves to nature’s rhythms. Next to spring, autumn is my second favorite season, and similar to spring, it has a tendency to hurry and hasten, when I want it to linger. But for now, instead of lamenting its all-too-soon departure, I welcome its arrival and the many wonders in its wake.

Jetzt, wo sich unser Erdball weiter von der Sonne weg neigt, werden die Tage auf der nördlichen Hemisphäre spürbar kürzer. Das Licht scheint leuchtender, Sonnenauf- und –untergang strahlender und die Nachtluft frischer.

Blätter und Gräser entledigen sich ihrer Sommerkleidung. In einer der sympathischsten chemischen Reaktionen der Natur nimmt sich Chlorophyll nach monatelanger Photosynthese eine Auszeit, und die bisher im Hintergrund versteckten Gelb-, Orange- und Rottöne haben einen kurzen aber ausgelassenen Auftritt auf der Herbstbühne, zu allgemeinem begeisterten Beifall. Selbst das Federkleid einiger Vögel scheint die farbenprächtigen Herbstfarben nachzuahmen.

Reife Früchte hängen an Zweigen und füllen hungrige Mägen. Während sich viele Durchzügler verabschieden, und sich in wärmere Gegenden mit reichhaltigerer Nahrung aufmachen, bleiben wir standortgebundenen Kreaturen an Ort und Stelle und finden uns mit den Zyklen von Mutter Natur ab. Nach dem Frühling ist der Herbst meine zweitliebste Jahreszeit, und ähnlich wie der Frühling hat er die Tendenz, davonzueilen, wenn ich mir auch wünsche, daß er verweilen möge. Aber anstatt seine baldigen Abreise zu bedauern, heiße ich ihn und die vielen Wunder in seinem Schlepptau herzlich willkommen.

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Some Like It Hot

Summer was hot in more ways than one. While most humans prefer privacy during their copulatory acts, many animals have no such compunctions. They do it in bright daylight, under the gaze of anyone not bothered by engaging in voyeurism. Even if one does not seek to be privy to these amorous alliances, one can’t help but stumble on them—or, as it were, nearly roll over them with one’s bike.

Der Sommer war in mehr als einer Hinsicht heiß. Wohingegen sich die meisten Menschen im Privaten paaren, haben viele Tiere keine solchen Hemmungen. Sie tun es am hellichten Tag unter den Blicken derer, denen es nichts ausmacht, Voyeurismus zu praktizieren. Selbst wenn man es nicht anstrebt, Einblicke in diese Liebesangelegenheiten zu gewinnen, ist es einem manchmal unmöglich, nicht über sie zu stolpern, bzw. sie fast mit seinem Rad zu überfahren.

To augment the heat of their loins, grasshoppers (in this case, pairs of Plains Lubber Grasshoppers) turn up the temperature of their lovemaking by absorbing additional warmth from the pavement that has been baked by the summer sun, and they become oblivious to anything and anyone in their surroundings.

Um die Hitze ihrer Lenden noch zu steigern, erhöhen Heuschrecken die Temperatur ihres Liebesspiels, indem sie zusätzliche Wärme vom Straßenpflaster absorbieren, das von der Sommersonne gebacken wurde, und werden dabei so selbstvergessen, daß sie nichts und niemanden in ihrer Umgebung wahrnehmen.

Did I mention that this summer was steaming hot? 😊

Habe ich bereits erwähnt, daß dieser Sommer besonders heiß war? 😊

Goodbye Summer

Goodbye to summer heat.

You scorch the earth

And sap humans and animals alike.

Servus Sommer

Du versengst die Erde

Und laugst Menschen und Tiere gleichermaßen aus.

So long to colorful blossoms.

You delight the senses

And provide a feast to connoisseurs of nectar.

Auf Wiedersehen Ihr farbigen Blüten

Ihr erfreut die Sinne

Und bereitet ein Fest für Nektarfeinschmecker.

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Adieu to gossamer-winged creatures.

You beautify any estival day

And enthrall by your fairy-like appearance.

Adieu Ihr zartbeflügelten Kreaturen

Ihr verschönt jeden Sommertag

Und bezaubert mit Eurer elfenartigen Präsenz.

Farewell to furry faces.

You incessantly labor in anticipation of winter

And your charm never fails to lift our sprits.

Machts gut ihr Pelzgesichter

Ihr arbeitet unermüdlich auf den Winter zu

Und Euer Charme macht immer gute Laune.

Adios also to some feathered friends.

You wake us with heavenly notes before dawn

And gladden our hearts all the livelong day.

Lebt wohl unsere gefiederten Freunde

Ihr weckt uns vor Anbruch des Tages

Und erfreut uns den lieben langen Tag.

Goodbye Summer—Welcome Autumn.

Auf Wiedersehen Sommer—Herzlich Willkommen Herbst.

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With apologies to my fellow bloggers in the southern hemisphere, who are currently reveling in vernal awakening.

Ich bitte meine Bloggerfreunde auf der südlichen Halbkugel um Verzeihung. Ich bin mir bewußt, daß Ihr momentan im Frühlingserwachen schwelgt.

Better Late Than Never

At times we are granted unexpected sightings, at others, the subject of our desire remains out of reach, no matter how hard we try. Yet every so often, when we have resigned ourselves to the fact that some yearnings will remain ungratified, like an offering from the Fates, we are provided with an unforeseen gift.

Such was the case on this summer day, when I decided to prolong my visit at Glen Eyrie, where my weekly group of birding enthusiasts had done a survey of the local avifauna. This former estate of Colorado Springs founder, General William Jackson Palmer, is now in the possession of the Navigators, who run it as a religious retreat center, but also offer admittance to the public via a reservation system. After my birding friends’ departure, I hiked some of the rocky trails between the geologic formations that are the direct continuation of neighboring Garden of the Gods to the south.

Zu manchen Zeiten werden uns unerwartete Sichtungen zuteil, zu anderen wiederum wird uns das Objekt unserer Sehnsucht verwehrt, egal wie sehr wir danach streben. Gelegentlich, nachdem wir uns bereits damit abgefunden haben, daß unsere Wünsche unerfüllt bleiben, beschenkt uns das Schicksal mit unvorhergesehenen Gaben.

Das war an diesem Sommertag der Fall, als ich mich entschied, meinen Besuch bei Glen Eyrie zu verlängern, wo mein Vogelclub eine Bestandsaufnahme der Vogelwelt gemacht hatte. Dieses ehemalige Anwesen von General William Jackson Palmer, dem Stadtgründer von Colorado Springs, ist jetzt im Besitz der Navigatoren, die es als religiösen Erholungsort betreiben, es aber auch der Öffentlichkeit mittels Reservierung zugänglich machen. Nachdem meine Vogelfreunde Abschied genommen hatten, erforschte ich einige der Wanderpfade inmitten der geologischen Formationen, die die direkte Fortsetzung des benachbarten Garden of the Gods darstellen.

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The early morning’s sunny sky had been obscured by clouds, resulting in a mystical atmosphere. Maybe this was the prerequisite for viewing what, in my mind, had become a mythical animal, as it had remained unfindable by me, despite being observed and photographed by seemingly every other person, resident and visitor alike. When my roving gaze discerned an unusual shape between the angular cliffs, I did a double take, and my heart a double beat.

Der sonnige Morgenhimmel war von einer Wolkendecke verschleiert worden, was in einer mystischen Stimmung resultierte. Vielleicht war das die Voraussetzung dafür, dasjenige Tier zu Gesicht zu bekommen, das für mich zum Fabelwesen geworden war, da es unauffindbar war, obwohl es scheinbar jede Person außer mir bereits gesehen und photographiert hatte, egal ob Anwohner oder Besucher. Als mein umherschweifender Blick eine ungewöhnliche Kontur zwischen den kantigen Klippen wahrnahm, mußte ich zweimal hingucken, und mein Herz klopfte etwas schneller.

The elusive Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep finally (con)descended to give me an audience. This ovine of high altitudes is an anomaly along the Front Range, with a decades-old local history.  In 1946, when the trailer that was in the process of relocating a dozen animals from Colorado’s Tarryall Mountains to Pikes Peak broke down, they were released, and established a successful Bighorn Society in Queen’s Canyon, just west of Glen Eyrie, instead of making their way up to our local fourteener.

During each previous visit to Garden of the Gods, I had scanned the rocky crags to no avail. On this day, they weren’t even on my mind, which proved my introductory point above. Needless to say, I was over the moon to have made the acquaintance of one of the descendants of the original flock. Better late than never!

Das schlüpfrige Rocky-Mountains-Dickhornschaf ließ sich endlich dazu herab (im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes), mir eine Audienz zu gewähren. Diese Schafsart der hohen Gefilde ist im Vorgebirge der Rocky Mountains eine Ausnahme, mit einer jahrzehntelangen hiesigen Geschichte. Als der Anhänger, der 1946 ein Dutzend Tiere von den Tarryall Bergen in Richtung Pikes Peak transportierte eine Panne hatte, wurden sie in der Nähe freigelassen, und siedelten sich erfolgreich in Queen’s Canyon westlich von Glen Eyrie an, anstatt auf unserem hiesigen 4000 Meter hohen Berg.

Bei jedem Besuch von Garden of the Gods hatte ich die Felswände abgesucht, jedoch ohne Erfolg. An diesem Tag hatte ich sie nicht mal im Sinn, was mein obiges Argument bestätigte. Es versteht sich von selbst, daß ich überglücklich war, die Bekanntschaft mit einem der Nachfahren der ursprünglichen Herde gemacht zu haben. Besser spät als nie!

Mr. Bob White

One lovely May afternoon Mr. Bob White saw the door of his enclosure swinging back and forth in the breeze. His keeper had forgotten to latch the gate, and Mr. White and several of his friends were powerless to resist the call of the wild. He looked to the left, he looked to the right, hopped here one moment, and flapped there the next. All of a sudden he noticed that his companions were nowhere to be seen. Instead, he found himself face to face with a camera in an unfamiliar garden.

Not that he knew what a camera was, but he wasn’t scared, because the woman behind it muttered gentle words, and admired his good looks. Mr. White found places to hide and kernels of corn under the bird feeder to munch on, and since his tummy was full, and there were no dogs on the premises, he decided to linger in this location for a few days.

Meanwhile, the woman behind the camera had learned that the bird’s owner was not interested in having him or his fellow escapees back, much to her consternation. A potential foster family expressed interest, having previously considered adopting a few of these good-looking quails. Equipped with a butterfly net and blankets, the woman and her husband attempted to corner and capture Mr. White, but despite their slow moves and soothing remarks, he was not willing to be caught, as he had started to enjoy his freedom.

Once he had resolved to live free, Bob White moved on, and the sweet onomatopoeic song responsible for his name, no longer enlivened the soundscape. May it still be issuing from his handsome throat and bring joy to other listeners, as it did when it resounded through our neighborhood.

To see additional photos, to listen to the song of the Northern Bobwhite, and to learn about its usual distribution (wild birds are rare in most of Colorado, but are popular for breeding purposes), please click on the following link to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: 

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Bobwhite/

Colorado Impressions

Following my writing workshop at the Rocky Mountain Land Library, I do not return to Colorado Springs directly, but by a circuitous route, which has long become a favorite, as it combines varied landscapes with various nature preserves.

By traveling west on US Highway 24, south on US Highway 285, east on US Highway 160, and north on Interstate 25, I complete a circle and return to our doorstep at the foot of Pikes Peak. To do this 270 mile loop justice, it is best to spend at least two nights, but on this occasion, I am a little pressed for time, and stay out only one. Because I drive until the onset of darkness, and start out again at first light, I opt to sleep in the car in Alamosa’s Walmart Parking Lot, next to campers and trailers, whose drivers don’t want to pay for overnight accommodations either.

Along the way, I sample natural sanctuaries near or in the San Luis Valley, like Russell Lakes State Wildlife Area, Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, and Blanca Wetlands, as well as Lathrop State Park near the Spanish Peaks, all of which make this birder’s heart sing, and I can’t wait to do it again. Here is a sampling of my favorite impressions and encounters. Thank you for your company.

Nach meinem Schreibseminar an der Rocky Mountain Land Library, kehre ich nicht direkt nach Colorado Springs zurück, sondern über verschlungene Wege, die Zugang zu allerlei Landschaften und Naturschutzgebieten verschaffen.

Indem ich verschiedene Bundesstraßen sowie eine Autobahnstrecke kombiniere, vollende ich einen Kreis, und lande wieder vor unserer Haustür im Schatten von Pikes Peak. Um dieser etwa 430 Kilometer langen Rundreise gerecht zu werden, wären zwei Übernachtungen angemessen, aber bei dieser Gelegenheit habe ich nur für eine Zeit. Da ich bis zum Anbruch der Dunkelheit, und bereits wieder vor Sonnenaufgang unterwegs bin, übernachte ich auf einem Walmart Parkplatz im Auto, neben einer Reihe Wohnmobile und Wohnwagen, deren Fahrer auch kein Geld für eine Übernachtung ausgeben wollen.

Entlang der Strecke beschnuppere ich eine Auswahl an Naturschutzgebieten, die das Herz eines jeden Vogelliebhabers höher schlagen lassen. Es folgt eine Selektion meiner Lieblingseindrücke und –begegnungen. Danke für die Begleitung.

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