Time To Say Goodbye

…to our winter waterfowl. Most overwintering species have taken off in the last several weeks for their breeding grounds in more northern latitudes, even though a few stragglers are still lingering, and some will not leave at all.

Es ist an der Zeit, auf Wiedersehen zu unseren Winterwassergästen zu sagen. Die meisten hier überwinternden Entenarten haben sich in den vergangenen Wochen in nördlichere Gefilde zu ihren Brutstätten aufgemacht, obwohl einige noch hinterherhinken, und manche uns überhaupt nicht verlassen werden.

Time not only to say goodbye, but thank you. When many birds fly south and leave a gaping void in autumn, this void is filled, at least partly, by the arrival of an assortment of ducks, whose presence brightens the short, dark days of my least favorite season.

Es ist nicht nur an der Zeit, auf Wiedersehen zu sagen, sondern auch Dankeschön. Denn wenn viele unserer Vögel im Herbst gen Süden fliegen, und eine gähnende Leere hinterlassen, wird diese Leere wenigstens teilweise von einer Auswahl an Enten gefüllt, deren Präsenz die kurzen, dunklen Tage meiner unbeliebtesten Jahreszeit erhellen.

I will not provide details about life cycles or migratory routes of the individuals presented here, which are available in any printed or online birding guide, other than to say that most ducks who spend the winter here, arrive between September and November, and leave again between February and April, when they point their beaks north, some as far north as the Canadian or Alaskan Arctic, where they will mate, incubate their eggs, and care for their young.

Ich beschränke mich auf wenige Details der Lebenszyklen und Wanderrouten der hier vorgestellten Individuen, die in jedem gedruckten oder computerbasierten Vogelführer zu finden sind. Die meisten Entenvögel, die hier den Winter verbringen, kommen zwischen September und November an, und verlassen uns zwischen Februar und April. Dann richten sie ihre Schnäbel gen Norden, teilweise bis ins arktische Kanada oder Alaska, wo sie sich paaren, ihre Gelege hüten, und ihren Nachwuchs aufziehen.

Without having conducted any scientific research or consulted any statistical data, my impression is that Mallards are the most common ducks not only in El Paso County, but possibly in the country. They are year-round residents, but I include them in my review because the males’ conspicuous colors and the females’ conspicuous quacks are a joy to behold any time of the year.

Ohne wissenschaftliche Studien betrieben oder statistische Tabellen konsultiert zu haben, sind Stockenten wahrscheinlich die häufigsten Enten nicht nur hier im Bezirk, sondern im ganzen Land. Sie gehören zu unseren Standvögeln, aber ich erwähne sie trotzdem, weil die bunten Farben des Erpels und das auffällige Quaken seiner Dame zu jeglicher Jahreszeit Freude bereiten.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover cursor over it.

Zum Vergrößern, das Bild bitte anklicken. Um den Titel zu lesen, mit der Maus darüber schweben.

 Gadwall might be the least distinctive of all our ducks, but I like their understated style.

Schnatterenten zählen vielleicht zu den unauffälligsten Enten, aber mir gefällt ihr dezenter Stil.

American Wigeons always put me in a good mood. The males have a gorgeous green eye patch and white crown, a feature responsible for their old name, “baldpate.” Their whistling calls enliven any winter lake.

Nordamerikanische Pfeifenten machen immer gute Laune. Die Männchen haben einen großartigen grünen Augenstreif und eine weiße Krone, die für ihren alten Namen, Kahlkopf, verantwortlich war. Ihr Pfeifen belebt jeden winterlichen See.

Any bird with a head this color will automatically become a favorite: Meet the Redhead.

Jeglicher Vogel mit einer solchen Kopffärbung ist automatisch beliebt. Darf ich vorstellen: Die Rotkopfente.

Canvasbacks resemble Redheads, but note the different shape of the head. I think they look particularly graceful.

Riesentafelenten ähneln Rotkopfenten, doch ist die Kopfform unterschiedlich. Ich finde sie besonders graziös.

Ruddy Ducks are only ruddy during the breeding season when the male is nearly red (see first photo) with a blue beak (see second photo).

Schwarzkopf-Ruderenten sind nur während der Brutsaison rot (siehe erstes Photo), und das Männchen bekommt einen blauen Schnabel (siehe zweites Photo).

Lesser Scaup are quite common and can be confused with their cousin, Greater Scaup. I have trouble telling them apart. I think these are Lesser Scaup. 🙂

Kleine Bergenten sind häufig zu sehen und können mit (Großen) Bergenten verwechselt werden. Ich glaube, hier handelt es sich um kleine. 🙂

Ring-necked Ducks are similarly patterned as Lesser Scaup, but notice the white vertical crescent along the flank of the male. They should really be called Ring-billed Ducks, as the ring around the neck can only be seen when the bird is dead, and the ring around the beak when the bird is alive.

Halsringenten ähneln kleinen Bergenten, aber die Männchen haben einen weißen vertikalen Halbmond an der Flanke. Ringschnabelente wäre eine bessere Bezeichnung, denn der Ring am Hals ist nur an toten Enten zu sehen, doch der Ring am Schnabel, an lebendigen.

Common Goldeneye do their name justice.

Schellenten machen ihrem Namen im Englischen Ehre (Goldaugen). Ich weiß nicht, worauf sich der deutsche Name bezieht. 

Bufflehead are so called because the massive bulbous head of the male reminded someone of buffalo. They are great divers and seem to spend more time under the water than on top.

Büffelkopfenten erinnerten die ersten Beschreiber an Büffel. Sie sind gute Taucher und scheinen mehr Zeit unter Wasser zu verbringen als obendrauf.

Common Mergansers are anything but common. The classy appearance of the three males gliding through the featured photo above, as well as the females’ headdress should convince you, too.

Gänsesäger sind bemerkenswert, wie die klassischen Klamotten der Herren ganz oben im Bild und der fantastische Kopfputz der Damen beweisen.

Hooded Mergansers also wear great hairdos and are a beautiful adornment to any body of water.

Auch Kappensäger haben faszinierende Frisuren und sind Zierde eines jeglichen Gewässers.

Green-winged Teals are our smallest ducks, but this can only be appreciated when seen next to other waterfowl.

Amerikanische Krickenten sind unsere kleinsten Enten, aber das sieht man eigentlich nur im Vergleich mit anderen Wasservögeln.

Northern Pintails are elegance personified. Enough said.

Spießenten sind von erlesener Eleganz. Mehr ist dazu nicht zu sagen.

Last, but not least, Northern Shovelers. The size of their bills is astounding. They often go round and round in circles while dabbling in the water, which has led me to call them the “Whirling Dervishes.”

Zu guter Letzt: Löffelenten. Ihre Schnäbel sind frappant. Sie drehen sich so oft im Kreis während sie gründeln, daß ich sie tanzende Derwische getauft habe.

Spring migration, while it promises the arrival of those feathered friends that left us last fall, also means the departure of our darling ducks. It’s time not only to say goodbye and thank you, but also good luck. Good luck with all the challenges that await you. I hope with all my heart to welcome you and your offspring again later this year.

Auch wenn der Frühjahrszug die Ankunft der gefiederten Freunde verheißt, die uns vergangenen Herbst verlassen haben, bedeutet er auch die Abreise unserer entzückenden Enten. Es ist nicht nur an der Zeit, auf Wiedersehen und Dankeschön zu sagen, sondern auch viel Glück. Viel Glück mit all den Herausforderungen, die auf Euch warten. Ich hoffe von ganzem Herzen, Euch und Euren Nachwuchs später im Jahr wieder willkommen zu heißen.

Glassy Surprises

Colorado Springs‘ Fine Arts Center had long been on my „must see“ list, and when it offered free visitation in March, I finally filled this glaring gap in my education. I wanted to explore at least two exhibits, one permanent, the other temporary, but otherwise had no preconceived notions. Incidentally, the museum will celebrate its centenary throughout this year, having originated as the Broadmoor Arts Academy in 1919.

Immediately upon entering the lobby, my attention was riveted by the Medusa-like light fixture featured above, but the title Chihuly Chandelier didn’t mean anything to me. Later, when I strolled into a darkened gallery highlighted and illuminated by an array of additional glass art, I learned about world-renowned (where have I been?) American glass artist, Dale Chihuly (born 1941), whose designs have dazzled viewers everywhere. They certainly dazzled me, and I became an instant fan. Additional research revealed that a 1976 accident resulted in blindness in the artist’s left eye. The associated loss of depth perception and a subsequent shoulder dislocation both affected his ability to blow glass, and forced him to limit himself to designing, rather than fashioning his art. According to a quote on Wikipedia, Chihuly describes his role as “more choreographer than dancer, more supervisor than participant, more director than actor.”

The Persian Wall Installation was arranged by the artist in 2006 and emulates some of the oldest surviving ancient glasswork from the Persian Empire of the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Concentric circles in contrasting colors captivate and charm.

Macchias are glass bowls characterized by spots (macchia is Italian for spot, from Latin macula). Countless color combinations make each one of these calyx-like structures unique, and assorted varieties resting on pedestals form so-called macchia forests.

The focal point of the room was the Orange Hornet Chandelier, composed of 384 pieces, which add up to a weight of 1200 pounds. In addition to hornets, it reminded me of ristras (from Latin restis, for rope or cord), decorative strings of red chili peppers popular in the American Southwest. The ponderous taper, first installed in Venice in 1993 as a smaller incarnation, had additional elements added specifically for the Fine Arts Center, to commemorate its 2007 reopening after a major expansion.

For the same occasion, the museum’s café was adorned with a third luster, the Gilded Blue Sapphire Chandelier, a cerulean dream with golden touches.

My outing reminded me that chance meetings are often the best. Encountering Chihuly’s creations was a wonderful surprise, and in this instance my ignorance was indeed my bliss.

Thus Endeth March

I should be accustomed to Colorado’s idiosyncratic climate by now, but it still takes me by surprise. The last week of March was a case in point. Maybe the month had lost track of time, or wanted to prove that it, too, can be as moody as changeling April. Monday started mild, with seasonal temperatures and friendly weather, but by Thursday, we approached near record-breaking 70 + degrees Fahrenheit and a risk of prairie fires in parts of the state because of associated winds. While most of us gratefully swiveled our faces toward the warm sun like the blossoms of the few blooming flowers, we were forewarned to gird ourselves against the vicissitudes of the season.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover cursor over it.

Sure enough, Friday brought clouds and a chill, driving everybody back indoors. A thunderclap announced more impending changes. Small (thank goodness) kernels of hail, and a tornado that touched down about 25 miles east of here, were the first harbingers of unsettled spring conditions, but were followed by a reminder that winter is not yet willing to give up its rule entirely, when a few hours later, wet, heavy flakes dropped from a low, gray sky. Frosty Saturday did not bring a single glimpse of the sun. On Sunday, the last day of March, it managed to burn a window into the clouds for a few hours, before a somber veil was once again pulled across the sky, which released intermittent squalls of snow.

Is it any wonder that one’s emotions follow the ups and downs of this meteorologic roller-coaster ride? Spring at the fringe of the Rocky Mountains seems a long time coming. Nightly frosts retard the growth of plants, and winter’s desiccated vegetation still dominates the scenery. There are hopeful hues of greening grass, and the hyacinths and daffodils in front of the house have unfurled their pretty petals—only to have their noses bitten by frost, as is the case each year. The wildflowers know better, and are not fooled by wrong promises.

Spring migration, always a balm for the soul, has not yet fully started. Each new avian arrival is greeted with a happy heart, but the number of new birds does not yet equal or surpass that of the birds that have left us, or soon will leave us, for their summer breeding grounds.

This transitional time is a time for sad goodbyes and impatient restlessness, but also for hopeful expectations and cautious optimism. Hope springs eternal.

Moving toward spring?/Dem Frühling entgegen?

Winter Isn’t Over

In the arid American Southwest, made more arid by recurring drought, any form of moisture is welcome. Few forms are more fabulous than frozen flakes falling from the firmament, as was the case last week. After two days of watching a snowfall through the window from my desk, my body and mind yearned to dive into the late winter wonderland, before it would dissipate like a dream.

Any place is transformed by snow, and beautiful places become more beautiful. This was the case at Garden of the Gods on the morning after the storm. The park’s inherent splendor was rendered more splendid, its innate majesty more majestic, by a moderate sprinkling of powdered sugar. Many place names exaggerate, embellish, but in my mind, Garden of the Gods’ designation is no hyperbole.

As wind and sun slowly but steadily transubstantiated shimmering, frozen crystals back into their translucent, liquid state, ravens were squawking overhead, robins were breaking their fast on frosty juniper berries, the lovely melody of Townsend’s Solitaires floated down from their elevated perches, and this human soul was filled to its brim.

Im trockenen, durch wiederholte Dürreperioden noch ausgetrockneteren Südwesten der USA, ist jeglicher Niederschlag willkommen. Wenige Formen sind fabelhafter als gefrorene Flocken, die aus dem Firmament fallen, wie das vergangene Woche der Fall war. Nachdem ich zwei Tage lang von meinem Schreibtisch aus den Schneefall beobachtet hatte, sehnten sich mein Körper und Geist danach, in die späte Winterwunderlandschaft einzutauchen, bevor alles wie ein Traum erscheinen würde.

Jeder Ort wird durch Schnee verwandelt, und herrliche Orte werden noch herrlicher. Das war am Morgen nach dem Sturm auch im Garden of the Gods der Fall. Eine mittelschwere Puderzuckerschicht unterstrich die dem Park innewohnende Pracht. Manche Ortsnamen sind übertrieben, aber Garden of the Gods verdient meiner Meinung nach seinen Titel.

Während Wind und Sonne die glitzernden Eiskristalle langsam aber sicher wieder in ihren durchsichtigen, flüssigen Zustand verwandelten, krächzten Raben am Himmel, stopften sich Wanderdrosseln zum Frühstück ihre Mägen mit frostigen Wacholderbeeren, schwebte die liebliche Melodie weiterer Vögel durch die Lüfte, und war diese menschliche Seele bis zum Bersten gefüllt.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover cursor over it.

Zum Vergrößern, das Bild bitte anklicken. Um den Titel zu lesen, mit der Maus darüber schweben.

‘Tis The Season

‘Tis The Season… /Es ist die Zeit…

… for the days to shorten, and the nights to lengthen…

… für kürzere Tage und längere Nächte

… for the summer heat to be replaced by cool days and even cooler nights…

… in der die Hitze des Sommers mit kühlen Tagen und noch kühleren Nächten ersetzt wird

… for a last burst of color, before the plants shed their habiliments and show their equally attractive skeletons…

… für die letzte Farbexplosion der Pflanzen, bevor sie ihre Kostüme abwerfen, und uns ihre ebenso attraktiven Skelette zeigen

… for the decaying vegetation to transform itself into fertilizer and a rotten perfume that is nonetheless pleasing to the olfactory cortex…

… in der die Vegetation verrottet und sich in Dünger verwandelt, und trotzdem ein dem Riechhirn angenehmes Parfüm versprüht

… for the ripening of fruits and seeds that help nourish animals and humans alike…

… der reifenden Früchte und Samen, die Tiere und Menschen gleichermaßen nähren

… to mourn the disappearance of migratory birds, but to warmly welcome our winter guests…

… um das Verschwinden der Zugvögel zu betrauern, doch gleichzeitig unsere Wintergäste mit offenen Armen zu begrüßen

… to remember Colorado Springs resident and farmer, Nick Venetucci (1911-2004), aka “The Pumpkin Man,” who derived great pleasure from giving away thousands of these most iconic symbols of fall to local children each year, and who was commemorated with a beautiful monument adjacent to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum…

… Herrn Nick Venetucci (1911-2004) zu gedenken, der auch als „der Kürbisherr“ bekannt war, und dem es großes Gefallen bereitete, jahrelang diese ikonischen Herbstsymbole tausendfach an Kinder zu verschenken, und der mit einem wunderschönen Denkmal neben dem Colorado Springs Heimatmuseum geehrt wurde

… to wish happy autumn to us all…

uns allen einen schönen Herbst zu wünschen…

Squirrel Talk

If we squirrels spoke human, we might have a lot to say. We chatter all the time, and if you don’t understand squirrelese, that’s your problem. But to foster interspecies communication, here are some possible interpretations of our profound thoughts.

“We squirrels are gourmands by nature. We love to eat. That’s a dilemma on a frigid January morning, when we might have to resort to stripping bark from trees to fill our tummies. So it comes as a very welcome surprise to receive donations from you kind two-legged creatures. We like sunflower seeds, and they sate our appetites for a while. Thank you kindly.”

Wenn wir Eichhörnchen die Menschensprache sprächen, hätten wir viel zu sagen. Wir schwatzen die ganze Zeit, und wenn Ihr uns nicht versteht, ist das Euer Problem. Aber um artenübergreifende Kommunikation zu fördern, gibt es hier einige mögliche Interpretationen unserer tiefgehenden Gedanken.

“Wir Eichhörnchen sind von Natur aus Feinschmecker. Wir lieben es, zu futtern. An einem kalten Januartag kann das zu einem Dilemma führen, wenn wir uns dazu herablassen müssen, unsere Bäuche mit trockener Baumrinde zu füllen. Deshalb akzeptieren wir liebend gerne eine kleine Gabe von Euch netten Zweibeinern. Wir mögen Sonnenblumenkörner, und sie stillen unseren Appetit eine Weile lang. Herzlichen Dank dafür”.

At times we, too, get in a slight huff.

“I found this peanut, and I dare you to try to get it back!”

“What are you looking at? Just because my coat is slightly darker, I am still a squirrel!”

Manchmal ereifern auch wir uns ein wenig.

“Ich habe diese Erdnuss gefunden. Untersteh Dich, sie mir wieder abzunehmen”!

“Was glotzt Du nur so blöd? Auch wenn mein Fell etwas dunkler ist, bin ich immer noch ein Eichhörnchen”!

Did we mention we were gourmands?

“I simply love baguette. Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside. I think it makes my tail look elegant and fluffy. Don’t you agree?”

Habe ich schon erwähnt, daß wir Feinschmecker sind?

“Ich liebe Baguette. Außen knusprig, innen weich. Ich bin davon überzeugt, daß es meinen Schwanz elegant und flauschig aussehen lässt. Stimmst Du mir nicht zu”?

At times we overindulge.

“I don’t feel so good. My tummy is sooo full. I think I am getting sick.”

Manchmal übertreiben wir es etwas.

“Mir geht es nicht so gut. Mein Bauch is sooo voll. Ich glaube mir wird schlecht”.

We are highly adaptable. We even use other creatures’ homes.

“I think I will go for a walk. Wait! Someone seems to be watching me. Better not leave the house yet. Maybe if I sit still and don’t move, she won’t see me.”

Wir sind sehr anpassungsfähig. Wir benutzen sogar die Wohnung anderer Wesen.

“Ich glaube, ich mache jetzt einen Spaziergang. Moment mal! Jemand scheint mich im Visier zu haben. Ich warte besser noch eine Weile. Vielleicht wird sie mich nicht sehen, wenn ich mich nicht bewege, sondern mich ganz ruhig verhalte”.

We know that rest and relaxation is good for our health.

“The unbearable lightness of being a squirrel.”

Wir wissen, daß Erholung und Entspannung gut für die Gesundheit ist.

“Die unerträgliche Leichtigkeit des Eichhörnchenseins”.

Aiken Canyon Preserve

About eighteen miles south of downtown Colorado Springs lies a unique sanctuary, designated as a nature preserve in 1993, when the Nature Conservancy signed a 99 year conservation lease for 1,100 acres of public land with the State of Colorado. The subsequent purchase of additional private land expanded the total acreage of Aiken Canyon Preserve to 1,600. It was named in honor of Charles Edward Howard Aiken (1850-1936), who grew up in Vermont and Chicago. After Chicago’s Great Fire of 1871, he relocated to Colorado with his family, where they ran a sheep ranch a few miles south of the future preserve. Charles, a bird collector since a young age, had been apprenticed to a taxidermist in Chicago, and continued this profession in Colorado. As was common in the days before widespread photography and use of binoculars, the sad method to learn about birds was to shoot and stuff them. Aiken became a taxidermy expert and operated his own shop in Colorado Springs. He contributed greatly to the knowledge of the avifauna of Colorado, and through his travels, of neighboring states.

As Aiken Canyon’s water is supplied only by an intermittent creek, it never saw any significant settlement, logging or grazing, and still harbors an intact, original Rocky Mountain foothill ecosystem attractive to a varied fauna. Mammals include raccoons, black bears, deer, elk, and mountain lions, though I have only seen squirrels and rabbits during my repeated forays. At least 142 avian species have been documented, according to eBird. Bees and butterflies join the birds in the warmer months, as do other insects, lizards, and snakes. It was here that my husband and I had our encounter with a Prairie Rattlesnake, stretched out across the trail one July day. Luckily, it simply slithered across and curled up behind a rock for a siesta. We parted peacefully, but with an increased awareness on our part of the potential of reptilian appearances.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

In 1996 a field station was constructed, with walls fashioned out of a straw core, and a stucco surface the color of the surrounding soil. For two decades, volunteer staff provided information about the land, its history, and its denizens. Because of fungal contamination in the straw, it was torn down in the autumn of 2016, much to the chagrin of helpers and visitors alike. The space sat empty until the completion of a covered pavilion with picnic tables in the spring of 2018.

Access to this pristine parcel is afforded via an easy to moderate four mile trail that bars pets, bikes, and motorized vehicles. The first portion of the narrow path meanders through a grassy meadow and a dry creek bed that carries the warning to seek higher ground during flash floods. The greatest challenge is trying to decide whether to hike the steepening loop in a clockwise, or counterclockwise direction. There is much for the eye to gaze at. The red ground is littered with leaves, pine needles and cones, and sprinkled with cactus, yucca, and additional wildflowers. Scrub oak and mountain mahogany make up the tangled understory, medium-height junipers and pinyons are dwarfed by tall Ponderosa Pines. Islands of whimsical sandstone formations jut out of the verdant canopy and tickle one’s fancy. A short side trail leads to a promontory with views of the expansive plains in the east, the Wet Mountains in the west, and the Spanish Peaks in the south.

A three-quarter mile spur veers off the main loop and leads to the ruins of a log cabin that owed its existence to a local natural spring. The dwelling was likely built in the 1920s or 30s, but has long since collapsed. A seeming contradiction to the statement that the canyon was never settled, it left such a small footprint that it did not significantly change the geology or biology of its environment.

This site, surrounded by trees 50 feet tall, never fails to stimulate my imagination. Remnants of the wooden building, its metal roof and pipes lie scattered next to timeworn utensils – a tattered bedspring, threadbare shoe soles, glittering glass shards, rusting cans. Just beyond this former domicile, a tall rock provided the side wall of a small corral for domestic animals. Spikey leaves reminiscent of iris suggest the tender care of an erstwhile gardener. While I have never seen them in flower, my mind is tantalized by the potential and prospect of luminous blooms in this sheltered vale. Who once called this spot home, far away from town, with bears and mountain lions as neighbors, when the promise of colorful spring blossoms brightened the long, dark, cold winter nights?