America the Beautiful

Barr Trail is one of the Pikes Peak region’s most iconic hiking paths and whether one trains for the annual Pikes Peak Ascent or Marathon, or simply desires to hike it for its own merit, it packs a punch. Beginning at an elevation of approximately 6,800 feet in Manitou Springs, it climbs steadily to 14,115 feet, over a distance of about 12.5 miles. Even though various trails up our local 14er had existed since the early 1870s, Fred Barr surveyed the mountain in 1918, and supervised the construction of the route we still use today. In my mind, it is divided into four parts, each measuring roughly 3 miles, and each endowed with its own character.

The seemingly endless back and forth of the switchbacks right from the start presents the least welcoming aspect. Their repetitive nature is compounded by Incline return traffic which, depending on time of day and week, can result in the need to sidestep the narrow path nearly incessantly, to allow runners to pass. The nearby Incline, an old cable car track, spans 2000 vertical feet in just under a mile, and has become one of the premiere fitness challenges for athletes from near and far. Incidentally, it is visible as the oblique swath that transects the trees below Pikes Peak in the featured photo above.

Beyond the various Incline connections, the crowd lessens, and one’s view widens, including a first glimpse of the summit. At No Name Creek begins one of my favorite segments, by virtue of its profusion of wildflowers and avian activity. Who can fail to be cheered by the chirping of chickadees? Gradually, more expansive scenes of the mountaintop appear, even though, depending on one’s physical form of the day, this can be inspiring or demoralizing. IMG_6700 (43)

After 6. 5 miles, Barr Camp, 10,200 feet high, offers a welcome resting spot, if desired or needed. Also built by Fred Barr, it was used by the tourists he guided up from the top of the Incline, to catch a few hours’ sleep, before leaving for the peak at 1 AM, where they hoped to witness the sunrise on this purple mountain majesty. IMG_6700 (51)Now as then, one can gather strength there, before transitioning to the following section leading to the A-Frame, a wooden shelter. This stretch is steep, and somewhat tedious, but what sustains me here is the proximity of timberline and with it, the promise of the beguiling beauty of the tundra.

Once above the trees, boulders of varying size dot the slanting meadows, brilliant yellow cinquefoil and other colorful blossoms nestle in their shelter, and butterflies feast upon this delicate, yet tenacious alpine flora. Photogenic chubby yellow-bellied marmots, and furry pikas fast on foot keep guard, or hope for a morsel of nourishment. IMG_6700 (76)In the east, the velveteen foothills roll into the wide expanse of the Plains, with its amber waves of grain. The stony face of Pikes Peak looms large in the west. The last three miles zigzag across the façade of the mountain and terminate with the Sixteen Golden Stairs. My heavy breathing, and jelly-like legs convince me that this is a misnomer. Sixteen hundred must be closer to the truth…

Knowing firsthand how extraordinary the trip to Pikes Peak by automobile or cog train can be, reaching this pinnacle under one’s own power is even more gratifying. But all visitors seem united in a similar sense of elation, and I have yet to encounter anyone who is not enthralled by the panoramic view, under spacious Colorado skies. Surely, Katharine Lee Bates would agree. Even though she spent only a few months in Colorado Springs in 1893 to teach at Colorado College (she was an English teacher at Wellesley, as well as a published poet, lecturer, and suffragist), her one trip to the top of Pikes Peak in a horse- and mule-drawn carriage inspired the words of a poem which would later be set to music and become a beloved hymn.

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Katherine Lee Bates gazing at Pikes Peak from a rock in front of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

Addendum: This is only the 2nd post I have ever re-published (with a few alterations). It first appeared on WordPress on 08/17/2016, when I had very few readers. I thought the middle of August was a good time to share it with more of you, for the following two reasons.

This year’s Pikes Peak Marathon is scheduled to take place on August 23, while the Ascent on August 22 has been canceled.

If you have read my two previous posts about the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, you will recognize the building in the photo behind Katherine Lee Bates, whose sculpture is one of many that grace Alamo Square Park. She was born August 12, 1859. If I had paid closer attention, I would have posted this a week earlier. Happy belated birthday, Katherine.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/wunder-der-bergwelt/

Falco

DNA testing is revolutionizing our understanding of the relatedness between different species. Among the avifauna, one of the surprises has been the discovery that falcons are close relatives of parrots and share a common ancestry with songbirds. This is one of the reasons you will find falcons next to parrots in your printed bird guide (at least if it’s of recent vintage), instead of next to hawks, those other diurnal birds of prey whom they resemble most.

Falcons tend to be smaller than hawks, have more slender and pointed wings, and more rounded faces. They are swift predators that mostly capture their prey on the wing. Sadly, their diet consists mainly of other birds. They reach impressive velocities, with the Peregrine Falcon able to plummet out of the sky at speeds of up to 200 mph.

Of the nearly 40 global falcon species, and the 7 that occur in North America, I’m still hoping to make the acquaintance of a Crested Caracara, Gyrfalcon, and Aplomado Falcon in the wild (I have seen one of the latter as a captive bird). The 4 species I enjoy semi-regularly in Colorado are the American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, and Prairie Falcon. I hope you will, too.

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Spring Babies

Happening upon this “abandoned” fawn at a small rural cemetery, I wasn’t tempted to call the Division of Wildlife, but I was overcome with sufficient anxiety about its well-being to be able to relate to concerned citizens who do. Or worse, who pick up the baby deer and take it home, or to a rehab center. As we are repeatedly told, it’s the last course of action we should pursue, as does regularly leave their offspring alone for hours, before returning to them.

So I watched what appeared a merely days-old fawn take tentative steps, before it settled in the shade under a bench. It was still peacefully resting there when I left half an hour later, and I have since imagined its happy reunion with its mother many a time.

Most other encounters with spring babies were not tinged with worry but provided joyful glimpses of newborn life. Or even touches, as was the case with the bunny that had to be rescued from a window well—it was completely unscathed and ostensibly nonchalant and unimpressed.

These moments with furry and feathered new animals reminded me that I am a spring baby, too, my birthday being in April. And that I’m the daughter of a summer baby, who celebrates his birthday exactly 3 months after I celebrate mine. So today I send my gratitude, love, and warmest wishes for a happy birthday, dear Pa. I miss you and can’t wait to see you again.

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

Als ich diesem „verlassenen“ Rehkitz auf einem kleinen ländlichen Friedhof begegnete, war ich nicht versucht, die Behörden anzurufen, aber ich machte mir genügend Sorgen, um nachzuvollziehen, warum einige besorgte Bürger das tun. Oder noch schlimmer, warum sie das Junge mit nach Hause nehmen, oder zu einem Wildgehege bringen. Aber wie uns immer wieder eingebleut wird, ist das das Letzte, was wir tun sollen, denn Rehe lassen ihren Nachwuchs regelmäßig stundenlang allein, nur um danach wieder zu ihnen zurückzukehren.

Also beobachtete ich, wie das nur wenige Tage junge Kitz einige zaghafte Schritte tat, bevor es sich unter einer Bank im Schatten niederließ. Dort ruhte es auch eine halbe Stunde später noch friedevoll, als ich den Ort verließ, und ich habe mir seitdem wiederholt seine freudevolle Wiedervereinigung mit seiner Mutter ausgemalt.

Die sonstigen Treffen mit Frühlingsbabys waren nicht mit Sorge behaftet, sondern ermöglichten frohe Einblicke in neugeborenes Leben. Oder sogar Berührungen, was der Fall mit diesem Kaninchen war, das aus einem Fensterschacht gerettet werden mußte. Es war unverletzt und schien völlig gelassen und unbeindruckt.

Diese Momente mit gefiederten und gefellten (ist zwar kein Wort, sollte aber eins sein) Tieren erinnerten mich daran, daß auch ich ein Frühlingsbaby bin, denn mein Geburtstag ist im April. Und ebenso, daß ich die Tochter eines Sommerbabys bin, das seinen Geburtstag genau 3 Monate nach meinem feiert. Aus diesem Grunde sende ich meine Dankbarkeit, Liebe und besten Wünsche für einen frohen Geburtstag, lieber Papa. Ich vermisse Dich und kann es nicht abwarten, Dich wiederzusehen.

Here Comes The Sun

Among our migratory birds, one of the more color- and cheerful representatives is the Western Tanager. As the name implies, it does not typically frequent the eastern part of the Americas, but from its winter quarters in Central America or Mexico journeys to US states and Canadian provinces west of the Great Plains, where it raises its brood in coniferous and mixed forests at elevations of up to 10,000 feet.

Even though tanagers are chiefly insectivorous, their diet also includes berries. This partial sweet tooth is responsible for their appearance at feeders supplied with oranges and grape jelly. For the first time this year, these foods have been part of our offerings and have been well received—by more than the species in question. While tanagers and similarly brilliant birds were replenishing their fat stores for a few weeks following their northbound travels, flickers and flashes of color fluttered regularly through our yard.

As is frequently the case in the avian universe, males are more flamboyant. The understated females are outfeathered by their mates with their bright yellow bodies and orange to red heads. Interestingly, in contrast to other species whose orangeness results from dietary carotenoids, Western Tanagers absorb the rarer pigment rhodoxanthin from certain insects. Often described as flame-colored, for me they evoke the shades of the sky during sunrise—as if from the black of night emerge the lemon, peach, and apricot hues of a new dawn.

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To learn more about Western Tanagers, and to hear their vocalizations, please follow the link to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Tanager/overview

Spring Migration

May of 2020 has gone down in my personal record book as the birdiest month ever—186 different avian species enriched and enlivened my spring beyond the wildest expectations. This number included both resident as well as migratory birds, both birds previously known to me, as well as a few new ones—lifers, as we birders like to call them.

Spring migration, this mind-blowing phenomenon in which countless birds leave their wintering grounds and make their way to their summer breeding grounds, is highly awaited and greatly appreciated each year. Simplistically stated, most migratory birds that wing their way to or through Colorado follow a trajectory that begins either in the southern US, Mexico, Central or South America and terminates at destinations north of here. In some instances, at destinations far north. Certain shorebirds, the Semipalmated Sandpiper among them (which happened to be one of my eight life birds), travels all the way from South America to northern Canada or Alaska, a trip that covers 1,900 to 2,500 miles. Incidentally, the longest recorded journey, that of some Arctic Terns, spans an unbelievable 10,000+ miles, from Antarctica to Alaska. And these distances will be traveled not once, but twice a year!

From the tiniest hummingbirds to substantial raptors, from muted sparrows to brilliant orioles, from monosyllabic gnatcatchers to virtuoso grosbeaks, from the expected species to those who were blown off course, all varieties have overcome impossible odds and have accomplished incredible feats by the time they arrive here. Some only make a stopover in the Pikes Peak region, others bless us with their company all summer long. I can’t fathom the multifarious elements that have converged by the time I see them, but I’m humbled by and grateful for their presence.

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