Look Who’s There

This is a view I have seen—and photographed—countless times, to my husband’s neverending amusement. He only grins when I show him yet another snapshot, taken from the deck of the Nature Center in Fountain Creek Regional Park, one of my local favorite haunts. I justify my repeated images with the argument that each hour, each day, each month has its own charms, and that the scenery is in a state of constant flux.

One day not long ago I am again enjoying this familiar outlook when I notice an addition to the canvas. Do you see what I see? To my utter delight, I witness how this White-tailed Deer doe-and-fawn-duo stride slowly through the shallow water, where they take an occasional bite out of the aquatic plants. They never venture far apart and gently nose and nudge one another.

Diese Aussicht habe ich schon unzählige Male gesehen—und photographiert, sehr zur Belustigung meines Mannes. Er grinst nur, wenn ich ihm noch einen Schnappschuss zeige, den ich von der Terrasse des Besucherzentrums des Fountain Creek Regionalparks aus gemacht habe, einem meiner Lieblingsziele. Ich rechtfertige meine wiederholten Bilder mit dem Argument, daß jede Stunde, jeder Tag, jeder Monat einen eigenen Charm besitzt, und daß diese Szene ständig im Wandel begriffen ist.

Vor nicht allzu lange genieße ich wieder diesen vertrauten Ausblick als ich bemerke, daß die Kulisse einen Zusatz bekommen hat. Siehst Du sie auch? Zu meinem Entzücken bekomme ich mit, wie dieses aus Hirschkuh und Kitz bestehende Weißwedelhirschduo langsam durch das seichte Wasser schreitet, und ab und zu an Wasserpflanzen knabbert. Sie bleiben die ganze Zeit eng zusammen und schubsen und stoßen sich sachte.

 

In a season rich with birth and babies in the animal kingdom, I relish this serene moment, this tender instance of motherhood, as well as the confirmation that no two experiences are ever quite identical, in this or any other location (which is a good reason to keep taking photos 😊).

In dieser Jahreszeit, die in der Tierwelt von Geburten und Babys geprägt ist, genieße ich diesen friedlichen Moment, dieses zärtliche Beispiel der Mutterschaft sowie die Bestätigung, daß keine zwei Erfahrungen jemals identisch sind, weder hier noch an einem anderen Ort (was ein guter Grund ist, weiterhin zu photographieren 😊).

The Splendor of a Rainy Day

     We Coloradans are spoiled by living in a state that claims at least 300 sunny days per calendar year. Colorado Springs has benefited from this natural phenomenon since its founding in 1871, even calling itself “City of Sunshine”, to better attract tourists and health-seekers. For sufferers of consumption, a change in climate was frequently a desperate attempt to cure this age-old scourge of humanity. Before its cause was known, and before the discovery and development of effective antibiotics in the 1940s, treatment consisted of a multi-pronged approach, with exposure to fresh air and sunshine being one of its mainstays.

     Though most visitors and residents no longer arrive in Colorado Springs for health reasons, all still revel in our Columbine-colored skies, and the mood-enhancing effects of solar rays (their known potential for adverse health-effects notwithstanding). Originating from Germany, I was accustomed to extended episodes of gray and gloomy conditions, but it did not take long to convert me to the pleasures associated with a helio-dominated climate. But even in this sun-kissed region, the sun’s smiley face is concealed periodically. We might even forget that the Rocky Mountains rise directly in front of our doorsteps, when banks of mist and fog shroud our local fourteener, Pikes Peak, and its lesser but no less attractive neighbors.

     During one such beclouded stretch in early autumn, I stroll through one of my favorite local refuges, Fountain Creek Regional Park, also the focus of several previous posts (Monarchs and Milkweed, An Ode to Fountain Creek Regional Park, and Summer Sorrow). An alteration in weather is commonly paralleled by an alteration in animal activity, apparent as soon as I approach the Nature Center. A gobble of fourteen Wild Turkeys greets me from the meadow adjacent to the parking lot. They don’t flee as is their wont and, more remarkably, still roam the same vicinity two hours later, when I complete my loop.

The lower than usual sky seems to slow down pace and movement of all life. Whereas color and contrast diminish noticeably, many structures and textures are highlighted and brought into sharper focus, drawing my eyes to details I might otherwise overlook.

     I am grateful for the brightness and warmth that spoil us regularly, but instead of bemoaning the occasional sun-deprived period, I try to embrace it, resting assured in the knowledge that luminous and brilliant days will, once again, follow.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/10/26/der-glanz-eines-verregneten-tages/

An Ode to Fountain Creek Regional Park

In recent years, the need to immerse myself in nature has become paramount. I feel fortunate that, despite Colorado’s growing population with its attendant problems, I still have access to spaces which promise solitude and an escape from continually calamitous news. One such refuge is Fountain Creek Regional Park, about eight miles south of our Colorado Springs home. It assumes a central role in my life and hardly a week goes by without a visit.

Starting as a county park in 1985, it has grown to its current size through gradual additions. The Fountain Creek Nature Center was completed in 1992, and expanded in 2014. Run by the devoted Nancy Bernard, a gaggle of paid staff, and a flock of volunteers, it fosters curiosity about the environment with its engaging exhibits, year-round youth programs, and an inviting trail system. Its incredibly scenic window and porch afford sweeping sights of our fourteener, Pikes Peak, and of its lower neighbors. Located at the boundary of the Great Plains and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the area benefits from the vital presence of water because it straddles our region’s largest stream, Fountain Creek. This provides live-giving liquid to a string of ponds with surrounding wetlands, and to copses of cottonwood trees with a dense understory, thereby creating a variety of habitats. Springtime with its lengthening days and warming temperatures engenders an eruption of greenery, fragrant bushes, and animal activity.

View of Pikes Peak from one of the ponds in the Cattail Marsh

The park is among El Paso County’s prime birding sites, and the number of reported species stands at 266 (according to ebird). Alas, I haven’t witnessed even half of that count, and some that were sighted decades ago likely won’t return during my lifetime. I make a game of assigning one signature bird to my favorite spots, and here, Red-winged Blackbirds rule the roost. Theirs are typically the first and most vociferous voices heard upon opening the car door in the nature center’s parking lot, because of the proximity of their realm, cattail marshes. The male’s squeaking and squealing sounds conspire with his curious comportment to garner attention. While balancing on top of a reed, he projects his head, pumps his arms, and fans his tail, communicating his earsplitting invitation to his companions.

Red-winged Blackbird, aka Superman in his cape

Blackbirds are not the exclusive exuberant and effusive members of the avifauna presently engaged in singing, feeding, mating, nest-building, or rearing their young, and with spring migration only ratcheting up, they will soon be joined by many more. Instead of attempting to enumerate all the uncommonly handsome callers, I will let a few photos speak for themselves.

Cooper’s Hawk

Belted Kingfisher: quite the hairdo

Great Horned Owl

White-faced Ibis

Great Blue Heron: a dude with a ‘tude

Plumed creatures are not the only tenants of this territory. Even though muskrats are theoretically nocturnal like their cousins, the beavers, they are diurnal enough to show their fuzzy faces in full daylight frequently. On warm days, turtles scramble onto exposed rocks. Available space is at a premium, and late-comers slide back into the pond to seek a sunny spot elsewhere. White-tailed Deer graze stretches of grassland but, to my surprise, even sample algae in shallow pools. Much squirrely commotion results in more photogenic moments. Rabbits browse in the underbrush and, no doubt, support the raptor population. Monarchs, and the park’s inspirational role in their preservation and propagation, were the topic of a previous post. A variety of butterflies and bees flutter and fly from blossom to perfumed blossom, filling the air with the faint flipping of their wondrous wings while performing the essential task of pollination.

Muskrat

Sunning turtles

White-tailed deer after an aquatic snack

Squirrel, also catching some rays

Doubtless, all this vibrancy is one of the reasons I crave this cherished sanctuary, where I can daily experience nature’s life-affirming powers which, in turn, make me feel more alive and hopeful.

Dedicated to my late mother-in-law, Hilda J. Britton (1928-2017), who loved Fountain Creek and Bear Creek Regional Parks so much, that she flew with the flock of volunteers for a number of years.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/eine-ode-an-fountain-creek-regional-park

Milkweed and Monarchs

“The difference between a flower and a weed is a judgment.” Unknown

Imagine yourself as a beautiful orange and black Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), fluttering around the North American continent east of the Rocky Mountains. Come autumn, you embark on an incredible journey, traversing up to 3000 miles to the mountains of Mexico where, for eons, millions of your ancestors have congregated in oyamel fir trees for the winter. If you find enough trees to gather, plus nearby nectar to nourish you, and you survive until February or March, you mate and begin the return trip, but owing to your limited life span, will not complete it. If female, you lay eggs and pass into butterfly heaven, having fulfilled your life’s purpose.

Imagine yourself next as one of those eggs. Within four days, you hatch into a larva, or caterpillar, and feed ravenously, provided you were deposited on milkweed, whose leaves are your sole source of sustenance. You are oblivious to the fact that its sap is poisonous to many animals, but confers protection to yourself, by turning you into a toxic morsel.

Two weeks long you graze and grow, before your oblong, striated body transforms into an ephemeral, gem-like cylinder called chrysalis, translatable as golden pupa.

Following ten more days in this seemingly suspended state, you emerge as a wonderful winged being. By pumping bodily fluids into your crumpled wings they harden, and will lift you into the air.

After two repetitions of these developmental steps, occurring along a northbound route, the fourth generation of your kind will again end up where last year’s voyage started. This 4 x 4 life cycle, with four annual generations, each of which goes through four stages of metamorphosis, is as intricate as it is intriguing. It is possible because the fourth generation survives an astonishing 6 to 8 months, compared with 2 to 6 weeks for the previous three, enabling it to complete the odyssey back to the wintering grounds, and to commence the return flight the following spring.

Each phase of this cycle depends on the balance of countless factors. Sadly, global environmental degradation, deforestation in Mexico, and a paucity of food along the migratory path have caused the butterfly population to plummet. Milkweed is the lone plant which sustains larvae, but many locations show a glaring absence of that necessary nourishment because it has become the victim of personal and industrial herbicide use. In an unnatural twist, food crops have been genetically modified to become resistant to those herbicides, but milkweed has not, resulting in the eradication of the Monarchs’ crucial food source from immense stretches of agricultural areas. For further reading about the butterflies’ present-day dilemma of dwindling habitat, fare, and ranks, I recommend the Center of Food Safety’s Monarchs in Peril, and Barbara Kingsolver’s 2012 wake-up-call, environmentally conscious novel, Flight Behavior.

Instead of despairing about our powerlessness to influence the big picture, each of us can play a positive part in this drama. With regard to milk ”weed”, more than 2000 species exist globally, and Colorado has at least six. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is perhaps the best-known along the Front Range, but Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) also thrives. Colorful and showy, both are stunning to behold. Fountain Creek Nature Center has a meadow brimming with Common Milkweed, and if you have ever seen it in bloom in late summer, you know it is anything but common.

The nature center staff has, for years, offered glimpses into the transfiguration of Monarchs in a special display case. As a participant in and waystation of Monarch Watch, which monitors the annual migration, they tag the emerging butterfly with a sticker so light it doesn’t interfere with its flight.

They have, also for years, encouraged us gardeners to allow this precious “weed” into our gardens, where it will beautify our outlook and, it is hoped, invite some wandering Monarch to pause, or even to start a new circle of life, allowing our small gesture to make a big difference.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/03/29/seidenpflanzen-und-schmetterlinge/