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.

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?

May Flowers

In the midst of winter, when daylight is fleeting and nature’s attire muted, I thirst for more sunshine and color. It is almost inconceivable that the vegetation that appears lifeless will revive once more. Even though winter solstice holds the promise that daytime will lengthen and nighttime lessen, those changes are imperceptible for nearly a month. The longer days do not translate into Flora’s reawakening immediately, and despite a glimpse of some green here, or of some pink or yellow there, the lifeblood arrives only in a trickle, not a steady flow. At this point I am grateful for the precocious hyacinths and daffodils that peek their little heads above ground, even if it is still blanketed in snow.

When I blink again, it is May, and the trickle-flow has swelled to a flood. Previously leafless trees don first a gauzy veil, and next an emerald robe. Where last season’s flower stalks still stand brown and desiccated, new green shoots suddenly appear, and before I turn around, bear candles of purple, cups of orange, clusters of red.

I am not an ardent gardener, but I like to get soil under my fingernails now and again. Having inherited a patch of soil, we try to keep it up for the birds, the bees, and the butterflies. Previous caretakers left their own touches, and we encourage their legacy, while seed by seed, we add our own. Permissive gardening might be our maxim, and our lawn is the antithesis of immaculate, and our flower beds the opposite of ornamental. We stopped using herbicides a few years back, and other than the occasional digging of dandelions and pulling of other so-called weeds, anything goes.

Where the grass dies, we sow wildflower seeds. Silvery Lupines have established themselves well, similar to its neighbor, Western Blue Flax. Whoever makes its acquaintance learns to marvel at its daily pattern. Come morning, it forms a lake of blue saucers, come evening, its wiry stems are nearly bare. Repeat performance the following day. Every year, the sea of blue extends slightly more beyond the shore, and we look forward to our future backyard ocean.

Various strains of roses, peonies and irises are our only claims to respectability. The yet-to-bloom lilies might qualify as well.

California Poppies tilt their smiley faces toward the sun before wrapping themselves in a tight cone in the course of the day. Goat’s Beard (aka Yellow Salsify), a European import, follows suit, before it transforms into a blow ball reminiscent of dandelions. Johnny Jump Ups are content with their rocky residence at the south side of the house. My favorite childhood flowers, snapdragons, rear up in a variety of locations.

Among our much loved floral companions are columbines. Years ago, a handful of seeds germinated, and what started with a few isolated plants has spread like a joyful riot among the juniper, rose bushes, and cinquefoil. The Colorado Blue Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea) happens to be our state flower, and in our yard it coexists with its many variants. Whoever chose its genus name, Aquilegia, saw in its blossom an eagle’s claw (aquila is Latin for eagle); whoever named it columbine, envisioned a dove (columba is Latin for dove).

“Earth laughs in flowers,” Ralph Waldo Emerson concluded. I gratefully join in its laughter.

Lessons Of Nature

The morning hours of May 1 have been among the best so far this month. I passed them at a favorite local park, al fresco, with avian and other critters, away from humans. Birds do not make rude remarks, cut or flip me off in traffic. Squirrels do not show me the cold shoulder because I don’t share their religious or political convictions. Prairie dogs do not snub me on account of my eye, hair, or skin color, inadequate attire, awkward accent.

My need to be outdoors is inversely proportional to my level of frustration with (wo)mankind. Whenever it reaches a high (or low) point, as happens increasingly frequently, nothing helps restore my equilibrium, or at least inch me toward that elusive state, as simply being present in nature: seeing the sun rise, hearing the birds greet the new day with crystal-clear voices, watching the flowers open their faces to the light (or close them, as is the case with the dazzling night-blooming evening primrose whose petals curl and turn pink in the morning).

Monumental mountains grounded since times immemorial, trees rooted deeply in the earth, banks of condensing and dissipating clouds, the sun’s arc across the sky. They recall to me the big picture, put things in perspective. They help ground me, remind me that nature is cyclical, human nature included. That my own existence is ephemeral, that my real or perceived grievances are insignificant. We are here one moment, gone the next.

All I can do is savor the NOW, let go of matters vexatious, appreciate all that is good and beautiful: the cycles of the cosmos, the loveliness of the land, the verdant veil that finally adorns arbors after a long winter, the bright blossoms that beckon bees and butterflies, the birds that never fail to gladden the heart.

Spring’s Blue Ribbon

At 6000 feet, spring does not necessarily arrive in accordance with meteorological or astronomical predictions. It does not appear suddenly, but approaches stealthily. A green shoot here, a pink blossom there, an emerald sheen on the lawn, emerging tree buds that suffuse aspens in a hue of red, and cottonwoods in a tinge of gold.

The residual snow on north-facing slopes or in the shade of a rock or tree is coarse and crunches under foot. It lingers until the lengthening days and the increasing angle of the sun succeed in melting these last vestiges of winter.

Migratory birds commence their journey to their summer breeding grounds. Apart from flora’s cheery colors and contagious vitality, the avian presence, vivacity, and music-making contribute to make this coming one my favorite season.

I have already celebrated the return of the robins and their lovely voices in a previous post. Only last week I saw my first Say’s Phoebe, back from its wintering grounds in Mexico. This flycatcher of the dry country perches on fences, frequently dips its tail, and dives for insects.

Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya)

A flying sapphire whose return from southern climes also has come to signify spring is the ethereal Mountain Bluebird. Unlike other members of the thrush family, it prefers open meadows and alights on the top of bushes, trees, or power lines. During its hunt for insects, it appears like a cerulean flash through one’s field of vision.

Male Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)

Female Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)

The German romantic poet Eduard Mörike might not have realized it, but in my mind this avian jewel represents the blue ribbon of his 1828 poem (my apologies to Mr. Mörike for my translation):

Springtime lets her ribbon blue

Flutter through the air again.

Sweet, familiar scents

Sweep across the land.

Violets dream already,

Dream of their emergence.

-Hark, a soft sound, harp-like, from afar.

Yes, it is you, spring.

I have perceived you.

Wishing all of us a beautiful spring (with apologies to my friends in the Southern Hemisphere where summer is now ending).

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/des-fruhlings-blaues-band/

Robinsong

For as long as I can remember, I have seldom needed an alarm clock. I typically awake on my own, without having my dreams disrupted by bothersome beeping. While human sleep and wake cycles result from nature and nurture, in birds these patterns are inborn. I vaguely recollect learning about a ”bird clock” many years back that outlined the sequence in which feathered beings greet the new day. Commencing several hours before and extending well past the emergence of the solar orb, avians don’t need an alarm clock either, but might serve as one instead. In contrast to artificial jingles, these are the wake-up calls I welcome.

I have visited or lived in Colorado Springs off and on for over twenty years, but have resided here permanently for only the last five. Familiarizing myself with our local bird population has been a pleasure and delight. While we are blessed with rare visitors of exquisite color and beauty, especially during spring and fall migrations, the resident denizens, though possibly less spectacular, are nonetheless a joy, and accompany us during many months. Singling out an individual species is a subjective exercise, but I want to sing the praises of a frequent backyard companion.

American Robins (which bear little resemblance to European Robins) are known throughout the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, and wide stretches of Canada. Even though, in theory, they don’t depart from Colorado in the winter, they are conspicuously absent from our vicinity. During that season they flock to portions of El Paso County that provide them with one of their favorite foods. Next to earthworms that fill their stomachs during warmer periods, they relish berries, and a paucity of those globular stores of energy compels them to relocate to areas of abundance.

In affirmation of an old proverb, their absence during our frigid spells makes my heart grow fonder and fills me with longing for their return, and, come February or March, I rejoice when I first behold them. Handsomely attired, their slate-colored head, back, and wings, orange-red belly, and well-placed touches of white are as cheering as their carols.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Despite their homecoming before the vernal equinox, before the last snow has yet to make an appearance, and when the cold of winter might linger for months, they promise the advent of spring. The early flocks disperse as the weeks progress, and gather in pairs for the breeding season. I enjoy watching them hop or hurry across the lawn, or sit with wings draped next to their bodies, penguin-like. At our bird feeder they perform aerial acrobatics by hovering next to a suet-filled log, in an attempt to glean tasty morsels from it, and they frequently wait for me in the morning to refill their buffet.

Robins are among the earliest risers, and are the first creatures I hear before daybreak. At the height of summer, their morning concert commences as early as 3:30. An introductory chatter is followed by a series of chirps which transitions into a harmonious phrase repeated many times over. The bellwether is soon joined by another singer, and another… After a while I lose count until all I hear are echoes reverberating from adjoining lots, soon complemented by novel melodies and voices. Interestingly, the robins’ tunes diminish before the emergence of the sun, and their vocalizations during the day are intermittent, only to crescendo again past sunset, as if to remind the listener of their continued presence. Their soli outlast those of other performers, and provide a musical bookend to the day.

Members of the thrush family, reputed to comprise some of the most accomplished vocalists, robins remind me of prevalent songsters of my childhood in Germany, Eurasian Blackbirds, which might account for my favoring robinsong. In the bird world, the choral responsibilities rest mainly on males, and much has been said and written about the significance of their music for outlining territory and attracting females. While scientific explanations make biologic sense and are fascinating to ponder, this human soul is content to be filled with a symphony whose ethereal notes float into the cosmos.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/drosselgesang/