Rocky Mountain High

Posted by Jane N on

Hello Everyone,

I recently returned from a fantastic trip to Colorado, if any of you have considered a visit to the area I highly recommend it. We went out for Jeanine’s Graduate Ceremony from Colorado State University, she has now earned her Masters Degree, we are very proud of her. Because of his work schedule, it was going to be difficult for John to make the trip. Luckily Becky agreed to join me and we were able to add a few extra days so we could really enjoy the area.

The day we arrived we had dinner at Zach's house ( Jeanine’s boyfriend). I was looking forward to meeting him and it was nice to relax, talk and unwind from our travels and begin to adjust to the time change and high altitude. Jeanine had made a delicious chicken pot pie and a yummy peach pie for dessert. While enjoying pie I scored a new bird! Right there on the patio bird feeder was a Cassin's Finch, very similar to our House Finch but lives at high altitudes and has a raspberry crest. I had only been in the state a few hours and I already scored a new bird. Rocky Mountain High! (because of the high altitude my Birders Happy Dance was a bit subdued but no less enthusiastic)

The last time we sisters had been to Colorado Jeanine had wanted to take us to Poudre Canyon but because of the wildfires, we weren't able to go there. So this time Jeanine made plans for a picnic lunch in the canyon. A friend of hers, Libby, met us there we enjoyed the surroundings and talked. There were Broad-tailed Hummingbirds buzzing all around us, we had seen these when we were here before but this time we got a better view. Becky scored a good sighting, three Lazuli Buntings in full plumage. This is the bird Chris, Beth & I traveled to Cape Cod to see but that bird didn't belong there and was in dull juvenile plumage, why it was there has never been answered. But these Buntings were in full color, a vibrant blue, cinnamon, and cream.

Our picnic table was near the rushing river and the canyon was a known location of the American Dipper, a little bird I had been hoping to see. While we were eating Jeanine spotted a pair flying low over the water, needless to say, I was heading for the edge of the river ASAP! Now, this little bird (about 8in) is not colorful it's a dull gray and has a stubby little tail but it is how it feeds and where it lives that makes it so rare. The American Dipper lives in high altitudes and must be near clear fast running mountain streams with rapids. They feed on insects from the bottom of the river. They dive into the rapids and walk along the bottom searching for food. They aren't ducks, they don't have webbed feet, they actually run along the bottom of the stream with their wings half open.

I was standing on the shore of the river for a bit when suddenly I see the American Dipper jump out of the water and onto a rock. Then I watch as the Dipper jumps across a couple of rocks and feeds the larvae in its mouth to a baby Dipper sitting flapping its wings waiting for lunch! I watched as the parent bird again jumped into the water, this time I tried to hold my breath while it was under water but I couldn't. What an interesting comical little bird. Score a rare bird! Rocky Mountain High!

On Sunday the four of us packed up a picnic lunch and headed to Rocky Mountain National Park for the day. The weather was mild and sunny but as we got higher into the mountains it got very windy, I mean the strong kind of wind that can blow something unattended right out the car window! And the mountains were covered in snow which made the strong wind have an icy touch to it. To say the views were stunning still, can't begin to describe the beauty of the landscape.

Because there was still so much snow in the mountains the Elk were staying low in the meadows, we saw dozens of Elk. Some even closer than I expected! We saw Mule Deer and even a quick glance at a pair of Big Horn Sheep on the rocky cliffs. At the gate, we had asked the Ranger if there were any interesting bird sightings reported in the park. He told us of a Great Horned Owl that had a nest just off the road a few miles up. Oh boy could it be possible, was I finally going to get to see the Owl I have been chasing for years now?

Success! Katie, I finally got to see the Great Horned Owl that you risked life and limb to help me find! Not only did I get to see a fantastic sighting of the Owl but as a bonus, it was sitting on a nest with two young Owlets. Such a grand bird to see but I have to admit her babies were the ugliest balls of fluff I've ever seen. Becky described them right, they looked like baby Wookies. Score an elusive bird! Rocky Mountain High!

After a day in the park, we had a tasty BBQ dinner at a local restaurant in Estes Park. Zach suggested that we take a light hike along Lumpy Ridge, this was a place he and Jeanine had climbed before. Lumpy Ridge is so named because it is an area of rocky outcroppings and tall cliffs with rock formations and balancing boulders. It looked like sculptures put out by Mother Nature. From Estes Park, you can look up at the ridge and see the most prominent rock feature, called Twin Owls. How could I not want to go there?

Even thou we had now been in Colorado four days I found myself huffing and puffing as we climbed the trail up Lumpy Ridge. A combination of old knees and thin air made my head spin. Jeanine and Zach bounded up the trail like a couple of mountain goats. Becky held her own and climbed ahead of me. The views from the top were again unbelievable. I really need a new word to describe the views but there really isn't any word good enough to convey what we were seeing before us.

Thanks to Zach's suggestion I scored another new bird! The Mountain Chickadee! As usual, I heard them first and it took a bit to chase down their location. When I finally spotted one I knew it wasn't just a mirage brought on by my lack of oxygen. For there sitting on a rock and flitting about a juniper tree was a small flock of five Mountain Chickadees! I swear the one sitting on the rock tilted it's head and looked at me as if to say “whata you looking at?” I wanted to explain to the little bird how happy I was to see him. Score another high altitude bird! Rocky Mountain High!

I had a wonderful time visiting with Jeanine. Along with the birds mentioned above some other new birds I saw were the Brewer's Blackbird, Dusky Flycatcher & Black Swift all life list birds for me. Don't worry sister Chris we saw plenty of your favorite Black-billed Magpies too, made me think of you each time. We visited a really interesting outdoor sculpture garden in Loveland, Flick kept trying to give a bronze statue of a lady his stick for her to throw.

It made me very proud when at the reception before the graduation ceremony the Dean of her college and one of her Professors both introduced themselves to us and had such nice things to say about Jeanine. We had fun partying with her friends, don't worry when they broke out the Tequila shots we made our appropriate exit. I made special memories (prairie dogs, bunnies & windy days) with my little sister that make me smile each time I remember them. What a great travel companion! By the smile on her face, I would assume Becky enjoyed herself as well.

Rocky Mountain High! Happy Birding, Jane

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