North Park and Walden

A view of North Park, east of Walden
Saturday morning we woke up and decided to drive over to the Walden area to do some birding. After a hearty breakfast, we headed out towards Hwy 14 and Poudre Canyon. Tina (our Traverse GPS) took us up through Rist Canyon Road, a nice route with lots of cyclers that saved us a good 15-20 minutes. Only a handful of aspen hinted that the season was changing.

The first stop was the Moose Visitor Center, which we visited last August, arriving after 5PM so couldn't go inside. But we did see lots of hummers and our first Black-headed Grosbeak (female) at the feeders on their porch. This time pouring rain made it impossible to visit the feeders or go on moose patrol on the trails out back. With temperatures in the 40's jolting us into fall, we headed on to Walden for lunch at the River Rock Cafe to warm us up. Meatloaf special followed by a slice of chocolate cake ala mode. A warning about RRC desserts - they are gigantic, serving 3-4. We took home half of our shared single slice of cake!

Click pic to enlarge and read book title under leg
After visiting with a proprietor of the Green Otter Gallery next door, we drove up north skipping the McCallum Field Auto Tour this time, to the North Sand Hills, a popular OHV play place. Still raining we opted not to hike around the dunes, and headed back down to Lake John to try to see some birds.

American Avocet; winter plumage

Mike captured closeup images of some yellow-headed blackbirds and grackles. On the lake we saw lots of Pelicans, Cormorants, Mallards, some Lesser Scaups a pair of grebes far out that we think might have been horned grebes in winter plumage. On our way out, Avocets in their lovely winter plumage and some waders were on the southern edge of Walden Reservoir.

Northern Harrier hunting at Arapaho NWR
The clouds were clearing and the sun was getting low when we drove down to the Arapaho NWR Auto Tour Route. Last year we saw our first Loggerhead Shrike here. The ponds were bustling with the usual assortment of waterfowl, and the occasional Harrier and Kestrel swooped overhead. LBJ's,  defying our beginning birding identification skills, foraging on the edges of the road flushed the flew ahead, seemingly leading our way.

Common Nighthawk
Near the westernmost part of the loop I spotted our first perched Common Nighthawk.  I use the word perched loosely - he was just plopped in the middle of the road like a rock, which he greatly resembled. Demonstrating the value of not being seen, he didn't budge even as Mike approached.

Earlier in the spring at a bend in the road near the end of the NWR Auto Tour, we noticed the strangest looking prairie dogs ever. So unusual were their markings that we initially weren't even sure what they were.

Prairie Dog research area at Arapaho NWR
At the same area today were bright orange cones marking cages all around the prairie dog village. Two guys were walking around checking the cages, so Mike stopped to ask what was going on. A researcher introduced himself as John, from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and explained they were studying the little rodents. Joking that markings were "Lady Clairol" hair dye used to identify individual animals,  John further explained that the dogs were molting, so they were recapturing them temporarily in order to reapply the fur dye, which we later learned is actually Nyanzol D. Mystery solved!

After we got home, we Googled the project and learned the research is headed up by Dr. John Hoogland. An article that originally appeared in the Washington Post gives more information: Far From the Prairie, Professor Makes Waves (scroll down the page to the second story).

A full rainbow over the Refuge near sunset rounded out our mellow day.

Rainbow at Arapho NWR

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