Lunar Eclipse at Sprague Lake (April 15)

We were keen to see the relatively rare total lunar eclipse aka "Blood Moon" on April 15, so after our Bluebird Morning outing, we tried to nap so we could stay up late to catch the peak of the eclipse at around 1:45am MT.

We were fortunate to have clear skies for the night.

We had planned to both go back to Sprague Lake, but the wind had picked up a lot and Susan decided to stay home and watch the eclipse from our house/deck, and I went on to Sprague Lake at about midnight. I found only one other car in the parking lot.

I gathered my gear bag and tripod and began the 5-10 min walk to the fishing pier on Sprague Lake. The full moon was so bright I didn't even need a flashlight to see the snow-packed trail.

The first thing I did was take a wide angle shot of the mountains to the west.

Pre-eclipse moonlit scene (about 12:20am)

For reference, here's a daytime shot of this same scene.

Daytime (just before 10am) shot looking west from the fishing pier at Sprague Lake

Then I switched to telephoto lens. I wanted as much "reach" as possible, and after the first few shots I decided to add the 1.4X tele-converter (TC) to my 100-400mm lens. Unfortunately, this combination resulted in a maximum aperture of f/8.0, requiring a noisier high ISO setting, plus the TC makes the image sharpness pretty soft.

So overall, I wasn't that pleased with my results, but it was a lot of fun. I learned a few things, and I'll practice until I get better. My goal next time is to get something like this, shot by my friend Pat. :-)

But here are a few shots of the progress of the eclipse.


1:03am -- the star to the right is Spica

1:26 am

1:45am at the peak of the eclipse

As the eclipse progressed, I was noticing how much darker everything was compared to when I arrived. Many more stars were visible, plus the light on the snow was less blue and more reddish.

So I took a wide-angle "after" picture to go with the "before" picture, above.

View to the west just after the peak of the eclipse, at 1:53am

And I made a few exposures of the night sky in different directions.

2:06am, looking mostly east, towards the lights of Estes Park, Longmont and Boulder

Looking mostly north at 2:07am, now dark enough to see some of the Milky Way

And here's a wide-angle shot looking west, with the "Blood Moon" at the upper left.

Looking west at 2:12am; moon is bright spot at upper left

I'd been outside standing around in the cold and wind for over two hours, so I decided to head home rather than stay and watch the "other side" of the eclipse. It was now dark enough that I used a flashlight and walked back to the car in the empty parking lot.

When I got home I learned that Susan had a very good experience watching from our home. And she stayed warm, too! :-)

There will be another total lunar eclipse on October 8th, so maybe we'll watch that one too!

Bluebird Morning (April 14)

When we woke up early Monday morning, we looked outside to see that most of the previous day's snow-bearing clouds were gone, leaving behind blue skies and pristine snow. 

When we saw this view of Twin Sisters out our front door we knew we had to go out!

With almost no discussion, we decided to forego our usual morning coffee and just grab our gear and head into Rocky Mountain National Park. We were undeterred by the 0F reading on the thermometer and rolled out of the garage at just past 7:00am. 

Driving in towards Deer Ridge Junction

We drove up to Deer Ridge Junction to take in the panoramic views of Longs Peak and the Continental Divide, then over to the viewpoints above Horseshoe Park to see the spindrift on Chapin, Chiquita and Ypsilon peaks.

Longs Peak and the Continental Divide

Mike and "Tina" in some blowing snow at Deer Ridge Junction

On the way down to Horseshoe Park viewpoint

Chapin, Chiquita, and Ypsilon peaks

From there we drove on to Many Parks Curve, where Trail Ridge Road is seasonally closed. On our way up, we noticed skier tracks on the mountain above Little Valley and we stopped to take a picture of them. Susan wondered aloud, "I wonder if my friend Nancy and her husband skied there?" She learned later that day that they indeed had hiked up 1.5 hours for a single ski run! 

Ski tracks left by friends

Longs Peak, viewed from Many Parks Curve

Susan captured this stunning telephoto shot of Ypsilon Mountain with a raptor in flight. 

Raptor in flight with Ypsilon Peak

We then headed back to Bear Lake Road, stopping along the way to see a Red Crossbill near the road. 

Look closely at the beak on the Red Crossbill

At Bear Lake we found a 75" base of snow and walked in to the first viewpoint of Hallett Peak.

Bear Lake Ranger Station

Obligatory shot of Hallett and Flattop from Bear Lake

Telephoto of trees on the mountain with the walls of Hallett in the background

Then we drove back and stopped at Sprague Lake, where a wild turkey greeted as us we pulled into the parking lot. As we headed in to the lake, we saw what looked like a small wedding party at the fishing pier on the lake, and from a distance we could see the couple posing for photos. 

Wild Turkey near Sprague Lake

Small wedding party at Sprague Lake

As we walked in clockwise around the lake, we met the wedding's officiant on the way out, under-dressed and obviously cold. As we got to the pier, we offered to take a few pictures of the family and then walked around the lake. 

Nice background for for a wedding!

Snow-covered trail along Sprague Lake

We watched a pair of geese make their way across the frozen ice. Amazing they can stay warm!

Canada Geese on mostly frozen Sprague Lake

After we got back to the car we decided to drive out via Horseshoe Park and Sheep Lakes to see if there were any Bighorn Sheep out and about. There weren't any, but we did stop at a Great Horned Owl's nest we knew of and found an adult hunkered down in the nest. 

After we moved on and got back into cell coverage, Susan got a call from a local birder telling us about some migrant birds at Lake Estes, so we decided to extend our little trip. 

But before we got back to town, we came around a curve on Fall River Road to find a herd of an even dozen of mostly female Bighorn Sheep, with a couple of not-quite-a-year-old lambs. 

Bighorn Sheep on the road

We pulled off and spent quite a bit of time watching and photographing them as they dug into the snow on the hillside, looking for food.


After this treat, we headed on over to Lake Estes, where we saw some of the usual birds there, plus a Loggerhead Shrike, Northern Flicker, American Avocet, Killdeer, Opsrey, and both Mountain and Western Bluebirds.  

Loggerhead Shrike



When we looked at the time, we found is was after 1pm and realized how hungry we were! So we headed home for a very late breakfast and some coffee. Amazing how much we could see in just a few hours in our "backyard." And after having traveled so much in the past year, it was really nice to return to our familiar places. 

Mountain Bluebird

Mt Olympus, overlooking Lake Estes

April Birding

Susan and I woke up fairly early and she said, "let's go down to the lake and do some spring birding."

So, without any coffee or breakfast, we just grabbed the camera and binoculars and went down to the lake. In just a couple of hours we easily observed 18 species:
  • American Robin
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Canada Goose
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Common Grackle
  • Common Raven
  • Great-horned Owl (not at Lake Estes, but in town)
  • House Sparrow
  • House Wren
  • Mountain Chickadee
  • Osprey
  • Pine Siskin
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Song Sparrow
  • Townsend's Solitaire
  • Turkey Vulture
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
We were hoping to see the Wilson's Snipe, but didn't. We did run in to our local birding friend Gary Matthews.

We also saw a lot of post-flood heavy-machinery action around the lake. Here are a few pictures from the morning.

Townsend's Solitaire

Managing river flow near the lake

Common Goldeneye take-off

Osprey fly-by

Canada Goose on-the-wing

White-crowned sparrow

Canada Goose portrait

Making small rocks from big rocks

Yellow-rumped Warbler

And the rump... :-)

The Stanley Hotel

Great-horned Owl in its nest

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Lenticular cloud over Twin Sisters (taken April 9th, 2014 at 8:08am)