Aaaaahh. So nice to be back!
The simple pleasure of mountain hiking and birding for me is just what this girl needs to continue the home stretch with the school at home and the Spring Marathon that is the yard for the next few weeks. The kids were contented to stay back in Texas with their cousins, so Mr. and Mrs. Dirt could hit the trail.
Our days off and get-aways are typically the kind that take us far from crowds, driven to rather than flown, remote, quiet, and peaceful. We tend to seek places out-of-doors where the road is less traveled and the likelihood of wildlife encounters will be maximized. We did this way back in the 90’s when we were still only friends, and now that the days of babies are behind us, we can enjoy what we do with kids who can carry their own stuff and trudge (and whine) along behind us. Or not.
Trail buddies for life, you might say.
Scenery for the Eyes, For the Soul
For the past three years, the area around Colorado Springs, Colorado is where we romp. Only a day-and-a-half’s drive from Houston — not much when you consider that most of it is getting out of Texas — and with several small towns in the area, there is rarely a shortage of some place to hike or something to do if hiking is not possible.
We choose hiking. Lots and lots of hiking. Every day. Rain or shine.
Phantom Canyon Trail – 4-Wheel-Drive
Through the Mountain We Go
Caution: No Room for Passing Cars
Garden of the Gods (Sunny)
Garden of the Gods (Overcast)
Mueller State Park – Wide Open Spaces
Mueller State Park – Rock Outcrop
Mueller State Park – Grassy Goodness
11-mile Canyon Road
Purple Mountain’s Majesty
The Hunt for the American Dipper
As with previous trips out west, the Birding Holy Grail would be the American Dipper, a smallish understated bird with a big personality. We found him — or, rather, he found us — on our last day. The weather was not the best for hiking, and we knew that we would only see him near a roaring rapid, with only one that was a bit of a drive from us. You see, this bird is only one of 5 species of its kind in the world, a swimming bird that prefers foraging under raging water, seen only as he emerges to get some air. He’s a tricky dude to spot, never mind that he blends in quite well with water and rocks.
On our last day, we choose a place within an hour’s drive of our hotel where we were sure (and hoped) to spot him. It was crisp and cold hiking along the rapids. When we got a few hundred yards from the truck, Scott hiked back to retrieve it. That left me alone in the canyon by the rapids, and all I could think was that I’d suddenly become cougar bait. My eyes and ears shifted to the area above and behind me, just in case.
Suddenly, I heard someone singing in the distance in the rapids. It was him! A speck to my naked eyes, he was just discernible with field lenses. As Scott approached with my camera bag, I hurriedly changed lenses. He let me walk to within yards of him for a beautiful, chatty portrait.
The American Dipper, Serenading Me
Ha! Check that box.
Wildlife in Colorado
The birds, in usual fashion, were very compliant with us; it’s as if they knew we were coming just to see them (we were!). We added just over 30 new species to our list in just a week, many varieties of which would not have seen at all (they don’t come to Texas). It pays to do a little homework before hand.
The winter residents were out in numbers, and even some of the spring birds were beginning to show for the season. We didn’t get all that we wanted, but they all did their part in keeping our eyes and ears busy — the very point of the exercise.
Birding is for the whole body. It heightens the senses and clears the head of useless stuff that can wait until we get home.
Western Scrub Jay
Prairie Falcon — seen only when the hounding
magpies alerted his presence
Nesting Pair of Magpies
Hello, Mr. Serpent! Good Morning.
Spotted Towhee (a first!)
Red-winged Blackbird – Singing
No worries, Mr. Gopher.
I’ll be done in a minute.
Western Meadowlark – Must Everyone Sing?
And there are many others, but I won’t crowd them in this post. If you want to see any of them, just click where they’re linked. You will be taken to the photograph in DirtNKids’ SmugMug.
- Black-necked Stilt
- Common Raven
- Mountain Bluebird (early spring resident)
- Clark’s Nutcracker
- Mountain Chickadee (and his ‘cheese-burger’ song)
- Dark-eyed Junco
- Pine Grosbeak (singing loudly everywhere)
- White-throated Swift
- Canyon Wren (answered my call. Every time. Ha!!)
- Townsends Solitaire (lucky sighting)
- Northern Flicker
- Black-capped Chickadee
- Red-naped Sapsucker
- Stellers Jay
- Pigmy Nuthatch (a first!)
- White-breasted Nuthatch
- Horned Lark (a first!)
- Western Bluebird
- Common Merganser (courtship display. Cool!)
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Marsh Wren (answered my calls, not seen)
- Common Goldeneye
- Greater Roadrunner
No Place Like Home
Even if we do live in a decidedly less mountain-y, more suburban, concrete-laden environment, there’s something rejuvenating about sleeping in a bed and house that has all your smells and comforts. It’s just…HOME.
Upon return, the yard is bursting with greeeeen! Spring has most certainly arrived, and I immediately set into tidying up the neglected flower beds and veggie garden, stealing even more leaves from my neighbors (as they tidy up their yards too).
It’s so nice to be getting my nails dirty again.
The birds in our yard continue to taunt me and interrupt me from what I’m doing in the yard. Scott’s keen ear heard the Cedar Waxwings on a walk at sunset, so I came back with my camera hoping they’d still be there. They were.
Perhaps it’s time to invest in a pair of binoculars that are both water-resistant and dirt proof. I’m gonna need ’em.
2015 Birding Year Count: 135
To view the entire album in hi-res sizable views, go to
DirtNKids Colorado Springs SmugMug Album.
None of the photos have been post-processed.
What did you do for your Spring Break?