Sunday, January 15, 2017

Great Birding Escapes

In the Shadows of the Rockies
by
Bobby Harrison

    Perhaps no sight is more inspiring than the mighty Rocky Mountains.  In Rocky Mountain National Park the mountains rise to such heights as to divide a continent into east and west, and host a wilderness that harbors a grand diversity of flora and fauna.  They are indeed a spectacular
     Moraine Valley, at over 8,000 feet elevation is one of my favorite Rocky Mountain destinations.  The valley, carved by glacial erosion is surround by craggy, snow-covered peaks that rise to more than 14,000 feet.  Spring is a mecca for wildlife such as Elk, deer, bears, coyotes, ground squirrels and of course, birds.  Wildlife is so abundant that viewing animals is as simple as just being there.   Of course, I had come to Moraine Valley to photograph its birds, but the snow-clad mountains and the curvaceous stream that meanders through the valley made the experience even more enjoyable.

 Moraine Valley, Rocky Mountain National Park
     I arrived with great anticipation of photographing birds. But, no sooner had I arrived, heavy, dark ominous clouds roll over the mountaintops at the head of the valley.  Within minutes the storm darken the sky and a light rain began to fall.  The images of the birds I had envisioned soon vanished.
     I spent the rest of the evening and night in the campground listing to the falling rain.  In the wee hours of the morning the rain intensified, and my hopes for a Rocky Mountain sunrise were dashed.  As the dawn waxed the rain stopped, but thick clouds covered the sky from horizon to horizon.  The world seemed mighty drab that morning.
      By the time I drove out of the campground the sky began to clear.  As quickly as the storm had arrived the day before, the cloud cover dissipated.  It was as if someone had flipped a light switch, the sun shown bright, animals became active and the birds began to sing.  It was as though new life had been breathed into the valley and those images I had envisioned earlier began to fill my head once more. 

Mountain Bluebird, Sialia currucoides:  Moraine Valley, Rocky Mountain NP

      Scanning the woodlands I saw all the birds I had come to photograph.  Mountain Bluebirds and Pygmy Nuthatches were busily gleaning insects and ferrying their gathered morsels to young still in nest. Violet-green Swallow swooped through the air scooping insects into their wide gapes, while Black-billed Magpies harassed a couple who had stopped for a picnic.  All the elements were in place.
     After watching a pair of Pygmy Nuthatches for a while I discovered their nest in an old Ponderosa Pine snag.  Slowly I worked my way toward the nest tree.  The nuthatches seemed at ease with my presence as they continued to forage and feed their young.

Pygmy Nuthatch, Sitta pygmaea:  Moraine Valley, Rocky Mountain NP

     While I never tire of photographing birds, I was distracted.  While shooting the nuthatches a pair of Mountain Bluebirds flew to a nearby branch.  Opportunity had presented it self again.  I took advantage of the fearlessness of the bluebirds and shot frame after frame.  After a short time I discovered that they too had a nearby nest.  As I lingered in the area both birds gave me wonderful shooting opportunities.

Violet-green Swallow, Tachycineta thalassina:  Moraine Valley, Rocky Mountain NP

      But there was more.  The Violet-green swallows circling above decided to take a break from their feeding frenzy and alighted on a branch near the nuthatch nest.   The black-billed magpies that harassed the picnicker’s decided to check out what I was doing.  A coyote intrigued by my presence stopped by, and so did a cottontail rabbit, but he waited for the coyote to move on before showing himself.   Two bull elk and mule deer strolled by, but they paid little attention to me. 

Black-billed Magpie, Pica hudsonia:  Moraine Valley, Rocky Mountain NP

      Not every day is like the day that I spent in Moraine Valley.  Usually I spend hours just waiting for one shot.  But, there is something special about Moraine Valley.  Perhaps it is the fearlessness of the wildlife, the high altitude light; or perhaps it is the grandeur of the mountains themselves that draws one closer to the nature.  What I did realize while standing in the shadows of the Rocky’s, is come rain or shine never give up on what nature offers.


Plan your visit to Rocky Mountain National Park with these connections.

Information on Rocky Mountain National Park:

Places to stay at Estes Park, CO:

Eateries at Estes Park, CO:

Places to stay at Grand Lake, CO:

Eateries at Grand Lake, CO:

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