"The Coolest Bird"
June 21, 2010 – Day 6 of Neil’s Visit
Crisp mountain air greeted our slightly sluggish bodies as we stepped out of our Subaru Outback, grabbed our daypacks, and started up the Wild Basin Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. Our goal was Ouzel Falls with the object of finding “The Coolest Bird,” as Black Swift fanatic Richard Levad coined it. Ouzel Falls is a known nesting colony for this waterfall dwelling wraith of darkness, which was one of the highest species on Neil’s “need-to-see” list. Here, you just might spot a dark bullet shooting out of the waterfall at dawn, or vice versa at dusk. During mid-day it is also possible to discern the "stiff-winged stunt-plane" from among the massive flocks of smaller Violet-green Swallows, which nest in the nearby Aspen groves. The thing is, these flocks of swallows are a good thousand feet up, looking no bigger than ants. But, this was what we were hoping for, as we were getting a late start on the trail and were destined to get to the waterfall at least an hour or two after the sun had already cleared the mountainous horizon.
When we reached the falls, where Ouzel Creek tumbles fifty feet down a sheer granite rock face, we sat down for an early lunch (about three hours early) just outside of the waterfall's spray zone. Just as we were about to get up and snoop around by the creek, Neil suddenly cried out “Swift!” Lo and behold, a dark shadow had just parted from the rock face next to the waterfall and had come hurtling past us at eye level, close enough that we could see the faint silvery marks on its face and neck. The funny thing is, at 9:30 AM, the swifts were supposed to be out hunting for the flying insects that make up their diet, not still by their nest! Still heartily congratulating ourselves on this unexpected find, we proceeded with our previous plan of snooping around the waterfall.
Curiosity fulfilled, we set back off up the trail to another trail that loops back to the parking lot. But, before we had hiked more than fifteen minutes, we heard a gentle tap tap tap, barely noticeable above the ruckus of Steller’s Jays and Yellow-bellied Marmots. Instantly recognizing the subtle “call,” we began to search through the dead Lodgepole Pines along the trail. Almost in another instant, Joel had located it slowly working its way up and around the beetle-killed trunk, a small, charcoal-black woodpecker with a barred white back and belly and a small yellow patch on top of the head . . . a male American Three-toed Woodpecker! We had found one previously on another hike, but the view was less than satisfactory, with only a couple brief glimpses and the bird deeply shrouded in shadow. But now, it was right there, only twenty feet away and almost completely exposed! Cameras snapping, we continued to watch it until it flew farther down into the surrounding pines.
American Three-toed Woodpecker
Western Pine Elfin
Mud Lake Open Space, Boulder County
On the way home the this eventful hike, we stopped at a small Boulder County open space area called Mud Lake to feed another obsession of ours, dragonflies. We had never been to this particular location before, but the name seemed promising. As we pulled the car into one of the many open spaces in the parking lot – there was only one other vehicle – an old rusted bus missing all of its tires and window glass, a reminder of the Boulder Hippie days. On a ledge inside the bus, however, we found an active Cordilleran Flycatcher nest with two eggs.
Riding the Hippie Bus
At the lake, which was fairly small and completely edged with reeds and a cattail marsh, our hopes were realized . . . dragonflies and damselflies of all sorts were patrolling the shores. Among the most obvious were Twelve-spotted Skimmers, Four-spotted Skimmers, and Variegated Meadowhawks. Among the damselflies we found were some Bluet sp., and a female Lyre-tipped Spreadwing, which was only the second spreadwing of any type that Neil had ever seen.
Male Twelve-spotted Skimmer
Male Twelve-spotted Skimmer
Male Four-spotted Skimmer
Neil Photographing the Lyre-tipped Spreadwing
Female Lyre-tipped Spreadwing