Sunday, July 31, 2016

Back to Golden and Hummingbirds

    We drove back many a windy switch back roads to Golden, which I know one of our friends could have very much done without. But the payoff was amazing views, delicious pit stops, a few critters, and ultimately a shower, washing machne/dryer, and bed!
     We drove through Loveland Pass, on the continental divide, stopped in Georgetown for a place to use the restrooms and eat lunch, drove over the Mountain where Buffalo Bill is buried and then arrived back in Golden.  
We stopped in Georgetown, Colorado for a break in driving- picked up a delicious lunch (veggie burger with cheese, onion rings and BBQ sauce? Yes, please!). I noticed signs for a bighorn sheep viewing area, so I asked if we could make a quick stop. At first, all I found was a loud golden mantled ground squirrel, making a loud, repetitive chirp. The difference between these guys and a chipmunk, is that unlike a chipmunk, this squirrel lacks stripes on its face. But both are rodents and closely related.
But then... (no pun intended)
This is the original photo, zoomed in at 300mm, I was able to spot one bighorn sheep. The viewing area does not by any means guarantee a viewing or a close one at that! The image above this one is severely cropped from this photo. The bighorns are doing as they do-- roaming the mountainside, often high up, with their brown hide allowing them o blend in well to their surroundings.
The "best" photo of this guy. He was so far off from where we stood, but I was very glad to add him to my "30th year species list."
We arrived back to Golden, finding that a wildfire broke out on top of the mountain near where we were staying. We learned this area of the mountain is closed to the public, but lightning strikes are common and can easily start a fire, especially in dry grasses and shrubs.
A lesser goldfinch really knows how to choose a picturesque pose. In reality, these birds love flowers that come to seed, sunflowers, thistle, and similar are favorites. It is recommended if you are a gardener (and a lover of our avian friends), not to clip old flowers- let them be and attract in birds. So even without petals, these flowers can still have a lovely element of beauty, adorned with little yellow birds in place of yellow petals!
And now a lot of hummingbird pictures... (sorry, not sorry)
Who is not enchanted by these amazing creatures?! They were so plentiful in the yard of my Aunt and Uncle's home and I was obsessed. They buzzed, did amazing aerial feats, scuffled on the wing, often making perilous dives that you gasped for their little lives, they were amazing. This is a male broad-tailed hummingbird, back-lit, he seems a bit drab, but add a little light and...
That fuchsia throat comes to life! These guys would perch often in a small oak tree they had adjacent to their feeder and among favorite flowers. When perched, they don't walk, they can't walk- their legs are too weak and small, so hovering and their little flighted moves are advantageous to compensate for that. 
But, they can use their feet to preen and scratch that hard-to-reach itch. Seriously, how adorable is this?!
A common wood nymph, there were TONS of these guys everywhere. Actually, in general, butterflies were super abundant, especially tiger swallowtails. Butterflies were going nuts over thistles and any other flowers that on a singular bush or shrub there would be easily over 10 butterflies at a time. 
Oh yeas, back to hummingbirds-- this is the female broad tailed humming bird. Is she sticking her tongue out at me? Perhaps, she did just finish feeding at the feeder though. Hummingbirds, equipped with that long beak, and a tongue that helps them drink nectar similar to how we use a straw. It is something that I can't explain, so here is an article that does, if you are into the nitty-gritty science. What an amazing little package of bird the hummingbird is!
Even the female, while modest, is beautiful in her own right. Her back is still iridescent green. She is a master builder though, creating nests that belong inside a fairytale story, using moss, spider silk, and natural fibers to make the cutest, daintiest cup for her and her young. I had the pleasure of finding a hummingbird nest once, it's a very special thing to witness.
This little thing only weighs between 3-4grams, that is less than one ounce. And this little bird has a skeleton, organs, a little tiny brain, and covered in feathers- I mean if that doesn't astound you, than I don't know what would! Amazing, that this is a little vertebrate animal!
A female black-chinned hummingbird, getting nectar from some of the plants growing in the garden. She unlike the broad tailed has some spotting on the throat and a little rufous coloring on her flanks.
The same bird from above, amazing how different they can appear as they shift in the available light. These little birds can flap their wings about 70 or more times per second! And their flap is not a simple up-and-down motion, but resembles a figure-8 motion.
Black chinned female at the feeder. Our uncle makes a nice batch of nectar up for the hummingbirds, but the finches also like to steal a sip every so often.
Our evening culminated with a downpour that resulted in an amazing full-arc rainbow. Too lazy to change my lens, I get one end of the rainbow!
     What an amazing trip, I am so thankful to have an amazing family, so very welcoming. They are so kind to share their home and their landscape with us. I loved our trip to Colorado, it was such a great time away, although- not going to lie, we were starting to miss home and all our critters here. A special thank you to our family out in Colorado, we love you so much!