Friday, August 23, 2019

Colorado Trail or BUST!

     Nearly an exact 3 years ago, Tim and I found ourselves (in good company) on the Colorado Trail with the CO Trail Foundation participating in a volunteer crew maintaining the trail. We were destined for Molas Pass, just outside of Silverton and North(ish?) of Durango. I explained it as practically being by one of the four corners.
     It is 7+ hours away from Denver, through beautiful scrub, grassland, and some very precarious mountain roads. We were among much of our own family, as Tim's uncle leads the crew and a whole lot of us signed up for it. And we also were joined by folks we met on our last crew and made some new friends.
     Some things differed this time around... SHOWERS, hot ones were available ($) on site and solar showers were used, generously. The fresh water flowed, no water buffalo this time around so no feeling of "we might run out of water," I even got to hose my clothes off of mud! Bathrooms were less port-a-potty more an actual stall (But still a hole in the ground-- but a real seat!). Town was nearby, last time the town was an actual ghost town; so we had the luck of family offering to do laundry in town. So, we were absolutely spoiled! You might even say we were glamping at the stark contrast to the last crew we did at Hancock!
     Work was also different. A lot of rocks to move, a lot of mud to dig up, a lot of mud to haul, a lot of heavy, a lot of sun, a lot more exhaustion. Work was hard, last time we were in a forest with ample shade, and building new tread was easy; water crossings and turnpikes, far more work and heavy lifting. With so much mud, honestly I felt like I was part of the Anarcho-Syndicalist commune, getting really excited about "the lovely filth." In the end, our work looked so great and we received many thanks from hikers who passed through during our working hours.
     Building and maintaining trails are a lot more than laying down a path, there is basic engineering to think about (drainage, grade, etc), a little sprinkle of science (soil used for trails can't be too clay-like but what is referred to as "mineral," with no organic plant matter in it), and simple technology (power tools are not permitted in these national forests so axes, pick mattocks, McLeouds, rock bars are used to move earth and make changes to the tread) go into the equation of making much of this happen.
     Also important, self care; at 10,000 feet elevation a flat lander like me had to pay attention to my body. I got winded easily from things that normally don't do such things and had to make sure I was well hydrated. I also was HUNGRY. The work we did was hard and I don't go for seconds at dinner, but here I do, I burn more calories than I take in. And as a pescatarian, my diet isn't very helpful, one night I ate like 10 mini meatballs at dinner; plant protein didn't satisfy my body.
     I bet you're wondering -- but did you see any birds?! Oh you bet I did! I birded on our campsite, casually on my way to/from work, during work, on work breaks, and on my day off. So to avoid 3 more posts... here is the week of being on the trail and then some.... birds, people, everything:
Staying on a campground, the folks there hung hummingbird feeders that attracted a slew of rufous and broad-tailed hummingbirds.

Even hummingbirds can get a high quality floof going.

Did I mention the views? I am in love with those western mountains, nothing on the east coast compares, not even close.

These little buggers, pine squirrels were my alarm clock, they began calling at 6am on the dot, reliably. They got me to breakfast on time each day.

Penny Lane, my brother in law and his girl friend's dog was our unofficial mascot for the week and just super adorable all around, she is the goodest girl.

Views along the morning commute to where we worked.

Osprey ruled this lake and often came away from it with fish in their talons.

The crew on our way to our work site.

I decided on day one, to also check out the alternate worksite. Remember that thing about self care? I hiked over ten miles that day. The blisters on my feet were proof that I pushed too hard!
This alternate site was 6 miles round trip, with 30+ switchbacks to get down to the river where a portion of the crew repaired a hiking bridge.

And you'd the the 10 mile hike would have killed me, but I still had stamina to bird around the campsite that provided my lifer lark sparrows.

What a handsome sparrow! This might contend with my absolute favorite sparrow, the fox sparrow for the handsome birb award....

Where we were was just absolutely overflowing with white-crowned sparrows, literally, these freshly fledged ones were following their parent around the lake by our site.

Can't also forget the mountain wildflowers and nothing beats those Colorado Columbines. They really have such a great state flower, I love them so much!

A good reminder of just how small we truly are and how the scenery here easily puts you in your place.

This marmot had the best home. I stood on its ridge one day and, damn. The view. It can't be beat. I'm 99.9% sure that's why it chose that ridge for it's home. Marmot's are known for their tastes in aesthetics and home-making.

A favorite of mine, because you have to get really close to see the elephant's heads for which this flowering plant is named.

Something yummy for a bird. Lots of grasshoppers around the area, so many species, various colors and sizes.

On our day off, we wen't to Ouray and visited Box Springs to see the Black Swifts that nest there. We first saw so many pine siskins.

So many pine siskins dripping off these feeders.

Also present, house finches at Box Springs.

Rufus hummingbirds are quite good looking.

Meh heh heh heh!
That face.

A mic of black swift and white throated swifts high high HIGH above the canyon.
Really, if you were not looking you didn;t see them as they were concealed in the blue of the sky. Only binculars brought them into view.

Very clearly white-throated swifts.
Swifts are really hard to take pictures of!

Abundant in Box Canyon were Golden-mantled ground squirrels. They say not to feed them but so many people disregarded that rule. It resulted in quite a number of blatently obvious obese individuals near the visitor's center.

Also, very cool to visit was Billy Creek Wildlife Management Area. It had a (mostly) drivable road through it where we'd stop and look... okay, I made my husband stop while I looked around.
The fields of sunflowers were spectacular and among them, lots of seed eating birds.
A confusing juvenile chipping sparrow.





Ugh. I wanted to put them both in my pocket. I saw their parents too who are just an absurd shade of blue.
But these two cute.

Not bird.
We saw a group of three mule deer bucks.

Not your average titmouse but a juniper titmouse!

Well I originally thought dusky... but this is a gray flycatcher and then I read, from Cornell's All About Birds, "The similarity of Gray and Dusky flycatchers has caused confusion for a long time. In fact, the specimen designated as the "type" for Dusky Flycatcher was actually a Gray Flycatcher."

Alright then!

Back at camp, I was so happy to see this lovely (yet soooo high up) male western tanager.

A very handsome adult white-crowned sparrow.After a while these became trash birds, they were everywhere.

More handsome lark sparrows near our worksite.

One osprey casually comes in, cool as a cucumber. Then later (I think) a different bird made a b-line toward camp and the lake...

And then this.
I wish I had a trout, I would have loved to cook that up for the both of us...

I think some fishermen were jealous of that catch. Looks like this bird went all in too, totally soaked.

I love me a cute ground squirrel.

A least chipmunk over by camp.

Sooooooo sleepy in that little patch of sun.

One day, we drove into town (Silverton) to do some laundry as we approached the end of the week.
Silverton looks like a western town you have seen in a cartoon.
One of the women working in the local art shop gave us a lead on how to find some moose in Silverton. Well, her directions were on point. We saw none of the drive in, following her directions. But on the way out, we hit the jackpot. We spied two young bull moose while a sprinkling of rain came down.

What a special treat, just off the road near a small valley marsh.

Mini antlers, traveling with another male, and a small dewlap make me think these to be youngsters.

These were a special treat to view with our family at the close of the week!

After the trail we had two more full days to ourselves and on a walk in Boulder I found the easiest Great Horned Owl, just right out in the open.

A great blue heron who is really good at hiding at Sawhill Ponds.

A little twerky spotted sandpiper. Sawhill ponds feels like areally good place for waterfowl.... just none there when we were. I bet it is bumpin' in the winter.

There was an Osprey Nest at Sawhill ponds and some VERY hungry youngsters.

Go home, Eastern Kingbird, what are you doing here?!
Some great places to visit for birds: Box Spring Canyon, Billy Creek Wildlife Management Area, Sawhill Ponds

A past post that gives you a bit about what goes into a volunteer crew...
To learn more about the Colorado Trail Foundation and volunteer on a crew, visit their web here!

And oh yeah, I'll be back! Till next time, beautiful Colorado.