July 11, 2010

When You Cut Them...they will come?

For some reason, I have time to write another small blog.  Just a few weeks ago, I was at 10,000 ft. enjoying the beautiful birds of the Colorado Front Range.  My aunt and uncle have a condo up there that, when you cross the road from their place, dumps you straight into Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.  Needless to say, I've become quite familiar with the bird life there over the years.

As a younger kid, I always loved crossing the street and immediately entering a pine forest.  It was place filled with the song of Swainson's Thrush, the "chuk-chuk-chuk" of Steller's Jays and the hoarse Black-capped call of Mountain Chickadees. Yet, when I showed up with my friends, bragging about how awesome my childhood trail was, I was nearly floored when I saw that they had clear cut nearly all of the beginning of the trail.  I couldn't even find the original trailhead.

These pictures don't even come close to doing it justice.  Especially how I remember it.  I was so upset.

 Apparently, the trees had to be cut down, as there was a massive beetle infestation taking over the pines that needed to be contained.  The dead trees were chopped down and as an earlier post shows, most were piled up in large stacks.

I understood it was necessary and many of the areas I loved to bird were still in tact.  It was just that the original "wow!" moment was lost; a piece of my childhood wonder taken from me.  To get to the areas I wanted to bird, I had to hike through this "wasteland."  And the first morning, I grumbled, head down, just trying to get to the creek and what I thought was better habitat.

Yet, as the days went by, I began to realize that the birdlife in this section was still pretty good.  In fact, this clear cut had created a new, open habitat that was supporting a lot of birds!  I even saw a life bird, a Sage Thrasher, in this burnt and cut down area!  It would be one of two life birds, so it was a real shocker, considering I have seen most birds you could see in the Colorado Rockies.  It was like God himself was reminding me that, where I might see destruction, the world sees opportunity for new life and I shouldn't complain, but explore and learn.

 Sage Thrasher at 10,000 feet?!

After my grumbling was over, I began to spend more time hiking off trail in this area.  I was pleasantly surprised!  First, because Aspen weren't infected by the beetles, there were a few stands left, where I found a Hairy Woodpecker.

They were guarding a nest, so I left ASAP...or should I say I was chased out.

I also heard many "Gray-headed" Dark-eyed Juncos, the soft downward tapping of Red-naped Sapsuckers and Dusky Flycatchers singing on the newly created edges.  But, the coolest was to come...

The second to last morning, I was out near dawn, exploring around the area, when I heard an unfamiliar call flying over.  I looked up just in time to see 4 Red Crossbills fly in and land on a long-dead pine snag.   I hurried over and even caught one singing!

Even when I was going to Colorado every year, this bird was always one of my favorites and one of the harder to find, so I was satisfied with that look.  On the way back to the condo through the clear cut area again, I heard the now familiar chirping coming not from overhead, but on the ground!

Suddenly, I realized that all around me were Red Crossbills!  I heard them flying overhead and singing in trees, and foraging on the ground.  I had never seen this behavior before.  I finally realized what was going on...

The felled trees had left a large pine cone crop on the ground and the crossbills saw it was easy pickin's.  I must have sat for an hour just watching them.  They were skittish, so I had to sit still, but when they got used to me, they didn't seem to mind my presence.

I learned my lesson.


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