Birding Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, Colorado

Two weeks ago we got back from a family trip to Colorado.  We visited Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge twice, both times while we were waiting for planes. ( The Refuge is very close to the Denver airport.)  It  is  15,000 acres of prairie lands which have been turned into a sanctuary. The area was where Indians once hunted large herds of Bison (they still have a herd you can visit). Later it was turned into croplands and an area for grazing cattle. In the 1940′s, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was turned into a chemical weapons manufacturing facility in support of the war effort. During the 1980′s environmental clean-up took place. Finally, in the 1990′s, the area was designated as a national wildlife refuge and research facility.

Colorado was having a heat wave which restricted our activity, and the activity of the birds. One day the heat rose 20 degrees in an hour while we were birding!  However, we did see a few birds.  On the way in we enjoyed the antics of the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs. The area is dotted with their burrows!  They sure can make a racket as they “bark” out their danger call!  We also saw some deer.

We started our walk along Lake Ladora which was ringed by bird boxes.  Most of the boxes were occupied by Tree Swallows. The parents were busy feeding their young.  The chicks for the most part were very interested in our passing, they would pop their heads in and out of the boxes, but didn’t want us to be too close! At the end of the lake, we found American Robins singing, a Yellow Warbler, Red-Winged Blackbirds, American Goldfinches, and Western Kingbirds.  A Double-crested Cormorant dove quietly in the lake.

Driving along the road, we saw several Western Meadowlarks, including a juvenile in the middle of the road. It looked like some prehistoric creature with its huge legs and eyes!  The parent was nearby encouraging it to get to safety, so we only took photos from the car. There were many American Robins, especially young juveniles with their crazy spotted breasts. We noticed one wet area where some Snowy Egrets were hanging out in a puddle; we parked to get a better look.  There must have been nests nearby because suddenly two American Avocets began screeching, swooping down, and dive-bombing our heads! A group of Killdeer also added their calls, increasing the confusion.  The heat by this time had reached 103 degrees;  the birds had their wings raised and were panting.  We didn’t want to get them any more heated,  and since we couldn’t see any nests or young,  we moved on.  Back on the road again, we got out to take photos of a Horned Lark and a Says Phoebe. The only other birds we sighted were some crows.  The heat, and the fact that it was still nesting season, had a lot to do with not seeing a lot of birds. They were probably well hidden in the shade to conserve energy! We will try this refuge again sometime when we are in Denver.

From left to right:  male American Goldfinch, male Yellow Warbler, Western Meadowlark chick, Western Meadowlark, American Avocet, Horned Lark,

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