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The arrival of critters says spring is here

March 23rd, 2009

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Spring officially started this past weekend here in Evergreen. We generally don’t go by the calendar but by the arrival of the first Western bluebirds and the American robin.Both made their majestic debut yesterday, the bluebird atop a fine Douglas fir and the reddish-orange chested robin holding steadfast on a large pine branch back-lit by the morning sun. He was stunning.

Elk Meadow was dancing with activity. At least five flickers were spotted jettisoning though the timber and aspen groves. It was confirmed by their unique call. Within an hour at least six Hairy Woodpeckers were spotted creeping up and down the crevices of several aspen trunks or showing off their dipping swoop across a section of open sky. The Pygmy Nuthatches were in the midst of their Keystone cops skit bopping from branch to branch or scooting up and down stately Ponderosas. Not seen but readily heard was the always welcoming sound, a high-pitched chortle of the house wren. And of course the Steller’s Jay’s low pitched, raucous calls echoed throughout the forest.

The Steller's Jay had new neighbors this weekend.

The Steller's Jay had new neighbors this weekend.

While attempting to spot a wren I noticed a downward movement, a dive toward a dormant grassy section on the bank along the creek. The relatively large bird, kind of a dusty grayish brown, was quiet but alertly checking for insects from a high aspen branch. I didn’t recognize the bird or its action so I lifted my binoculars and scanned the upper branches. There it was about 8 to 9 inches in length with a dark bill and a very distinctive soft tan eye ring and a rather long tail. It was elegant and rather demur. Then in a matter of seconds it was gone, down  below the creek bank out of sight. My best bet of identifying the bird would be my visual memory when I got back home and thumbed through my field guides ( The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds,A Guide to Field Identification Birds of North America or The Complete Encyclopedia of North American Birds). I had not seen it before and my best guess along with my wife’s was a thrush.

To our delight we learned it was a Townsend’s Solitaire. It was our first spotting ever and I have been an amateur birder for nearly 20 years. It was a great discovery.

And speaking of discovery, “Rocky” raccoon came out of his late winter’s slumber  about 3 a.m.to find the assortment of bird feeders on the deck and one of the dog’s rubberized treat holders. His rummaging through the feeder is pretty common from time to time and isn’t particularly disturbing but when he got a hold of the dog’s treat holder-it’s known as a Kong®, I have to tell you the constant thud about every 20 to 30 seconds was driving us crazy. At 3:40 a.m. I decided Rocky and whatever he was up to had to cease. I traipsed outside only to be greeted by him shuffling along directly at me. I wasn’t afraid of him but I must admit I didn’t want to tangle with a raccoon in the dark during the middle of the night. So my tactic was to retreat and counter from another door. Sure enough I found the rubber noise maker and was back to catch a few more hours of sleep.

That was abruptly interrupted shortly after daybreak when the dogs started barking in all out war threats. Once again, uncertain what was going on, I checked outside to discover a portion, twenty two to be exact, members of the Mt. Evans Wilderness elk herd had found the early spring shoots of grass in our meadow to be to their liking.

A bit mangy as they shed their winter coats, elk don't exactly ask permission to rummage through your yard.

A bit mangy as they shed their winter coats, elk don't exactly ask permission to rummage through your yard.

So, no matter what the weather is like. It’s definitely spring in Evergreen.

Note: If you are interested in confirming or discovering a bird in your neighborhood go to enature.com. They have great photographs and incredible sound recordings to help you learn about the winged ones. The elk are easy to spot. They are about the size of a horse, pretty ugly this time of year and will be eating everything green or living in your yard!

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