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Explorers of parks are richly rewarded

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By Sylvia Brockner

Editor’s note: Sylvia Brockner was a little under the weather last week, so we’re reprinting a column from June 1987. Sylvia reports that she’s feeling much better and that her column will return next week.

My husband, Bill, and I have spent considerable time in our breeding bird atlas territory this past week.

I fully expected to enjoy the time spent birding, but there is an additional dividend that I had not foreseen.

That is exploring every possible back road, trail, nook and cranny within the boundary of our territory. We are discovering some delightful, interesting places in an area that we thought we knew rather well.

O’Fallon, Pence and Corwina parks and the western edge of Little Park all lie within the territory we are covering. While we have visited all of these parks in the past, we, like others, usually have not been far from the road.

To get out a U.S. Geological Survey map and systematically set about exploring the area, ravine by ravine, peak by peak, is quite another matter.

Although our first priority is observing nesting birds, I found it difficult to keep my eyes from wandering to the wildflowers. Such a profusion of color and variety caught my eye at every turn that I listed 30 species in one valley.

As is so often the case, it is the damp, cool ravines that frequently produce the most interesting birds and wildflowers. Many such ravines are to be found along Bear Creek, for they are the channels that filter the spring runoff into the main stream.

Some are already dry; others still have small, trickling streams burbling their way down the mountain. Centuries of running water have deposited silt and nutrients in these ravines and valleys, providing the rich, deep soil and moisture that our rare plants need.

While exploring these ravines, I was pleased to find so much Solomon’s plume, Smilacina racemosa, blooming.

Also known as false Solomon’s seal or false spikenard, this graceful plant has alternate leaves on an arching stem. At the tip is a cluster of small white flowers, somewhat like a spray of small white lilacs.

Solomon’s plume is a member of the big lily family. It and its close cousin, star-flowered Solomon’s plume, Smilacina stellata, are fairly abundant in areas where the habitat is right.

The berries of these two plants reportedly were used as a food source by the American Indian. However, Harrington, in his “Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains,” suggests caution, as they possess laxative qualities.

Others refer to their taste as “aromatic,” or just plain “disagreeable.” As with many wild plants, they might be edible as survival food if you are lost but are scarcely a gourmet delight.

This list of breeding birds in our territory is growing each day. At this time of year, any singing male is considered to be a probable breeding bird and is recorded as such.

More positive proof of breeding is seeing adults carrying food, and actually finding the nest.

As of this time we have recorded 31 species as probable or confirmed breeding birds in our territory. None of these are unusual or rare, just the standard breeding birds of this area. However, a few are of special interest.

Common grackles, which were considered rare in Colorado 20 years ago, have been recorded in every section of our territory.

Robins, Brewer’s blackbirds, song sparrows and Western flycatchers are the four most abundant nesting birds so far.

Unfortunately, Western tanagers and black-headed grosbeaks seem to be less numerous than usual.

Then there are such confusing things as the pair of song sparrows I watched gathering spruce budworms by the beakful, then flying down to the base of a nearby willow, to reappear with empty beaks.

Time after time I watched this maneuver until I was certain where the nest was located. I slid down the bank and cautiously approached the willow, expecting to see four young song sparrows in the nest.

Wrong. There was a nest, and in it sat one giant cowbird, nearly as large as its foster parents. Now, do we count that as a song sparrow nest or as a cowbird nest? I guess I’ll have to re-read the rules.

One thing we have noticed is the deplorable state of these parks. Picnic areas are bare dirt from overuse and littered with every imaginable kind of filth.

However, once you hike in a short distance or leave the beaten path, there still are glorious areas to enjoy. Fortunately, most of the litterbugs do not go far from the road.