Flycatchers move to land if food is worth it

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By Sylvia Brockner

Still confined to Elk Run Assisted Living, my creaky back and banged-up knee still keep me from being able to do much. My good friends have brought me many things from home, so now I feel that I am close to being home. If I must stay where help is available, this is a fine place to be.

Yesterday, May 28, I saw a bird on the deck outside the dining room. It was a flycatcher, but most interesting was the fact it was lighting on the deck floor, apparently eating ants or some other insect that had been attracted to food that others had put out for a local cat. Having watched this bird until it flew away, there was nothing left so I could tell me for sure what it had been eating, but it was not fly-catching on the wing. Instead, it dropped to pick up something from the greasy spot on the deck.

I am assuming they were ants. However, the bird was a western wood peewee. It was only about five feet away from me, so I could clearly see its dark gray back and wings, two wing bars and its crested head. At this late date in May, it might have still been a late migrant, or it may have been a local bird looking for a nest right in the area. Wood peewees are forest birds but are more common along the edge of the forest openings such as along creeks, ponds or meadows, where insects are more plentiful.

The western wood peewee was the first bird I banded after we moved here nearly 52 years ago. It nested in a ponderosa pine across the road from our house, and it nested in that same tree for many years. Its incessant call kept me company while I worked in my flower garden.

The western wood peewee is so very similar to the eastern wood peewee that there are many who believe it should not be separated into two species but should be considered as two subspecies just separated by location.

They are definitely a bird of the western forest and were much more common 50 years ago. They have, like many insect-eating birds, declined in abundance over the past years since insect sprays have been available. Probably this is due to the fact that insects that have been sprayed are sick and slower flying than those that have not been sprayed, and are therefore more easily captured and eaten. Other insect-eating birds such as the cordilleran, Hammond’s and olive-side flycatchers as well as shrikers, meadowlarks and bob-o-links have also declined in recent years.

If you haven’t been outside, by all means do so soon. The first week of June is the most beautiful time in the foothills. We have warm summerlike days, thunderstorms and gentle showers. Even a later snow is possible. From the mowed lawn to the aspen, everything is turning green!

Aspens are particularly lovely this time of year. Their new leaves are the color of chartreuse and have the shine of patent leather. Combined with their white bark, they make a spring display that can’t be equaled. Pussy willows are blooming, and every day I see more flowers from my window.

Right now, the most noticeable of these spring flowers is the golden banner that is blooming in abundance. Golden banner is a brilliant yellow pea-shaped flower that starts to bloom in Red Rocks Park in April and marches up the mountain until it blooms at Echo Lake at 10,000 feet elevation in July. It is a handy plant with great masses of underground runners, so it is not easily destroyed by vehicle traffic or hooves.

Therefore, it survives when other plants do not. If you are trying to grow pasture grass, it is probably a pest, but otherwise, it is beautiful and durable in the landscape. Watch for it as you go higher in the summer. Soon the alpines will be coming into bloom, so watch for them along the Mount Evans road, especially at the timberline turnoff where many of them are labeled.