Summer birds making their way back to the foothills

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By Sylvia Brockner

Once more, while spring hesitated in the doorway, winter pushed her aside and came back in.

Cold and snowy would best describe most of last week’s weather, but it could have been much worse. Since the temperature hovered around freezing, at least some of the snow fell as rain. Today, the sun is back and between the snow drifts, brown squiggly earth makes fancy patterns on the mountains.

Today I received a report from The Nature Conservancy on its work in Colorado, which showed a fluffed-up Bullock’s oriole sitting on a wire fence in a snow-covered world. They could not have chosen a better photograph to illustrate spring in Colorado.

Although the orioles seldom arrive before May 1, they are delicate insect-eating birds that can barely survive in our on-again, off-again spring weather.

I once drew an American robin, which was enduring similar weather in a snow-covered ponderosa pine. In both cases, the birds’ feathers were so fluffed up to help contain body heat that the birds appeared to be at least twice their normal size.

Although she came hesitantly, spring is here, and more and more of the summer birds will arrive during the next month. This is an interesting time to visit Evergreen Lake or any other lake or stream valley for they are migration stopovers, and there will be new arrivals daily.

The red-winged blackbirds, which never left the area this winter, are singing now and claiming their nesting territories among the cattails. During the winter, they just went out daily to nearby feeders but returned to the shelter of the cattail marsh at night. They are hardy birds that can survive on seeds alone when necessary. 

Robins also are hardy birds and a few can be found all winter where they can find frozen crab apples and insects to augment their diet.

Although it always feels extra cold at the lake, that is due to the humidity. The ice melted at the inlet enough to allow the famous barrel to tip over, but there was still a great deal of ice the last time I went by. A few more warm days and a strong wind will soon cause the ice to break up, and we will soon have open water for migrating ducks.

Please remember they are tired, hungry birds and have come down to feed and rest. Don’t let your dogs disturb them, and try to give them a little peace. They usually only stay a day or two, and then move on north. In the meantime, there are a lot of people who enjoy seeing these visitors.

The yellow warbler always returns to the big old willows near Parmalee Gulch on May 1 every year. During April and early May, you can expect to see something different every day. Ospreys also appear on the lake in April. I have two drawings of ospreys, one dated April 15 and the other April 17 in different years. They come about the same time every year. Usually they fish and feed, and then rest for a day or two. They move on a bit further northwest for they nest in the Walden area.

Ospreys are often confusing to people, who think their mostly white head and underparts make them bald eagles. First of all, ospreys are much smaller than eagles. Their tails are not white, but are barred. And they fly much differently. They have more of a V when flying while eagles keep their wings much flatter. Ospreys are also commonly thought to be some kind of gull since they are often seen near water with gulls.

This is the time of year to be outdoors. Song sparrows are already here, but chipping sparrows arrive in great numbers usually about April 15. Most of the early-spring arrivals can get by for a few days by eating seeds at our feeders. However, if bad weather lasts longer, they need fruit or insects.

You may hear them scratching about under the ground junipers where they can usually scratch up a few insects. It is amazing how well they survive our late springs snows.

Many birds have already returned, but more will arrive every day for the next several weeks. Let me know what you are seeing, and good birding!