Naturally Speaking : The summer that was

warblerDave Hallock, Eldora. This year’s growing season started out with high hopes of lushness, based on abundant late winter and early spring moisture, but Mother Nature had other plans. Spring got skipped as we headed right into summer with warm temperatures and dry skies that began during the last week of May and continued through most of summer into fall.

The above average snowpack, abundant April moisture, and cooler temperatures meant a delayed spring for some animals and plants. Many elk herds were late in returning to mid-elevation transitional range. Aspen were late to leaf out, being almost two weeks behind average here in Eldora. Wildflowers were mostly on the late side in adding their beauty to the landscape.

June turned into a fairly lush month, as the moisture had yet to be sapped out of the ground. Larkspur was particularly showy.

Many early season butterfly species had exceptional flights, taking advantage of extended fair weather. Birds were able to get right into nesting due to a lack of major storms, which can disrupt their breeding activities. Runoff in Middle Boulder Creek peaked at 640 cubic feet per second (cfs) on June 13th at the stream gage located just before it enters Barker Reservoir. The creek does not often get above 600 cfs, but the above average snowpack combined with warm temperatures were favorable for high runoff.

June went from plants blooming late to being early, a harbinger of what was to come. The growing season became compressed as moisture was below average for extensive portions of the summer, though there were a few periods where a weak monsoon developed. Many early season grasses, including Parry’s oatgrass, failed to produce seeds.

The Indian Peaks Bird Counts completed their 35th year of tracking local avifauna. This summer’s breeding count saw below average numbers of birds. This is the fifth breeding count in a row where the total numbers have been below average. The last extended below average stretch was 1997-2001. The period from 2002-2011 saw above average numbers.

Even with the overall low numbers there were some above-average counts for several species. Eighteen American Three-toed Woodpeckers were observed, which is an all-time high for the count. This was greatly aided by the 9 seen in the Rainbow Lakes Count Area through portions of three days of birding. Three-toeds have shifted their locations from lodgepole pine forests, where the mountain pine beetle is back in endemic levels, to the subalpine forests where Engelmann spruce and balsam fir beetles are on the rise.

The warbler community within willow shrub wetlands in the upper montane have been changing over time. The 8,000 to 9,000 foot elevation range is generally the upper limit for such species as Yellow Warbler and Common Yellowthroat, and the lower limit for Wilson’s Warbler. In the 1980’s and early 90’s Wilson’s Warbler was the most common warbler.  Now, Yellow Warbler is the most common, Common Yellowthroats appear to be increasing, and Wilson’s Warblers have declined.

Most of the major pine cone seed-eating birds, including Clark’s Nutcracker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Grosbeak, and Red Crossbill, had above-average numbers. There are good cone crops on Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, and limber pine. The high numbers of birds that feed on the cone seeds will likely persist into winter.

Several species that appear to be declining in Colorado are also becoming less common in the Nederland area. Green-winged Teal, Killdeer, and Evening Grosbeak have all experienced a persistent decline over the past three decades.

I would like to thank the following participants on the Indian Peaks Breeding Bird Count: Linda Andes-Georges, Maureen Blackford, Barbara Bolton, Earl Bolton, Diane Brown, Peter Burke, George Coffee, Todd Deininger, Marty Dick, David Dowell, Kayla Evans, Virginia Evans, Mike Figgs, Jean-Pierre Georges, Dave Hallock, Jim Holitza, Steve Jones, Bill Kaempfer, Nan Lederer, Greg Massey, Merle Miller, Sally Miller, Naseem Munshi, Carol Newman-Holitza, Lisa McCoy, Cheri Phillips, Mark Pscheid, Susan Spaulding,  Cara Stiles, Lucy Stroock, Mike Tupper, John Vanderpoel, and Patty Zishka.

Following are some of the November nature happenings in the Nederland area. Elk will wind down their mating activities. The timing of their movement to lower elevation varies with each herd. Some have already made the trek, while others will let the increasing snow depth push them down. Black bears continue to find winter dens for hibernation, with the second and third weeks of November being the peak time for males. Moose will also wind down their breeding activities. Mule deer breed in November and December. Most have moved down to the foothills. The last ground squirrels and chipmunks will go into hibernation, though some may pop out from time to time during mild weather. Mice and pack rats continue their migration into our cabins.

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