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Tourism and our National Parks

Anyone who has visited our National Parks in recent years has certainly noticed a dramatic increase in the tourist population.  The massive crowds detract from the serenity and, more importantly, have a significant impact on the natural ecology.  As a result, some Parks have begun to limit access and others will surely be forced to do the same.

Some might argue that tax-paying citizens own these natural preserves and that any limits placed on access is inappropriate if not un-Constitutional.  Of course, other citizens resent the protection of Federal lands altogether, favoring access for grazing, mining, drilling and "development."  In the end, we Americans will have to decide what should be protected for the benefit of future generations and for the welfare of our planet and its ecosystems.

Those seeking natural retreats without the tourist throngs should consider visiting our National Wildlife Refuges.  Relatively unknown to the general public and often devoid of the &quo…

Colorado's Indian Summers

Following a snowstorm and a hard freeze, we are back in the warm, sunny days and crisp, cool nights of mid autumn, the classic "Indian Summer" that outdoor enthusiasts relish; here along the Front Range, we expect highs in the upper 60s and 70s (F) over the next few days.  Now that most pesky insects have been killed, hiking, birding and other outdoor activities are especially pleasant.

Defined as the warm period following the first hard freeze, Indian Summer sets the stage for at least six months of similar weather patterns along the Front Range urban corridor.  This undulating cycle of mild sunny days following a brief period of cold and snow tends to occur from October to early May; in essence, we experience a continuous series of Indian Summers.

Unlike most regions of the country, the Colorado Front Range climate is not characterized by four distinct seasons.  Rather, we have summer and winter, battling for dominance for much of the year; while plant life cycles, the ch…

Mountain Bluebirds off to the Desert

Mountain bluebirds, among the most attractive songbirds in North America, breed throughout the Intermountain West, from Northern Canada to Northern Arizona and New Mexico.  During those warmer months, they favor open areas with scattered trees and may be observed on meadows of the foothills and mountains, in pinyon-juniper woodlands or on the alpine tundra near timberline.

Come fall, they descend to lower elevations, heading for the Desert Southwest or the Southern High Plains.  On their journey, they often travel in large flocks, adding color to the drying autumn landscape of the Colorado Piedmont and the volcanic terrain to our south.

Following the first major snowstorm of the season, flocks of mountain bluebirds have been spotted all across Metro Denver and I was fortunate to observe ten of those beautiful migrants at South Platte Park.  By March, when snowstorms still lash the Front Range, they will return, fueling what little spring fever may arise during that fickle season here…

First Snowstorm of the Season

As predicted, a potent cold front dropped southward through the Rockies and Northern Plains last night.  Following yesterday's warm, sunny weather, snow developed overnight and continues along the Front Range this morning; up to six inches of accumulation is expected.

While our spring, upslope storms are usually triggered by Pacific storms that move eastward along the Colorado-New Mexico line, autumn and winter snowstorms most often result from cold fronts that plunge down from Canada.  Driven by cold high pressure, clockwise winds along the leading edge of this dome sweep moisture in from the Great Plains, producing the snowstorms.  As the dome moves eastward or southward, the Front Range upslope breaks down, the snow subsides and clear, cold high pressure grips the region.  Eventually, on the backside of the dome, southerly winds sweep warmer air across the Front Range urban corridor and mild conditions persist until the next cold front arrives.

Such undulating weather is commo…

Natural Solutions to Climate Change

While our President and his Administration reject the evidence and ramifications of global warming, we must do what we can to protect our home planet for future generations and for all life that shares Earth's ecosystems.

Though we are all aware of efforts to wean mankind from fossil fuel, it is also important to understand that nature can play a major role in reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide.  For an overview of this concept and how you might participate, visit the websites of Nature4Climate and The Forgotten Solution, sponsored in part by The Nature Conservancy.

Of course, we can also make a difference by reducing our personal energy consumption, by planting trees, by supporting conservation groups and, most importantly, by voting Trump and other climate change deniers out of office.

The Other Autumn Warbler

Birders who reside across central latitudes of the U.S. are never surprised to see yellow-rumped warblers in October; indeed, these hardy insectivores even stay for the winter in some parts of the Midwest.  But there is another warbler that is also slow to head for southern climes and may still be encountered in mid autumn: the orange-crowned warbler.

Breeding in open woodlands or in the deciduous understory of coniferous forest, orange-crowned warblers summer across Alaska and Canada and southward through the Western mountain ranges.  Come fall, they head for coastal areas of California and the Southeast or farther south to Mexico and the Caribbean.  En route they generally appear alone, scouring shrubs, thickets and the lower branches of trees for a wide variety of insects; like many insectivores, they occasionally visit suet feeders and may consume berries if their insect prey is scarce.

A lone orange-crowned warbler has been visiting our Littleton farm the past few days, feeding …

Harriman Lake Park

Harriman Lake is a 67 acre water storage reservoir in southwest Metro Denver, fed by an irrigation canal; a 1.7 mile graveled trail leads around the lake and past several wetland areas, offering broad views of the open water and of the Front Range foothills to the west.  Access to the Park is via a parking lot on the north side of Kipling Parkway, a short distance south of West Quincy Ave.

Though modest in size, Harriman Lake is a magnet for resident and migrant waterfowl and is one of the region's best locations for viewing and photographing those species.  Last week, as a cold front loomed to the northwest, my wife and I visited this Park; on our walk around the lake we saw an excellent variety of waterfowl, including the first American coot, ruddy ducks and redheads that I had observed this season.  A lone American white pelican lounged on the shore, double-crested cormorants fished on the lake and pied-billed grebes dove with the coot in the marshy shallows.

While naturalists…

The Surge Coast

The entire Gulf Coast of Florida, from the Keys to Pensacola, is especially vulnerable to storm surge as hurricanes and tropical storms come ashore.  Counterclockwise winds push water toward the coast on the "right" side of storm's eye, forcing it across the low country and up the coastal rivers.

This process is accentuated along the Florida Gulf Coast due to the topography of the Gulf itself.  A broad shallow area, representing the west portion of the Florida Platform, parallels the State's Gulf Coast; as ocean water is swept in by the storm, it cannot displace downward and builds to destructive depths across the barrier islands and coastal lowlands, leveling structures and flooding the landscape.

Hurricane Michael, now a Category 4 storm, is poised to come ashore near Panama City this morning.  Storm surge is expected to reach 13 feet or more in some parts of the Great Bend before the hurricane and its remnants cut a swath of destruction across the eastern Panhand…

Tropical Kingbird in Colorado

Several days ago, a tropical kingbird was sighted in southwest Metro Denver, just west of South Platte Reservoir.  As one might expect, it has since attracted birders from throughout the region and I made my pilgrimage yesterday afternoon (after all, the location is just a few miles south of our Littleton farm).

Though the weather was far from tropical (cloudy, cold and misty), the large, attractive flycatcher was gleaning insects from the side of a building, stopping to rest on a barbed wire fence.  Joined by a Say's phoebe and a small flock of house finches, the rare vagrant seemed unfazed by the raw, autumn weather.

Permanent residents of Mexico, Central America, northern South America and extreme South Texas, tropical kingbirds also breed in southeastern Arizona.  While most birds withdraw toward the Tropics in winter, some have long traveled northward along the Pacific Coast; most stop in California but some have been sighted in the Pacific Northwest, as far north as southea…

A Hermit visits the Farm

Yesterday, while wandering through our Littleton farm, I noticed movement behind a row of shrubs.  Standing my ground, I waited several minutes before the stranger emerged and, though he remained in the shadows, I knew at once that he was a hermit thrush.

Summer residents across Canada and southward through the mountains of North America, this hardy thrush is slow to migrate southward or to the coasts, feeding on berries once the insects disappear.  Like his cousins, he prefers to feed on or near the ground, running into the cover of shrubs or thickets if disturbed.

While most hermit thrushes end up wintering across the southern U.S. or along the coasts, some linger in colder regions if adequate food is available.  Yesterday's visitor was the first I have seen on our farm and, if we have another mild winter, he may just stay for the season.