Counting in the Chinooks

It was mild and sunny along the Colorado Front Range this morning, but the monthly waterfowl count at South Platte Park was hampered by frozen lakes and intermittent, gusty winds.  The westerly winds, known as chinooks, plunge from the Continental Divide, compressing and heating the air in the process.  Beginning during the night, the chinooks kept the morning low in the uppers 30s (F) and will warm the urban corridor over the next few days.

For the waterfowl count, our group was assigned to Cooley Lake, the largest body of water in the Park.  Entirely frozen, it attracted massive flocks of Canada geese and ring-billed gulls but most of the wintering ducks were concentrated on the open waters of the South Platte River.  On our circuit along the lake, we also encountered red-tailed hawks, black-billed magpies, northern flickers and a host of winter songbirds; a small number of coot, mallards, shovelers and common mergansers had also gathered on open waters near an inlet.

But the highlight of this beautiful yet unproductive morning was the arrival of an adult bald eagle.  Soaring over the lake, his appearance panicked the gulls and geese, sending them into frenzied flight above the South Platte Valley and leaving only coyote tracks on the broad, frozen lake.