April in the Foothills

April is an excellent month to visit the Montane Forest of the Front Range foothills.  Composed of open ponderosa pine parklands (on sunny, south-facing slopes) and a mix of Douglas fir and Colorado spruce (on shaded, north-facing slopes), this aromatic forest cloaks elevations between 7000 and 9000 feet, attracting a distinct population of wildlife.

Permanent residents of the Montane Forest include mountain lions, black bear, mule deer, Abert's squirrels, Colorado chipmunks, wild turkeys, mountain chickadees, pygmy nuthatches, hairy woodpeckers, northern pygmy owls, Steller's jays, Townsend's solitaires and red crossbills, among more widespread species.  Joining them during the warmer months (and usually arriving in April) are dusky grouse, Williamson's sapsuckers, mountain and western bluebirds, violet-green swallows, broad-tailed hummingbirds, black-headed grosbeaks, western tanagers and chipping sparrows.  Elk winter on meadows of the Montane Zone; other winter visitors include pine grosbeaks, Cassin's finches and rosy finches.

For those visiting Denver, two convenient areas to explore the Montane Forest are Genesee Park and Lookout Mountain Nature Center, both accessed from Interstate 70 within a few miles of entering the foothills.  This morning, following our first April snowfall, I paid a visit to both preserves and was rewarded with brilliant sunshine, cool fresh air, spectacular scenery and a fabulous diversity of wildlife.