If you had to name one pollinator other than a honeybee, what would be your first guess? More bees? Well, you wouldn’t be wrong, nearly every species of bee pollinates flowers and food crops. But what about beetles? Certain birds? The winged night terrors we call bats? While there are no denying honeybees are crucial to our environment and provide us with an excellent service, the fact is, they are not native to North America.
The Red Crossbill, Loxia curvistra, is a peculiar finch found among the spruces, firs, pines, and hemlocks of coniferous woodlands. The Red Crossbill is one of three of the 17 finch species in North America that have an unusual, but spectacular beak. Per their name, the crossbill has a crossed bill. You may be thinking, what does having a crossed bill have to do with the journey of a crossbill? Everything.
As the summer slowly progresses towards fall many birds are finished nesting and feeding fledglings and are preparing for the next step in their annual cycle. Some will migrate south as far as Central and South America, while others will hunker down for winter in the same areas where they bred. Each morning the dawn chorus is a little quieter and the species list less diverse. To a technician working on the Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions (IMBCR) program this signals that the point counts are done for the year and they too will move on to their next adventure.
There are always eyes reflecting back in the beam of my headlamp. Usually, it is deer or elk, their silhouettes looking vaguely alien because of their large ears. Other times, it is a Common Poorwill that sits on the trail, eyes reflecting red, and flutters up in a panic when I walk too close. A handful of times it has been a bear, that crashes away through the undergrowth once it catches a whiff of this unwashed field tech and vanishes astonishingly quickly for an animal so large…
You know the old phrase: Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over. Over the two years that I’ve now been in the San Luis Valley (SLV) of Colorado, I’ve heard a lot of stories that recall that phrase. Stories of family members who no longer speak due to disagreements irrigation strategies, landowners who’ve been shot by trespassers hoping to steal water under cover of night, ranchers on their fifth year of a water court case due to a neighbor dispute. This story, however, is not one of those.
I stop what I’m doing for a moment and look up to watch a pair of circling Red-tailed Hawks. They’re smugly indifferent to my work, but their presence makes it go a little faster all the same. With the Western Meadowlarks, Lark Buntings, and Cassin’s Sparrows as a soundtrack, it’s a simply beautiful day to be outside.
We were almost down to our camp when I noticed two beautifully round orbs staring at us from behind a bush. We both froze in our places while we racked our brains on what to do. It did not take long to draw from what we had learned in our training,
Flowers are blooming, birds are singing and kids are learning! The Environmental Learning Center (ELC) at Bird Conservancy of the Rockies has become a place of respite and refueling for both people and nature. Situated on the northwest shore of Barr Lake State Park where the cottonwoods grow tall is our outdoor learning center that provides a unique space for all people to visit and learn about the local ecosystem and all it has to offer.
Mindful birding is a powerful practice that combines the joys of birdwatching with the benefits of mindfulness. Exposure to nature is linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders, and even an increase in empathy and cooperation.
One of my favorite quotes by Aldo Leopold in his book, A Sand County Almanac. A classic read for any upcoming wildlife biologist, nature-lover, or outdoors person. This quote reminds me of the well-known saying “leave it better than you found it”. A saying that had been engrained in me ever since I was just a kid playing in the river behind my house. I am fortunate that I grew up as an “outdoor kid”.