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NATURE NARRATIVES: Spring nature diary

TOP: A great blue heron spreads its wings. BELOW: Delicate pasque flowers. BOTTOM: Scrub oak leaves against red rocks.
Les Goss photo (top); Melissa Walker photos (below and bottom)
By Melissa Walker

       Excerpts from my Colorado Springs Nature Journal, April - May 2014:
       April 4 - On this April day, winter and spring are playing a game of hide and seek. At one moment, the winds are calm and the sun shines brilliantly between the clouds. In another moment, the winds rush down the mountainsides, filling the air with horizontal snow flurries that block the sun. Neither winter nor spring wins the game today, with each season seeking one minute and hiding the next.
       April 8 - I watch a fox squirrel carry its baby for about 50 yards from one tree to another. It has to stop and rest every few feet because of the weight. Somehow, the squirrel summons the strength to climb up the tree trunk to carry its baby to a new nest.
       April 18 - I first looked for pasque flowers in March, but these delicate purple flowers bloomed later than usual this spring. Today, my friend and I find them growing underneath the scrub oak trees at the top of the meadow at Bear Creek Nature Center. A Mourning Cloak butterfly flutters ahead of us on our hike back down the trail.
       April 20 - The American Robins are singing at 5:30 a.m., before dawn. This is the beginning of the “dawn chorus” that will last until about mid-July. Many species of birds sing throughout their breeding season, then are mostly quiet for the rest of the year. When the sun comes up, I observe the robins in our backyard. The feathers on the head of the male robin are velvety black, in contrast to the feathers on the

head of the female robin that remain gray year-round.
       May 3 - At the stoplight at Mesa Road and Fillmore Street, I hear a Western Meadowlark singing its cheery song from the top of a fence post nearby.
       May 9 - A Great Blue Heron lands between the kitchen window and the pond. It is so close that I can see its long scaly toes that are very reptile-like. Later, the heron wades into the pond to hunt for fish, but takes off before catching anything.
       May 12 - It's “raining” migratory birds! Between 9:30 and 10 a.m., a hermit thrush and an orange-crowned warbler land in our yard and glean insects from the ground and cinquefoil bushes. In the afternoon, a flock of chipping sparrows and yellow-rumped warblers forage for insects. The warblers, highlighted by bright yellow on their heads and rumps, particularly like our small evergreen trees, disappearing behind the green needles to find food.
       May 28 - From 4:30 to 6 p.m., I watch the prairie falcon's nest in Garden of the Gods with other park volunteers and visitors who stroll down the Perkins Central Garden Trail. Although the falcon only appears at the side of the nest for about 5 minutes, we also train the spotting scope on a red-tailed hawk on the very top of Gray Rock. The white-throated swifts are twittering high overhead, and some visitors from New York are excited to see a scrub jay and a black-billed magpie for the first time.
       May 30 - The scrub oak trees have totally leafed out. They are usually the last native tree to do so, and rarely suffer “frostbite” to their new green leaves. Their leaf shapes are especially beautiful against the red rocks of the Garden of the Gods.
       May 31 - I hear the music of the ice cream truck in the neighborhood. Summer is here!

       Editor's note: A Westside naturalist (and recently named president of the Friends of Garden of the Gods volunteer organization), Walker posts regular entries in her online blog at naturenarratives.com. She has given her permission to reprint selected pieces in the Westside Pioneer.

(Posted 6/7/14; Opinion: Nature Narratives)

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