Another magnificent morning in Eleven Mile Canyon with all the wild forest dwellers. I arrived at sunrise with my chair and camera and as always I set up camp along the banks of the South Platte at the entrance to the canyon. I love that spot, at sunrise the amount of activity is incredible and you never know what you are going to see! I’ve seen all manner of birds, including eagles, falcons and all kinds of aquatic birds… not to mention the ubiquitous red wing blackbirds, deer and even a beaver!
My day started with a brief sighting of the ever busy beaver retrieving materials for his lodge well hidden in the reeds along the west bank of the South Platte. Unfortunately he disappeared into the cover of the thick reeds before I could even raise my camera. As I watched to see if he was going to re-emerge a huge Great Blue Heron exited the canyon and flew towards me. Fortunately my camera was already set up for birds in flight to prepare for my anticipated eagle sighting and I quickly started shooting. My new camera “wildlife photography setup” paid off and I was able to capture a few good ones of the flight 🙂
As I was looking downriver to see where the heron may have gone another huge bird which at first I thought was the heron coming back already, came winging up from the lake. It was a huge long necked black and orange aquatic bird which I was also fortunate enough to capture on such short notice. At the time I didn’t know what it was but later on the computer I was able to determine that it was a Double-crested Cormorant. By this time I was feeling pretty privileged!
No sooner had I sat back down to watch for the eagles, I heard a kerplop in the water right beside me. As it turns out a little family of Common Merganser ducks had been hiding in the reeds right beside me and had jumped into the water for a swim 🙂 Mama with a couple of ducklings in tow swam across the river to the west bank in the pristine water of the South Platte reflecting the golden glow of a Colorado sunrise. I didn’t notice it at the time, but one of the ducklings was actually hitching a ride on mama’s back 🙂 Now I don’t see why these ducks are called “common”, to me they are amazing looking and decidedly uncommon!
And of course if you run out of things to point your camera at, there is always the considerable Red-winged Blackbird population to entertain you. I thought this little female busying herself along the riverside was extremely cute! I was fortunate to catch her standing still for a few seconds in front of the dense reeds lining both shores 🙂
By now the sun was rising high in the eastern sky and the flurry of activity along the riverbank was beginning to subside. Unfortunately there was no sign of the eagle family, which I haven’t seen in at least a week. I assume they are still coming back to the nest at night, but if they do they are gone at the first hint of morning light.
I decided to make the trek up the canyon to see what activity I might find at the osprey nest, while at the same time looking around for the unpredictable flock of falcon that sometimes occupy the cliff walls near the entrance. I had seen a few of them flying back and forth out of the range of my 400mm lens but I didn’t see any along the canyon wall. Soon the osprey nest came into view and I could see one of the amazing raptors inside. It was one of the two juvenile birds which took flight shortly after my arrival. I climbed the eastern bank of the river and sat with all my gear in my usual seat in full view of the nest and entire river valley.
The youngsters entertained themselves by taking turns soaring high and swooping low, putting on a great show for this photographer 🙂 I sat on my perch for hours watching the action. The nesting pair soared together in a show of pure joy and companionship which I imagined had been seen by very few human eyes. After a couple of hours each of the four family members had taken a perch high on their own dead pine tree near the top of the west wall of the canyon. However during this down time I did get to witness some rare aerial conflict, at one point far beyond camera range the father bird left his perch to warn a vulture that had strayed too close, followed closely by a falcon who was also disturbed by the huge scavenger’s proximity. Interestingly however, the osprey and the falcon however seemed unconcerned with each other. Besides that , the osprey family remained relatively motionless for a couple of hours until I was about ready to give up.
However by this time it was getting close to noon and several times in recent days I had noticed the entire family at the nest at about that time, so I decided to remain and see if the pattern would continue. Sure enough, at
about 11:50, one of the young birds returned to the nest and took up a perch on one of the lower branches. Then at 12:15 the other youngster returned and perched on another branch under the nest. The father bird remained motionless on his perch overlooking the scene when all of a sudden mama appeared with a fish for the lunchtime gathering! It wasn’t long before the papa osprey left his perch and flew off towards Eleven Mile Reservoir on a fishing trip of his own. He soon returned with another fish for the family as they all gathered inside the nest for the feast. I was fascinated by this bit of osprey custom, and by the fact that the entire family within a few minutes seemed to know what time it was!
Angry clouds had begun to gather behind me and I knew rain was not far in the future. The osprey too seemed to know that a rainstorm was up as the rare gathering of all four birds in the nest continued until my departure. The father bird rarely stays in the nest more than a few seconds after delivering his bounty so I surmised they were hunkering down in preparation for the inclement weather.
As I hustled down the canyon to the shelter of my truck I began to dread leaving this idyllic location only to return home to all the bad news sure to greet me on the television and on the internet. The animals all seemed so civilized, mothers and fathers taking care of their young, watching so carefully over their nests and offspring, children obediently following behind and learning the ropes of the animals life they would soon be growing into. In fact they seemed more civilized that the population of human savages that I was about to rejoin. It’s a sad state of affairs when the animal kingdom is more civilized than the humans. It is astonishing to me that the behavior we have recently seen is tolerated, and even more astonished that some of our leaders even seem to be encouraging the mayhem. I can only assume that somehow they think they will benefit from the chaos, but I think they will soon discover that they have made a grave miscalculation.
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