The Birds of Manitou Lake

All winter I had wondered if there was such a thing as an annual pass into Eleven Mile Canyon. The rangers at the Fossil Beds National Monument thought there might be but had little information as to how to acquire one and unfortunately the kiosk the entrance to the canyon is unmanned until May 1st each year. Finally the other day I received a tip and on my latest visit I was able to get one from the gate attendant 🙂 Well as it turns out, the pass is good for quite a number of additional interesting places in Colorado, including Manitou Lake  located just a short distance north of Woodland Park on Highway 67.

Great Blue Heron in FlightSo I thought what the heck, I’ve never been to Manitou Lake, why not give it a try! I had heard rumors that there was a big colony of great blue heron and some osprey in the area using the lake as a source for fish. Unfortunately Kevin and I arrived about an hour too early… there is a  gate at the lake and they lock it up at night. We saw some heron flying around and going back into the Painted Rocks area so we ventured on back into there. We found a number of heron wandering around, including one proudly percned on top of a giant boulder. Unfortunately they all scattered before we could get our cameras ready for a shot, however we were lucky enough to see the large clumsy looking aquatic birds flying up and down the Trout Creek valley all morning.

red-winged blackbirdFinally 8:00 rolled around and we entered the park. As hoped, the window sticker into Eleven Mile was also good at Manitou Lake, so in we went. There is a website for Rocky Mountain Recreation, the company that manages some of these recreational areas but it appears to be a California company and it isn’t easy to use and there is no comprehensive list of sites in Colorado that the pass is good for. If you suspect that a place you want to go might be covered by your pass you can go on the website and do a search. If you don’t know the name of the place you are basically out of  luck.

It’s not a huge lake so as we ventured out onto the boardwalk on the south end it was pretty easy to observe that there were no herons walking the shores. There was good abundance of red-winged blackbirds lining the shores and they are a fairly entertaining species to photograph. Soon an osprey looking interested in doing some fishing appeared overhead so we decided to walk around the lake to a good looking vantage point where we would have an unobstructed view of the action. And sure enough, a number of osprey showed up to hover over the lake looking for fish.

Osprey at Manitou LakeWe were fortunate enough to grab a couple hundred good captures of the osprey circling and diving into the water. Eventually all the raptors caught fish and flew off into the nearby mountains. We moved on over to the northeast side of the lake where we found a nice bench to sit on while we waited for more osprey. Unfortunately though, the show appeared to be over at least until evening so we entertained ourselves by shooting some swan like birds swimming out in the middle of the lake, which Kevin correctly identified as western grebes. I had never seen a western grebe before so I was particularly interested in capturing some good images for my lifetime sighting list at my Cornell Labs eBird profile.

Western Grebe SwimmingThere was one more bit of excitement to be found on the walk back around the lake. We encountered a strange looking black bird rustling around in the reeds. At first it appeared to be a normal blackbird except for it’s strange call, yellow eyes and inordinately long tail. Once home with access to my desktop, the Merlin app identified the odd bird as a great-tailed grackle. Unfortunately the little guy didn’t stick around long enough for me to capture any video, but you can listen to his strange call on this YouTube video provided by the Cornell Labs research site.

Great-tailed GrackleI’m sure there will be a ton of other species inhabiting the lake as summer approaches so I am looking forward to many future visits. The lake is a well maintained facility and costs $7 for a day pass to enter unless you have the annual pass. Trails surround the lake including a nice boardwalk through the marshy area which also includes signs describing the local wildlife habitat and points of interest. Later this month I hope to find a thriving colony of blue heron and more osprey flying overhead and to explore what new bird species I might find there!

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal! I should mention at this time that this blog post is not sponsored by Canon or any other firm. All equipment used in the making of the blog and video have been purchased by me on my own volition.

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