Monday, March 2, 2009

a snowshoeing we go

This week,I was visiting the beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park. Chad and I had a blast snowshoeing in the park,the lower elevations were sunny and dry.
We had great wildlife sightings,a large herd of Elk cows grazing on meadow grasses one day and a small group of bulls the next day at a lower elevation,basking in the sun. The mountain Bluebirds had made their appearance,checking out possible nest sites. At the higher elevations the weather got much colder,and we snowshoed up to Emerald lake. The wind was incredible where the terrain opened up to the frozen lake. We were lucky to find a snow cave at the summit to have lunch in. Getting out of the blasting wind inside the cave,we felt almost toasty(not quite). Drinking some hot broth and getting something to eat gave us the little break we needed. The air was crisp and laced with the resinous scent of Pine and Fir. We got ten or eleven miles in,one day we were there until dusk. At the lower elevations I had a chance to explore the plant communities just coming out of deep sleep. The snow will most likely make another appearance,and the plants know this and keep the peace a few more months. I spent summer vacations hiking in Colorado,exploring the vast plant and animals that abound there. That smell of pine takes me back long ago to sunny memories with my family. We would always stop at an ancient lodge called the Bald Pate Inn. I think they have one of the world's largest key collections...but why we would stop there was for the hummingbirds. Generations of the tiny birds would return like clock work to the timber veranda. I would stare for what seemed like hours at the frenzied throng. If a hummingbird is born at a certain location, it will return to that same place,for the rest of it's life(as long as there is a steady food source). So,with the dozens of feeders kept full,there are a lot a birds in one place. Most hummingbirds you see are Ruby Throated hummingbirds,Rufus hummingbirds are also seen-they seem more aggressive to me. I would dream about the experience for many nights after. I started to plant hummingbird nectar plants in my family's garden, having the most success with garden Phlox and Four O'clock, both old fashioned favorites. I did put out feeders,but the tiny birds prefer natural food when available. When I bought my first house, I planted many more enticing plants for the hoped for throng. I didn't have much luck enticing a regular group of birds until I planted the very southern Cyprus Vine or Cardinal Creeper Vine. All hummingbirds love this plant...if you plant it, eventually they will come! Now at Hiddenfield Farm, I have about a dozen birds that make their home there. I keep three feeders full, as well as plant a huge assortment of hummingbird plants for them as well. If you plan on trying to attract these flying marvels with a feeder,make sure you thoroughly clean the feeders once a week with hot vinegar water and a brush. Do not use soap or bleach-it leaves a residue that will poison the birds. there is no need to purchase commercial food for the feeders. A four to one ratio of water to sugar is perfect for them. You can mix with tepid water to help dissolve the sugar. You would think that honey would be perfect for nectar, but it is unsafe for them to eat. Always remove the feeders several weeks before the first expected frost to encourage the birds to start their annual migration. Contrary to popular myth, hummingbirds don't 'hitch' a ride on the backs of migrating water fowl, they fly singly at low elevations to their winter range. In the spring, I anticipate the small birds return. The males always make their appearance first,followed by the moss green females after about a week. I love to watch them seek out their favorite haunts to perch and preen after such a long journey. In my zone five garden, I put their feeders out by April first, in anticipation of their return. Although I know they nest close to the house, I've never found their well hidden nests of spider web and moss,someday when I'm least expecting it ,I will.

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