BIRD WATCH: Visit to Rocky Mountain National Park a treat for the eyes

With fall in the air, birds are on the move, including mountain bluebirds and Townsend’s solitaires.

COLORADO’S SAN LUIS Valley is described as “the highest, largest mountain desert valley on the North American continent. “

Crossing this endless flat plateau is part of visiting the Great Sand Dunes National Park, located in south-central Colorado.

Three times the size of Delaware, the valley floor seems to stretch without end in all directions.

It was a little intimidating as my sister and I followed our plan to see all of Colorado’s national parks.

There are four, and they stretch from the Rocky Mountains in the north to Mesa Verde in the south.

They are all different and they are all special places.

There was still some daylight left when we could finally see signs of habitation in the distance.

The dunes rise up like foothills at the base of the San Juan Mountains.

The drive across a portion of the plateau was endless and almost devoid of any other life.

We reached our destination shortly before sundown and had the opportunity to enjoy the changing light patterns on the wind-carved “foothills.”

Our hopes for seeing some birds weren’t very hopeful. Surprises do happen.

Birds began flying around the small patio outside our room.

It was a good place to sit and watch the fading light on the dunes.

First, the birds were spotted on utility lines below the motel.

They began moving through the sagebrush and onto different spots near the motel’s patio.

They almost acted interested in joining us and other patrons. These social birds could only be bluebirds.

A flock of mountain bluebirds appeared to be considering spending the night nearby. They were probably a family moving southward.

Fall was definitely in the air in this Rocky Mountain state.

The show didn’t end with the bluebirds.

At first, several of the birds sharing our evening resembled them, but a closer look at one sitting a few feet away revealed these were cousins of the bluebirds.

Seeing a Townsend’s solitaire in the Pacific Northwest is a rare event.

I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen them.

This time, there were four, and they also acted like a family traveling southward.

Another surprise at this spot was a nest on one of the porchlights.

It belonged to a family of barn swallows.

Not only that, there were two young swallows occupying it.

They had been flying around the area while there was still light.

Now, they were settled in for the night, and their parents were giving them a late night’s supper.

It made me think that getting more than one brood launched in the region was challenging for this bird.

Spring comes late in the High Country, and a flying insect population diminishes rapidly once fall arrives.

These swallows were in for some rushed flight training in order to join their parents for the journey south.

At least they don’t have as far to go as our swallows.

The next day was another long drive.

Our destination was Colorado Springs, where we would spend several days before flying home.

This trip was triggered by the publicity surrounding the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary.

It was a great excuse to see a state we’d heard so much about.

One spot wasn’t a national park, but it was on the “bucket list.”

Monument Valley has fascinated us since we were watching John Wayne movies while young children.

You drive forever across more flat land where signs of civilization are few, but I would do it again.

One bird is memorable for that drive.

We put 1,500 miles on the rental car in two weeks on roads that were above 10,000 and 11,000 feet elevation.

Cliffs, high cliffs, were a daily adventure.

I hope to share more on Colorado’s parks including Rocky Mountain National Park, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Mesa Verde and more on what turned out to be a great adventure.

Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: [email protected].

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