Rocky Mountain National Park

We took a quick trip to Colorado for a family reunion. There wasn’t much time for hardcore birding, but we made a quick pass through Rocky Mountain National Park.

Moose are always a treat to see, provided you are a respectful distance away.

Elk are seemingly everywhere in the park. This young bull was rather shy, which I was grateful for since I needed to walk down the path where he was lounging.

This large bull didn’t even bother looking at people. He was quite comfortable where he was.

The main target of my visit to the park was White-tailed Ptarmigan. This species is notorious for walking right up to non-birders, but often proves a challenge for those actually trying to see it. I have searched for this species in Rocky Mountain NP on several previous occasions, as well as at Glacier NP and Mt. Rainier NP. I finally connected with this bird by hiking to a site where they had been reported consistently in recent days and then scanning the tundra for about half an hour. She was quite far away, and I couldn’t get closer without leaving the trail and damaging the fragile tundra, so I made do with a distant view of this female and her four babies. This is the first lifer I have seen since January of 2018, so I was thankful for any view at all.

After finding the ptarmigan, I stopped at a large snow field to look for Brown-capped Rosy-Finches. Two lifers in one morning was a little too much to hope for, but I did find this Horned Lark, which is always a treat.
By late morning, the traffic and crowds were becoming unbearable, an unfortunate result of this park’s popularity. So I didn’t have a chance to study the small furry critters that often present themselves at close range here.

The lodge where we stayed hosted lots of Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels. This is the same species found in Oregon, but they seemed less colorful in Colorado.

Yellow-bellied Marmots were quite vocal, and too shy to allow a close approach.

While they didn’t provide any photo opportunities, it was great to see and hear Cordilleran Flycatchers. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were everywhere. It is always nice to experience different bird communities when traveling, even if birding is not your main goal.  Now that I’m home, it’s time to start studying southbound shorebirds.

Happy summer.

Timberline

landscapeI hiked from Timberline Lodge to the snow fields above Silcox Hut. My main target was Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. I missed the finches, but there is always something fun to see on the mountain. There were a lot of skiers and snowboarders on the remaining snow fields. I don’t know how you expect to find Rosy-Finches while going that fast, but to each their own.

clark'sSeveral Clark’s Nutcrackers were hanging out near the lodge. This species can be quite tame, but the ones near Timberline tend to be shy and keep their distance. Perhaps I need to carry more snacks.

lupineLupines were one of several wildflowers that are currently in bloom.

horned lark 3A couple of Horned Larks were pretty cooperative.
horned lark

rock wrenThis blurry creature is a juvenile Rock Wren. The pale sandy brown plumage had me stumped for a while, as the adults are more clearly marked with cold brown and gray colors and speckling.

gm ground 2No visit to Timberline is complete without Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels, the Alpine Ambassadors of Cuteness.
gm ground

marmot pairYellow-bellied Marmots reign over the higher slopes. The vegetation is so sparse here it is hard to imagine how these guys find enough to eat.

yb marmot 1
yb marmotwalking that fine line between majestic and adorable

Rocky Mountain National Park, Part 2, Mammals

tundra 2A morning at Rocky Mountain National Park produced more mammals than birds, an unusual occurance in most areas. Despite the low numbers of birds, you always have to appreciate the charismatic megafauna.

single mule deerBehind this bush is a really large Mule Deer.

double mule deerHe was soon joined by a friend.

marmot 1Yellow-bellied Marmots have appeared on this blog before, and surely will again. In deference to those who are not as enamored with marmots as I am, I will limit this post to three photos.
marmot trio 2This marmot snuggle party was inspired by a Coyote that had just run through the area.
marmot 4You may ask, what could possibly be cuter than a baby Yellow-bellied Marmot? The answer. . .

pika 1a baby Pika! Who needs Brown-capped Rosy Finches when you have these little fluffballs scampering across the tundra?

pika 3more Pika adorableness

Mammals seen but not photographed that morning included Coyote, Rocky Mountain Elk, Bighorn Sheep, Snowshoe Hare, and an unidentified chipmunk. It was Mammalpalooza.

Timberline Lodge


Timberline Lodge (Birding Oregon p. 74) is a great place to for some high-elevation birding in the Cascades. A good paved road leads right up to the treeline, and you can access the Pacific Crest Trail just uphill from the lodge. The parking lot is often full of tourists and skiers, even in late summer. But if you are willing to walk for a while, you can enjoy solitude and stunning scenery.


Cassin’s Finch


Brewer’s Blackbirds are common residents of parking lots in the Portland area, but it is nice to see them in a more natural setting here.


This female Brewer’s Blackbird is one of the small percentage of the population with pale eyes.


Mountain Bluebird, male


Mountain Bluebird, female


This pair of Mountain Bluebirds had built a nest in a gap under the eave of a small building above the lodge.


Lots of these little butterflies were feeding on the scattered wildflowers. My best guess is Acmon Blue.


The highlight of my long oxygen-deprived hike uphill from Timberline Lodge was this Yellow-bellied Marmot. He looks very regal in this pose.