Sharp-shinned hawk misses flicker for lunch

The gregarious band of little bushtits took off in a burst of feathers and cheeping alarm calls.


I looked up just in time to see a Northern flicker shoot out of the top of a tree, with a sharp-shinned hawk in hot pursuit. Luckily for the flicker, the hawk had made its move too soon, and given the flicker a head start the predator couldn’t overcome.

Northern flickers spend all year in the wooded areas of the Front Range of Colorado. They are in the woodpecker family, but they spend as much time on the ground as they do in trees, stabbing their big sharp beaks into the soil in search of insects.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sharp-shinned hawks are woodland predators. They, too, live year-round in Colorado woodlands, and in fact they cover most of North America.  Most of their diet comes from birds that they surprise and chase through the trees — exactly what I saw today, except that the flicker got away.notice the long notched tail and dark cap on head

Rocky Weekend

My husband and I spent last weekend in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We took a hike up North Moraine, along the Ypsilon Lake Trail. About a mile up, I stopped to photograph this good looking male hairy woodpecker. I was really glad to find him. I had always wondered if I was correctly identifying the downy woodpeckers I’d run  across in the foothills. I can now rest assured that I was — this guy was much bigger than the downies.

As I took my photos, my husband said “Don’t move too fast. There are three buck mule deer just above us.” We stood still for a few moments, and soon, were had deer all around us.mule-deer-ypsilon-trail-05_edited-1



While this was very cool, it was also a little disconcerting. We think of the big grazers as being very skittish and docile, but I have seen elk and moose charge people when this close. This being the end of the mating season, and and about half of this band being male made me stay very alert to their body language. But we all remained respectful, and eventually went on our way.

As we climbed a little further, we got a close-up of the damage that the Roaring River received in first, the 1982 Lawn Lake Flood, and thirty-one years later, in the 2013 Week of Water (Record-demolishing Storm).


It’s a little hard to get a feel for exactly how deep this gouge is, but the trees growing on its edges are twenty to thirty feet tall.

One of the things that makes the gouge so deep is that it cut through, not solid rock, but the glacial till that the moraine is made of. I know this because the cut shows lots of sand with rocks of different sizes scattered through it. Glacial till is the rock that the glaciers ground up and pushed into thousand-foot high moraines on either side and at the end of the rivers of ice. When I realized just how loose the dirt was, I backed slowly away from the edge.fall-river-valley-from-n-moraine_edited-1

The hike turned out to be a lot longer and a lot steeper than we realized, and about half-way up, our water ran out. We’d been hiking for about three hours at that point, and it was clear that we weren’t going to make it to the top. On the way back down, though we caught sight of the Fall River Valley stretching out below us. A fine way to end our day.

Downy Woodpecker Stops By

By and large, this winter has been notable for the lack of birds we’ve had come by. We just haven’t had many birds since the Week of Water in 2013. (Record-demolishing Storm) We still have most of our feeders up, but we are currently feeding squirrels with occasional house fiches, mourning and collared doves, and starlings dropping in for a few minutes before they dart off again for where ever they’ve been feeding lately.

We had a lovely surprise the other day, though, when a female Downy Woodpecker stopped in. Downy Woodpeckers are one of three woodpecker species that visit our backyard.

Downy Woodpeckers are small black and white birds that cling vertically to the trunks of

Female Downy Woodpecker

Female Downy Woodpecker

trees (or in this case, our suet feeder). Their beaks are short and surprisingly delicate for a bird that makes its living by pounding it into a tree. Males have a red patch on the back of their heads. Downys are common across North America, any place you have trees. They make a call that has been described as a high-pitched whinny.






Hairy Woodpeckers look almost identical to Downy Woodpeckers, with whom they share


Male Hairy Woodpecker with caterpillar in his long sharp beak.


their range. They, too, perch vertically on tree trunks and branches while they listen for insects under the bark. But Hairy Woodpeckers are larger, and have a sturdier chisel-shaped beak almost as long as their heads. Again, male Hairys have a red patch on the back of their heads. Both sexes make a wiki-wiki-wiki call.





Hairy woodpecker-06_edited-1

Male Downy Woodpecker hunting insects. Notice red patch on base of head.

The most obvious woodpeckers that we see are the red-shafted Northern Flickers. They are medium sized birds with black ladder stripes on their brown backs and black spots on their white fronts. These birds fly with a distinctive flap flap glide method of flight. While they are flapping, they flash the orange-red feathers that give them their names. Male flickers have a red mustache drooping from the corners of their bills.

Red-shafted flicker copy-1

Male Northern Flicker. You can see a touch of red on the underside of his tail

Flickers are unusual woodpeckers. While they can dig  in the bark of a tree trunk, you’ll find the most often on the ground, digging in the soil for insects.

Flickers do have a call — wick-a-wick-a-wick-a — but they often pound on the side of a house to advertise for a mate. They seem to do this in the Spring, most often on the Sunday mornings that you wanted to sleep in. That means that they ought to start pounding away in a month or so.




Yes, there are other colors of Northern Flickers — yellow-shafted Northern Flickers live on the eastern plains to the Atlantic. And there are non-Northern Flickers. Gilded and Cuban Flickers live — you guessed it — in the southwest and southeast respectively.