25 de mayo de 2024

Castlewood Canyon State Park 4-23-2024

Had the day off from work so I went to Castlewood Canyon State Park. This may be the one outdoor place that I know better than any other. Like the back of my hand you could say. Growing up it was always the closest state park, so I would come here with family, school, and later with friends or just by myself.

This time I went by myself and hiked around the rim of the canyon, a round trip hike that takes me roughly 2-3 hours.

There were lots of wildlife and wildflower sightings this entire hike. The rain we have been getting lately is evident in the greenery that has taken over the entire park. Wildflowers I saw included bluebells, Larkspur, arnica, golden pea (or bean, according to iNaturalist taxonomic definitions), strawberries and raspberries, penstemon, cinquefoils, and skullcaps.

The trees in Castlewood Canyon are mostly gymnosperms - Ponderosa pine, juniper, etc. But there are also willows by the creek, cottonwood trees, and in at least on portion of the canyon, a grove of aspen trees.

Animals are also very active in the park right now. In addition to wild turkeys and mule deer, I saw several prairie lizards. Looking back through past observations, it looks like my prairie lizard sightings are all between April and August, although I did see a dead one in Fort Collins in January a few years ago - maybe came above ground too early and froze to death?

Lots and lots of birds as well. I saw many spotted towhees (they flew away too fast for me to get any good pictures), turkey vultures, and ravens. And a gnatcatcher, I think. At least that's what the audio recording leads me and another iNatter to believe.

I might start recording all my visits to Castlewood Canyon SP in journal posts so that I can start building a journal record of the plants and animals I see throughout the year and over many years. And also things like how green the park appears to be throughout the year, and how the water level in Cherry Creek looks.

Publicado el mayo 25, 2024 12:51 MAÑANA por mhughes26 mhughes26 | 13 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

21 de mayo de 2024

Backyard Wildflowers

These huge cumulous clouds caught my attention this evening, so I decided to get out to take some photos of them. My apartment complex is backed up against some bluffs where lots of scrub oak grow and create great habitat for birds, mule deer, rabbits, and other wildlife. We are approaching the part of the year where the Front Range will experience thunderstorms and rain most afternoons. These usually begin with dramatic cloudscapes such as this, with anvil shaped thunder heads. Then the sky gets very dark, there is typically a lot of lightening and thunder, and if it ends before sunset, the sunset will be very dramatic with the residual clouds leftover from the storm.

Now that we have been getting some rain, the area is greening up: leaves are sprouting out on the scrub oak, the grass is getting taller, and wildflowers are sprouting out. Prairie pasqueflowers seem to be some of the first wildflowers to show themselves in the springtime, although I haven't actually seen any myself this year so far (although I've noticed plenty of sightings of these flowers from others on iNaturalist this spring).

One of the things I enjoy about iNaturalist is that I've been able to use it to slowly learn the different types of wildflowers around the state. And although I think that the photo recognition software that iNaturalist uses is very cool, I think it's still an important skill to learn how to identify without an algorithm. One way I like to learn the flowers is by taking photos of the wildflowers on iNaturalist, then going back with a guidebook to identify them. Doing this - actively looking images up in a physical guidebook, seems to help me remember the different species better. Wildflowers of Colorado Field Guide by Don Mammoser with Stan Tekiela is the guidebook that I like to use because it organizes by color, which is what I notice first about these wildflowers.

When you start to learn the different types of plants in an area, you suddenly see differences in plants everywhere, even if you don't know the names of the species you are looking at. You begin to notice things like leaf shape and arrangement, color, flower type, etc. These photos are living proof of the sheer diversity of angiosperms, and this is only in a small area of central Colorado.

And then you get flowers like this (below): members of the genus Erigeron. There are so many of them, and they all look so similar, that I don't usually bother trying to differentiate. When I was a field tech, identifying Erigeron flowers was the bane of our existence because it was sometimes near impossible to differentiate between species. They all just look like daisies.

Publicado el mayo 21, 2024 05:06 MAÑANA por mhughes26 mhughes26 | 9 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

16 de abril de 2024

Spring Blossoms and Buds

The transition from winter to more balmy weather has been underway in the Front Range, and this weekend made this very evident. The deciduous trees still look bare for the most part, but closer inspection reveals that buds are bursting on many of them. Some trees that are further along in this process even have a faint light green shimmer.

Of course, where you are in the Front Range has a big impact on the progress of this spring greening. I've noticed that where I live in Castle Rock, things are further behind season wise, probably due to the increased elevation on the Palmer Divide. The Denver metro area in contrast, is further along - probably due to a lower elevation and the urban heat island.

My favorite thing about spring though is seeing blossoms on trees and flowers. Colorado doesn't have the same grandiose springtime that exists in the Midwestern and Eastern United States. In my early 20s I moved for work to North Dakota and then Virginia where I saw the dogwoods, cherries, and redbuds in their shades of white, pink, and purple. Recently I was in northern Texas where blue bonnets, along with some bright red flowers dotted the medians and roadsides on the highway between Amarillo and Dallas.

Still, my home state does spring in its own special way. Typically, the mountain peaks of the Front Range are still white with snow while the plains slowly green up. Pasqueflowers are among some of the first wildflowers to start blooming (I have not seen any as of this journal post). And there are actually a lot of fruit trees (some ornamental, some in orchards) in Colorado like cherries and apples (the picture above is an ornamental cherry that my girlfriend and I found in Littleton this past Saturday). Speaking of apples, Colorado used to be an apple capital of the United States before Washington State developed the Red Delicious and Colorado suffered a drought that wiped out the industry (1). Both apples and cherries have gorgeous blossoms and as long as a late spring snow storm or frost doesn't kill them, they really brighten Colorado neighborhoods, orchards, and ranches.

Spring seems to be later in Colorado than other parts of the country, but the trend everywhere is that our changing climate is causing springtime to start earlier and cause certain phenological and ecological trends to fall out of sync. Song birds, according to a recent report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences are having smaller broods of chicks in years when they are out of sync with leaf out (2).

All of this is concerning, but I do enjoy the warmer weather. With temperatures in the 70s this past weekend we went for a walk around Crown Hill Park around Wheat Ridge (a favorite spot) and saw blossoms on wild plum (Prunus americana) as well as cottonwoods and willows budding out. We also saw a family of turtles sunning themselves on a log in a wetland (and they immediately dove into the water when we got close, so I did not get a picture for iNaturalist).


  1. Uncovering A Colorado Apple Mystery. Science Friday https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/colorado-apple-mystery/.
  2. Wildlife Science: Urban Moths, Water Features, Spring Songbirds. National Wildlife Federation https://www.nwf.org/Home/Magazines/National-Wildlife/2024/Spring/Animals/Urban-Months-Water-Features.
Publicado el abril 16, 2024 03:40 MAÑANA por mhughes26 mhughes26 | 4 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

02 de abril de 2024

Sounds of Springtime

Springtime in Colorado is a tricky thing to pin down because March and April are months where we can still see a lot of snow. In fact, we got quite a bit of snow this past March, including several days where work was remote because roads were either hazardous or just completely impassable.

Never the less, there are still four seasons in the Rocky Mountains and the Front Range. This past weekend seemed to usher in some familiar signs of springtime. Greenery is still sparse in the Denver area, but here and there we've seen blossoms on some of the ornamental trees planted around the city. We even saw a few trees with budding leaves, though certainly not the majority.

My girlfriend and I like to go for walks on the weekends around Crown Hill Park in Wheat Ridge and noticed a lot of red-wing blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) in the tall stalks near the water. We don't seem to remember hearing them very often from previous walks we took through the winter so it's tempting to think that their arrival is a sign of spring seasonal change, but Colorado is technically within the year round range of the birds, and southern and some western populations do not migrate (1). Also, according to ornithologists at the Cornell Lab for Ornithology, males and females make their calls all year round (2). Regardless, it's a great sound and it had been some time since our ears had heard it.

A more definitive springtime sound that we heard was that of the many chorus frogs (Boreal chorus frog, Pseudacris maculata) that were in the partially submerged grassy areas and ditches around the park. Once the snow and ice have melted and created wetland habitat in flooded meadows, drainage ditches, and small temporary ponds, the males begin to call to females to come lay their eggs (3). This can start as early in March and marks the beginning of the mating season which will continue until May (3).


  1. Red-winged Blackbird Range Map, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-winged_Blackbird/maps-range.
  2. Red-winged Blackbird Sounds, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-winged_Blackbird/sounds.
  3. Boreal Chorus Frog | Horticulture, Landscape, and Environmental Systems | Nebraska. https://hles.unl.edu/boreal-chorus-frog.
Publicado el abril 2, 2024 03:37 MAÑANA por mhughes26 mhughes26 | 4 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

25 de febrero de 2024

Porcupine Sightings and Mud Tracks

There is a porcupine (North American Porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum) that lives in a culvert in an part of Castle Rock that I visit sometimes to take the dog for a walk. The first time I saw this porcupine was a little over a year ago. In fact, I have been documenting him (or her, I really don't know) on iNaturalist for the past year whenever I see him. Below are the links to those observations:


And finally today's observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/200319890

This porcupine seems to be habituated to the constant stream of bikers and dog-walkers that regularly pass. The culvert that it is currently making its home in is not very far away from a concrete bike path that many people (myself included) frequent. Also, at one point there was a lot more dense vegetation surrounding this culvert (including lots of sunflowers), but somebody mowed it all down. Fortunately, other residents of this neighborhood seem to also know about the porcupine and have affectionately named him Patrick. Patrick, the neighborhood porcupine!

While walking the dog (who thankfully was completely oblivious to the porcupine), I ended up seeing several other signs of wildlife, including tracks of wild turkeys and what I think might have been a raccoon. There is a lot of disturbed soil in this area due to construction and the snow has been melting which has made a lot of areas very muddy. These conditions have led to lots of wildlife tracks.

Towards the end of the walk I saw some sort of wolf spider and then finally a red-tailed hawk that was eating some small animal (probably a rodent). When I approached the hawk to try and get a better photo (because the zoom lens on my camera phone leaves much to be desired) it of course flew away but I did see some blood on the post where it had been feeding.

With the end of February approaching the days are definitely getting longer and I passed several wetland areas on this walk that I think will be good areas to try and search for frogs and toads this coming spring and summer.

Publicado el febrero 25, 2024 12:56 MAÑANA por mhughes26 mhughes26 | 6 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

21 de febrero de 2024

Great Backyard Bird Count 2024

This year my girlfriend and I participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count. We were already in Estes Park on Saturday and Sunday, snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park. We saw two mountain chickadees while we were up there.

On Monday, February 19th, the last day of the event, we went to Castlewood Canyon State Park, which is one of the best places near where I live to see a wide variety of birds. We started at the north end of the park around four o'clock and made our way towards the canyon rim, but turned back due to lots of mud and the fact that we weren't seeing a lot of birds towards that area.

However, in the roughly two hours we spent looking for birds we ended up tallying American robins, woodpeckers (either Hairy or Downy, I'm not sure which), dark-eyed juncos, a black-capped chickadee, spotted towhees, a Townsends's solitaire, and a red-tailed hawk.

Other birds that we did not see but which I have seen before in the park included turkeys, turkey vultures, ravens, and Stellar's jays.

We did end up seeing a bunch of mule deer at the edge of the park on our way home, which although are obviously not birds are still great to see, especially in the soft February evening light.

Publicado el febrero 21, 2024 02:35 MAÑANA por mhughes26 mhughes26 | 4 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

24 de enero de 2024

Snowshoeing in State Forest State Park - January 2024

Went snowshoeing in State Forest State Park this past weekend (January 20, 2024) with my girlfriend and two other friends who joined us. Snowshoeing is one of my favorite ways to spend time outdoors because it's a naturally slow and quiet activity that lets you take the time to notice your surroundings. State Forest State Park typically receives plenty of snow in the winter time as well, so this is also a plus.

One of the many reasons I love this park so much (my girlfriend and I were there in September to view the aspen trees, which were at their peak for fall foliage and color at that time - see my previous journal post), is that the four seasons are so distinct here. Summer is very lush and green here with an assortment of wildflowers, in autumn the aspen trees turn gold, orange, and even red, and of course in winter there is an abundance of snow. Unlike the Front Range of Colorado (the Denver metro area, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, etc.) where snow typically melts within a few days, here the snow stays and often accumulates. Of course this is largely due to the high altitude mountain location on the Continental Divide (State Forest State Park is nestled between the Medicine Bow Mountains and the Never Summer Range to the north and south respectively, and between North Park and the Poudre Canyon to the west and east respectively).

The crags and surrounding peaks (below) are the first thing you see when you enter the park and depending on the time of year they can be frosty and coated in snow like they were most recently, green and patchy in the springtime, or completely free of snow by late summer and fall.

This state park is known as the moose capital of Colorado, and this is due to the fact that moose were successfully reintroduced in Northern Colorado and are now a regular sight in the area. We did not see any moose on this trip, but we did see evidence of plenty of wildlife etched in the snow by their tracks. We originally thought that the tracks in the photo below were from a bobcat, but @galxe pointed out that these were more in line with that of a snowshoe hare (the smaller tracks being from the front paws, and the bigger ones that we originally took for a cat being the hind legs). Thanks @galxe!

As I've already mentioned, State Forest State Park is a great place to view aspen trees and although they no longer have their leaves this time of year, their black and white bark against the snow and the winter mountain sky is stunning. You will notice in one of the photos that some people carve their initials or other notes into the tree bark. Please don't do this.

Further along our winter hike, we discovered these controlled burn piles. Winter is a safer time to do this since the moisture from the snow and the cold temperatures will prevent a conflagration but there is concern from many conservationists that this concentrated heat from the burn pits is not great for the soils underneath. After the fuel (the lumber) has burned, it can cause the soil below to be more hydrophobic and then susceptible to erosion once the snow melts or it rains.

The main reason I wanted to make this post is because I love snow, winter, and the cold, and because there is no reason to stop using iNaturalist even when lots of plants, insects, and migratory birds are no longer around. If you live in a colder climate, getting out and trying to identify animal tracks in the snow is a lot of fun too!

Publicado el enero 24, 2024 04:22 MAÑANA por mhughes26 mhughes26 | 7 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

17 de octubre de 2023

Colorado Aspen Leaf Change - Autumn 2023

For most any Coloradan, aspen trees conjure up images of crisp fall days walking through groves of black and white bark and golden to red leaves that delicately rattle in the wind (hence the name quaking aspen). Here in the Southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado, aspens usually start to change their leaves beginning in September, with peak colors being observed in the middle of the month and continuing into early October (1). Besides the time of the year, latitude, elevation, local weather patterns (including drought or above average precipitation), and tree health also impact the timing of fall color changes (1).

This year, Colorado received more precipitation than usual so vegetation really took off. In fact, the snow this past winter and spring was enough to pull Colorado out of drought for the first time in four years (2). That’s pretty exciting! Experts with the Colorado State Forest say this contributes to better than average fall colors this year! In particular, if the growing season is wet (lots of snow and rain, which happened in Colorado this year), and autumn is sunny with cool, frost-free nights, then colors can be expected to be brighter (1).

So, going forward, how is climate change going to affect aspen trees and fall colors in the Rockies? It’s complicated, because this year’s conditions don’t align with the projected trend of Colorado becoming warmer and drier in the future, which stresses and kills aspen groves, but in general it seems that we can expect fall foliage to come at a later time in the year and stick around for a shorter period of time (3). However, brighter colors may also result, due to the warming temperatures which may equate to sunnier days in the fall (3).

In any case, I can confirm based off my sightings while camping and hiking this September and October, that the fall colors in Colorado are alive and well this year. Enjoy these photos of aspens (and some cottonwoods too) in Northern Colorado (Kremmling, North Park, State Forest State Park) and Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

On September 23, 2023, driving north of I-70 around Silverthorne, Dillon, and Frisco, I followed CO-9 north towards Kremmling. The valley here was full of aspens and also cottonwoods that were in their full gold regalia.

From Kremmling I continued north through Rabbit Ear's Pass and into North Park. This is also a beautiful area with lots of aspens, willows and other deciduous trees that were turning very yellow.

Finally, at the end of the day I reached my destination of State Forest State Park, and this is where the most spectacular color show was taking place (in my opinion at least). The finale was the sunset on the aspen trees facing the Never Summer Mountains in the distance (including the Crags).

Further south the following Saturday (September 30th), I ended up in Golden Gate State Park (west of Golden, near the Indian Peaks Wilderness). Aspen trees here were much further along, which speaks to how quickly the leaf changing season is in the Rocky Mountains.


  1. Aspen Fall Colors. Colorado State Forest Service https://csfs.colostate.edu/aspen-fall-colors/.
  2. Colorado’s fall leaf-peeping season could be one of the best in years. RMPBS https://www.rmpbs.org/blogs/news/colorado-fall-leaves/.
  3. As Colorado continues to warm, what happens to its famous fall foliage? RMPBS https://www.rmpbs.org/blogs/news/what-could-global-warming-mean-for-fall-foliage/.

To celebrate the fall colors this year in Colorado, and elsewhere in North America, I'm going to make a plug for the launch of a new iNaturalist project that I created: the Quaking Aspen Phenology & Fall Colors Project. If you love aspen trees or just enjoy observing changes throughout the year, join the project! Right now it is pretty casual but in the future I plan to add data fields for recording phenology pertaining to bud burst, leaf change, and leaf loss. (If anybody knows how to add additional project data fields on an iNaturalist project, let me know in the comments section).

Click on the link to join the project!

Publicado el octubre 17, 2023 04:47 TARDE por mhughes26 mhughes26 | 3 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario