Look-Alike

These are the dog days of summer and it’s still plenty hot here on the Front Range, but there are starting to be signs that Autumn isn’t too far away.

Male broad-tailed hummingbird visiting a feeder at Helen Hunt Falls in Colorado Springs.  Photo by Jamie Simo.
Male broad-tailed hummingbird visiting a feeder at Helen Hunt Falls in Colorado Springs. Photo by Jamie Simo.

The days are already getting shorter and I’ve seen flocks of Canada geese and grackles hitting the skies. In the mountains, the hummingbirds are loading up on nectar and insects to get ready for their own southern migrations.

Broad-tailed hummingbirds are the most common hummingbird in Colorado in the summer and last weekend in Estes Park they were zipping along everywhere! The weekend before that, I was in Colorado Springs visiting the Starsmore Discovery Center and they were there too, but some of those hummers looked a little strange…

White-lined sphinx moth enjoying the garden at Starsmore Discovery Center in Colorado Springs.  Photo by Jamie Simo
White-lined sphinx moth enjoying the garden at Starsmore Discovery Center in Colorado Springs. Photo by Jamie Simo

In fact, some of those “hummingbirds” weren’t birds at all! Sometimes known as a “hummingbird moth” or “hawk moth,” the white-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata) is a large, fuzzy brown and orange striped moth with a pink patch on the hind wing that is common across much of North America, though it is particularly abundant in desert regions. Unlike a lot of moths, the white-lined sphinx may be just as active during the day as at night and its rapid wing beats allow it to hover just like a hummingbird.

The white-lined sphinx isn’t a particularly picky eater. As an adult, it’ll sip nectar from native flowers like penstemon and columbine, as well as flowers you might have growing in your backyard garden like petunia and lilac. The larval form is fond of crops like tomatoes and grapes, which can be a problem in farming areas, as well as evening primrose, which is a host of the caterpillar. Where that flower grows in abundance, the caterpillar is also likely to appear in great numbers. This past spring at Pawnee National Grassland the road was covered with the little green and black critters. 

Larval form of the white-lined sphinx moth.  Photo by Jennifer M. Petty.
Larval form of the white-lined sphinx moth. Photo by Jennifer M. Petty.

In warmer areas, there may be 2 broods of caterpillar. When they’re ready to pupate, they disappear underground and emerge again as adult moths. Not long after emerging, the female moth will release pheromones to attract a mate. The resulting eggs can number up to 1,000. Like many insects, after breeding, the adult moths will die and the life cycle will begin all over again.

Keep an eye out for these colorful and fascinating moths when you’re on your next hike.

Spotlight on Parks: Garden of the Gods

Panorama of Garden of the Gods as seen from the visitor center viewing deck. Photo by Jamie Simo

Near Manitou Springs, Colorado, lies Garden of the Gods, a natural wonder every bit as imposing and impressive as ancient temples like the Parthenon, or the pyramids of the Mayans and Egyptians. The red and white spires of this national natural landmark are hewn out of sandstone thrust out of the earth millions of years ago by tectonic forces.

The first people to explore Garden of the Gods were Native Americans, including the Utes who traditionally wintered in the park.  In modern history, white Americans discovered the park when looking for gold in the 1800’s.  It wasn’t until 1859 that the park gained its current name, having previously been known as Red Rock Corral.  

Sandstone spires at Garden of the Gods.  Photo by Jamie Simo.
Sandstone spires at Garden of the Gods. Photo by Jamie Simo.

During my visit, I was amazed not only by the spectacle of those sandstone spires, but also by the number of visitors to the park and the distance those visitors traveled to get there.  I saw license plates from as far away as Florida.  According to the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, despite being only 1,300 acres, Garden of the Gods boasts 100 times the visitation rate of Rocky Mountain National Park, an area 200 times its size!

As the sun played peek-a-boo behind the clouds, I walked the trails, watching swarms of white-throated swifts glide around the peaks.  Occasionally they would dip into a narrow crevice before emerging again, as fast as their name suggests.  Rock doves (aka pigeons) also make their home in the park.  

A western scrub-jay sits atop a pine in Garden of the Gods.  Photo by Jamie Simo.
A western scrub-jay sits atop a pine in Garden of the Gods. Photo by Jamie Simo.

They peered at me from the tops of several smaller spires as I passed. A lone cottontail rabbit rested in the shade, idly nibbling on the greenery while bushtits and scrub-jays flitted about.  Although rattlesnakes also live in the park, I didn’t see any, though I kept my eyes to the ground just in case.

One of the major pastimes for visitors to the park is rock climbing.  However, climbers require a permit (free at the visitor center) and proper equipment for technical climbing.  Horseback riding is also permitted in the park on authorized trails as is mountain biking.

Access to the park is free to the public and open from 5am to 11pm between May 1 and October 31 and 5am from November 1 to April 30.  So if you’re in the area, take some time to check out Garden of the Gods.  It’s a fantastic place to take a day trip or longer.