Located in Loveland, Colorado, Boyd Lake State Park is known primarily for its titular lake, which offers the opportunity for all kinds of water recreation such as boating, swimming, and fishing. The park also features camping, picnicking, and biking via the Loveland Trail. Even in the “dead” of winter, Boyd Lake State Park is a hopping place. Most of those people doing the hopping though aren’t people at all, they’re birds.
On a warm December day, I set out for the park with my camera, binoculars, and new spotting scope to see what I could see. The day started out overcast, but that didn’t matter much to the gulls. As I set up my scope to watch them, I startled a pair of Eurasian collared doves and a northern flicker. Near the marina, a small group of mallards dabbled in the shallows and a common goldeneye swam lazily.
From the marina, I walked over to the swimming beach, a long sandy expanse where summer visitors can sunbathe or play in the water. That morning the sand was covered in Canada goose droppings: less than appealing between the toes! A few of the geese were combing through the grass nearby for anything good to eat. They eyed me warily as I surveyed the water. With the aid of my scope, I was able to pick out a couple of female northern shovelers and more common goldeneyes. Northern shovelers are present along the front range all year long while goldeneyes are winter residents of Colorado.
According to the park brochure, bald eagles are common at the park during the winter and I wasn’t disappointed to see one in a bare cottonwood overlooking the lake. This one was an adult with the typical white head and tail the bird gains in its fourth or fifth year. Farther down the nicely paved trail, I saw another raptor. This one was a female merlin, a small falcon often called a “lady hawk” because noblewomen in the middle ages commonly used it to hunt small game. Its other nickname, “pigeon hawk,” is due to its shape in flight.
By far the most abundant bird at the park that day was the American coot. Flocks of them bobbed up and down in the shallows searching out aquatic plants. Poor fliers and awkward on land, coots are nevertheless excellent swimmers. Despite their love of water, however, they’re actually more closely related to long-legged wading birds like sandhill cranes than to the ducks they superficially resemble. For example, their feet, rather than being webbed like a duck’s, have flat pads on each toe.
While birds are the most visible residents of Boyd Lake State Park, the park is also home to a number of other animals. On my walk, I saw a few fox squirrels and I caught a whiff of what was surely a fox’s territorial marking. Raccoons also inhabit the park. I didn’t see any of them, but their tracks peppered the muddy shallows of the lake.
If you’re looking for a great place to view wildlife, you can’t go wrong with Boyd Lake State Park. Don’t be put off by the cold weather, winter can be a great time for birding and you might even have the park all to yourself. Entry to the park is $8 a day or you can buy a yearly state park pass for $70. Camping is $20 a night. Fees for additional activities are available on the park’s website.