Spotlight on Parks: Sawhill Ponds

Aside from the many national, state, and county parks within Colorado, there are also many “open spaces” and “natural areas.” One of the best of these to visit, especially this time of year, is Sawhill Ponds in Boulder. Sawhill Ponds is designated as a wildlife preserve and is managed by Boulder County Open Space and Mountain Parks.

View of Sawhill Ponds in Boulder, CO. Photo by Jamie Simo.
View of Sawhill Ponds in Boulder, CO. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Like Golden Ponds, which I profiled last time, Sawhill Ponds was once a gravel quarry. When mining ended in the 1970’s, the pits filled with ground water and became the wetland there today. There are 18 ponds within the Sawhill Ponds area, which provide a great place for ducks and geese to stop over during fall and spring migrations.

In early spring, you’ll be treated to a multitude of different duck species. Early morning is a great time to see them. This past Sunday I went on a duck hike with Dave Sutherland, a park naturalist with Boulder County Open Space and Mountain Parks. We were not disappointed! Of the 21 duck species that have been seen at Sawhill Ponds and its sister park Walden Ponds, we saw 11. They were: mallard, green-winged teal, northern shoveler, northern pintail, redhead, common goldeneye, hooded merganser, ring-necked duck, American wigeon, wood duck, and gadwall.

A muskrat swimming at Sawhill Ponds. Photo by Jamie Simo.
A muskrat swimming at Sawhill Ponds. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Sawhill Ponds isn’t just a great place for seeing waterfowl, however. Riparian areas (areas immediately adjacent to bodies of water such as rivers, streams, or lakes) are extremely productive ecosystems, especially in the western U.S. where water is a precious resource. Less than 1 percent of the western U.S. can be considered a riparian area. Because of this, they typically contain a greater number and diversity of wildlife than surrounding arid regions.

A northern shrike at Sawhill Ponds in Boulder, CO. Photo by Jamie Simo.
A northern shrike at Sawhill Ponds in Boulder, CO. Photo by Jamie Simo.

My last two trips to the park definitely illustrated this. On a dusk trip last week, I saw a pair of great horned owls silhouetted against the sky, duetting with each other. A northern shrike surveyed the park from the top of a tree during that same trip and a pair of voles rustled through the underbrush in search of food. The smell of either skunk or a territorial fox was powerful in several places along the trail. On Sunday, a muskrat swam lazily toward shore before disappearing at the sight of our group and red-winged blackbirds and robins sang out challenges to all interlopers. Chorus frogs loudly serenaded each other.

Along with wildlife watching, the park is a good destination for fishing and horses are allowed on many of the trails, though bikes are prohibited. Dogs are also allowed as long as they’re on a leash. Entry to the park is free and so is parking, so what are you waiting for? Head to Sawhill Ponds to enjoy all of what springtime there has to offer!

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