Wildlife Wednesday

A male house finch takes flight after a quick drink from my birdbath. Photo by Jamie Simo.
A male house finch takes flight after a quick drink from my birdbath. Photo by Jamie Simo.
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Home Sweet Home?

I am so excited! Two days ago I saw Flick and Beaky mate in the tree across from the flicker box. I didn’t see Flick at all yesterday, but I did see Beaky chase a starling away from the box, which gave me hope that the flickers have claimed it. My fingers are crossed because I’m tired of chasing starlings!

Today, the pair have alternated being in the box all day and have kept up a pretty steady hammering on the entrance to enlarge the hole. Since both male and female northern flickers incubate the eggs, this may be a sign that they’ve started laying (like many birds, flickers lay an egg a day until laying is over. They may end up with as many as 8 or 9.). Of course without a nest box camera, I can’t be sure about that. I’ll have to invest in one for next year. In the meantime, I guess I’ll have to wait and see if any chicks pop up. Eggs tend to hatch between 11 and 13 days after laying and the young fledge about two weeks later.

Spotlight on Parks: Chatfield State Park

Chatfield State Park, located in Littleton, CO, is the home base of the Audubon Society of Greater Denver, which conducts volunteer naturalist training and public programs at their nature center in the park. As a naturalist in training with Audubon, I’ve had the privilege of seeing the park in all seasons and can honestly say it is truly spectacular all year long.

Male spotted towhee being banded during bird banding training session at Chatfield State Park.  Photo by Jamie Simo.
Male spotted towhee being banded during bird banding training session at Chatfield State Park. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Chatfield owes its popularity to the diversity of its landscape, benefiting from its proximity to prairie, foothill, and riparian ecosystems. As a result, it boasts an impressive array of flora and fauna. I’ve seen everything from rattlesnakes to kingfishers to coyotes at the park. More than 345 bird species have been spotted in the park, making it ideal for bird banding operations, which occur every spring and fall in a joint effort between Audubon and the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

Chatfield was established as a state park in 1976. Prior to that, the area served as the first center for the lumber and cattle industry within Colorado. The park is named for Isaac Chatfield, a Civil War general who farmed much of the land in the late 1800’s. In 1965, flooding of the South Platte River necessitated the building of the Chatfield Dam as a control measure, creating the Chatfield Reservoir. Today, the park’s 5,318 acres and 26 miles of trails make up a popular place for fishing, boating, biking, horseback riding, and many other activities. The park even hosts hot air ballooning and model airplane flying!

Hot air ballooning over Chatfield State Park. Photo by Jamie Simo.
Hot air ballooning over Chatfield State Park. Photo by Jamie Simo.

One issue currently affecting the park is a controversial proposal to reallocate flood control waters within the reservoir. The reallocation calls for increasing the amount of water within the reservoir, which would be done by flooding 587 acres of land within the park. Opponents of the plan state that the flooding will destroy important wildlife habitat while failing to provide a reliable source of more water for the rapidly expanding human population within the area. While comments on the proposal and environmental impact statement are no longer being accepted, you can still write a letter to the governor, editor, or contact your local representatives to express your opinions.

Like all Colorado state parks, Chatfield requires a fee upon entry. That fee is $8 per day or you can purchase a $70 annual pass for unlimited access to all Colorado state parks. Chatfield also has 197 spots open for overnight camping. Rental fees vary seasonally and can be found on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

Happy International Beaver Day!

Did you know that today is International Beaver Day? April 7 was designated International Beaver Day in 2009 to honor the birthday of Dorothy Richards who built a beaver sanctuary in Dolgeville, NY.

Beaver at dusk in Golden Ponds Park in Longmont, CO. Photo by Jamie Simo.
Beaver at dusk in Golden Ponds Park in Longmont, CO. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Beavers (Castor canadensis in the U.S.) are amazing animals, often called “ecosystem engineers” because of their practice of cutting down trees with their continuously-growing incisors (front teeth) and using the logs to build dams. The main reason beavers construct dams is to raise the water level around their lodges. Beavers aren’t very fast or agile on land, so having their lodge entrance under water protects them from predators. Even when the water’s surface freezes, they’re still able to gain access to their den as long as the deeper water hasn’t frozen.

Beaver dam along the St. Vrain Greenway. Photo by Jamie Simo.
Beaver dam along the St. Vrain Greenway. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Beavers are herbivores that eat the soft layer of tissue under the bark of trees (called cambium) as well as aquatic vegetation. Therefore, damming a river or stream also helps flood an area, making it easier for the beaver to reach new sources of food. The water can also act as a kind of refrigerator for vegetation the beaver can eat later. This is called “caching.”

As mentioned before, a beaver’s incisors grow continually throughout its lifetime. This is a key characteristic of rodents, of which the beaver is the second largest in the world. Like all rodents, beavers must chew to grind down their teeth, which is another reason they chop down trees.

Besides the services beavers provide to an ecosystem, like creating more habitat for other wetland species, beavers have historically been important to people. Native Americans used the beaver for clothing, food, and medicine and they played a big role in the European settlement of North America due to the heavy demand for beaver pelts, mainly for hats.

Tree partially chewed through by a beaver. Photo by Jamie Simo.
Tree partially chewed through by a beaver. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Even though beavers aren’t hunted on a wide scale for food or fur anymore, the loss of habitat and the consequent increase in human/beaver conflicts still pose threats to their existence. Therefore the aim of International Beaver Day is to raise awareness of beavers and their importance as well as inspire us to use the beaver as a model to help solve environmental problems such as climate change. I think that’s a pretty worthy goal.

The Saga Continues

So, because the starlings seemed to have taken it over, I took down the flicker box I hung on the side of my house and thought that would be the end of it. And it was going to be, except last Thursday Flick came by looking for the box and landed on it where I’d left it sitting on my potting bench on the deck. He then started drumming on it, which made me feel terrible. I felt so terrible, I put the box back up again. I even put in fresh new wood shavings for him to excavate. Yes, I was shamed by a bird.

Flick excavating the flicker box. Photo by Jamie Simo.
Flick excavating the flicker box. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Northern flickers are apparently not early risers because the starlings have been hanging out near the box when I get up and I have to chase them away. Fortunately, they’re pretty skittish. Unfortunately, they’re persistent. But around late morning/early afternoon, the flickers have been arriving. Both Beaky and Flick have been at, on, or in the box for a good period of time for the last few days. Right now, Beaky is on the tree opposite the flicker house while Flick is inside the house.

Male northern flickers do most of the work of excavating a nesting cavity and that definitely has been the case here. Flick has been working steadily on the box with only occasional assistance from Beaky. She’s been on the box more often since Thursday though so I’m hopeful this means she’ll be laying eggs soon!