Elk Mountains Topo View

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Elk Mountains Aerial View – from a commercial flight from Denver to LA

Thanks to my friend Todd Caudle, this is too cool not to share. I love studying the land from the air and the flight from Denver to LA is such a rare treat – Front range, Swatch Range, Elk Mountains, Colorado Plateau, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon…all in a couple of hours western tour. So, I sent Todd this photo, converted to black and white because of the overwhelming blue from so high in the sky, and asked if he could help me identify the main peaks. I knew Todd would work his annotated magic, and so this photo is much more meaningful. To see the hallowed ground of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness that we’ve trekked a week at a time, the high passes, towering peaks, deep valleys – all condensed into a rectangular frame is pure magic. All witnessed through a tiny window.

Return To Roost

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An adult bald eagle returns to roost, one winter evening. Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, Colorado.

There are sixty or so bald eagles roosting at Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR this winter, right on the edge of Denver. The eagles come back every year, using the tall cottonwoods for hunting perches to pick off a prairie dog or cottontail rabbit, and sometimes feast on winter-killed white-tail and mule deer. The eagles that return from Canada and Alaska join a resident pair that have a gigantic nest in a cottonwood gallery forest located in the middle of the refuge. Bald eagles are roost communally, and you can see them leaving the roost in blue-black predawn light, threes or four at a time traveling low across the refuge. They return in the evening, generally one at a time and over the course of an hour or two, until a few cottonwoods at the roost site are full of bald eagles, like dark ornaments. They chatter and fight for a favorite branch to spend the long winter night. Some of the eagles stay on the refuge to hunt, using cottonwood trees and decommissioned telephone poles. Others leave, possibly to fish along the South Platte River. Photographically, it’s somewhat of a mystery how to best position myself to make images of the eagles leaving and returning. I do my best not to bump them off of loafing perches – they spend up to 90% of their day loafing, or resting to conserve energy in winter. But it’s maddening to see them flying all over the refuge, just high enough or or too distant to photograph. For this image, I stood sentinel in a forest of cottonwoods where I’ve seen eagles graze the tops on their evening flight to roost. This particular eagle flew right over my head, a bit higher than I would have liked, but still thrilling. If you remember the days of DDT and how rare and endangered bald eagles were in the ’60’s and ’70’s, it’s still a rush to see one up close.