After the experience with the flying sedge of cranes, when many of them had landed in their munching spots, we headed to Alamosa. There we popped into The Roast for coffee and a pastry. Good coffee and great atmosphere. I think I’d try the real breakfast rather than a pastry if I went back. Next up was the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge. Based on what we’d read in brochures and on TripAdvisor, we weren’t expecting much. We opted not to take the four-mile nature hike at the visitor center, as it was still only about 20 degrees, and made our way onto the nearby driving loop instead. A few yards in, we had our first spotting–a coyote! It walked across the road, and seemed to look back at us.
The frozen marsh was pretty and we were enjoying the mountain views. We came across a large tree that had four birds in it. As we approached, they flew away, but we spied one of them not far away, a bald eagle. Could all four have been bald eagles 🦅? Surely not. But indeed, we saw a few more on the drive and concluded that they probably were. At this point, we were up to a daily eagle record for Maureen (I have been to Alaska…) and felt very lucky to have seen so much wildlife.
The NWR literature and the information at the visitor center (once again, outside interpretive boards, as it was closed) both indicated the best wildlife viewing spot in the Alamosa NWR was the Bluffs area. It was a bit of a trek, but getting up at o-dark-thirty gives you a lot of day to play with, so we took the Subaru on the bumpy dirt roads to the Bluffs. We skipped the first pull-out on the Bluffs drive, as we’d been following a pickup and I was tired of seeing and eating dust. At the next overlook, we did get out and saw some birds standing on the ice. They were not ducks or geese (or cranes). It’s hard to tell from the photo, but with binoculars you could tell that they were bald eagles. We learned later (when we stopped by Lathrop State Park) that you can identify the juvenile (non-“bald”) bald eagles by their yellow beaks and talons.
We noticed a few birds flying around, but couldn’t quite identify them. We drove a bit up the road until we came upon a tree filled with at least 30 birds. This is what it looked like after most of them flew off.
And this is what the ones that flew off looked like.
Wow. Just wow. Now I was at a daily eagle record.
We had no idea that we would see bald eagles at all, let alone dozens of them. Apparently (Lathrop ranger again) they are very social creatures and hang out in large, playful (see lower left image above) extended-family groups. Wait, convocations. The woman from the previously mentioned pickup told us that the eagles do not nest in this area, but instead stop over, much like the cranes. The ranger confirmed this and said that the area from Pueblo to Alamosa had become quite “popular” with the eagles. Bald eagles are one of the conservation movement’s great successes. In the 1950s and 1960s, their estimated population in the continental United States dipped below 1000, largely due to reproductive issues caused by the pesticide DDT. Seeing a bald eagle was an incredibly rare treat when I was a child and even into my young adulthood. Now, with the phase-out of DDT and cleaner waters to fish in, there are hundreds of thousands of bald eagles in the U.S.
And just when you think you’ve seen it all…
We took the shorter nature hike at the Bluffs, since the temperature had made it to the 30s and the sun was shining, and saw this critter:
It really wanted nothing to do with us, which was OK with us too. I understand that quills are painful. We did not see a prickle (har har) of porcupines, as they are generally solitary. Another note of trivia, though its name means quill pig, the porcupine is really a small ROUS (rodent of unusual size, for those unfamiliar with the reference).
It was a great day. We were SO glad we did not turn back on La Veta Pass on Friday night. I recommend this adventure to anyone who loves birds and/or wildlife.