Summer Birds and Other Goodies

With my several trips this year and busy work, I haven’t had time to blog as often as I would have liked to.  So I thought I would combine several sightings over the summer into one post. Now that fall is officially here, many of these birds are gone or will be gone soon.

During the summer I went on several day hikes within a couple hours of Albuquerque.  Partly to see something new in scenery and partly to see some birds I don’t normally see around home.

One hike that was new for me was the Cave Creek hike in the Pecos Wilderness.  It’s about a 5-mile round trip hike to some caves that were created by water eroding through limestone.  It was a beautiful hike in thick forest along a creek.  Of course, Scarlett enjoyed the water immensely!

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So much fun at the water crossings!

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Lovely stream to hike along.

The caves were very interesting.  There were several that were big enough to walk inside of.  I didn’t go very far in as it got dark quickly and I wasn’t sure how deep the water got.  But lots of fun to explore.  Scarlett was curious about the caves as well.

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Unique caves created by water erosion.

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Scarlett exploring a smaller cave.

On this hike I saw a flock of Dusky Grouse.  This is pretty much the only grouse specie New Mexico has.  I’ve only seen this bird a few times of the past 20 years and never very close.  But I was lucky on this hike.  When I startled them, they flew into a nearby pine and sat very still – which was perfect for a great photo.

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Dusky Grouse

Another day I ventured to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains next to Santa Fe.  It was a very cloudy day and the birds were few, but I managed to get a few nice sightings.  A favorite – Green Tailed Towhee – came close to check me out so I was able to see his colors nicely.

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Green Tailed Towhee

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Williamson’s Sapsucker – Juvenile

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Dark-Eyed Junco

One of the highlights of this hike was seeing lots of mushrooms.  I’ve seen photos of the red and white polka dot mushrooms, but never have seen one in person.  It was a real treat seeing and photographing them.  🙂

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Poisonous mushroom – but so pretty!

Aspen Vista is a beautiful hike at about 8,000 feet above sea level.  As you know Scarlett loves water.   But she also loves culverts.  She’s always looking inside them to see what might be hiding.  On this hike, she found a culvert that was big enough to run through and it had water flowing through it.  Bonus!

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Scarlett having a blast!

I walked along the Rio Grande several times.  Most of the colorful summer birds love the Bosque.  It’s so much fun looking for and photographing these beauties!

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Blue Grosbeak

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Summer Tanager

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Neotropic Cormorant

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Downy Woodpecker

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Great Blue Heron

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Say’s Phoebe

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Broad-Tailed Hummingbird enjoying the summer mimosa blooms!

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House Sparrow

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House Finch – partial orange morph

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

One day while hiking along the river, I came across a Cooper’s Hawk enjoying breakfast.  You could tell it had caught a songbird by the foot hanging out of it’s beak.  Poor thing….

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Songbird for breakfast anyone???

While reviewing my photos, I realized I had captured a lifer bird on one of my outings along the river.  I love it when that happens!  In this case, I had mistaken it for a Summer Tanager.  But when I reviewed the photo more closely, I realized it was a Hepatic Tanager.  Yay!!!

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Hepatic Tanager

Of course, Scarlett always enjoys a visit to the river!

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Look at that big grin on Scarlett’s face!

One day I took a drive out to Stanley.  I hadn’t been there for quite some time.  I saw a lot of the usual residents there.  I never tire seeing a Western Meadowlark or the many hawks that live there.  🙂

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Cliff Swallow

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Red-Tailed Hawk (juvenile) – I love the coloring of this particular bird

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Western Meadowlark

Around home I’ve had several new birds visit my yard this summer.  It’s so exciting to see something new show up.  I hope they find me again next year!  Some were easy to photograph, while others were very elusive.  The birds I was unable to photograph but saw were Yellow-Headed Blackbird, Brown-Headed Blackbird, Northern Saw-Whet Owl, and Green-Tailed Towhee.

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Pygmy Nuthatch

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Curve-Billed Thrasher

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I love their orange eyes.

Along with the new birds I’ve seen this year, I’ve had plenty of the resident birds stopping by the feeders and bird baths.

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Western Bluebird

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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A very shy Ladderback Woodpecker (hence the blurry photo)

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Wilson’s Warbler – coming to enjoy my bird bath

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Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

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Hairy Woodpecker

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Mountain Chickadee

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Holding down a sunflower seed to extract its goodness.

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Bushtit

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Lesser Goldfinch

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Black-Headed Grosbeak

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Juniper Titmouse

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Virginia’s Warbler

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Rufous Hummingbird

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Bewick’s Wren

This summer New Mexico saw several forest fires in the Jemez Mountains.  Because of this, a lot of the bird life has migrated south to new habitats.  This summer we saw a large number of Lewis’s Woodpeckers in the greater Albuquerque area.  We normally don’t see them here, so it was a real treat to see one only a couple miles from my house.  It seemed to prefer this telephone pole as it was sighted there often.  And it didn’t like the squirrel using its pole.

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Lewis’s Woodpecker

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Get off my pole!!!

I drove down to the Monzano Mountains a couple weeks ago hoping to see the fall colors starting in 4th of July Canyon.  Though the colors still haven’t begun, I did get to see several birds.

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Steller’s Jay – so beautiful!

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Red-Tailed Hawks

I saw a Brown Creeper – always a delight.  They are very difficult to see against the bark and they move quickly.

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Brown Creeper

Plus I got a lifer!  A Golden-Crowned Kinglet.  I’ve been looking for this bird for several years and just happened upon it on this trail.  Yay!  This guy was way up in the canopy shadows and moving so fast!

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Golden-Crowned Kinglet

Among the many bird sightings I had over the summer, I came across some other interesting things.  I thought you might enjoy seeing them.  🙂

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Cool bee on a beautiful summer sunflower

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Ahhhhhhhh……

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Southwestern Fence Lizard

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Hoary Comma

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Aphrodite Fritillary

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Police Car Moth

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Western Tailed-Blue

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I love the colors on this dragonfly

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This beetle “hisses” when you touch it.  A unique defense!

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Great Plains Skink (juvenile).  This guy was so cool!!!  I love the markings on the face.  This skink will turn plain brown all over as an adult. 

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Painted Lady

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Can you see the walking stick expertly hiding

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Marine Blue

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Common Side-Blotched Lizard

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Jackrabbit

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Capulin Spring Birding

Yesterday I got up early so I could visit Capulin Spring in the Sandia Mountains.  This is a great time to visit the spring because we get some fall migrating warblers.  The most sought after warbler this time of year is the Townsend’s Warbler.  We only get them here for a few weeks in September, then we have to wait another year to see them again.

So I had high hopes of seeing this warbler.  I had my new camera after all!  I was hoping to get a better photo of one than I have in the past.

When I first arrived there were the usual Dark-Eyed Juncos about.  They are always here in great numbers.  We get several variety of Juncos in New Mexico, but the most common is the “gray headed”.

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Dark-Eyed Junco – Gray Headed

Then a group of Yellow-Rumped Warblers came in for a drink and a bath.  We have these birds here year round.  Now that it’s officially fall, their plumage is less vibrant than in the spring.  But they are still a pretty warbler.

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

After sitting quietly for awhile I was rewarded with the Townsend’s Warbler.  Two of them in fact! Beautiful!  They were very cautious to come get a drink.   As with all warblers, they were quick too!  But I managed to get a few good pics.  Here are a couple of my favorites.

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Townsend’s Warbler

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Townsend’s Warbler

Then a couple of fellow birders showed up – Sharon and Vicki.  We had a great time birding together.  With three pairs of eyes, we were able see more sightings.  One of which was a new bird for me!

Sharon pointed out a soaring bird way up high overhead.  I zoomed way in and was able to get one photo before it soared away.  Not a great photo but I got it! A Northern Goshawk!

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Northern Goshawk

For awhile we had been seeing Steller’s Jays.  They were acting very shy.  But once us girls started visiting, they seem to relax and start coming in.  Funny!  You’d think sitting still and quiet would make them more brave.  Instead, they were happier when they were ignored.  LOL!

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Steller’s Jay

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Steller’s Jay

There were several Ruby Crowned Kinglets about but they were quick!  I got a lot of bad photos and one decent one.

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Ruby Crowned Kinglet

Vicki pointed out a different Junco – a “pink sided”.  A pretty little bird.

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Dark-Eyed Junco – Pink Sided

Happily another warbler showed up for a drink and bath – an Orange-Crowned Warbler.

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

A couple nuthatches showed up.  I usually see more when I visit, but this day they were kinda scarce.

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch

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White-Breasted Nuthatch

Here are picks of the other more common visitors to the spring.

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Chipping Sparrow

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Northern Flicker

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Mountain Chickadee

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Lesser Goldfinch

Then to my great delight a Plumbeous Vireo showed up.  He was very nervous and darted all about.  Though not a great pic – it was the best of the bunch.  Soon he will be leaving us for the winter.

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Plumbeous Vireo

Just before I was leaving I saw a Green-Tailed Towhee – always a delight to see and hear.

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Green-Tailed Towhee

It was a great morning birding with friends.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rocky Mountain National Park – Day 4

Our last day in Estes Park.  I really didn’t want to leave.  There was so much to explore!

Dia said she wanted to sleep in.  So Scarlett and I headed out very early to go birding in Moraine Park where I had seen so many birds before.  It was a gorgeous morning.  And when I arrived at the trail head, there was birdsong everywhere.  Yay!

The trail I chose crossed a creek flowing through the meadow and headed for a rock outcropping with large pines and oaks.  I figured this would give me a bigger variety of species to look for with the range of habitat available.

My first bird sighting was a Lincoln’s Sparrow.  I could hear him singing among some dead trees along the creek.  But it took me forever to spot him.  He was very camouflaged among the dead branches.

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

Up ahead on the little bridge crossing the creek I saw several American Crows enjoying the morning sun.

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Soon I was at the treeline edge.  Lots of birds here.  There were many House Wrens busy flitting here and there so it was a challenge to get a decent pic.

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House Wren

While photographing the wrens, a pair of juvenile Williamson’s Sapsuckers came over to check me out.

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Juvenile Williamson’s Sapsucker

A White-Breasted Nuthatch was busy feeding above me.

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White-Breasted Nuthatch

I saw several Northern Flickers. For the most part they stayed a ways away.  I did manage to get a decent pic of one before it saw me and took off.

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Northern Flicker

Then I saw a quick peek of yellow.  At first I thought it might be a warbler, but when I finally got a good look at it, I realized it was a young male Western Tanager.  Always a pleasure to see!

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Western Tanager

A cute little bunny was feeding next to the trail.  I always think they are so adorable.

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All of a sudden Scarlett let out a low growl.  I saw where she was looking and realized there was a coyote in the meadow.  It decided it didn’t want anything to do with Scarlett, so it quickly headed off deeper into the meadow.  He was between me and the morning sun, so I didn’t get a great pic.  But I always love seeing coyotes.  For some reason, Scarlett always growls when she sees one.   That’s a good thing I guess!

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Coyote

There were several hummingbirds about.  I believe they were all Broad-Tailed Hummingbirds. In that same area where we saw the coyote, there was a patch of Bee Balm.  I love these flowers.  Such unusual blooms and hummingbirds love them.  I managed to catch one feeding but that low morning sun didn’t make for very good photos.  Sigh….

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Broad-Tailed Hummingbird

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Broad-Tailed Hummingbird feeding on Bee Balm flowers

Further up the trail I saw a LBB (little brown bird).  That’s usually how I end up identifying sparrows when you can’t get a good enough look at them.   This one caught my attention because it had two wing feathers sticking out funny.  🙂

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I believe this is a Brewer’s Sparrow

I only got one butterfly photo the whole trip.  There were wildflowers everywhere but very few butterflies.

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Small Wood Nymph

There were squirrels everywhere.  This park has a healthy population of a large variety of squirrels and chipmunks.  I almost didn’t see this chipmunk as it blended very well with the rock it was sitting on.

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To my delight a Steller’s Jay landed nearby and the sun was behind me!  🙂  This one looks to be a young one starting to get more adult plumage.

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Steller’s Jay

Out in the meadow I saw a flock of Red-Winged and Brewer’s Blackbirds feeding on the grass seeds.

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Brewer’s Blackbird

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Red-Winged Blackbird – female

 

I saw many American Robins while in the park, but I only managed to get one good photo of one.

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American Robin

As I was getting into my car to leave, I got one last photo of a Black-Billed Magpie.  I love these birds.  I’m so glad I was able to see so many of them and get some nice photos.

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Black-Billed Magpie

 

I was sad to leave the park.  I am definitely coming back again in the future!

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Mule Deer

Dia called me as I was heading back to town.   I asked her where she was.  Where else?!? Starbucks!   So I met her there and we enjoyed sitting by the river that runs through Estes Park.   Such a beautiful town.

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Dia at her happy place!

Before I end this trip, I thought I would share some of the fun and silly photos we took over the weekend.  🙂

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I made Scarlett get in the water.  She was not happy with me.  I think the loud waterfall nearby was scaring her.

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Scarlett didn’t know what to think of all the raging rivers and waterfalls.  Even though she loves water, this kind of water was scary!

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These marmots knew how to beg for treats

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This is definitely NOT my husband’s Jeep LOL!

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Dia photo bombing me

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Dia enjoying all her pleasures

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Kelly and her precious Scarlett

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What I do to get that “perfect” photo LOL!

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I just couldn’t get my new tube scarf thing to work 😐

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Enjoying gourmet ice cream on main street

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And of course, Scarlett wanted ice cream too! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rocky Mountain National Park – Day 3

On Day 3 Dia and I were up early again – ready to hit the trails for more beautiful sights.  This time Dia got a GIANT coffee from Starbucks so it would last her all morning long.  🙂

On our drive back from hiking to Emerald Lake the day before, we saw a beautiful waterfall in the distance.  I told Dia I wanted to hike to that waterfall.  So here we were heading to Alberta Falls.

The trail head is in the same area as Bear Lake.  So before heading to the falls, we took some very early morning shots at the lake.  Such a tranquil morning.  There was no breeze so the water was like a mirror.

The trail was in deep shade so early in the morning.  It was a challenge to get a photo of us together (lots of work editing those shadows).

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Dia and Kelly at Bear Lake

As we walked around the lake, the view started to open up and the shadowy areas began to lighten.

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Bear Lake

We came to one area that had giant boulders near the lake.  Dia climbed out on one to get a beautiful view.  A wonderful place for her to enjoy that coffee.

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I climbed an even higher rock and got a very wide angle view.  Gorgeous!

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Perfect reflection.

Soon we were on the trail to the falls.  The trail started off beautifully walking through an Aspen grove.

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Soon the trail started climbing and we could hear rushing water in the distance.  I couldn’t wait to see this waterfall.  I had seen photos online and knew it was going to be beautiful.  We came to Glacier Creek below the falls.  So much water! Not sure why it’s called a creek when it’s a raging river!

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Glacier Creek

After a little while of hiking, we could hear the falls in the distance.  The views were opening up and giving us more light on the trail.  Then finally we made it to the falls.  Stunning! The roar of the water was almost deafening.  A wondrous sound to my ears.

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Stunning waterfall.  I love how the sun’s rays were illuminated by the mist from the falls.

We stayed here awhile and took some photos of each other and enjoyed watching the waterfall.

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Doesn’t Dia look so adorable here 🙂 You can see why I love my friend.  She makes me smile all day long.

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Hmmmm….I see rabbit ears! LOL!

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Scarlett wanted her picture taken at the falls too!  😉

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My beautiful Scarlett enjoying the hike.

Then we decided to walk along the river above the falls instead of staying on the trail.  For some reason the trail leaves the water and we weren’t ready to do that.  I’m so glad we decided to walk upriver because the scenery was so beautiful.

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Glacier Creek

We spent quite a bit of time in one area.  The sound of rushing water and the privacy of the trees and being off trail.  It was so peaceful and relaxing.  We were truly enjoying God’s creations.

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The water was moving so fast!

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I tried to capture the feel of the water’s power.

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A raging river.

We were still feeling good so decided to continue up the trail and see if we could make it to Mill Lake.  We climbed higher and higher and the views opened way up.  Then we came to a bend in the trail and started walking into another canyon.  The views were so expansive.  Such a wonderful hike.

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I love this picture Dia took of me and Scarlett hiking.   🙂

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We came to a sign that said Mill Lake was 1.5 miles ahead.  By this time we had hiked 6 miles.  We were debating on if we thought we would make it to the lake and still have enough energy to get all the way back to the car.  We were somewhat undecided for a while.  Then Dia said “Let’s go!  We can do it! And someone said there’s a baby elk to see!”.  Hmmmmmm…… I was just about to agree when a big BOOM! sounded and I looked up to see this giant thundercloud above us.  WOW!

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Giant thunderhead.  Beautiful but scary when you’re out hiking.

That did it!  I did not want to be caught at 12,000 feet in a lightening storm.  No way! So we turned around and headed back to the car.

On one hand I’m sorry we didn’t go to the lake.  It never did rain.  I’m sure the views were fabulous.  But on the other hand, I know if we had gone we would have been so sore and tired by the time we got off the trail.  That would have extended our hike another 3 miles.  As it was, we ended up hiking another 10 miles this day.  We did 30 miles in 3 days!

I treated Dia to a wonderful dinner with wine for her birthday.  We even had enough energy left to do a little shopping in Estes Park.   It was a great way to end the day.

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When we got back to our hotel, we had one more treat for the day.  A mother Mallard was trying to take her babies to the little pond at our hotel.  When they saw me and Scarlett not too far away, they flattened themselves trying to hide from us.

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Mallards

We all stayed still and soon the mother felt it was safe enough to go to the pond.  🙂

 

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Safely at the pond 🙂

 

 

Rocky Mountain National Park – Day 2

It’s been a little while since I posted Day 1.  Sorry about that!  Life has been busy!

Day 2 was my favorite of the 3 days at the park.  Dia and I hiked most of the morning.  We took a hike that passed by 3 lakes.  Just stunning!  I think it was the most beautiful hike I have ever been on.  Seriously!  You’ll see why when you see my photos.  And trust me….they don’t do it justice!

We started out very early in the morning to miss the crowds and to hopefully get some pretty photos of the lakes.    And our planning paid off.

The hike started off in deep forest with a slight incline.  About a 1/2 mile into the hike we came upon Nymph Lake.  A beautiful little lake full of lily pads.

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Nymph Lake

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Lots of lily pads

Fortunately there was a couple there willing to take our photo.  Even though I had my tripod, sometimes it’s just easier to have someone take your pic.  🙂

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Scarlett, Kelly and Dia

Scarlett was wearing her new backpack.  We had her carry all of our water and snacks!  🙂  Being a working dog, she loved it.  Plus, it slowed her down some LOL!

After Nymph Lake we started climbing higher.   Soon we were climbing above the forest and the view started opening up.  So beautiful!

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Panorama of the trail.  You can just see the shimmer of Nymph Lake below.

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Stunning views

We came across the stream that fed into Nymph Lake.  It was flowing nicely.  I love hiking next to water.  Just that sound of the babbling brook can be so peaceful and rejuvenating.  Seeing as New Mexico really doesn’t have a lot of water, being in RMNP was so wonderful because it’s full of water.

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Dia at the creek crossing. Neat tree!

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Sweet little waterfall in the stream

As we climbed higher on the trail, it just kept getting even more beautiful.  I was never bored.  Every step was a joy.

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We started leveling out and the waters became calmer.  I figured we were getting closer to another of the 3 lakes.

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At this point Dia joked that we were hiking to that snow in the background.  Little did we know she was pretty close to the truth.

Soon we rounded a bend and there was Dream Lake.  I absolutely loved this lake.  It was my favorite lake of the entire trip.

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Dia and Kelly at Dream Lake

OMG! This lake was just breathtaking!  I could have sat here for hours.  The water was so clear we could see trout swimming along the shore.  Just beautiful!  The picture below is my most favorite scenic photo from the trip.

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Dream Lake – Just stunning!!!

Too soon we had to leave Dream Lake and keep hiking up the trail.  Dream Lake was long and skinny so there was lots of time to enjoy it as we headed up the trail.  Other parts of the lake were unique and I couldn’t resist taking a bunch of photos.

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Such a beautiful hike

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Dia loved this cool tree

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Clear water and perfect reflections

Soon we were climbing yet again.  Thankfully the trail was never too steep.  So it was an enjoyable hike the entire time.  And now that I think about it, Dia never once cried for a Starbucks.  That’s how great this hike was!!!

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I loved that from this point forward we stayed next to the stream.  At times we crisscrossed over it.  And at several points there were small waterfalls.  Gorgeous!

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What a great trail.

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Loved the bedrock this waterfall cascaded over.

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I had to scramble down between big boulders for this shot.  What photographers do for a photo!

Finally we were getting close to our final lake and the turnaround point for the hike.  We had made it to the snow that Dia had earlier joked about.  Granted, it was just here and there but we were at around 10,000 feet so it was cool enough for some of it to stay even in the middle of summer.  And what was on that snow????  A lifer bird for me!!!!  A Pine Grosbeak.  A beautiful male so pretty in his pink plumage.  This is the southernmost area you can see these birds in the US.  I was so excited!  I didn’t have my birding lens on, but thankfully he was close enough I got a decent pic with my regular lens.

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Pine Grosbeak

Right after seeing the grosbeak, we came upon Emerald Lake.  A stunning high alpine glacial lake.

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Emerald Lake

My favorite photo of the trip of Dia and I together.   Such a stunning backdrop.  Thankfully I had lugged my tripod along on this trip so I could get such great shots and pictures of us together.

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Kelly and Dia at Emerald Lake

We stayed here awhile just soaking up the views.  You could hear the distant waterfall.  So peaceful.  A lovely hike on a lovely day.

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Dia enjoying the view of the lake and distant waterfall.  Scarlett enjoying all the squirrels running around.  She let us know where every one was…

Too soon we had to head back down the trail.  Thankfully it was downhill the whole way back.  It was interesting to note how different the lakes looked when the sun was directly overhead.  I was so happy we got up at 5:30 to hit the trail early.  It paid off with gorgeous photos and no people.

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Nymph Lake later in the day

We were tired at the end of the hike.  We had a snack in parking lot and talked about what we wanted to do next.  Since we had just hiked 6+ miles we decided we wanted to drive around and see more of the park.

We ended up stopping at another lake – Sprague Lake.

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Sprague Lake

It wasn’t nearly as scenic as the other lakes, but was still nice to walk around.  Plus, there were lots of birds in the area.  Always a plus!

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Lovely wildflowers

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Juvenile Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Mountain Chickadee

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Mallard

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Cutie pie 🙂

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Mountain Bluebird

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Bank Swallow

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Steller’s Jay

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Dia couldn’t believe I got this dragonfly in flight 🙂

My favorite bird on this walk was a Song Sparrow.  He was kicked back, relaxing, and singing his little heart out.  So Sweet!

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Song Sparrow

As if we hadn’t hiked enough that day, I talked Dia into hiking from Sprague Lake down to Glacier Basin.  It was a pretty little downhill hike.  But I tell you, we were wiped out at the end.  Thankfully they have shuttle buses running that were able to take us back to our car.  While waiting for the bus, I saw a wasp carrying a large caterpillar.  He was moving fast so it was tough getting a pic.  But I was fascinated by this.  That caterpillar is going to be food for its young.

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Common Thread Waisted Wasp

After getting back to our car, we decided to drive around a little more.  We drove through the giant meadow of Moraine Park.  A beautiful area full of wildflowers and big vistas. And lots of birds!  I made plans with Dia to let me get up early the day we were to drive home so I could go birding in this area before we left.  I knew it was going to be great!

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Moraine Park

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Lovely wildflowers

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There are six Northern Flickers in this photo. Wow!

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Black-Billed Magpie – no longer my nemesis 🙂

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Bee Balm

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Brewer’s Blackbird male and female

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Williamson’s Sapsucker – I love this pic!

There was one river that we crossed every day.  It had beautiful rushing water.  I really wanted a picture of it.  We tried walking up next to it, but it didn’t do it justice.  Though we did see this sign…

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So I decided to walk back out onto the bridge for a pic.  Much better! So beautiful!

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Gorgeous!

When we got back to the hotel, we were pooped!  While I was walking Scarlett for her potty break, Dia sent me this text.  LOL! We had hiked 10 miles this day.  Plus 10 miles the day before.

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As we were getting ready for bed (at 7:30 pm HAHAHAHAHAHA!), I decided to take Scarlett out one more time to go potty.  When I looked out, I saw Bull Elk right outside our room!  WOW!  Of course, I had to grab my camera and take a dozen pics following them as they grazed.  What a great way to end a day!

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Bull Elk

 

 

Rocky Mountain National Park – Day 1

Recently my friend Dia and I took a long weekend to visit Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) near Estes, Colorado.  We have talked about going there for about 5 years.  Finally our schedules came together and we were able to go.  I have long wanted to visit this national park.  The photos I’ve seen from there are just stunning.  Water everywhere!  (Unlike New Mexico LOL!)

It took us about 10 hours to drive there, due to the many stops made at Starbucks 🙂

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Kelly and Dia getting their Starbucks fix!

We arrived at the entrance sign to Estes Park late in the day.  Of course, we had to take a pic there of us in our matches dresses.  🙂

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We made it!  Don’t you love our matching dresses!?  🙂

There were several Black-Billed Magpies around and one was happy to pose for me on the sign.  I guess they are no longer a nemesis of mine LOL!

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Black-Billed Magpie

We knew it was going to be crowded every day there as we were visiting during peak season.  So we made plans to go to bed early and get up very early to beat the crowds.  It proved to be a great plan as we found when we were leaving the trails that’s when most people were heading out.  Doing this allowed us to visit the spectacular park with minimal intrusion of other people.  There’s nothing more discouraging to a photographer than to have a beautiful setting for a photo crowded out with masses of tourists.

Dia has been to RMNP a few times in the past.  I had never been before.  So I followed her lead on what to see first.  Her favorite drive is up Old Fall River Road.  A one-way dirt road that climbs to the highest point in the park.  When I looked at the map, I realized a couple of the waterfalls I wanted to photograph were on this route.  Yay!

Our first stop was at the Allivial Fan Falls.  This waterfall was created by a major flood due to a failure in a dam upstream.

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Alluvial Fan Falls

Heading up Old Fall River Road, we saw so many beautiful sights.  Everywhere you looked, it was a Kodak moment. Dia drove my Jeep so I could take photos.  She loves driving my Jeep – especially off road.  🙂 At one point, Dia almost ran over a marmot who had no fear of the Jeep.  Evidently he’s used to tourists feeding him as they pass.

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Kelly and her Jeep (not her husband’s Jeep) 😉

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Dia and Scarlett enjoying the drive up Old Fall River Road

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Marmot

I especially loved this little waterfall at the beginning of the drive.  There was no formal trail, just enough of a path to view the water closer.

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Further up the road we came to Chasm Falls – another waterfall on my “must see” list.  What a beautiful waterfall coming through the narrow canyon.

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Looking downstream

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Scarlett, Kelly & Dia

Scarlett loves water – so of course we had to let her play a little before hitting the road again.

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Scarlett enjoying the falls in her own way 🙂

Soon we were climbing higher and higher.  The views expanded.  Just glorious!

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Gorgeous views from Old Fall River Road.

We eventually rose above the tree line.  Beautiful!  We came across patches of wildflowers.  Everything was so green – way different from New Mexico.

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Just before reaching the RMNP Alpine Visitor Center, we came across more marmot.  I liked how this one posed nicely for me.

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Marmot

The views at the visitor center overlooking a glacial cirque were truly breathtaking.   The grasses were so lush and the snow provided a beautiful contrast to the photos.

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Glacial Cirque

There is a hike from the visitor’s center that takes you to a peak.  It was tough going considering there was very little oxygen at 12,000 feet above sea level.  The views from the top were amazing.  I love exploring!

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Trail from the visitor’s center.

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Breathtaking views!

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Dia

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Where’s Starbucks???!!!!!

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Views of the visitor center from the top of the trail.

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Dia, Kelly and Scarlett at the top!

After a brief stop at the Visitor’s Center, we decided to take the drive to Grand Lake.  We wound our way back down the other side of the mountain.  At the bottom we took a short hike to stretch our legs and enjoy the beautiful weather.  I saw several sparrows in this area but only managed to get one pic of a Savannah Sparrow.

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Such a lush valley of green

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These squirrels found a good home.

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Dia happy with her Starbucks! 🙂

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This was the only butterfly I saw that day. Terrible photo as I didn’t have my birding lens.  I believe this is a Mormon Fritillary

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Savannah Sparrow

As we made our way toward Grand Lake we saw a turn off for Lake Irene.  What a serene little lake.

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Lake Irene

As we left Irene Lake we saw a bunch of folks looking into the dense brush along the road.  We figured they’d spotted something good.  And indeed they had – a moose!  Actually two moose – a mother and calf.  They were a ways away and in dense brush, but I managed to get a couple photos.  I’d never seen a moose before!

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Moose with calf

We also saw some nice bull Elk along the road.  One was really enjoying the good life of summer.

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Very healthy bull Elk

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Enjoying summer

Near Grand Lake I spotted an Osprey nest.  It’s always a good day when you see a bird of prey.

 

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Osprey

Grand Lake was very touristy and actually not in RMNP.  So we turned around and decided to drive the Ridge Road back to Estes Park.  Once again we were in store for more stunning views way above the tree line.

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Click, click, click….I took over 5,000 photos on this trip! Yikes!

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Expansive views

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I love the high alpine meadow flowers – so small and delicate.

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Dia and Kelly

At one point we saw a nice herd of elk.  They were grazing in the high meadows well above 11,000 feet.  They have a very picturesque home.

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Scarlett was enjoying all the sights and smells.

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So many smells!!!!

We stopped at one pullout to view a glacier.

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Hmmmm…look at my Jeep keys precariously dangling from Dia’s hand….

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Glacier at 12,000 feet.  I love the blue pool of water in the lower right.

While taking photos, Dia noticed a little brown bird hopping just below us.  I quickly got my birding lens and was happy to see it was a Brown-Capped Rosy Finch.

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Brown-Capped Rosy Finch

Further down the road we stopped at another pullout.  There were lots of folks feeding the birds and squirrels here.  I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take close up photos of the rather tame squirrels.

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What a cutie!

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excuse me…you have something in the corner of your mouth…

But I was thrilled to see a Clark’s Nutcracker here looking for handouts.  I’ve only seen this bird once before several years ago in Santa Fe.  I’ve heard them a few times since then, but never saw them for a photo.  So it was great to see this bird close up!

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Clark’s Nutcracker

The views from this location were beautiful.  You could see the entire valley below.  You can even see the Alluvial Fan Falls area we had visited in the morning.

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It was a full day of fun!!!  Off to bed early for another full day of exploring!

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These flowers were extremely tiny!