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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Birding Cherry Creek

May 2nd, 2015 · No Comments

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Cherry Creek seemed too urban. If I thought of it at all, it was about the upscale shopping center of that name. As a bird flies, Cherry Creek State Park is six miles from downtown Denver, the center of a metropolitan area where more than three million people live. More people visit this park — 1,500,000 annually — than any of the other forty-four Colorado state parks.

So even though the park is less than 40 miles from my home in Boulder, I had never visited it before this week. Sharon, my usual hiking buddy, hadn’t either.

Cherry Creek Reservoir, dammed in 1950 to protect Denver from flooding, is the centerpiece of the park. But it also includes wetlands, marsh areas, rolling grasslands, and wooded glades, all of which attracts a great variety of birds and birders, Sharon and me included.

Because the dam is so high we didn’t see the skyscrapers of downtown Denver. Except for some traffic noise, which I was able to block by turning down my hearing aids, the park seemed like an oasis in the city. We didn’t even see the dam or the reservoir for most of the five hours we visited the park.

We made sure to arrive before sunrise at 6 a.m., and by doing so we avoided heavy traffic and had the park mostly to ourselves of much of our visit. This is the time when people are least active and birds most active.

We saw too many species of birds to count. We saw many of them on the ground or water and also in the air. One of my most loved birds took off when I approached it, but I didn’t mind:

​A Snowy Egret Takes Off from Its Perch

A Snowy Egret Takes Off from Its Perch

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We spotted the Snowy as it fished along a creek. But just a few feet away we saw another of our favorite birds high in a tree.

​A Black-crowned Night-Heron Waits

A Black-crowned Night-Heron Waits

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Then it stopped waiting.

​The Night-Heron Flies Away

The Night-Heron Flies Away

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I looked around and saw yet another bird flying past.

A Double-crested Cormorant Moves On

A Double-crested Cormorant Moves On

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When we go birding, watching the sky is as important as watching trees, shrubs, and grassland. I happened to look up just as this heron flew by en route to its nest.

A Great Blue Heron Carries a Little Stick

A Great Blue Heron Carries a Little Stick

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On the reservoir the most obvious birds were pelicans. We saw many of them on the water, but I especially like to see them in flight, because they are so graceful and because they are some of the easiest flight shots I can get.

American White Pelicans Get a Bump on the Beak in Breeding Season

American White Pelicans Get a Bump on the Beak in Breeding Season

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Pelicans must be some of the most social birds, because they synchronize both their fishing and their flight. When we stopped for a break, we looked up and saw this pair circling over us again and again, always in sync.

Synchronised Pelican Flight

Synchronised Pelican Flight

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Of course, not every bird we saw was up in the air. One, in fact, was so deep in the grass that I barely spotted it as we drove by. This skittish bird has always been a challenge for me to photograph, and I was delighted that he stopped long enough for me to admire him.

A Male Ring-necked Pheasant

A Male Ring-necked Pheasant

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Much easier to see was the final bird we found this week at Cherry Creek. Its bright yellow color was clearly visible up in this tree.

​An American Goldfinch Studies the Intruder

An American Goldfinch Studies the Intruder

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I read somewhere that birds can be said to inhabit a “parallel universe” to ours, and that felicitous phrase has stuck in my mind ever since then. The worlds of birds and of people overlap, and when we look for the world of birds all around us, we can expand our mental and physical horizons. We can find the beauty of this natural world even in an urban park like Cherry Creek.

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