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

Touring the Arsenal‏

May 2nd, 2011 · No Comments

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“Make wildlife, not weapons,” could be the new slogan for Rocky Mountain Arsenal. The U.S. Army made both conventional and chemical weapons there, starting in World War II. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took over the arsenal beginning in 2004 and converted it to be one of the country’s largest national wildlife refuges.

The refuge is home to more than 330 species of wildlife. While the arsenal didn’t make any of the wildlife, it certainly made it possible for them to live there. I go back there again and again to see and photograph the wild animal and birds.

I toured the arsenal on each of the past two weekends. One tour was a photography tour hosted by the arsenal itself and the other was a birding tour of Denver Field Ornithologists, of which I am now a member. Who would have thought that I would become a field ornithologist!

The arsenal is high prairie, the type of plain landscape for which love doesn’t come easy, but instead grows on you.

Short-grass Prairie at Rocky Mountain Arsenal

Short-grass Prairie at Rocky Mountain Arsenal

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Here us where the buffalo roam and the coyote hunt.

A Herd of Bison at Home on the Arsenal's Range

A Herd of Bison at Home on the Arsenal's Range

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The Real Wile E. Coyote Stops Its Hunt to Consider Eating Me

The Real Wile E. Coyote Stops Its Hunt to Consider Eating Me

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The arsenal has far more species of birds than of mammals. Of the 330 species of wildlife that are at home there, 268 are birds. The birding tour that Dave Rhodes led on Saturday found 54 bird species, which made it a good birding day indeed. But since most of the sightings came through a spotting scope, the photo tour the week before yielded more photographs.

We saw Swainson’s Hawks on both of the tours. They are nesting after returning from their winter vacation in Argentina, where they go every year.

This Swainson’s Hawk Just Flew in from Wintering in Argentina

A Little Song Sparrow

A Little Song Sparrow

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The arsenal is so big and we drove on so many new roads lacking any signs that we got lost. Considering that the arsenal comprises a greater area than the island of Manhattan, getting lost is forgivable. In fact, had we not got lost, we would have missed a little bird that was the biggest excitement for some of the tour group, including our guide Linda. This Loggerhead Shrike rarely visits the arsenal, she says. She had never seen one before, and I hadn’t either.

A Loggerhead Shrike

A Loggerhead Shrike

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A Great Horned Owlet in its Nest at the Arsenal

A Great Horned Owlet in its Nest at the Arsenal

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One reason why I have begun to photograph so many birds lately is because so many of them exist. The 268 species of birds that people have seen at the arsenal are just a drop in the bucket. In the U.S. and Canada people have seen 924 (or more than 1,000, depending on who is counting). Even that is but a small proportion of the more than 10,000 species of birds in the world. This makes bird the most species-rich class of four-footed vertebrates. I don’t expect to run out of beautiful birds to photograph any time soon.

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