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

The Heron Rookery at Crane Hollow

March 16th, 2012 · 5 Comments

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If Colorado’s pioneers had known their birds better, they would have named the beautiful draw or dip in the land that Sharon and I visited yesterday “Heron Hollow,” which is an authentic alliteration. Instead they called it “Crane Hollow,” which, although a misnomer, has a pleasant ring to it.

Great Blue Herons have been nesting in the big cottonwood trees here for a century. Their rookery, a colony of breeding birds, lies between Crane Hollow Road to the west and the ponds at Pella Crossing to the east. Early yesterday morning we went to Pella Crossing, where the light was at our backs. The weather prediction called for cloudy weather, but this seemed like the only time we could hike together this week.

The weather prediction was correct, and in the morning we had poor light for photography at Pella Crossing. But we saw as many as 15 Great Blue Herons in their rookery.

I had an afternoon appointment that kept me from meeting Sharon until 5 p.m. But then we made a quick trip to Crane Hollow. The clouds had lifted and we had stunning late afternoon light.

Even before we we could see the rookery, we spotted a hawk just to the east of us. Sharon and I both guessed that this was a Harlan’s Hawk, which would make it a life bird for me to see or photograph. Currently recognized as a Red-tailed Hawk sub-species, a Harlan’s Hawk is markedly different from all other Red-tails and is often considered as a separate species. Later, Jerry Liguori, the world’s expert on Red-tailed Hawks who wrote Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors and Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors in Flight, and Ted Floyd, the editor of Birding, confirmed our guess.

A Harlan's Hawk in Crane Hollow

A Harlan's Hawk in Crane Hollow

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The Harlan's Hawk Flies Off

The Harlan's Hawk Flies Off

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Then for half an hour before the sun disappeared over the Rocky Mountains to the west, the Great Blue Herons on their nests entranced us. While we didn’t see as many herons there as we had seen in the morning, we had an unobstructed view and much better light.

Four of the Great Blues in their Rookery

Four of the Great Blues in their Rookery

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If you look close, you can make out a Great Horned Owl with its back to us at the left of the photo above. Sharon spotted it with her high-powered binoculars. We waited until it turned toward us.

A Great Blue Heron Seems to be Landing on the Great Horned Owl

A Great Blue Heron Seems to be Landing on the Great Horned Owl

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Among the herons I was delighted to see the owl, my very favorite bird. But we had obtained much better views of a pair of Great Horned Owls yesterday morning when we went to Twin Lakes after our trip to Pella Crossing.

The last five times I had hiked there I hadn’t seen any owls, even though I knew exactly where the owls nested. Yesterday morning when I looked at the nest I didn’t see anything either with my naked eyes or through the viewfinder of my camera. But as Sharon looked through her binoculars she saw an eye looking back at us and encouraged me to make a photograph.

The Eye of the Owl

The Eye of the Owl

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Then, on the other side of the trail Sharon spotted the mate. That was less of a challenge because this owl offered us a totally unobstructed view.

A Great Horned Owl Looks Down on Me

A Great Horned Owl Looks Down on Me

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Ever since I got back from Yellowstone National Park on March 4 we have had fabulous weather in Colorado. With one exception, I have been able to get out and enjoy nature every day. But nature was especially kind to me yesterday.

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Posted in: Photography

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Andy // Apr 1, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Your owl pictures are wonderful. I almost feel as though as I was there! And now I know how to see if it is a male or female bison. Your photography is fantastic and I look forward to it. What a way to get exercise. Thanks.

  • 2 Jerry Liguori // Apr 12, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    I love this site, and am an avid hiker as well. And, I do remember Ted Floyd asking me what type of Red-tail that Harlan’s was….neat photos.

    Jerry Liguori

  • 3 David Mendosa // Apr 13, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Dear Jerry,

    Thank you so much for your identification and comment.

    David

  • 4 wendy // Apr 28, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Wonderful pics and info. I have only seen the GBH rookery from Crane Hollow Rd. Where is a good peek at it from Pellas Crossing? Only been there once….but didnt feel like trails gave me a view of rookery. What’d i miss!?? :) THNX.

  • 5 David Mendosa // Apr 28, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    Dear Wendy,

    Pella Crossing has two separate sections. The one with the parking lot is east of 75th Street and south of Hygiene Road. But the section closer to the rookery is east of 75th Street south of Hygiene Road. It doesn’t have any off-street parking, so I usually park on Hygiene Road in front of the Hygiene Feed and Supply store. Then I walk a few feet south on 75th where you will see the trail leading straight west. Take that trail as far west as possible and then walk south. You can probably see the rookery from there and it is closer than from where you could see it on Crane Hollow Road. However, you will still have a clearer view of the rookery from Crane Hollow Road.

    Namaste,

    David

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