Hike of the Month – Enchanted Mesa / Kohler Mesa Loops
When the winter doldrums get you down, wait for one of Boulder's amazing warm and sunny February days and head for Enchanted Mesa. A variety of trails wind among ponderosa pine forests and small meadows while providing stunning views of the Flatirons. The adjacent Kohler Mesa offers a number of options to lengthen your hike. These trails are relatively flat and many are free from slippery ice - but take strap-on boot traction like Yak-tracks or Micro-spikes just in case! Nature abounds on the mesa top: you may easily see all three kinds of Nuthatches (White-breasted, Red-breasted and Pygmy), Black-capped and Mountain Chickadees, Steller's Jays, Magpies, and even an occasional Red Crossbill, Golden Eagle or Peregrine Falcon. Also keep your eyes peeled for an Abert's Squirrel. These tassel-eared denizens of old growth ponderosa forests are usually coal black, but may sometimes occur in a silvery-gray phase.
Enchanted Mesa was purchased by the citizens of Boulder in 1964 to halt the development of a luxury hotel. As you savor its trails and enjoy its wildlife, say a silent thank you to the generation whose vision protected this wonderful place.
Winter Birds of Prey
Winter around Boulder is a great time to go looking for raptors. Red-tailed Hawks are the most common birds of prey you will encounter on OSMP. Year-round residents, red-tails often perch on telephone poles and in trees along roads. Look for the tell-tale orange flush on the tail when you see them soaring. Golden Eagles also stay around Boulder all year, but start looking for nests in February and March. OSMP provides mountainous crags for their nests as well as flat grasslands and prairie dog towns for easy hunting.
Bald Eagles come from farther north to spend their winters around Boulder. They are attracted to open water and prairie dog towns. They can often be seen perching in leafless trees around lakes and reservoirs. Prairie dogs also attract Boulder's biggest hawk, the Ferruginous Hawk. Look for a very large light-colored hawk with a rusty-brown back and a distinct dark V-shape on the lower abdomen from their dark legs. Rough-legged Hawks also visit Boulder in the winter. As spring progresses, these winter hawks will fly north to their breeding grounds and other species of hawks will migrate from the south to take their place.
Peregrine Falcons and Prairie Falcons return to Boulder in February and begin looking for nests along the spires and ledges of the mountain backdrop. Falcons are very sensitive to human disturbances, and may abandon their eggs or chicks if people get too close. To protect nesting sites, OSMP initiates wildlife closures every year on February 1.
Ground Hog Day
Ground hog day is the only holiday in the United States celebrated in honor of an animal. German immigrants brought us the belief that this large rodent will predict six more weeks of winter weather if it sees its shadow. Ironically the tradition began with hedgehogs, since there are no ground hogs in Germany. Ground hogs such as the famous Punxsutawney Phil are also known as woodchucks. Woodchucks are not found in Colorado but the closely-related Yellow-Bellied Marmots are. Woodchucks are one of the 14 species of marmots in the world. Yellow-bellied marmots are found in the foothills of Open Space and Mountain Parks. But good luck seeing one in February! They usually are hibernating until later in the spring. Marmots are rodents and are very important in nature's food chain.
Whooooooooos in Love?
As humans celebrate Valentine's Day, Great Horned Owls are also getting into the mood. February is courtship and egg-laying time, and owls may be easily seen squabbling over territories and nests, or hooting loudly from an exposed perch. Owls do not build their own nests, but will take over an old magpie or hawk nest in a tall tree or may nest in a large tree cavity. The female lays a clutch of several white spherical eggs and incubates them faithfully despite the worst weather that February can conjure. It is not uncommon to see an incubating owl sitting on a snow-covered nest!
Owlets are usually ready to leave the nest by May or June, but are not able to fly. They scramble around in trees, looking like fluffy white mops with big yellow eyes. Owlets that end up on the ground may become dinner for foxes and coyotes. When they are fully grown, Great Horned Owls are themselves predators to be reckoned with. They will kill and eat anything they can catch, including domestic cats, rabbits, prairie dogs, young foxes, chickens and even skunks!