OSMP Nature Almanac and Favorite Hikes - February
Hike of the Month - Eagle Trail
March is a great time to pay a visit to the aptly-named Eagle Trail. It may be your last chance to see winter birds of prey. Bald Eagles spend their winters around Boulder because of the open water and prairie dog towns. They can often be seen perching in trees along the trail. Prairie dogs also attract Boulder's biggest hawk, the Ferruginous Hawk. Look for a very large light-colored hawk with a rusty-brown back. As spring progresses, these winter hawks will fly north to their breeding grounds.
Rain and melting snow turn many OSMP trails into sticky oatmeal. At this time, many visitors are tempted to step outside the trail tread to avoid the mud. Resist the temptation! Walking around the muddy patches causes the trails to widen gradually, or "braid" into many parallel trails. This damages the plant life that grows at the trail's edge and causes serious erosion. It also adds to the difficulty and cost of maintaining the OSMP trail system. You can wash your clothes, but the damage done by off trail hikers may take years to heal. So please: Get muddy! Check current trail conditions.
Ducks on the Move
When spring springs, thousands of water birds leave their southern homes for the breeding grounds of the north. Many stop over in Boulder County on our ponds, creeks and reservoirs. Although most of these birds are just taking a break from their long journey before continuing northwards, some will stay in the area to breed.
March is a great time to go duck watching. Sawhill Ponds and Boulder County's adjacent Walden Ponds offer some of the best spring birdwatching around.
Expect to find gadwalls and wigeons, mallards and several kinds of teal, northern shovelers, and maybe a pintail or a wood duck! You may see these ducks in shallow water, tipping their bottoms up into the air while their feet kick furiously. This behavior, called dabbling, lets the ducks pick food off the shallow bottom of the pond.
Photo: A Northern Shoverler takes flight. Photo by DP Lawrence.
Also watch out for diving ducks, which prefer deeper water: redheads, buffleheads, groups of mergansers and goldeneyes, and elegant canvasbacks. The divers will disappear underwater sometimes for up to a minute as they swim about using their strong feet for propulsion. Just when you think they have gone, one will pop up suddenly like a cork. By feeding in deep waters, these ducks avoid competition for food with their dabbling cousins.
In March, spring is just around the corner. Some of the first wildflowers of the season will start to appear on sun-drenched south-facing slopes. Look for Salt and Pepper, a tiny plant with finely divided leaves and a grayish-white crown of little blossoms suggestive of cauliflower. Fillaree or Stork's Bill is a non-native plant in the geranium family that has tiny magenta flowers with five petals. Also look for Spring Beauty, a small white or pale pink flower with five petals. If you are getting excited about your garden, learn how to garden with Boulder's native wildflowers.
First Day of Spring
In 2021 spring begins on March 20 at precisely 3:37 a.m. Mountain Time. If you were standing on the Equator on this date, night and day would each be exactly 12 hours long--hence the name Spring Equinox, or "equal night." At noon, the sun would be precisely overhead.
First Spring Butterflies
They're back! One of the first butterflies of spring is the Mourning Cloak, named for its dark somber wings. Look for a deep brown butterfly with a yellow or cream-colored margin. Mourning Cloaks and other early spring butterflies spend the winter in hibernation, hiding in a protective crack in wood or nestled in dead leaves. On warm days in February and March, they come out to stretch their wings and fly--and remind us that winter is nearly over.
The Last Word
"The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful."
e. e. cummings