A group of bird watchers view the great blue heron heron during International Migratory Bird Day on Saturday at the Carpenter Ranch.

Photo by Matt Stensland

A group of bird watchers view the great blue heron heron during International Migratory Bird Day on Saturday at the Carpenter Ranch.

Birding season under way at Carpenter Ranch

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The Carpenter Ranch offers free bird walks through the second week in June. The walks are between 8 and 10 a.m. every Saturday.

— The height of the migratory bird-viewing season kicked off Saturday during the International Migratory Bird Day celebration, where about 25 bird enthusiasts turned out for a series of guided walks along the Carpenter Ranch’s interpretive trail.

Starting at 8 a.m., volunteer guides led the birders through the property toward and then along the Yampa River.

Sweet songs and trilled calls greeted the birders’ soft footsteps in the grass.

The guides would cock their heads to listen before announcing the name of the bird. “That’s a song sparrow,” or, “Did you hear the yellow warbler?”

Casual bird watcher Eva Gibbon, of Hayden, said she comes out to the Carpenter Ranch year-round as an extension of her backyard bird watching.

“It’s the songs — it brings a little bit of nature to wherever you are,” Gibbon said about her fascination with birds and their behavior. “And just being outside, it’s a good excuse to go for a walk with a purpose.”

Along the path, two special nesting exhibits elicited oohs and delighted ahhs from the onlookers. A scope had been set up directly pointed at a red-tailed hawk nest, and another was trained at a great blue heron heronry, all within a five-minute walk from the Carpenter Ranch house. The birds return to the same nests year after year to raise their young.

At the hawk’s nest, an austere-looking mother warmed up her chicks, whose feathered heads popped up for a brief appearance later in the morning.

The heronry offered a spectacular display of the large blue-gray birds preening, flying and even feeding their young.

The heron chicks even stood up to stretch their wings, which barely were covered in light down feathers.

Volunteer guide Nancy Merrill, also a coordinator for the Yampa Valley Birding Club, said the accessible views to the nests are a wonderful opportunity.

“You get to see them as they get older, and that’s spectacular,” she said.

The groups also were greeted by a few colorful surprises, including a bright male oriole singing for a mate atop a cottonwood tree.

Less colorful but equally intriguing was a Canada goose acting very strangely: He stood in the crook of a tree (where geese usually are not found) without moving for almost an hour.

Some of the birders even thought the bird was a decoy until it began to slightly move its head.

Later in the morning, birder Linda Litteral offered a story-telling performance about the sandhill crane on a horse-pulled hayride.

While no cranes appeared Saturday, birders said several have been seen wandering the fields behind the ranch house throughout the week.

The Carpenter Ranch habitat is a unique one.

Merrill said on the tour that the riparian area on that particular stretch of the Yampa River is home to narrow leaf cottonwood trees, box elder and the red osier dogwood.

While all three species are common in North America, they only all appear together in a 60-mile local area that includes parts of the Yampa, White and Elk rivers.

That special combination is one of the reasons the Nature Conservancy chose to buy the Carpenter Ranch to help preserve the habitat that offers homes to a diverse range of species.

And because of the diversity, no two bird walks are ever the same.

“Every week is different,” Merrill said. “Every year is different.”

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com

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