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NATURE NARRATIVES: Everyday wildlife on the Westside

ABOVE: A fledgling Two bucks "in velvet" amble through the Westside. BELOW: A Cooper's hawk eats its prey.
Les Goss photos
By Melissa Walker

       In mid-August, the late afternoon sun cast long shadows across our neighborhood as I walked to our nearby park. I appreciated the cool dampness in the air, a welcome change from 2012 and 2013 when smoke from forest fires often filled the air. The wet summer has nourished a “crop” of mushrooms. The round white mushrooms, half-hidden in the green grass, look like golf balls scattered about the park.
       Stopping at the edge of the cottonwood-willow grove at the west boundary of the park, I saw two fledgling Cooper's hawks. They and two other fledglings left their nest almost two weeks ago, but have stayed close by while they practice their hunting techniques and receive occasional meals from their parents. I observed one hunting method of Cooper's hawks - ambushing

songbirds. The adult hawk perched motionlessly until it saw a songbird in an adjacent tree. Then, it streaked into the branches to grasp the unsuspecting songbird in its sharp talons. Mealtime for the fledglings. Earlier in the day, I had seen a majestic mule deer buck, with its antlers in velvet, walk through our neighbor's yard, then two more bucks ambled by. They are part of a “bachelor herd” that grazes through our neighborhood several times a week, sampling everyone's landscaping and flowers. Only the male deer, the bucks, grow antlers. The antlers are made of solid bone and shed every year. While growing, the antlers are covered by a furry skin, called “velvet,” that contains blood vessels and protects the tender antlers. When the antlers have attained their annual growth, the deer rubs off the velvet just in time for the fall breeding season.
       Seeing wildlife - hawks, year-round and migratory songbirds, mule deer, bobcats, red fox and occasional black bears - adds drama, beauty and surprises to everyday life on the Westside of Colorado Springs. Originally a high prairie where only native grasses grew, our city is now enveloped by an urban forest cultivated by almost 150 years of tree planting and irrigation. An abundance of wildlife thrives due to the city's proximity to the mountains and the large regional parks that connect the city's habitats with the natural open spaces of Pikes Peak and the National Forest. The city's drainages and creeks provide pathways for wildlife to move between the neighborhoods and the open spaces.
       With twilight approaching, I walked back home. Just before heading inside, a hummingbird suddenly appeared overhead and paused mid-air. Its wings were beating so fast that they were almost invisible. It was a male broad-tailed hummingbird, its iridescent feathers glimmering in the sun's last rays.

       Editor's note: A Westside naturalist (and recently named president of the Friends of Garden of the Gods volunteer organization), Walker posts regular entries in her online blog at naturenarratives.com. She has given her permission to reprint selected pieces in the Westside Pioneer. The article above also appears in the Pioneer's quarterly printed issue, published in mid-August.

(Posted 8/31/14; Opinion: Nature Narratives)

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