Gone to the Ducks

Birders regularly recall the trigger bird that stopped them in their tracks and awakened their curiosity about the avifauna. While I can’t name one particular trigger species, I owe my fascination for feathered friends to the manifold ducks that migrate to Alaska during the summer. When my husband and I called this northernmost state home in the early 2000s, my interest was aroused whenever we chanced upon colorful waterfowl on the myriad bodies of water that pepper the state. I went so far as to invest in a guide book to Alaskan birds, and even owned a CD with recordings of regional birdsong, but being rather consumed by professional life then, I birded only incidentally.

Ducks, geese and assorted additional water-associated avians are rewarding for beginning birders because their size makes them visible on the water’s surface, and they commonly stay in one place for extended periods, facilitating their proper identification. Now that we no longer live in “The Last Frontier” with its legendary biodiversity, I regret not having dedicated more time to ornithological pursuits there.

My fondness of ducks, nonetheless, abides. It so happens that within walking distance of our current residence in Colorado Springs, two lakes provide habitat for assorted waterfowl.

Quail Lake with view of Pikes Peak

Doubletree Pond with view of Cheyenne Mountain

 I did not acquire a digital camera until we were in the process of closing our Alaska chapter, and consequently don’t own electronic photos of the beautiful winged creatures encountered there. Instead, I would like to share pictures of some of the visitors of these urban oases in Colorado Springs who, likewise, have stolen my heart. Unlike other birds, they stay (or arrive) here in winter and help brighten the darker days.

Mallards are our most common ducks…

…and Canada Geese our most common geese

Northern Shovelers have spatulas for bills

Hooded Mergansers are spectacular in…

…and out of the water

Common Goldeneye, I wonder why

American Wigeon, aka “bald pate”

Doubletree Pond in winter

This, of course, does not qualify as waterfowl, but when I saw this white dove at the Doubletree Pond on January 1, it embodied all my hopes: Peace on Earth for this new year.

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The Year in Pictures/Das Jahr in Bildern

 As I did for my 2016 review, I am again reminding myself of the motto expressed on a historic clock in downtown Colorado Springs: Dum Vivimus Vivamus. While we live, let us live.

     The greater my disenchantment with political, religious, and familial strife, the more I seek refuge in nature, camera in tow. Next to books, it is the only place where I can live in the moment, and be utterly happy. The more time I spend outside, the more photos I take of birds and plants. I am sharing some that have not found a home in my previous posts. Unless otherwise noted, all originated in Colorado. 

     I hope 2017 was a good year for you – and that 2018 will be even better.


     Wie auch im Jahresrückblick 2016, erinnere ich mich wiederum an das Motto einer historischen Uhr im Zentrum von Colorado Springs: Dum Vivimus Vivamus. Während wir leben, laßt uns leben.

     Je größer meine Verdrossenheit über Politik, Religion, und Familienangelegenheiten, desto mehr suche ich Zuflucht in der Natur, mit meiner Kamera als Begleiterin. Neben Büchern ist sie der einzige Ort, wo ich im Hier und Jetzt leben, und mich völlig glücklich fühlen kann. Je mehr Zeit ich draußen verbringe, desto mehr Bilder mache ich von Vögeln und Pflanzen. Hier teile ich einige, die in meinen vorherigen Blogbeiträge noch kein Zuhause gefunden haben. Wenn nicht anders erwähnt, stammen alle aus Colorado. 

     Ich hoffe, 2017 war ein gutes Jahr für Dich, und 2018 wird noch besser.


American Kestrel/Buntfalke (Falco sparverius)

Russian Olive/Schmalblättrige Ölweide (Eleagnus angustifolia), invasive species, but the berries are much beloved by the birds/invasive Art, deren Beeren allerdings von den Vögeln geliebt werden


House finch/Hausgimpel (Carpodacus mexicanus)

Last year’s sunflowers, with Pikes Peak in the background/Sonnenblumen des letzten Sommers, mit Pikes Peak im Hintergrund


Spotted Towhee/Fleckengrundammer (Pipilo maculatus)

Cottonwood tree in the light of the setting sun/Pappel im Licht des Sonnenuntergangs


American Avocet/Amerikanischer Säbelschnäbler (Recurvirostra americana)

Pasqueflower/Echte Küchenschelle (Pulsatilla patens), one of Colorado’s earliest spring flowers/eine der ersten Frühlingsblumen Colorados


Osprey/Fischadler (Pandion haliaetus)

Crabapple/Holzapfel (Malus sp.)


Great-tailed Grackle/Dohlengrackel (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Prairie Spiderwort/Dreimasterblume (Tradescantia occidentalis)


Flammulated Owl/Ponderosa-Zwergohreule (Otus flammeolus), handled by Colorado College Professor Brian Linkhart who has been studying this species for decades/wird von Professor Brian Linkhart des Colorado College gehalten, der diese Art seit Jahrzehnten studiert

Green Gentian (Monument Plant, Elkweed)/Grüner Enzian (Frasera speciosa)


Northern Red-shafted Flicker/Kupferspecht (Colaptes auratus cafer), male in the back, female in the front/Männchen hinten, Weibchen vorne

Colorado’s State Flower, Colorado Blue Columbine/Kleinblütige Akelei (Aquilegia caerulea)


Great Blue Heron/Amerikanischer Graureiher (Ardea herodias)

Sunflower/Sonnenblume (Helianthus sp.)


Western Bluebird/Blaukehl-Hüttensänger (Sialia mexicana)

Fall landscape with signature aspen trees/Herbstlandschaft mit unverkennbaren Zitterpappeln


Cedar Waxwing/Zedernseidenschwanz (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Cottonwood tree in late fall foliage/Pappel in späten Herbstfarben


Hooded Crow/Nebelkrähe (Corvus corone cornix), Berlin, Germany

Christmas Rose/Christrose (Helleborus niger), Germany


     Seventy-six years ago today, on December 7, 1941, Japan bombarded the American naval fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. In reply, the United States, heretofore officially resolved to stay out of WWII, declared war on Japan and its ally Germany, a momentous step which would later change the course of this cataclysmic global affair. More immediately, it changed the lives of individuals of Japanese descent living in the United States. Within months, in a disproportionate, xenophobic response to a perceived Japanese threat, approximately 126,000 people, two thirds of them American citizens, were forced to abandon homes and businesses on short notice, without compensation. They were rounded up at temporary facilities before being distributed to one of ten internment sites in various states, Colorado among them.

     Officially and euphemistically called the “Granada Relocation Center”, Camp Amache was situated near the town Granada, in remote southeastern Colorado. The camp’s name was an ironic choice. Amache was the Cheyenne wife of a pioneer in the small settlement of Boggsville close to present-day Las Animas in the 1860s, where White, Hispanic and American Indian cultures coexisted peacefully. Even though the distance between Boggsville and Amache measures only sixty miles, and spans only eighty years, the two were worlds apart. From August 1942 until October 1945, Camp Amache confined up to 7,500 people to a one-square-mile area surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers. They lived in crowded wooden barracks and were separated from the High Plains’ blazing heat and frigid cold only through thin wooden walls. Sanitary facilities were communal and located away from the barracks, resulting in additional loss of privacy.

     Despite its isolation and simplicity, Amache turned into a fully-functioning town due to the resourcefulness of the prisoners. In an impressive example of self-government, a council of elected representatives established rules and regulations. Schools, hospitals, churches, police, a newspaper and various stores were run by the detainees. They grew their own food on sixteen square miles of arable land, raised livestock, prepared and served their own meals in cafeterias. Many had been experienced farmers in California who coaxed such high yields from Colorado’s soils that they managed to supply other camps with the fruits of their labors. To support the sudden population growth, agricultural lands surrounding Amache were bought by the government from local farmers against their will, but despite their alienation they adopted and perpetuated some of the newly-introduced farming practices after the camp’s dissolution.

     A museum in downtown Granada illustrates how faraway events in Hawaii altered its fate and how a local community deals with its challenging past. Run by the Amache Preservation Society, the brainchild of a local high school teacher, it is staffed by students from the same school. About one mile west of the museum lies the former camp, now a National Historic Landmark, also open to the public. Of the original infrastructure, only the foundations and street grid survive. One barrack, one water tower and one watch tower have been reconstructed.

     Along the fringe of the camp lies a cemetery. It is a peaceful verdant island resembling a Japanese garden. Several headstones, a shrine, and a monument are dedicated to those who lost their lives at Amache, or while engaged in the second World War. The United States draft did not exclude Japanese-Americans who had been “relocated” by the American administration. Not unexpectedly, many refused to comply and, absurdly, were punished with prison time. More surprisingly, despite their ignominious treatment, about ten percent of the internees volunteered for the United States Armed Forces, and more than thirty perished, making the ultimate patriotic sacrifice for the country – their country.

     In the face of our collective human foibles, misguided actions, and frustrating steps backward, I continue to cling to the hope that by trying to understand the past, we can improve the future.

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Sand Creek

     One hundred fifty-three years have lapsed since one of the most infamous chapters in the annals of Colorado, the Sand Creek Massacre, on November 29, 1864. While the Civil War was raging in the East, in the West conflicts with American Indians defending their homeland from intruders had increased in frequency and severity. When territorial Governor Evans formed a temporary 100 day militia in August 1864 to deal with the “Indian Problem”, he invested Colonel John Chivington with its command. Hero of the Battle at Glorieta Pass in New Mexico in 1862, his forces had helped prevent an army of Texas Confederates from taking over the Colorado gold fields.

     Evans and Chivington, both Methodists – the latter an ordained minister before his military career – did not conceal their hostile views of the Indians which reflected the attitude of most settlers. They conspired to attack an encampment of Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho at Sand Creek, about 40 miles north of Fort Lyon in southeastern Colorado, choosing to disregard that leaders of this group had sought out the Governor in Denver to express their peaceful intentions, as well as his own earlier proclamation to the “friendly Indians on the plains” to go to designated “places of safety”. Evans wanted to placate Coloradans who were demanding forceful actions against worsening attacks by marauding Indian bands. He was determined to use his volunteers before their term of service expired, even if he had to overlook that this gathering of Indians at Sand Creek was nonviolent.

Colorado Territory Governor Evan’s blatant proclamation about how to deal with the Indians who were in the way of “progress”

     Chivington marched the volunteers of the 3rd Colorado Regiment from Denver to Fort Lyon, where he arrived on the evening of November 28. He immediately imposed a lockdown, thereby preventing any potential sympathizer from warning the Indians. Under cover of night, he led nearly 700 men, his contingent reinforced by troops from Fort Lyon, to Sand Creek, where the American flag was flying above the camp. As the army advanced in the early morning hours of November 29, Chief Black Kettle, one of the recent delegates to Denver, hoisted a white flag. Since most of the warriors were away hunting for food, the majority of the remaining 600 to 700 villagers were elderly men, women and children. Nevertheless, the soldiers attacked, supported by field Howitzers. At least 150 Indians were murdered and a similar number injured, while the rest managed to flee, having to leave all their possessions behind, with winter looming.

Location of the Indian encampment

Sand Creek provided vital water for the inhabitants of the camp

     The casualties would certainly have been higher had two officers, Captain Silas Soule and Lieutenant Joseph Cramer from Fort Lyon not refused to fight people who had been assured safety at their Sand Creek site by the US Army. Thanks to their eyewitness accounts, the extent of the bloodshed and the subsequent mutilation of the victims became common knowledge. The public display of body parts of the “savages” paraded in Denver once the “victorious” brigade returned corroborated their descriptions. Soule and Cramer testified in the subsequent government investigation and by doing so, risked not only their military careers, but also their lives. Captain Soule was, in fact, shot in Denver several months later in what was generally acknowledged to be retribution for his courageous moral stance. His murderer(s) were never brought to justice. Evans and Chivington, even though they stepped down from their respective posts and were reprimanded by Congress, never suffered legal consequences and were considered heroes in the eyes of many throughout their lives.

     To defenders of this massacre who point out that the perpetrators were children of their age and merely represented the existing worldview I reply that many contemporaries condemned the crimes committed, Captain Soule and Lieutenant Cramer first among them. In Colorado Springs, writer Helen Hunt Jackson, profoundly affected by the speech of a different Chief, Standing Bear, became an American Indian Activist. She called a spade a spade, and publicly criticized the mistreatment of North America’s native inhabitants. They are heroes I can look up to.

Monument at what became Sand Creek National Historic Site in 2007

     Since 1999, descendants of the survivors of Sand Creek honor Captain Soule and Lieutenant Cramer with their annual 180 mile Spiritual Healing Run in late November, from Sand Creek to Captain Soule’s grave at Riverside Cemetery in Denver.

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Traces of New Spain

     It is a truth universally acknowledged that to the victor go the spoils. In the wake of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America in 1492 for the King and Queen of Spain, the colonial realm “New Spain” supplanted the Aztec Empire. It comprised much of the land mass north of the Isthmus of Panama and included vast stretches of the future United States. After Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821 those became Mexican, but only two and a half decades later were ceded to the U.S. following the Mexican American War (1846-48). Portions of the yet-to-be-founded states of Colorado and New Mexico lay in this ceded territory.

     Spain lost no time in sending expeditions north to search for gold. In 1540, Coronado traveled as far as modern-day Kansas. In the early 1600s, the invaders commenced the Christianization of the native North American tribes with the help of Franciscan missionaries and Catholic colonists. In the process, Christian churches were erected, usually with the sweat of the local “infidels”, or of recent converts. These edifices were built from local materials and plastered with the traditional adobe also used in the construction of indigenous pueblos. Catholicism became the sole “tolerated” religion. Once America lay claim to those formerly Mexican regions, it continued to be practiced by those believers who were suddenly US citizens.

     This history comes alive in October, when my husband and I journey from Colorado Springs southward. South of the Arkansas River, the former dividing line between Mexico and the United States, multiple towns in Colorado’s San Luis Valley and in New Mexico abound with names that harken back to this Hispanic heritage. Catholic churches and symbols dominate the scenery, such as the crucifix in the featured photo above, in Colorado’s oldest town, San Luis, founded in 1851 by settlers moving north from New Mexico.

     My photos represent a small selection of these peaceful places of worship where the Virgin Mary reigns supreme, and is often bedecked with flowers and additional tokens of adoration. As alienating as this adulation appears to this skeptic, I can’t help but respect the sincere faith in and hope for a better world – even though I desire it for the present, and not just for a future life.

San Miguel Church, Santa Fe, New Mexico, circa 1610, considered the oldest church structure in the United States

Interior of San Miguel with altar and wooden ceiling, typical of many churches

Ruins of the former church and “convento” at Pecos National Historic Park, New Mexico, circa 1717, replaced an older structure destroyed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680

San Jose de Gracia, Las Trampas, New Mexico, circa 1760

San Miguel del Vado, near Villanueva, New Mexico, circa 1806

Mosaic on the wall surrounding San Miguel del Vado

Santuario de Chimayó, near Taos, New Mexico, circa 1816

Mary statues at Chimayó

Santo Tomas El Apostol, Abiquiú, New Mexico, circa 1935

La Capilla de Todos los Santos, San Luis, Colorado, circa 1997, the culmination of a trail lined with bronze statues depicting the Stations of the Cross

A small shrine inside this chapel

Stained-glass window inside this chapel

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Butterfly Fever

     Late summer and early fall brought an invasion of the Rocky Mountain region by legions of gossamer-winged Painted Ladies. Denver weather radar detected large swarms of these lovely lepidopterans undulating across the screen in what amounted to a seventy mile band. While this is not an unusual phenomenon in eastern states, it was a novelty for Colorado. Many were the reported sightings and resulting delight shared in newspapers, on television, and numerous blogs.

     Between the end of August and the latter part of October, Colorado Springs residents and guests were also treated to a winged visitation of another kind. Thanks to the 10th annual “Flight” event organized by the Rotary Club, twenty-four handcrafted butterflies landed on the lawn of our local Pioneers Museum, where they contributed color and whimsy to an active downtown arts scene. Those steely individuals with three foot wingspans alighted on seven foot tall poles after they were fashioned by Colorado artists. They were subsequently auctioned off at a special fundraiser and the proceeds will support arts and science programs in our largest school district, besides additional worthy causes.

     One of our incredible bluebird autumn days found me at my favorite museum. I benefitted from perfect climatic conditions and clicked away with my camera. Being encircled by a cloud of enchanting, enormous creations resulted in difficulty electing favorites. Each butterfly was named and each told its own story on its ventral and dorsal surfaces, the intricacies of which were impossible to capture. My photos show a small selection of these inspired labors of love.

Transformation-The Flight of the Phoenix

Tiger Passion

Sunset Silhouette

Harmonious Dream

Huichol Wilderness

Into the Light

Beauty and the Beast

The Four Seasons

The Four Seasons

     When, among those immovable creatures, I perceived the quivering of so many mobile wings, delicate in detail yet sturdy enough to convey their owners to distant lands, I was both humbled and exalted to witness this magical moment.

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Horsing Around

In a post about bird banding a few weeks back, I mentioned Chico Basin Ranch, an active, environmentally-friendly cattle operation. Next to cows, the ranch offers a home to horses, so for me, each birding expedition turns into a horsing expedition as well. Despite having left my teenage riding days (far) behind, I have not done the same with my admiration for equine quadrupeds, resulting in an utter inability to bypass them without activating my camera.

As some of you might remember, earlier this year I had the unforgettable opportunity to spend 24 Hours Among Wild Horses. While the horses at Chico are not wild in that sense, they appear to live rather freely, at least during the summer, getting to roam and graze the meadows adjacent to Headquarter Pond, with Pikes Peak looming in the West, and the Great Plains stretching to the East. A good place to spend one’s days.

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