Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Poudre Ponds

Riverbend Ponds Natural Area
Kali and I have returned to southeastern Pennsylvania after spending 10 days in the West - five in northern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming, and five in San Diego.  Although the trip gave us a chance to get away from our workaday routine for a while, it wasn't much of what we'd consider a real vacation in which we could forget about the "real" world and get lost in another landscape or culture.

We traveled to northern Colorado for the specific purpose of checking on our "retirement house" northwest of Fort Collins.  While we were there, we also spent two days in southeastern Wyoming in and around Laramie, where we visited the University of Wyoming's geology (and dinosaur!) museum and two fine natural areas (stay tuned for details). 

The trip started off badly.  After dinner in Fort Collins on Saturday night, Kali and I veered off the sidewalk and into the street to avoid lawn sprinklers that were spraying onto the sidewalk.  Kali couldn't see well in the low light and stepped off the very high, irregular curb along the street.  Down she went, badly twisting her ankle and the knee of her opposite leg, and scraping her elbow.  Though she was able to hobble back to the hotel two blocks away, I was sure that our trip was over (and that I would have to drive her to work for the next eight weeks).

It appears that she just badly sprained her ankle and knee because she could walk on them the next morning, though she definitely was in pain.  Nevertheless, she said that she wanted to try to take an easy walk that day, so I suggested we visit one of the many natural areas set aside by the the city of Fort Collins along the Cache la Poudre (pronounced "cash la POO-der") River.  The Riverbend Ponds Natural Area offered winding trails circling a series of ponds in the river's floodplain.  I hoped there'd be birds to observe even if we didn't walk far.  So, off we went after breakfast.

I have no idea about the origin of these numerous ponds.  They were probably gravel or borrow pits excavated on the floodplain.  Now, they serve as wildlife habitat and water storage basins when the river (rarely) floods.  Birds were numerous but not diverse or particularly exciting, with the avifauna dominated by Red-winged Blackbirds, Boat-tailed Grackles, and Canada Geese.  But, we did see Great Blue Herons, Belted Kingfishers, and an Osprey nest with at least two chicks.

Spiny softshell turtle (Trionyx spinifereus)
In fact, the first animal we encountered was a Spiny Softshell Turtle sunning on a log.  I haven't seen a softshell turtle in decades (I can remember when and where I saw my first), so the sighting was a treat.

Milkweed on the floodplain (Asclepias spp.)
Milkweed grew and bloomed abundantly on sunny, exposed banks of the river and the shores of the ponds.
Cache la Poudre River on the plains
The Cache la Poudre River, the only federally designated Wild and Scenic River in Colorado, rises in Rocky Mountain National Park, roars down the incredibly scenic and rugged Poudre Canyon (site of last summer's High Park forest fire), and then flows out onto the plains where it finally joins the South Platte River in eastern Colorado.  In Fort Collins, the river has completed its transition from whitewater to prairie river, so the riparian area is flat.

All in all, we walked about three miles but finally had to retreat back to our hotel because most of the walk was in the sun and temperatures were in the upper 80s or low 90s.  Between Kali's physical problems and the relentless sun and heat, we were beat.


packrat said...

Great photos, Scott. Good to see you back at it.

Carolyn H said...

Scott: What a shame about Kali, though I'm certainly glad it wasn't worse. I'll bet that Riverbend ponds area has a lot more going on during migration seasons!

Scott said...

Thanks, Packrat. I miss not posting, but it's too awkward when I'm away from my own computer.

Scott said...

Carolyn: Perhaps I posted too soon...Kali called to tell me that she made an appointment with our GP next Thursday to have a look at her knee and ankle. Maybe I'm not off the hook with driving her to work after all!

And, I agree that the Poudre ponds likely would harbor more birds in migration and or winter, but I was hopeful.

robin andrea said...

Love seeing that soft-shelled turtle. I have never seen one. Such an interesting creature. The ponds look wonderful. A great place to walk.

Hope Kali's injuries are on the mend.

Gail said...

Sorry to read of about Kali's fall. Glad it wasn't too serious. Phew. I enjoyed your adventure a lot. And your pictures helped me t see and feel some of what you experienced. l loved it.
Thanks for taking me along :-)
Love Gail

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: I saw my first (and only other) soft-shelled turtle in a flood channel alongside a stream called the Chagrin River in northeast Ohio when I was just a young, budding naturalist--probably 35 years ago. You can tell the impression it made on me, since I remember the day clearly even now. I could probably walk back to the spot.

Scott said...

Gail: I'm glad you enjoyed the walk with Kali and me (well, with Kali, it was more of a hobble or shuffle). Stay tuned for (what I think are) even more interesting landscapes at higher elevations!

Theron said...

This is gorgeous!

Scott said...

Thanks, Theron. The area's nice, but not spectacular--a pretty, but pretty generic, prairie river.