Ponderosa islands with birds galore

Mar 21, 2011
As we shake off yesterday's "Welcome Spring" snowfall, it is nice to imagine that in less than a month Camp Polk will be a riot of activity as spring bird migrations get underway.

The Land Trust's Camp Polk Meadow Preserve is a birding hot spot—home to more than 150 species of birds. As we shake off yesterday's "Welcome Spring" snowfall, it is nice to imagine that in less than a month Camp Polk will be a riot of activity as spring bird migrations get underway. If you have yet to go birding at Camp Polk, take an armchair tour as Eva Eagle goes birding in the ponderosa pine groves of this diverse meadow.

Camp Polk Meadow Preserve is a great place to bird in part because of the diversity of habitats the meadow provides. It has small ‘islands’ of distinctive vegetation—four ponderosa groves, three large sections of meadow, a long creekside corridor, two dense aspen groves, several ponds, a sage flat, and numerous small wetland sections. In a short period of time you can experience several different habitats. Alternatively, you can sit quietly and experience one of them for an extended time, during which your stillness will invite the birds to get active enough to observe.

The ponderosa groves of Camp Polk Meadow Preserve are spread out over the entire property, from the most downstream tip of the meadow to Camp Polk Road. Perhaps the richest grove of them all gets overlooked by many folks, because you drive through it to get to the parking lot at Hindman Springs. But if you go in there and park your car, take a few minutes to walk back into the grove behind you and enjoy it. Of course, you will need to be there a few minutes before the birds resume their normal rounds after the sounds of the car, but before long the woods will be alive with activity.

Flicker ponderosa_Eva Eagle.
Flicker ponderosa_Eva Eagle.
Flicker ponderosa_Eva Eagle.

During the past few years, more than 50 species of birds have been identified in this little wedge of ponderosa habitat. Most commonly you’ll see some form of woodpecker or nuthatch in flight or hear them tap-tapping the trees above. Corvids like the grove as well, so it’s likely you will hear the harsh call of a Steller’s jay or a magpie. Look up, and you might be lucky enough to see one of the raptors that stop by for lunch. On last year’s Earth Day field trip we saw two Cooper’s hawks in a ponderosa top practically above our heads. And if you are quiet you may notice a small brown bird crawling up a tree trunk in a slow, spiral route. Take a closer look and you will see the brown creeper, a shy bird that is easy to miss. 

In the spring and summer, this ponderosa grove will host many new families. In fact, there is one tall snag that serves as a multi-species apartment building. It is always a popular nesting site and in 2007 its cavities were home to kestrels, pygmy nuthatches, and Williamson’s sapsuckers. But look around and you will find other dwellings. Last year I saw a pair of flickers mating high in the trees and a short time later I found their nest. It was easy to spot, as one bird flew industriously back and forth with food while the other stood watch just inside the opening. The funny thing is that I took the picture at right from the entrance road, but before I walked around in the grove I had not noticed the action there. That just shows once again how much we can miss when we are in our cars.

So get out to Camp Polk Meadow and check out the trees that you normally just drive right on through.  Soak up the silence for a few minutes. And then enjoy the show.