National Geographic : 1946 Jul
High Country of Colorado across the flats, we had grouse within a few feet of our blind. They were particularly active and noisy, their grunts, popping of rub berlike sacs, and swishing of stiff neck feathers against wings being especially loud. Just as we were ready to start photograph ing, a sudden silence fell; then every bird on the strutting area flushed with startled cries and curved off to a distant hillside. Looking quickly from a slit in the blind, we saw a golden eagle flying majestically overhead. We feared that the grouse would not come back, but finally a few of them returned. One old male walked a hundred yards from the line of sage and stopped on a strip bare of snow near the front of the blind. Then a hen made her entrance, and the pompous cock-of-the sage performed while we recorded the unusual display in slow-motion color film (page 47). At this same time of year, the golden eagles range for food far from their aeries in high yellow pines or along precipitous canyon walls. In past years we have inspected many nesting sites and have remained concealed in blinds for hours, hoping to film the old ones returning to their downy white young. Unfortunately for the photographer, the eagles have an excellent sense of hearing. No matter how well concealed we have been, almost invariably the old ones have heard the whirring of the camera or the click of the shutter and have refused to cooperate. Only after many hours of work have we succeeded in getting a few pictures (pages 66 and 67).* Other birds of prey which nest early in the High Country are the great horned owls and goshawks. The former choose old magpie sites in yellow pines, and often we have found large young in snow-covered trees.t The goshawks usually choose the lodgepole pine country-a little higher than the yellow pine belt-for their summer range, and to find the eggs and young is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The adults are vociferous in their disapproval when a cameraman attempts to pry into their family secrets, and the nearly full-grown young hiss vehemently when posing for portraits. "Catbird Trying to Commit Suicide" The sage country is about the dividing line in the ranges of the round-tailed and bushy tailed pack rats, the precocious rodents that appear willing to swap useless objects for things of value. The bushtails are found in the high mountains, while the former seek lower elevations. One pack rat tramping around the ceiling of a cabin sounds like an army on the move. When the warm winds of June melt the snow on the hillsides, the moist valleys of the parks are usually massed with wild flowers.: Shooting stars, the beautiful but poorly named louseworts (also called wood betony or pedic ularis), arnica, and wallflower make mosaics beyond description (Plates XIII and XVI). Even the great cumulus clouds are massed over distant snowclad peaks as if to invite the photographer. The slate-gray water ouzels, or dippers, build their domelike nests close to the rush ing mountain streams and dive headlong into the swift waters. One time when we were in the High Country a bewildered eastern boy rushed back to our camp and breathlessly an nounced he had seen a "bob-tailed catbird trying to commit suicide." At Spring's Touch, Life Quickens As spring pushes into the higher country, the snow disappears from among the aspens and spruces. The columbine thrusts its green fingers from the rich wood soil, and soon buds open and lavender blossoms are waving in the wind. I like to roam the High Country at this time. The forest folk are on the move. Deer and elk start migration to higher ranges, and birds which have been waiting in the prairie below come trooping to their summer homes. The male Natalie's and red-breasted sapsuckers, flickers, and hairy woodpeckers make the deep forests ring with their constant hammering, while their mates are busy depositing white eggs in dark holes dug in pines and aspens. Chipmunks and ground squirrels come from their places of hibernation and, where humans are available, soon become expert panhandlers. The wary tuft-eared squirrel and the porcu pine are active in early morning, but usually remain in concealment throughout the bright hours of the day. Holes in trees have always intrigued me, for a casual thump on the trunk of a big pine often produces unexpected results. Once, early in spring before many hole-nesting birds had occupied their nesting sites, we saw an opening high overhead. As a matter of course we gave a lusty whack with a stick and al most immediately were rewarded with the ap pearance of a wide-eyed saw-whet owl, who certainly was not more surprised than we. Ninety-nine holes out of a hundred are on * See "In Quest of the Golden Eagle," by John and Frank Craighead, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, May, 1940. t See "Photoflashing Western Owls," by Lewis W. Walker, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, April, 1945. $ See "Wild Flowers of the West," by Edith S. Clements, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, May, 1927.