Exploring Bird Song Along a Foothill Canyon Stream
Updated: Jul 18, 2019
Bear Creek tumbles out of the mountains from a deep canyon to the foothills and plains below eventually joining Fountain Creek. All along this route, the landscape, plants and thus animals change due to a combination of altitude and geography.
For the curious birder there are ample opportunities to access the creek and explore what birds are to be found along its length. What I’ve found really remarkable is that in a relatively short distance the bird communities continually change. An especially auspicious time to explore is June when songbirds are loudly proclaiming territories through their songs.
Where the land is flatter and the creek moves slower, east of the community garden plots, I hear Gray Catbird, Lazuli Bunting, Yellow Warbler, Song Sparrow and Red-winged Blackbirds singing along the creek or in the nearby cattail marsh. Heading further upstream, by the nature center, I hear more of the furtive Warbling Vireo and Cordilleran Flycatcher songs hidden amongst the leafed out trees. As I climb a trail up onto a plateau of oak and mountain mahogany, Spotted Towhees and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers dominate the sound-scape. In a large open meadow, a Vesper Sparrow sings from a bush.
Then there are the five pull-offs as you go south towards the mouth of the canyon itself along what is now Bear Creek Road. Pull Off #1 has a bridge crossing the creek and heading into the hills. As the trail takes me up into the foothills, I hear the songs of Virginia’s Warbler, Dusky Flycatcher, Black-headed Grosbeak, Plumbeous Vireo and Western Tanager. Pull-Off #4 provides another bridge and suddenly I hear Ovenbird males counter-singing, “teacher, teacher, teacher”.
I drive into the mouth of the canyon, park by the old caretaker house and walk up the canyon. Yellow-rumped Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet sing as I walk along the road. Finally my favorite, the Hermit Thrush’s song drifts down from high above me, ethereal and haunting. Amazingly, these changes take place over relatively short distances so it is possible to hit multiple stops in a morning’s birding.
Along a few miles of foothill canyon stream, the variety of birds is astounding. On flatter terrain the avid birder might have to cover many more miles to find a similar range of habitats and birds. We would do well to remember this when these same mountains create unpredictable weather and cast a rain shadow on Colorado Springs.