Digital Narrative: Birding Adventure on Cub Lake

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK: Birding Adventure on Cub Lake Trail

March 11, 2017

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Before we begin our journey to Cub Lake let’s talk about some of the essentials when beginning a bird-hike adventure.

  • Do some background research on your desired hike such as distance to location, weather conditions and trail information.

I wanted to focus on a 3-4 hour beginner hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. My husband and step-son would be joining me on the journey and I wanted to consider our beginner level experience. I originally planned on a loop trail that began at Beak Lake Trail head but after checking the weather and trail conditions it was more snow packed then I would recommend for beginner hikers without proper equipment like snowshoes. Cub Lake Trail was suggested by the Park Ranger as a trail that was less impacted by the snow that had accumulated a few days prior.

The beginner hike highlights some of the natural beauty offered by the Rocky Mountains like lakes, timberline and wildlife. Cub Lake trail loop is a great beginner hike and birding experience because of the water features and easy accessibility. I wanted to maximize the birding opportunities by including the chance of spotting water fowl. The hike in its entirety is approximately 5 miles.

  • Start the hike earlier in the morning to avoid other hikers as well as increase the chances of seeing wildlife.

It is essential to be a prepared hiker. Weather can change drastically when hiking in the Rocky Mountains so it is important to be ready for all of the elements of nature. Dressing appropriately and having the right tools could make a giant difference in serious injury or death.

What to pack:

  • Itinerary
  • First Aid Supplies
  • Food
  • Water
  • Clothing/Insulation
  • Sunscreen and Sunglasses
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • Knife
  • Navigation: Map, Compass, GPS Unit
  • Emergency Shelter
  • Down Coat
  • Day-pack
  • Camera
  • Trekking Poles
  • Insect Repellent
  • Cell Phone
  • Chap Stick
  • Hiking Boots or a supportive shoe
  • Lightweight Rain Jacket
  • Hat and Gloves
  • Ibuprofen Socks Toilet Paper in a Ziplock Bag
  • Extra Ziplock or small trash bag
  • Dog Bowl
  • Whistle
  • Binoculars
  • Bird ID book (optional)

Go to Foods:

  • Peanuts and Almonds – Nuts are a great source of protein and metabolize slower than sugars.
  • Hard-Boiled Eggs – This is a more substantial protein source. I will put these in a plastic storage container to keep from crushing them.
  • Blueberries – Are low in glycemic sugars and high in Antioxidants. Other fresh fruits like bananas are great choices, too.
  • Protein bars – I look for bars that have a balance of protein and natural sugars.
  • Corn tortilla chips
  • Chocolate – because its chocolate… I recommend high cocoa content bars.
  • Trail Mix – A good alternative is simply to mix up some nuts and raisins if you want to avoid the sugars in most common trail mixes.

Other hiking tips:

  • Stretch
  • Set Your Pace off the Slowest Member – Setting your pace off the slowest member in the group will make your experience more enjoyable and avoids having stragglers.
  • Love Your Feet – Find socks that are comfortable and keep you feet dry (in my opinion, socks are more important than boots). Also clip your toenails, and massage in some lotion.
  • Don’t Separate from Your Party
    *If You Get Lost – Stay put. The best thing you can do when lost is to sit still and calm down. This will help you observe where you are and where you may have come from. It will also prevent panic, which is what gets most people into trouble. A whistle is
    the best tool for signaling for help. Break out your map and compass and use them.
 Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, let’s get out in nature!

As we Entered Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) we were greeted by a friendly group of Mule Deer. RMNP is home to over 270 bird species. During the hike we will have the opportunity to see species like birds of prey, waterfowl, land fowl and passerines (perchers).

Be advised if you are newer to RMNP be sure ask specific instructions to your trail head destination… On our route to Cub Lake Trail head we got a little turned around but did eventually find our destination.

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Cub Lake Trail instantly offered breath-taking scenery and transported you to a mystical winter wonderland in the transition to the quickly approaching spring.

It didn’t take long to spot our first feathered companion, the Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides).

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Mountain Bluebird will be about 7 1/2″ in length and breeds in a variety of habitats ranging from subalpine meadows to high-elevation grasslands and aspen parkland, as well as the pinyon-juniper woodlands and sagebrush of the Great Basin. Their call is a low throaty ‘chew’ in sets of 5 to 7, while their song is a soft warbled  ‘cher-oo’.

Next we came around a bend in the trail and happened upon a few Mallard Ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) floating on small ponds attempting to shield themselves from the gusts of wind whipping down in the valley.

Mallard Ducks are 20-26 inches in length and are very common throughout the United States and most of North America. Their winter habitats vary from marshes and lakes to city ponds, chiefly in the lower 48 states. The Mallard sound is the iconic ‘quack’, most often from the females. Female Mallards are known to display a raspy descending series of laughing quacks.

We continued along the trail, squishing our way through mud in the lower elevations and climbing over snow in the higher elevations. Remember to take breaks along your adventure. Water and snacks help rejuvenate the energy needed to make the whole trip. We like to hug trees when we rest!

During our rest we were able to catch a glimpse of a Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)

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 Steller’s Jay is 11″ in length and common to forested areas like the Rocky Mountains and Pacific coast. Distinct markings of white or light blue in the center of the head and “eyebrows” with a sooty head back and crest. These birds are fairly bold when it comes to foraging for food, they will often come up to campsites in hopes of finding food. A Steller’s Jay has dozens of calls but they are generally harsh and raspy with a rapid-fire delivery.
While scoping out the Steller’s Jay a curious Pine Squirrel, also known as a Chickaree, popped down the tree to say hello.
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We also spotted a White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) but unfortunately the bird was too quick for me to snap a photo

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Here is a borrowed picture of what the species looks like

4347117065_d778f9e12f_bPhoto credit: White-breasted Nuthatch/ Sitelle à Poitrine Blanche by Eric Begin

Further along the trail we were able to see a Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli).

Mountain Chickadees are around 5 1/4″ in length and have a narrow bib shaped dark plumage under the beak. Their preferred habitat is in coniferous forests. The song of the Mountain Chickadee is a plaintive ‘see-bee’ with additional ‘bee’ notes at the end.

Making the last few switch-backs that were covered with packed snow, we finally made it to our destination Cub Lake.

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I stood in wonderment and silence watching the snow sparkle in the sunlight as it rested on top of the frozen lake. I reflected on the beauty offered to us by this National Park. I felt washed over with gratitude and amazement to be witness to the miracles of Mother Nature. We reluctantly made our way back to the trail head, where we had started our journey.

One last look before we loaded up into the car…

At the end of the bird and nature hike we were all thoroughly exhausted and ready for a good meal. We made a pit-stop at Oskar Blues in Lyons, Colorado and filled our bellies with delicious food.

4939827830_27a74c43f5_bPhoto credit: Colorado – Lyons: Oskar Blues Grill & Brew by Wally Gobetz

A giant thank you to Rocky Mountain National Park and all the people that help preserve and maintain its natural beauty.


Resources:

  • National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America by Edward S. Brinkley, Foreword by Craig Tufts

   Sterling; 1St Edition edition (May 3, 2007)

https://www.amazon.com/National-Wildlife-Federation-Field-America/dp/1402738749

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