As a veterinary student, I get a number of weeks to travel to different universities or veterinary clinics to broaden my experiences prior to graduating. So of course I spent 2/3 of them traveling to programs in different states (Colorado, Ohio, and New York). It was an exciting time that unfortunately overlapped with my anniversary with the Other Half; through a wonderful gift from some of our very good friends, we were able to spend that time together in Colorado for what we called ‘Operation Swanky Date Night.’ We went to a nice dinner, booked a nice hotel, and woke up with the crack of dawn to complete our date with some wildlife-watching just outside of Denver.
We decided to visit Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge; it is a relatively new refuge founded in the early 1990’s which is accessible to the bustling city of Denver (Okay, you caught me. It also has burrowing owls. I’m a sucker for owls.). Despite its proximity to this metropolitan area, however, we only saw two other cars on our entire drive.
When we first arrived at the refuge, we were excited by the number of black-tailed prairie dogs. It wasn’t until our drive home that we realized that their colonies are so common that they were living under the window of our hotel in the middle of Denver.
Our real goal, however, was to get pictures of the bison and burrowing owls that frequent the area; unfortunately, we missed the last owl sighting by two days this summer.
We did, however, see lots of cool wildlife interactions, including this coyote, who was familiar enough to the rangers that they knew her habits down to which holes she liked best. We didn’t realize we had actually come up on her stalking her prey until she jumped out of the brush no more than 20 feet in front of us, frustrated that the alarm had been sounded and the prairie dogs were gone.
We also got to see a family quarrel between two prairie dogs who antagonistically chuffed at each other, the one on the left charging several times, before they finally came together to touch their teeth (a normal greeting among prairie dogs, as is nose-touching) and move on with their lives.
Among other things, we saw so many ferruginous hawks. We kept thinking we had misidentified them, taking multiple pictures just to assure ourselves that they weren’t red-tails or Swainson’s hawks.
The walk between the prairie dog mounds was very quiet and peaceful, with clear skies and the soft cries of the hawks as they circled above us. Besides, it’s hard not to be relaxed when it seems like the wildlife doesn’t need to be told twice to enjoy the weather.
To be fair, I was so jazzed about missing the burrowing owls that we came back the next morning before we had to catch our flights onward. But we will be back, and our next target in the area will definitely be seeing the bighorn sheep at Rocky Mountain National Park.