For the Birds

by Christine Benedetti, Time Out Staff Writer
It wasn’t your typical ice-breaker, but for this group it was apropos.

“Everyone should go around the room and share about your favorite bird,” said Chris Lane, CEO and executive director for Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES).

One person answered with the red-tailed hawk, another a magpie. Lane’s was the wandering albatross (or the similar royal albatross), a bird that he’d traveled to New Zealand in search of and had been successful to spot. It was obvious that some ornithologists in the group had toured the planet to watch birds, perhaps in preparation for a question like this. For others, it was the first time they’d even considered that someone might have a favorite flying friend.

With that, the bundled-up group headed out into the crisp morning on Hallam Lake with binoculars and Roaring Fork Audubon lists in hand to see what they could see.

The Morning Birding with ACES started at 7 a.m., and by 7:25, the group had rounded the west end of the lake with only a sighting of a mallard duck. Autumn whispered in the air, and the lake chose this morning to sleep in. Instead, Lane pointed out the other hints of activity: the beaver dam that keeps backing up under a small foot bridge, the 26 homes of polite neighbors which surround the lake and the ambient sound of the Roaring Fork River which feeds the rich riparian ecosystem.

The lake is spring-fed, says Lane, and ACES has tried to drain the entire thing to eliminate unnatural species of fish like brown trout. But, because there are pockets of water hidden deep below, it’s virtually impossible.
Morning Birding at ACES

On top of a lookout in the middle of the preserve, the sun crawled over the group and the natural activity started to pick up. Soon, a hummingbird whisked by (beating its wings 100 times per second) and in the distance a chickadee sang its falling dee-dee.

Lane was eager for the group to see several of the native birds, and until this point, they had been a no-shows. ACES keeps a rescued golden eagle and a great-horned owl on site, and stopping by to see the magnificent birds counted as a sighting for this outing.

Everyone migrated to the Jenny Adair wetlands area at the entrance to ACES, where the city created a system for stormwater collection. Puddles and pools of water feed the lush foliage, and here the birds were finally waking up.

Swallows darted between the treetops, a nuthatch clung to the side of a tree, a dipper hopped along the river bank and the group debated on if they’d seen a yellow or an orange-crowned warbler.

Finally, birds.

Some of the more experienced birders were able to help point out nuances to those who were learning. Despite different learning levels, the same frustrations — like finally focusing binoculars on a bird just in time to have it fly away — exist for all.

Naturalist Rebecca Weiss usually guides the morning birding classes; Lane occasionally pops in because it’s one of his passions. The classes take place every Tuesday through September at Hallam Lake (except Sept. 24, which is at Rock Bottom Ranch) from 7 to 10 a.m. Cost is $30 for nonmembers and $20 for members.

A guide will be there, and birds just need to show up.