Lately, I think we’ve all thought, “Man, if this pandemic had hit two months later, the lockdown would be so much easier.” As our social activities have melted away like the snow, nature is one of the only remaining solaces. But March, still wintry at times, isn’t the most exciting time to explore nature. Or so I thought.
I’ve spent a lot more time than usual walking in the prairies around Fort Collins. Prairies are hard for most people to appreciate from a distance, but even harder in late winter when they often appear dull brown and lifeless. However, because of the pandemic, I’ve been particularly attuned to the first signs of spring, and it’s been surprisingly fun. A recent walk through Eagle’s Nest Open Space really drove that home for me.
When I arrived at the trailhead, my expectations were low. The site is significantly higher and windier than the prairies in Fort Collins, and it seemed that spring had yet to reach Eagle’s Nest. But then I found this:
Behold, the tiger beetle, a terrifying little gem. Not only do they have scary pincer-jaws; they can run freakishly fast. And not only are they insect cheetah-alligators; they can FLY! Be glad, very glad, that you don’t have to worry about these hunting you.
Normally tiger beetles are waaaaaaaay too fast for me to photograph, but during this early spring day, it seemed that some of them hadn’t fully awoken from hibernation. As a result, I was able to get nice long portrait sessions with normally impossible subjects.
Now to be honest, for most of my hike there wasn’t much to look at besides the scenery, but it’s hard to complain about that when the scenery looks like this:
With skies like these, I still do not understand why so many people prefer mountains to prairies.
Towards the end of my hike I started to hear birdsong (finally!). About fifty feet away I spotted the source: a Western Meadowlark beginning to stake his breeding territory. Now I love meadowlarks, but they are so frustratingly skittish. Despite hearing them in almost every Colorado prairie I visit, I have almost no photos of them. But when I heard this one sing, I decided to try something new: crawling. For five minutes and twenty feet I inched my way towards the bird, while behind me a man and his dog watched (thanks for waiting, guys). To my surprise, the meadowlark didn’t fly away! I also really like the soft foreground my low angle gave the bottom of the photo.
Right after that successful shoot, quick movement caught my eye. Uphill from me I spotted a coyote running through the prairie, something I’ve only seen a couple of times. While this photo makes it look like the coyote was frolicking through the prairie, he was actually quite fearfully darting from one patch of cover to another. It’s sad to see that decades of human persecution have turned what should be a fearless top predator into such a frightened animal. On the other hand, it’s comforting to see that our prairies still remain wild.
A couple days later, I was hiking in a very different area in the lower reaches of the Rockies. Without warning, there they were, the first pasqueflowers of the year, boldly and beautifully declaring that spring has begun and daring winter to snow again. Finding the year’s first pasqueflowers is always a special moment for me. To me, it means that I’ve made it through another winter and have a spring, summer, and fall of wondrous nature to look forward to. Maybe this year it’s extra special given how uncertain everything looks. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s incredibly comforting to see that in nature, life goes on.