This is the week for wildlife encounters. While cycling yesterday we watched a hawk swoop down and grab its prey. Moments later the hawk flew away with a smallish (ca 12-14 “) snake in its talons and making its shrill cry. It landed on a nearby rooftop where it enjoyed its catch. I’m sure this kind of thing warms the heart of any homeowner lucky enough to host  the feast.

Fledgeling Vulture in Cave (Copyright 2009 all rights reserved)

Fledgeling Vulture in Cave (Copyright 2009 all rights reserved)

This morning we climbed to a cave along a cliff face (on private land) to see a vulture nesting site.  The cave was in the Fountain sandstone formation and was situated a good 4-500 ft above the roadway. The mother vulture was not present, but the two fledglings were in the cave. I say fledgeling, but I doubt that these young ones have flown yet.  According to the land owner who has been carefully and quietly observing their progress, the youngsters have not yet flown.

Not seeing the young birds from a distance, we slowly climbed toward the cave entrance long enough to grab some snapshots.

The cave is actually a covered crevice that derives from a dislocated sandstone slab which quickly narrows to a very small cross section. With the camera flash, a photo of the young birds was captured in the dark recesses. This is rattlesnake country so we were not eager to venture too deep or linger in this crevice. The property owner mentioned finding a ball of rattlers under a rock partway down the hill. We had no interest in uncovering our own ball of rattlesnakes.

The young birds still had some of their down. This top photo was taken from ca 3 meters distance. Shortly after this photo the bird scrambled into the deeper recesses and out of sight. They make a curious hissing noise which is surely a sign of distress.

Buzzard Cave Entrance near Loveland, Colorado

Buzzard Cave Entrance near Loveland, Colorado

 

Fountain Formation near Loveland

Fountain Formation near Loveland

The buzzard cave was found in the red sandstone of the Fountain formation, west of Loveland, Colorado. The Fountain Formation is the deepest of the sedimentary formations along the Colorado Front Range. It is seen only along the western margin of the Great Plains here owing to the uplifting effect of mountain building. In fact, this sandstone formation consists of the eroded debris of a previous iteration of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The present iteration is often referred to as the Laramide Orogeny.

The photo above shows both the sandstone of the Fountain Formation in the foreground and in the upper left, in the background, the uplifted plutonic rock formation consisting of gneiss and schist.

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