Nature & Birding

Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch is a great place to visualize patterns and processes of Earth’s history. Earth science students from local middle and high schools as well as the University of Colorado, the University of Northern Colorado, and Colorado State University often use the Ranch for field trips. Patterns of geology are the foundation for everything else, from vegetation to human land use to the awe-inspiring scenery.

Several of the great ages of Earth are on display at Sylvan Dale.

The granite and schist of Green Ridge, Inspiration Point, and Alexander Mountain represent the Precambrian Era.

A view across 1.8 billion years:

A view across 1.8 billion years: from Ice Age Little Canyon of the Big Thompson
to Pre-Cambrian rocks of Alexander Mountain. ⇱

The Paleozoic Era, the “Age of Fishes and Amphibians,” is represented by the Fountain Formation, the oldest of local sedimentary rocks. Most of our sedimentary rocks are from the Mesozoic Era, the “Age of Reptiles.” Cenozoic rocks, from the “Age of Mammals,” are missing from our immediate area, eroded to sandy bits, hauled downstream, gone to rest in the Gulf of Mexico. The last 2 million years, Read more on Earth History at Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch…

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Road Crossing at Cedar Park ⇱

The ecology of Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch is remarkably diverse. Its 3200 acres are ideally situated to include a huge sample of Colorado’s native wildlife. For example, over 60% of the mammalian species of Colorado occur on the Ranch. In fact, Sylvan Dale has more species of native mammals than does the entire state of Iowa.

Maybe the rabbits tell it best. In the grazing lands and hayfields of the Big Valley, a mile east of the Main Ranch, the Big Thompson becomes a lazy, prairie stream and the well-developed riparian vegetation shelters eastern cottontails. The native and tame pastures on the Main Ranch support desert cottontails. The west end of the Ranch, on Palisade Mountain, is habitat for mountain cottontails. Our three species of cottontails demonstrate that Sylvan Dale is a microcosm, a "cross-roads" for species that, combined, range nearly from coast-to-coast—from Washington DC to Washington State, and from Alberta to Costa Rica.

Read more on Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch—Remarkable Ecological Diversity…

Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, west of Loveland, Colorado, encompasses about 3200 acres, 5 square miles of foothills beauty, a naturalist’s paradise.

This is "up-and-down country." Elevations range from 5140 ft. along the Big Thompson River in the Big Valley to 7340 ft. on the north slope of Palisade Mountain above Cedar Park. That is some 2200 feet of elevational range, a greater range than in 15 of the 50 states!

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Old hay rake in Cedar Park ⇱

Read more on Elevation and Biodiversity…

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Water pump in the River Pasture ↗

If you live in Colorado, you know we had a rather dry winter… but then along came April.

Average precipitation for Northern Colorado in April is about two inches, but this past April brought more than four inches of water to the region, and with the rain, greener pastures.

Last night brought a steady rain that continued into early afternoon. The result of all this spring, Colorado precipitation is a delightfully green, and wet, landscape.

I hope you enjoy these fresh photos taken around the ranch this afternoon—no need to get green with envy—we’re happy to share the views! If you think you know where some of the ‘less obvious’ shots were taken, post your answers below.

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And, speaking of “green,” do you know about Sylvan Dale’s green practices? Since 1946, “green” practices have been integral to the Ranch.

Our Sustainability Mission:
To apply practices in our daily work routine that support a sustainable operation in harmony with the natural environment through the principles of ‘Reduce-Reuse-Recycle’.”

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Dave and Art at the Cow Camp grill ⇱

One of my favorite spring rituals at Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch is the first trip to Cow Camp—to make sure facilities are guest-ready. Until April we had about the driest winter on record, so the trail would have been passable about any time. When snow finally arrived—in what was officially spring!—we got a typical foothills winter’s worth of moisture in a couple of weeks. So the 4-wheel drive trail has been muddy and impassable. This is the first week I could get in without tearing up the trail or burying my pickup!

Read more on Sylvan Dale’s Cow Camp Looks Beautiful!…

Goodbye Fall, Hello Winter…for today anyway!
Colorado is known for its unique "summer today, winter tomorrow" weather. Yesterday was a comfortable light-shirt day — today, no so much.

While locals were enjoying the temperate weather in the 70s just days ago, beginning last night, the region received its first "official" snow of the season.

I waited too late to capture the white frosting fully covering the grounds early this morning but here’s a few samples of what still lingered on the leaves, and lawn and beyond. By the time you see these, the snow will have all but vanished!

Blue Spruce by Rainbow Lake

Blue Spruce by Rainbow Lake

Jesse King

Jesse King

About this same time in 2010, the waters at Sylvan Dale underwent a minor transformation as Bonfils-Stanton’s Jesse King rescued a dozen submerged river rocks, placing their natural talent for grace and balance on display. Of course, it was really Jesse’s talent being showcased, but he couldn’t have done it without Sylvan Dale’s stable stones! ;-)

The Bonfils-Stanton Foundation’s team returned this year for another group event and once again Jesse returned to the river, fishing the cool waters to find the best candidates to upright, building another ephemeral testament to the beauty of simplicity. View the photos from this year and 2010 below.

Read more on Return to “Sylvanhenge” – Rise of the Rocks…

Sylvan Dale Ranch is the home of the Preston Middle School Wildlife Research Project, a project based learning program in association with International Telementor Program.

This unique project enables Preston’s students to improve wildlife habitat, learn scientific inquiry, explore web resources and, through the process, experience what it means to produce quality work.

Plus they get to see quite a bit of Sylvan Dale‘s wildlife and have allot of fun in the process.

The good folks at the Journal of the International Telementor published a full report in their Spring 2012 Issue and are kind enough to share it with you all:

 http://www.telementor.org/docs/Telementor-Spring-2012.pdf  

 There’s also a great video with great wildlife footage here http://vimeo.com/43233447

Guzzler project gives sixth-graders hands-on wildlife lesson

Written by
Sarah Jane Kyle

Students in Amy Schmer’s sixth-grade science class at Preston Middle School are taking a hands-on approach to science this semester to improve not only their education, but the lives of local wildlife.

In August, the students partnered with Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch by installing a guzzler on the ranch’s property to provide a safe, readily accessible water source for bears, deer, elk, mountain lions and other animals.

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Three black bears are caught on film at a guzzler Preston Middle School students installed at Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch. Courtesy of Preston Middle School

read full article

Hi, my name is Connie Kogler and I have the privilege of leading bird walks at the ranch.

This coming Saturday, Nov 19th, we will be meeting at 8:30 at the Hilltop Parking lot, that is across the bridge and and up the hill at the ranch. We may split into 2 or more groups depending on numbers with a couple friends helping me lead. We will be birding different areas of the ranch. After birding we will meet back at the Hilltop for a campfire and hot drinks. Cost is $12 and includes drinks. If you are writing a check, make it out to Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch. Please email me at zblueheron@gmail.com to reserve your spot!

Visitors attuned to the natural world (as most Sylvan Dale guests are) often comment on the diversity of the Ranch—wildflowers, butterflies, birds, and mammals. Sylvan Dale lies at a sort of “crossroads,” between the mountains and the plains and also between north and south. And in recent decades there have been subtle changes.

Fifty years ago, there was one jay here, Stellar’s jay, a bird typical of ponderosa pine woodlands. Then folks increasingly noticed blue jays—birds of the eastern deciduous forests—in the riparian corridor of the Big Thompson and in ornamental plantings. Soon thereafter, hybrids between Steller’s and blue jays began to appear along the foothills of the Front Range, first in Boulder and now more widely, including Sylvan Dale.

pinyon_jay.jpg Then this week, Susan saw a pinyon jay in the yard. Native to the pinyon-juniper woodland of southwestern US and México, these birds occur mostly from the southwestern half of Colorado, in pinyon-juniper woodlands. Sylvan Dale has the junipers, but not the pinyon. Nonetheless, this season at least the Ranch apparently is attractive to these birds. Perhaps it’s because the junipers (“cedars”) are particularly beautiful this year, with a huge “cone” crop. Whatever the jays’ inspiration, bienvenida, amigos!

- David Armstrong
Sylvan Dale Resident Naturalist

Mammals of Colorado, 2nd edition is now available:
Check your hometown bookstore or use the link above

Abert’s squirrels are about as beautiful as rodents get. They are about the size of their cousins the fox squirrels that are so conspicuous along the Big Thompson at Sylvan Dale, but they are jet black or salt-&-pepper gray in color, and sport magnificent ear tufts.

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These are southwestern mammals, ranging from Durango, Mexico, to northern Colorado. The animals depend on ponderosa pines for their livelihood. They eat pine seeds and the inner bark of young branches. Nests in ponderosa pines are built of pine branches and needles. The squirrels can be very difficult to spot, but listen for the scratch of claws on bark as they scamper up a tree to gather food and building materials.

Also, look for tufts of green needles on the forest floor. Then look for 1- to 2-inch chunks of barkless twig, about the diameter of a pencil. These are called “pine cobs” by Abert’s squirrel aficionados; they are the leftovers from squirrels’ snacking on pine bark! The animals are active year around, and both the squirrels and their sign are particularly conspicuous on snowy slopes during winter.

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They seem to like larger trees best. They are present in the heavy timber of the hidden valleys on Alexander Mountain, up Sulzer Gulch, and especially at Cow Camp. Abert’s squirrels are one more great reason to get into Sylvan Dale’s back country—on an overnight pack trip as a summer guest or as an Adventure Rider…or both!

Dave Armstrong
Resident Naturalist–Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch

Wow, what a great day birding!

The “Birding The Big Thompson” monthly bird walk series had a special outing here at the ranch. The day broke, gray and beautiful with gently falling snow. Typical weather for April in Colorado. We tallied over 30 species of birds! Many of our participants saw new “life birds”, meaning it was the first time ever that they saw a specific species!

One of the highlights of the day was a Broad-winged Hawk with prey – an unfortunate Black-billed Magpie. Another was the gorgeous flock of Western Bluebirds – joined by one Mountain Bluebird.

Read more on When It Snows, There’s Birds!…

Ranch guest Connie Kogler has this to share about yesterday’s bird watching outing at Sylvan Dale on the Simply Birding blog:

Broad-winged Hawk seen during a good day birding

“Today I took a group of thirteen folks out to Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch (private for a birding tour. We had a great day with 30 species found. … We spent about 3 hours browsing the ranch and enjoying the birds and weather” (Connie Kogler).

You can read Connie’s full post and view photos of the birds spotted at Connie’s blog, Birds ‘O The Morning.

Visit our Nature & Birding page for more birding information and to download a checklist of the potential avifauna of Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, courtesy of  David M. Armstrong, Sylvan Dale’s Resident Naturalist.

Then come enjoy your own good day birding at Sylvan Dale!