The Wild Animal Sanctuary outside Denver, CO

Back in June, I went on another trip to the Denver area and I’ve gotten wildly behind on blogging this year with other things happening. I’ve been wanting to write about the Wild Animal Sanctuary east of Denver, CO. I am quite skeptical about animal and wildlife-related tourist attractions. And just after my trip, I read a stirring and depressing account on wildlife tourism in a National Geographic article while waiting in a doctor’s office.

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Lion in the grass at the sanctuary

 

But while contemplating things to do in Denver and seeing the wildlife sanctuary, I thought I’d go see what it was all about. We went to visit with my skepticism fully switched on but pretty soon after arriving, it was quickly replaced with appreciation and inspiration. My appreciation was not only for the animals themselves, but for the sanctuary itself.

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Jaguar among the grass

Because it is just that. It is not a zoo. It is not a tourist attraction. Its truly a safe haven for these animals after some of them faced a lifetime of abuse, neglect and mistreatment. The enclosures are large, grassy expanses with sun and shade, trees and tunnels and all kinds of habitat enrichment. There are enclosures for all kinds of bear, large cats (tiger, lions, cougars, jaguars and leopards) and small (bobcats and lynx), foxes, coyote, wolves and hyenas. There are also camels, emus, ostrich, porcupines, raccoons, alpacas and horses.

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A lion having a well-deserved nap in the sun
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Grizzly bear also enjoying a cozy snooze

But where do these animals come from? Their stories are heartbreaking. Countless animals were brought into homes as pets when young and soon shuffled to sheds or small cages, never to see the sun or feel the touch of grass beneath their paws. Film industry lions who no longer obeyed their Hollywood trainers and bears used for bear baiting by hunters. Tigers were rescued from breeders who kept kittens alive only as long as they remained cute subjects for tourist photos. Animals were evicted from closed zoos that could no longer house them. Each animal’s story is available to read here.

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Rescued black bear at the sanctuary

The sanctuary really seems to know what they’re doing. They provide veterinary care, often much -needed when the animals first arrive. They have a special tiger facility used to ease them into a new environment individually, then with other tigers. They give animals the time they need to adjust and monitor their progress. Every animal has shade and shelter. Bears and tigers get pools and even man-made waterfalls to play in since water is so essential to them. Wolves live in family packs like they would in the wild.

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Wolf at the sanctuary

These animals are lucky to have a better life than they had before being rescued by the sanctuary. But I still wish there was no need for such a sanctuary to even exist. If legislation restricted the ownership of exotic animals and no one kept bears, tigers or wolves as pets anymore and people followed the law, the Denver Wildlife Sanctuary could happily shut its doors. These wild animals are not pets, movie characters or photo props. They are living, breathing, beautiful beings and they should live in the wild, undisturbed and truly be wild.

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This wolf was howling to the others

Birds in the Oregon summer

yellowflowerNow that’s its September, I am looking forward to the start of fall and to me, its kind of already here. The temperatures are still warm during the day, but the evenings and nights are cool. There have been more perfect days of blue skies with puffy white clouds  sailing overhead. I can feel a new chill on the afternoon wind and some leaves have already begun to turn yellow and crimson, falling from branches and crunching underfoot.

cloudsI can say in all honesty I am not sad to say goodbye to summer. Its been hot, the sun bright and intense, and I’m ready for something a little less extreme. I enjoyed seeing summer migrants of course, especially seeing Barn Swallows zipping about and tending their nestlings under gazebos, bridge and building eaves. There’s nothing quite like their zippy chittering that brings a smile to my face.

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Barn Swallow

While on a trip to Denver on the other side of the Rocky Mountains, I saw a number of different birds I don’t see often in Oregon. Western Meadowlarks, the state bird of Oregon, sang beautiful melodies among the Ponderosa pine trees in the open grassy fields. Along a lakefront, it was impossible not to notice a number of Western Kingbirds in cottonwoods. I even saw a new bird in Denver while out for a hike: Lesser Goldfinches who flew and hopped along the hiking trail.

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Western Meadowlark

 

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Western Kingbird
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Lesser Goldfinch

Back in Oregon on the coast in Waldport and off Cape Perpetua, I saw my first ever Brown Pelicans. I have always wanted to see one and they were quite rare in Victoria. They were quite unmistakable flying above the ocean’s swell and diving straight down head-first into the water to fish with a great splash. There is something really majestic about pelicans to me. Like Great Glue Herons, pelicans remind me of something ancient, out of another time or world entirely.

On the same trip, we visited the Sea Lion Caves  on the coast and I had the chance to see a number of seabirds along the rocky coast. A host of Pigeon Guillemots appeared to be nesting in the caves, paying no mind to the seal lions they shared it with. Outside the  cave and on the cliff face, Brandt’s Cormorants and Common Murres sat on their nests alongside one another.

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Pigeon Guillemot
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Brandt’s Cormorant
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Common Murre and Brandt’s Cormorant

Back in the Willamette Valley, I finally identified a bird I’d been frequently hearing in the trees around town and in the forests. The distinct call of the Western Wood-Pewee peals across the eaves of the forests and across the fields and now I know who it belongs to next time I hear it.

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Western Wood Pewee

Last weekend, I saw a few more pelicans, this time American White Pelicans as they migrate south for the winter. There were just a couple perched on snags in a marsh, I remembered how beautiful they look when you see them in flight, the black tips on their wings in sharp contrast to their white feathers.

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American White Pelicans
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American White Pelican
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Great Egret and Great Blue Heron

Of course, summer is never really complete without seeing Osprey! The Columbia River is the perfect place to see Osprey and I saw a number of them, even a few nests, along the river gorge. As the wind howled up the gorge from the faraway sea, Osprey, Turkey Vultures and ravens all soared, their wings outstretched.

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Osprey
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Down the Columbia River Gorge

Exploring Denver’s nature & birds at Washington Park

I went on a trip to Denver in early September and managed to find a little time to explore in nature. Of course, there is almost always nature and birds around you to find no matter where you are, but my biggest day was visiting Washington Park which is just south of the downtown core.

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Washington Park, Denver, CO
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American White Pelican

I imagine they must be a somewhat regular visitor there as no one else seemed to be half as interested in them as I was. Or maybe they just aren’t bird people. I’ve always wanted to see pelicans and here they were! I took some time to really watch them. Paddling on the water and hunting together in a cooperative group. I was amazed I could actually see the fish as they swallowed! Even just their immense size amazed me that a bird so big could fly. They just mesmerised me.

 

 

The other new bird I saw was a Snowy Egret! What a beautiful bird… similar to a Great Blue Heron, I watched him patiently stand in the water waiting for a fish to pass by, then darting his head forward suddenly to catch unsuspecting prey. Not far away, another egret perched on a branch overlooking the water. What a peaceful place to rest.

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Snowy Egret

 

 

Another highlight was a Barn Swallow colony at the boathouse. There were more Barn Swallows than I think I’d ever seen before. I was wary of distracting or disturbing them in any way, so I watched from the sidelines, though they didn’t seem to mind people walking by. Their swooping and diving antics and chitter-chatter could entertain me for hours. Sometimes, I wish I could sprout wings and become a swallow just for one day.

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Barn Swallow

I felt so happy and grateful to see a colony doing well from what I could tell after the trials I’ve been through with the colony I monitored this summer in Victoria. It became quite difficult for me to watch quite a few of them die and not know if it was something natural or not. I’d even tried to rescue one and send it to rehab, but unfortunately, the little bird had been starving.

 

 

I was quite taken by the little prairie dog communities strewn all over in random empty fields and lots off in the suburbs. I liked to imagine them as a happy family society, working together to dig tunnels and find food, alerting each other to danger, taking care of each other. It reminded me of a David Attenborough documentary in which prairie dogs faced a threatening snake and won, thus proving the underdog always has a chance.

 

For someone who relishes quiet and solitude, I find there’s something I love about social animals and social birds. Some of my favourite animals and birds live in families, flocks or colonies for part of most of their lives: Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Purple Martins, Bushtits, ducks rafting together at sea, Dark-eyed Juncos, Red-breasted Nuthatches, wolves, elephants and deer. I wonder what that says about me, if anything. Then again, I also dearly love solitary or paired animals like all kinds of wild cats (lions are the exception here), foxes, osprey, wrens, most woodpeckers, and of course hummingbirds.

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Denver, CO viewed from Red Rocks Ampitheatre