Saturday, March 26, 2011

Walden Ponds: Ducks Unlimited

Distance: 2.5 miles loop
Elevation: 5,100 ft
Elevation Gain: None
Dogs: On Leash (wildlife sanctuary)
Tags: #Boulder, #ducks, #coloradooutdoors

The south side of Bass Pond in the Walden Ponds Open Space Park and Wildlife Sanctuary

Walden Ponds, named for “Wally” Toevs, is a wildlife sanctuary east of Boulder created from an old gravel mine. Wally was the Boulder County Commissioner who spearheaded the effort.

Map of the area

Ducks in the shallower west side of Cottonwood Marsh

American Wigeon (Anas americana) is a dabbling duck, meaning it feeds on the surface rather than diving to the bottom. They are part time residents, migrating between Central America and Canada.

Walden is haven for waterfowl, fishermen, birders, and local strollers. I went to Walden to play with a 500 mm lens. Even with that cruise missile sized monstrosity, I could only capture the ducks nearest the shore.

A view across Cottonwood Marsh from the Boardwalk

The Widgeon does not play nice with others. It is often observed ripping food out of the beaks of diving ducks. For that reason, it is sometimes called a poacher.

Walden contains 5 separate ponds, but the birds like to hang out in Cottonwood Marsh, the largest of the ponds in the area. Large is great for birds, but bad for photographers. There was a wayward Tundra Swan at the far end, but I could barely see it with the naked eye. For birders with binoculars though Walden "Aflak" heaven.

Cottonwood Marsh from the parking area. The peaks of the Rocky Mountains are just visible in the background.

Wigeons are often seen feeding with American Coots (Fulica americana). Adult Coots have a short thick white bill a reddish-brown spot between the eyes. Coots are also migratory, traveling between British Columbia and the southern US

For those looking for exercise, there is a 2.5 mile loop that winds around the ponds. In the fall, it must be pleasant indeed with Cottonwoods and shrubbery in their full fall regalia. In March, the trees are barren and the grasses along the roadsides are stark in their pre-spring couture. For the bird watcher, this is ideal since it means more of the ponds are visible from the trails. As it was I needed to shoot through Cattails along the shore, blurring some otherwise nice shots.

The trails around Walden Ponds consist of wide, dirt roads

Coots eat grasses but also arthropods, fish, and other aquatic creepy crawlers. When on land, they bob their heads, which has given them another common name..."Mud Hen"

Near the second parking area, there is a nice boardwalk with benches for the older set to lounge on while they scan the horizon for a new addition to their life list.

The north side of the Ricky Weiser Wetland

Ring-necked Ducks (Aythya collaris) cruising off shore. Ring-necks are diving ducks feeding on aquatic plants, insects, small fish, and mollusks.

In the property to the west of Walden was a grouping of Blue Heron nests but I could not get close enough to see any of the birds. Walden abuts another open space park, Sawhill Ponds and it is easy to walk between the two for a longer excursion. I was told by one local birder that long-legged birds tend to hang out at Sawhill more than Walden because the ponds are shallower. They spotted a Sandhill Crane there just a week ago.

Ring-necks winter over in the western half of the US. They are quite stylish birds with their sleet black plumage. It is often hard to see the ring around their neck but the ring around their bills is more visible.

Redheaded ducks (Aythya americana) floated in large numbers at the far end of the Cottonwood Marsh. They are just dots even with a 500m lens. Still, their red plumage is quite distinctive. They overwinter throughout the US. Mollusks form a large part of their diet.

At the trailhead, there is a brochure with a list of the birds you can see at Walden Ponds. I obviously need to come back later in the spring and look for songbirds and other waders. If you are into birds, this seems to be THE place in Boulder to find them.

Matted reeds along the eastern border of Cottonwood Marsh

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

HI! We are hosting a conservation walkathon at Walden Ponds on May 21st, 2011. This will be an educational fundraiser to support habitat restoration for birds and other wildlife. If you know of folks who would like to join us, have them visit

Thanks...Sue Bonfield