beaver dam and pond at sunset

Willow Spring Open Space late April 2021

April 26, 2021 – Noon

I went to the Willow Spring Open Space from about 11 am to noon to look for signs of spring after our long winter. I was excited to check it out before the next round of storms brought back the muddy trails. 

It was a warm 70 degrees, and the sky was hazy with light clouds.  Although it was muggy, a slight breeze helped make it feel pleasant. 


Red-tailed hawk flying overhead
Red-tailed Hawk in flight

I was greeted at the start of my walk by a single Red-tailed Hawk flying low overhead, looking for food. 

I am used to seeing two Hawks soaring above the Open Space, although I haven’t seen both hawks together in quite a while.  At the end of March, they could be seen together soaring or watching from a tree. 

It is a bit early for them to be nesting, as that typically starts in May to June in the Rocky Mountain region, but I am hopeful that one is tending the nest. [update 5/8/21: I saw the pair of hawks soaring together again today so all is well]

American Kestrel
American Kestrel

On the West side of the Open Space, some Red-winged Blackbirds brought my attention to a pair of American Kestrels in a tree.  The sentinel Red-winged Blackbirds in the tall trees led me to them by calling warning calls and facing in the direction of the Kestrels. 

I could easily identify the Kestrels through my binoculars by their size (close to a pigeon), and their distinctive coloring of cinnamon backs and blue-gray wings.  I also got a good look at one of them and saw the sharp falcon beak and the two black stripes on the side of its face.


American Plum blossoms
American Plum blossoms

I walked around the Open Space on the dirt paths, looking for plants in bloom, and didn’t find very many.  The American Plums (Prunus americana) near the Willow Creek bridge are starting to bloom (their flowers come before the leaves and are very fragrant). 

I also saw the tiny blooms of the Blue Mustard (Chorispora tenella) along with some Dandelions (Taraxacum officionale).  Those two are non-native plants and considered to be weeds although they are beneficial by providing the early bees with nectar. 

Blue Mustard
Tiny Blue Mustard blossoms

Other signs of spring that I noticed were that the grasses are starting to green up, as are the Great Plains Yucca.  I could also see buds starting on the Plains Cottonwood trees.

A warm evening with a full moon – April 25, 2021

American Robin
American Robin

The prior evening at sunset, I went down to the south side of the dam to see if I could spot any beavers.   It was a balmy 70 degrees at around 7:30 and the full moon was rising in the east. 

The open space sounded entirely different during my walk! The Red-winged Blackbirds were incredibly noisy with their evening trilling in the marsh.  I also heard and then saw Mourning Doves in the trees nearby. 

In the dim light I could see a flock of about 20 American Robins looking for worms on the slope of the dam just above the water inlet, giving off warning clucks as I walked by. 

A Beaver Dam?

possible beaver dam
Possible Beaver Dam

I was looking for beavers because there is a new pond this year just west of the intake structure that allows Willow Creek to pass through the Englewood Dam

The possible beaver dam is a crescent shape, made mostly of Sandbar Willows, and it looks like beaver dams I have seen at South Platte Park, near Santa Fe Drive and Mineral Ave. 

I could see that some of the willow branches had clean fresh cuts at their ends, which further supports the idea that the dam was built by beavers. 

sharp ends of Willow branches
Sharp ends of Willow branches in possible beaver dam

Although I didn’t see any beavers, I saw two pairs of Mallards in the new pond, and it looked like they were headed for some protected places to make nests and lay their eggs.

Even though the beavers didn’t appear, the sounds and sights of the wetland in the moonlight were magical and well worth the trip.  I am looking forward to more warm evenings to continue watching for wildlife.

mallards in beaver pond
Mallards in Beaver Pond