Flickr album link: July Dawn Birding ~ Arapaho NWR
A few articles have been previously published about the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge and points of interest around Walden, Colorado. This region definitely is one of the best wildlife viewing areas in the entire west and Walden is well known as the moose capitol of the world. Plenty of elk and moose can be seen in the woods around here, while pronghorn antelope rule the sagebrush country. There are dozens of lakes, ponds, wetlands and streams throughout the North Park Valley and these spots present excellent birding opportunities. For those who wish to capture once in a lifetime images of a wide variety of species, the North Park Valley certainly is the place to go!
The birding is excellent at nearly any freshwater resource around Walden and this is especially true early in the morning. Arriving before sunrise is the best plan of action, especially at the Arapaho NWR. The reason why has to do with the terrain conditions, because the towering mountains to the east block the direct sunlight till well after the actual sunrise occurs and the valley only receives a soft glow. These are perfect conditions for fast to moderate aperture telephoto lenses that can gather a lot of light. Slower lenses may struggle if the camera is not capable of handling high ISO numbers, which is something to keep in mind so the session does not turn into a frustrating experience.
The 180+ photos in the Arapaho Dawn Birding album were captured with a Nikon D7500 and a 200-500mm ƒ/5.6 telephoto lens. Using a crop sensor camera has its advantages, because the 1.5 crop conversion gives a 500mm lens a 750mm field of view, so it is much easier to fill the frame with subject matter from a longer distance. An ƒ/5.6 aperture lens is barely fast enough to not rely upon ultra high ISO numbers before sunrise, so this camera-lens combination or anything similar will yield good results.
As can be seen in the photos, birds are not the only species active before sunrise. Pronghorn can be seen everywhere grazing on the dew covered vegetation and their foals come out of hiding about mid summer. Beaver and muskrats are also busy swimming in the ponds pre-dawn, before they can be easily spotted by the local ospreys, hawks and eagles. The wide variety of waterfowl and pelicans definitely are the stars of the show at the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, so be sure to set the alarm clock and get an early start!
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