While those of us who live along the Colorado Front Range enjoy abundant sunshine and a mild, semiarid climate, there is plenty of aquatic habitat along the urban corridor. One of the best places to observe water-loving birds and mammals is South Platte Park, which stretches across the river's floodplain from the northern edge of Chatfield Reservoir State Park to the outskirts of downtown Littleton. A mosaic of ponds, lakes, wetlands, meadows and riparian woodlands, the Park is accessed by a paved bikeway, its parallel walking path and a number of adjoining trail loops. An Interpretive Center, west of Santa Fe Drive and north of Mineral, introduces visitors to the varied fauna and flora of the Park.
On this mild, clear morning, the refuge was teeming with birds, including many that non-Coloradans might not associate with our State. A dozen American white pelicans moved among the lakes or fished in the shallows, joined by a large number of double-crested cormorants, scattered great blue herons, a pair of snowy egrets, a flotilla of common mergansers, noisy flocks of Canada geese and a varied assortment of ducks (primarily mallards, gadwall and wood ducks). Tree and barn swallows swooped above the ponds, a Swainson's hawk circled overhead, belted kingfishers chattered along the river and a wide assortment of songbirds moved among the trees and cattails; these included yellow warblers, common yellowthroats, American and lesser goldfinches, western wood pewees, northern orioles, house wrens, northern flickers, downy woodpeckers and those ever-vocal red-winged blackbirds. A lone black-crowned night heron, spooked from his shadowy haunt, was my final sighting of the morning.
Though represented only by fox squirrels, cottontails and black-tailed prairie dogs this morning, a variety of mammals also inhabit the Park and are best seen at dawn or dusk. Among these residents are mule and white-tailed deer, red fox, coyotes, beaver, muskrats, raccoons, striped skunks, meadow voles and deer mice; mountain lions and black bear are potential visitors but are rarely encountered.