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Duck, Duck, Merganser

The I-70 commute from Dotsero to Gypsum to Eagle gives us a good view of the Eagle River before it joins the Colorado River at Dotsero.  The river meanders through this area, producing a riparian zone [where the land and river interface] that is fascinating for its plants and wildlife.  Just east of the Gypsum exit is the Gypsum Ponds State Wildlife Area.  So, get off the Interstate and explore. Since it’s after June 15, you may even bring your leashed dog along. Take the Gypsum exit [140] and circle the roundabout (you may make several laps if you enjoy roundabouts) and take Trail Gulch Road headed east.  Veer left, staying on the dirt road to enter Gypsum Ponds.  You will be traveling parallel to I-70. IMG_1682 The ponds were created in the mid-1970s during the construction of I-70.  Gravel extraction for the construction left several large pits in the riparian zone so the Colorado Department of Transportation worked with the Colorado Division of Wildlife to mitigate the situation.  The pits were flooded with water from the Eagle River and waterfowl habitats encouraged.   In addition to creating  ponds, a lot of bank work was done to protect the area from erosion.  Bars of boulders and cobbles have been installed on alternating sides of the river bank.  “Tightening” the flow of the water creates deeper stretches of water which also decreases the water temperature.  This makes fish happy. IMG_1684 In this photo of the same riverbank but closer, the new biomass plant can be seen at midfield in the background with the wallboard plant to the far right. IMG_1686 Informative signs have been placed strategically so that a nice walk also becomes a mini-field trip and educational. IMG_1688 Several bird perches in the center of the ponds provide safe resting spots for birds during spring migration.  Loons, grebes , Snow Geese and other large birds have been seen.  There are also birds that roost and nest here during the spring, most recently the Mountain Bluebird.  Quite a few of these were caught in one of the recent windy spring snows and I-70 was littered with their bodies.  Heron, merganser and kingfisher use the ponds to hunt for fish.  Other birds eat the insects common to the area.  This photo shows duck decoys on the ponds, encouraging landings. IMG_1691   Happy plants are also blooming right now along the pond banks. IMG_1693 A large variety of animals frequent the ponds in addition to leashed dogs.  Sightings have been made of garter snakes, skunks, raccoon, salamanders, white tail and mule deer and beavers.  Looking at this sign, there may also be some feline activity. IMG_1694 If you make this drive often, take a few minutes, divest yourself of I-70, and, before you get gas at Costco, wander around the Gypsum Ponds.  You’ll enjoy a part of Eagle County that those Gypsumites enjoy frequently. IMG_1697  


Jaci, How interesting! I was surprised (and tickled) to read that loons had passed through this area. For the Christmas Bird Count, part of my area was the Gypsum Ponds. It was -15F degrees that day! One question, was it mountain bluebirds that were killed in the spring snow storms? You mentioned "bodies littering I70."

Yes, they were mountain bluebirds, Norma. Very distressing to see them all.

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