A coyote walking the freshly groomed cross-country ski trails greeted us at the nearby Snowmass Club Golf Course, where we scanned a pond for ring-necked ducks, a diving duck with distinctive tattoo-like white, black and gray bills. They were sharing the ice flows with Crayola-bright mallards with vivid orange legs and velvet green heads.
“Ducks are in breeding plumage in winter, so they are at their finest,” Ms. Weiss said.
We searched for brown-capped rosy finches, which are endemic to Colorado and driven down from the high mountains in winter, at a collection of feeders at a private home nearby in the hills above the Aspen airport (Ms. Weiss is well known among local birders who often allow her access to their feeders). Instead, we found a flock of house finches, another of pine siskins and a diminutive downy woodpecker.
“No one knows the exact formula to get rosy finches to their feeders,” Ms. Weiss remarked of the prized birds that otherwise spend their time among 14,000-foot peaks, often called “14-ers.” “It’s incredible to see a flock of 150 gorgeous high-altitude birds that occur in Colorado and nowhere else in the world. And they’re easier to find than to scale a 14-er.”
We ended our tour at Hallam Lake, admiring the fortitude of American dippers, bathing in a snow-banked stream. The continent’s only aquatic songbird, the dark, plump, fastidious birds are considered a harbinger of clean water.
Despite the cold, nearly four hours surveying nature sped by.
“Birding is a superfun way to engage with a landscape and get to know it on a deeper, kind of meditative level,” Ms. Weiss summarized. “You can forget about everything else as you’re watching the birds treasure-hunt.”
Interpreting snow tracks
While snow muffles the terrain, obscuring the specifics of a forest under an insulating blanket, it can be a great revealer, too. Snow records the frequency of passing animals that so often we cannot see, their tracks telltale in the impressionable landscape.
Interpreting the forest habitat, ACES guides lead nature snowshoe tours departing twice daily in ski season from Aspen Mountain and the nearby Snowmass ski area ($44 if you have a lift ticket, $75 if you don’t).