Thursday, September 3, 2009

 

Late Summer Trip

Here at RedRock RV Park (near Island Park, Idaho and Yellowstone National Park) there's still plenty to see in nature, even at the end of the abbreviated summer. The grass is starting to turn yellow (though much later than previous years due to the cooler summer and rain we've had). There's even some evidence that the Aspen trees across from the RV Park are starting to think about turning yellow. We haven't had any freezes yet, but some are in the forecast in the next 7 to 10 days. That should start the ball rolling, fall colorwise! I know it's approaching the end of our season here when my shadow is centered on Red Rock Road early in the morning signaling the increasingly southern journey of the sun in the northern sky each day.

There's spottings of more than a normal number of animals across from the RV park due to the change in the availability of food at higher altitudes and the approaching fall weather. A fox was spotted running along the forest here this morning and a doe and two fawns munching grass along with 4 Sand Hill Cranes. Elk bugling is being heard from the RV Park each morning too. The occasional Moose sighting rounds out the start off fall here.

A couple of days ago (at the very end of August) we had an unusual but very welcome late summer storm with more than 1/2 inch of rain falling overnight. That morning, I noticed some very unusual clouds that had formed after the storm passed. The images below document the Mammatus, also known as mammatocumulus clouds, meaning "Mammary" or "Breast " cloud. It is a meteorological term applied to a cellular pattern of pouches hanging underneath the base of a cloud. I've seen these before here, but this was about the most dramatic instance of them I've ever seen. They were very dark and ominous looking. Most of all it was beautiful and added to the joy of being here.

Mammatus clouds near RedRock RV Park.

I then decided to check out the birds at Island Park Reservoir after the storm had passed. Everything was so fresh and clean. There were quite a few birds at the reservoir and almost no humans. That's a good combination for bird watchers. The first interesting bird that caught my eye (and ear) was the Kingfisher. This grayish bird, a bit larger than a blue jay is known for it's fishing habits. They hang out around the dam here. I saw one flying around and occasionally diving for food in the lake. Eventually it landed near me on an antenna mast. I took several photos and finally noticed that it suddenly was opening it's mouth an excessive amount as if yawning. I wasn't aware that birds yawned. I took a few pictures of this behavior and noticed that it had spit something out of it's throat. Upon examining my photos I noticed a large pellet falling from its mouth in one frame. The kingfisher does NOT digest the fish bones but regurgitates them into a pellet. The images below show this behavior in sequence.

Kingfisher regurgitating a pellet of undigested food.

Across the lake, on a sandbar, double-crested Cormorants and Franklin Gulls were congregated, the cormorants airing their wings to dry them. Their raucous sounds punctuated the quiet of the lake. Occasionally, a cormorant would fly overhead, it's bright green eye contrasting with its bright orange beak. It would circle around for a while and then land on the sandbar to join the rest of the crowd.


Cormorant flying overhead at Island Park Reservoir in Island Park, ID.

Cormorants have sharp hooked beaks that allow them to snag small fish while diving underwater. I'll see one go underwater and he will pop up quite a distance away. They are good swimmers. Like the Kingfisher, these birds regurgitate a pellet of undigested bones, usually at dawn each day.

Cormorant resting before the next dive.

Another common bird that I saw on my visit is the Western Grebe. It's a very pretty diving bird with bright red eyes. They are similar to loons. They have sharp beaks that they often use to spear small fish, but they sometimes just grab them with their beaks. They can dive up to 90 feet but more often stay closer to the water's surface, often diving for periods that range from 20 to 60 seconds in length.


Red-eyed Western Grebe at Island Park Reservoir

Sitting on the shore was also the ever present Great Blue Heron. Unlike the diving Cormorant, these birds like to stand on the shore or in shallow water and quickly pick up any small fish that goes by. They can move their long neck extremely fast to pick up a fish or small invertebrate. I've seen them swallow some pretty large fish (12 to 14" in length).

Great Blue Heron at Island Park Reservoir.

Back at the RV Park, the ever present Swainson's Hawk's were circling overhead looking for small rodents. It's rare to go out and look up and not see one or more circling within a few minutes time. These guys are getting ready to head to Argentina for the winter, so they are filling up on food as quickly as possible.

Swainson's Hawk circling over RedRock RV Park in Island Park, Idaho.

There's still time to plan your September visit to RedRock RV Park to enjoy the fall colors, the bugling Elk, and the other wildlife getting ready for winter. (It comes early to this part of the country.)


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

 

September Song of the Wildflowers

Reggie accompanies me into the forest across from Henry's Lake to look for late summer wildflowers.

Well, of course, the wildflower season is in decline. It's mid-summer or for this latitude and altitude it is really late summer and most wildflowers are singing their "September Song" (the days grow short when you reach September..when the autumn weather turn leaves to flame..etc). However, it is still interesting to go into the forest and look for nice wildflower specimens. There is still a lot of color to see.

Some of the color is now provided by the leaves and the berries and not the flowers. Today, my Golden Retriever Reggie and I went into the Targhee forest across from the RedRock RV Park and Henry's Lake (near Yellowstone National Park and Island Park, Idaho) to see what wildflowers were still looking relatively nice.

Red Baneberries (poisonous to humans)

The first head-turner just within the forests edge was the Red baneberry (Actaea rubra). It has a beautiful cluster of red berries in a bottlebrush shape. Prior to fruiting these were beautiful little white flowers. The leaves are green, large and coarsely toothed with deeply lobed margins. It's a perennial herbaceous plant, living more than 2 years. Seeds germinate the following year and flower the third year. The plant and the berries are very poisonous to humans (not birds who distribute the seeds). It appears that most mammals avoid them to some extent and there is not much evidence for bears eating them.

Buffaloberries (left) and baneberry growing side by side.

Growing right beside the baneberry was the Canada Buffaloberry or Soopolallie
(Shepherdia canadensis). This is a shrub that also has red berries but not as bright red, numerous or as large as the baneberry. The berries are edible but extremely bitter and are usually eaten with other berries, whipped up into a froth produced by the chemicals in the berry.

Buffaloberry

Not far away I found the orange colored berries from the Fairybell flower (Disporum trachycarpum). The berries are edible but rather tasteless (according to my sources.) They do make for a nice bright spot in the forest this time of year.

Fairybell berries are bright orange.

The Indian Paintbrush is still lingering to make bright red spots throughout the darkened forest floor. They are especially nice looking when a ray of sunshine manages to get through the forest canapy and shine on them.

Indian Paintbrush

Many other plants are still providing color this late in the season under the forest canopy including the purple Rocky Mountain Asters, a few (rare) yellow Heart-leafed Arnica, the white headed Englemann Asters, the purple Common Harebell, the wild Blue Flax, the yellow western hawkweed, red clover and more.

One of the many wildflowers still blooming is the Wild Blue Flax.

Many of the plants are waning but still provide beauty in the colorful display of their leaves as Fall approaches. The Sticky Geraniums can still be found with blooms, but many of them have leaves that are starting to turn various shades of red and orange. It's fun to search for the most interesting and colorful leaves among the dying plants.

Sticky Geranium plants begin to turn fall colors already.

Some meadowrue leaves have started turning a nice reddish purple color. Contrasting with the still very green leaves, this makes for a beautiful display.

Meadowrue leaves begins to turn colors.

So, even if you are late with your summer vacation, if you come visit us at RedRock RV Park in the middle to the end of August, you'll get to see some of the beauty that the wildflowers give to our area. You might have to look a little closer and be a little less discriminating in your choices, but you'll still enjoy them, I promise.

Western Hawkweed (Hieracium scouleri) dots the forest floor with yellow.

Remember, that beauty is all around you. You just have to look for it. It might make you happy for a few moments. Look down and look closely at the small stuff. You might be surprised at what you find.

Monday, August 17, 2009

 

A Mid-summers Drive Yellowstone/Beartooth

Last week I drove from RedRock RV Park in Island Park,Idaho to the top of the Beartooth Mountains. The whole trip was about 320 miles round-trip, but well worth it. Of course, the path takes us through the northern part of Yellowstone National Park and it's always fun to look out for wild animals. On this trip my cousin from Merced, California accompanied me and she was thrilled to be able to see so many animals. This trip is not unlike one that many people visiting RedRock RV Park take everyday so I thought I might share it with you to give you an idea of what touring from here might be like.

It was bit of a cloudy day to start and we were fearful that we'd have a bad weather day, but like most of the weather here, it changes pretty dramatically from hour to hour and place to place.

One of my favorite places to stop and "change gears" from the commercial to the wild "frame of mind" is a just a couple miles from the West Yellowstone park entrance at a turn-off next to the Madison River. Few people stop here and it is a refreshing view of the magnificent Madison river, with dark blue water, blue sky, white clouds, eagles, osprey, and often an elk or bison munching around you. Today, it was just the view of the water that we enjoyed. There is a boardwalk that has several informative markers about the effects of the 1988 fire. It's worth taking and gives you a chance to get a little exercise.

My cousin and the Madison river looking west in Yellowstone.


I like to take it slow along the Madison River. Most tourists are trying to zip along at 45 mph rushing to the geysers or slamming on their brakes if someone spots an animal.

There are always so many animals (elk, bison, deer, otters and muskrats), birds (eagles and ospreys) and beautiful scenic spots along this section of the river. There are several pull-outs that allow you to get out and look around. Many have explanatory signs that give you a bit of information about the wild life or geology around you. Take the time to read them and you'll enjoy the experience more.

My cousin and the Madison river looking west in Yellowstone.

At one of the many turn-offs is a small sign that points to a trail across the road. The trail is for Harlequin lake. This is a rarely visited lake snuggled up against the volcanic cliffs that often has beautiful lily ponds and sometimes a bear or elk grazing nearby. It's a quick 15 minute (1/2 mile walk) through the pines that is well worth the effort, especially if you like getting away from the crowds.

We continued on towards the northern part of the Park. We pass the Norris Geyser basin this trip. It's certainly worth a couple hours of exploring but our destination today was much further away and we'd never make it stopping at every interesting place. Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest and most malleable thermal area in Yellowstone. Rainbow Colors, hissing steam, and pungent odors combine to create an experience unique to Yellowstone.

One of my favorite areas going north is the section along Willow Creek. You might see moose here in the early morning or late evening. Alas, we weren't here at the right time, but still the landscape is beautiful. We stopped at nearby Sheepeater Cliff where interesting lava cliffs have formed columnar basalt rocks. These interesting rocks sit next to the Gardiner River which is rushing by in all its fury here. We spotted a yellow-bellied Marmot blending in with the lava rocks here. One lady told me it was a beaver, but my training told me that wasn't correct. Beavers don't normally bask on open rocks (and they have a large flat tail).

Yellow-bellied Marmot blends in with the lava rocks at Sheepeater Cliffs.

We drove through Mammoth Hot Springs in the northwest corner of the park, a natural wonder of calcite springs, the park headquarters and a commercial center for tourists. A short drive through the thermal area is worth taking. The main feature here are the thermal terraces. Thousands of years of dripping calcite water created a magnificent terraced display. The glistening terraces are definitely beautiful especially those with the colorful bacterial mats.

Colorful spring at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Continuing past the community of Mammoth Hot Springs we cross the Gardiner River over a deep canyon before it dumps into the Yellowstone River. Stopping here will often produce views of wildlife feeding in the meadows far below next to the river, but today we press on-wards.

Along the northern road there are several interesting turn-offs. One provides a great view of Udine falls. This falls a distance of 110 feet along Lava Creek.

Udine Falls, along Lava Creek.

Along the northern road we encountered a traffic jam. This is often indicative of wildlife along the road. So many motorists ignore the park rule to pull off the road and instead stop dead in the road pointing their cameras for long periods. Today was a 10 minute delay while a curious tourist had his full of a full grown grizzly bear on the hillside. We finally found a place to pull off and was able to photograph this large bear ourselves as he foraged for plants.

Grizzly Bear foraging across from Blacktail Beer Plateau.

About 5 miles later we encountered another traffic jam, this one mediated by a Park Ranger. We were able to pull off the road (at quite a slope to the Jeep) and get out to find that a wolf pack was resting far below us in the canyon. An observant tourist had spotted the pack running down a deer. The pack was so far that you could only see a couple members of it by using powerful spotting scopes that people had set up. I was able to set up my telephoto lens and get a glimpse of a black wolf, but not with the clarity for a good photograph. The wolves are very elusive, especially in summer and have been very difficult for me to photograph.

Black Wolf far below in canyon after chasing deer along northern park road.

Once I'd seen enough of the small black spot in the canyon, we decided to drive into the Lamar Valley, heading towards the northeast entrance of Yellowstone Park. This is another one of my favorite areas, mostly for the solitude and the wide open views with wildlife. The Lamar River meanders through this valley with herds of bison, a few pronghorn, and an occasional Grizzly Bear chewing on the abundant grasses and forbs. We encountered another bear spotting, but it had just disappeared behind a close hill and we missed seeing it. I suspect we are seeing more bears because they are fattening up for their long winter sleep. Since Fall is approaching fast they know they need to put on a lot of weight soon. We spotted a couple pronghorn as well.

Lamar Valley and River.

Bison lounging along Lamar River.

The Lamar River is a wide and shallow river with many bison seen standing on the banks and even in the river. You'll also see a lot of the fly fishermen standing the river.

We headed west following Soda Butte Creek towards the northeast entrance and encounter the next wildlife opportunity. Barronette Peak (10,404 ft) is a massive wall of stone along the road that is home to a few families of Mountain Goats (Oreamnos americanus). They aren't recently native to this area. They were brought into the Beartooths between 1940 and 1960 from western Montana. They aren't welcome to Yellowstone due to the "native" only policy of the park service. It's hard to believe they weren't originally native here and maybe chased away by man. They are hard to see because they are so far away and they are hanging on the steep cliffs. You look for little white specks that are moving then use your binoculars to zero in on them.

Mountain Goats on the steep slopes of Barronette Peak. (See the white spots?)

We stopped in Cooke City, Montana for a great lunch at the Beartooth Cafe and headed on to the beautiful Beartooth mountains in Wyoming. This portion of the trip along the Beartooth highway is delightfully wild and scenic by most standards. The road skirts a couple streams before it starts climbing into the alpine eco-system. The first really scenic sight is Beartooth Lake with its view of the gorgeously colored Beartooth Butte and Clay Butte. (There's a dirt road to the top of Clay Butte with a retired fire lookout station that is definitely worth the drive for the sweeping views and wildflowers.)

Beartooth Lake and Clay Butte

The road winds up in elevation until you reach the tree line and the alpine lakes. The views in every direction are indescribably beautiful. Be sure to stop at as many places as possible to soak in this beauty. Look down at the tiny wildflowers, the wind-swept trees, the glacier carved peaks and the alpine lakes. At roughly 3,000 square miles, the Beartooths are one of North America's largest land areas rising above 10,000 ft, reaching its highest point at Granite Peak (12,799 ft). This is a land of high alpine lakes, glacier carved cirques, windswept trees and fragile tundra. When you get to the top (10,000 ft) look for the famous Beartooth peak, the namesake of these mountains.

Twin Lakes at the top of the Beartooth Scenic Highway.

You'll also find Mountain Goats up here. Here they often graze close to the road on flatter ground. This trip we couldn't find them, but I'll include a photo from a previous trip that I took. Sometimes you'll also see domesticated sheep along with a sheep herder and sheep dogs.

Mountain Goats along Beartooth Scenic highway.

We turned around at the Montana border (overlooking this awesome switchback from Red Lodge, MT). The opposite direction affords different views and you are tempted to stop frequently. One example is the view of Pilot peak. This is a very distinctive peak. We planned to be back before dark so we didn't stop much on the way back. This is a long trip but if you stay with us, please plan to take it if you have time. You won't regret it.

Pilot Peak from the Scenic Beartooth Highway.

I hope you've enjoyed this beautiful trip. Obviously this is just a taster. Make sure you check the weather and road conditions before you set out and take plenty of warm clothes and water. Conditions at the top can often change dramatically in a short time.

Come see us at RedRock RV Park near Yellowstone National Park in Island Park, Idaho. You'll be glad you did!


Thursday, July 30, 2009

 

Elk Lake and Hidden Lake in Montana

Make sure you read the previous blog before you read this one. In these blogs, the latest written always appear first. This is part two of a report of a trip I made yesterday out to Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and Elk Lake in southern Montana. I started out from RedRock RV Park (Island Park, Idaho) and drove about 15 miles to the Elk Lake turnoff and followed a dirt road around Culver Pond. After Culver Pond, I headed for Elk Lake Resort for Lunch.

Elk Lake Resort with part of Elk Lake in the foreground and the Centennial Mtns in the back.

This little resort features a few rustic cabins, access to fishing in Elk and Hidden lakes and great food. It's only 6 miles from the Red Rock Road turn off. It's the only commercial business within 25 miles on the East and 60 miles on the West. It's run by a nice family who keeps it open summer and winter (for snowmobilers). I recommend the Teryaki Chicken sandwich (with cheese) and some great fries. If you come for lunch, make sure you are here between noon and 1 PM, except Sundays. The prices are reasonable and the hospitality is great. They do a gourmet dinner by reservation only. Reggie joined 3 other Golden Retrievers and a few other dogs outside while I had lunch in their rustic dining room.

Panorama of Elk Lake (the original pic is really 25,000 pixels wide)

Leaving here (North) the dirt road becomes a little more challenging, depending upon when it was last graded. The week before I had been here and it was close to unpassable in the steep parts). Today, the Forest Service grader had just been by to fill in the large pot holes and it was much better. Still, I wouldn't recommend this part of the trip for low slung sedans. Elk Lake is a long lake in a canyon that was once an Earthquake fault. This fault encompasses Elk Lake, Hidden Lake, Cliff Lake and Wade Lake.

Lichen covered rock above Elk Lake.

Walking in the Sagebrush to reach an overlook of Elk Lake you'll find many wildflowers and several large rocks covered with colorful lichen. Some of the lichen thrives on the urine from Ground squirrels, Pikas and Marmots that frequent the area. These rocks are favorite lookout points for these little rodents.

Wildflowers on the hills above Elk Lake.

Wildflowers covered the hillsides interspersed with the gray-green sagebrush. Some areas had been trampled by cattle, but generally it was a nice trip up and down this road to Hidden Lake. At the northern end of Elk Lake there is an interesting estuary area with water lilies, willow shrubs and other wetlands loving plants. From the top of the hill, before you descend to lake level, it's a great view of the Madison Mountain range and the end of the lake.

Northern end of Elk Lake and Estuary. Madison Mtns in the background.

By the side of the road there was a beautiful wild rose bush in full bloom. I couldn't resist stopping for a picture.

Wild Roses along the side of the road.

A Great Blue Heron flew into the estuary, presumably to do some fishing. He was competing with only one other set of fishermen in a boat not far away. This end of the lake often has a pair of Trumpeter Swans also, but they were not here today.

The road continues through this earthquake faulted valley for another 3 miles until you come to the end of the passable (for autos) road. If you could continue on, you'd eventually run into Cliff lake. There is a parking lot here and a 1/4 mile walk down to the Hidden Lake. Today, Reggie and I were the only visitors at this time. The walk is very nice because it follows a stream and there are many wildflowers. I accidentally found a beautiful tiny single flower on a stem, just about 4" tall called a Wood Nymph or one-flowered wintergreen (Moneses uniflora). Looking underneath there is very interesting detail.


Tiny Wood Nymph or single-flowered wintergreen.

Wood Nymph from above. This flower is about 1/2" wide.

Hidden Lake is a very secluded lake and every time I have visited it there have been either no people there or very few. There is a trail that goes around the lake, but I've not taken it very far. Sometimes the trail disappears on the bank and you have to find another way up the steep bank. Yesterday I walked until the trail gave out to water and found a small snake almost under my boot. He was about 15 inches long and only 1/2" in diameter. He fled to the water.

I did go into the forest around the east side of the lake and found some interesting mushrooms under the trees. There were several of the same type but each took on a different shape and size. All of them had the distinctive black toothed shapes. They are the Scaly Tooth aka Scaly Hedgehog mushrooms (Sarcodon imbricatus.) Though it is found across North America, Sarcodon imbricatus is especially common in the Rocky Mountains, where it grows under Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir during spring and can attain very large sizes (caps up to 9 to 10 inches across). Notice the other specimen of the Scaly Tooth mushroom along with the dog lichen (Peltigera leucophlebia) (green sheet with scalloped edges) growing next to it. The name comes from the shape of the fruiting bodies that resembles dogs teeth.

Scaly Tooth mushroom growing in the forest at Hidden Lake.

Another specimen of the Scaly Tooth mushroom next to a dog lichen.

Another beautiful little flower that caught my eye under the forest canopy was the Twinflower (Linnaea borealis.) This is a woody vine that spreads over the forest floor. Short stems arise at nodes along the branches making each twin bloom look like it's coming from a single small plant. The flower stem is only 4 inches tall and it splits into two stalks supporting a bell-shaped pink flower that have hairy throats. This specimen reminds me of a peppermint candy in its coloring.

Lovely little twinflower on the forest floor at Hidden Lake (Montana).

All around the lake was the Horsetail (Equistum arvense) which grows in saturated ground like this shoreline. The light caught this specimen just right to catch my eye for a photo. These plants reproduce by spores, like ferns.

Horsetail.

Trail to Hidden Lake.
Hidden Lake looking Northwest.

The trip back was uneventful but pleasant. I recommend that if you come to RedRock RV Park (near Island Park Idaho and West Yellowstone, MT), that you take this trip to Hidden Lake. You won't be sorry. Just make sure you take it in good weather and use a high-clearance vehicle.

 

Culver Pond in Red Rock Lakes Wildlife Refuge

Yesterday I took off early with Reggie and decided to explore a portion of the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge known as Mac Donald Lakes and Culver Pond. This is a little visited area northeast in the Refuge. A dirt road circles around the lakes to the north side of Red Rock Creek.

Sandhill Cranes flying away from their grazing meadow.

Of course, I took my time getting there as I drove and watched for other wildlife along Red Rock road. The first wildlife I spotted was a pair of the Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) leaving their grazing meadows across from the RedRock RV Park (Island Park, Idaho). This mated pair spends a lot of their mornings grazing there (as Reggie and I know from our morning walks.) Of course, they took off with the loud raucous sounds that only a crane can make.

The fields and meadows are unusually green for this time of year thanks to the unusual amount of rain we've had this season. Although many of the wildflowers are starting to fade, there are still plenty around to make this area bright with color.

Sego Lilies and Lupine at Red Rock Pass.

When I reached the Red Rock Pass, I noticed an unusually large field of the Sego Lily sometimes known as the Mariposa Lily also. Mixed with Lupine and other wildflowers, they made an impressive view. Of course, the Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttallii) really comes into its own when viewed closeup. Some of these are colored light to medium purple.

Across the street larger displays of the Sego Lily were mixed with the beautiful blanket flower, lending a bright red accent to the display.

There were several stands of the Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata) along Red Rock road as I descended into the Centennial valley. They are starting to get ragged, but still present a dramatic view everywhere they grow. These grow in clumps on sunny and open meadows all over Montana. The species Gaillardia have many variations of the coloring including red petals. The variety found here are solid yellow petals with a bright red set of disk flowers.

As I entered Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, I turned towards Elk Lake. The road we are taking today turns off of this road.

Mac Donald pond and cattle grazing at the Refuge with Centennial Mtns in the background.

My first view of Mac Donald pond was greeted with a large herd of cattle next to the shore. It's too bad that the cattle have to be here in this beautiful region since they tend to flatten the wildflowers and mess up the pristine creeks and ponds. They are hardly "wildlife." (It's a little bit of irony that I saw them first at Mac Donald pond, given that's where so many of them will end up after fattening up here.)

This Red-tailed Hawk was along the dirt road to Culver Pond.

As I progressed slowly along the dirt road paralleling this pond, I noticed a beautiful Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) sitting atop a nearby post. We stared at each other for a while, I took a few photos and he flew off in search of lunch.

He's off for lunch.

Driving along Picnic Creek (which feeds Mac Donald pond from Culver Pond), I stop at one end of Culver Pond and look around a bit for wildlife and wildflowers. The Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) often hang out in Culver Pond and I was hoping to see some. The Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge was established to bring the Trumpeter Swans back from the brink of extinction due to human hunting (for their feathers).

Swans in Culver Pond with West Centennial Mtns in background.

It's not long before I spot a family of five on the far bank of the pond. As I move my camera and tripod a bit closer they head for the relative safety of the water. Swans can live a long time. Trumpeter Swans have been known to live longer than 24 years in the wild, and one individual in captivity lived to be almost 32. This swan is the largest native North American bird when measured in terms of weight and length, and is on average the largest living waterfowl species.



The same swans moving up Culver Pond to escape my threatening presence.

Culver Pond starts in these rocks as an underground spring.

Culver Pond is created from a spring that appears out of nowhere in the rocks up against a forested hill. It's really interesting to see the water coming from under a rock and to know that it feeds this large pond (the pond is over a mile and a half long).

Culver Pond starts as an underground spring near this spot.

I stopped to look at the spring and see if any different wildflowers were in the area. Growing seemingly out of the rocks around the spring is the lovely Yellow Monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus). The entire area around the spring has been trampled by cows, taking away from the beauty of this otherwise pristine spot.

Yellow Monkeyflower grows around the Culver Pond Spring.

Flying around the monkeyflowers at the spring was a Weidemeyer's Admiral (basilarchia weidemeyerii) butterfly. They tend to inhabit wet places like this. They are very boldly patterned and a large butterfly.

Weidemeyer's Admiral butterfly at Culver Pond spring.

The road from here goes through sagebrush flatlands. Many badger and ground squirrel holes punctuate this area. Finally, the road ends at the northern bank of Red Rock Creek. An old bridge that would have taken us back to the start of the Refuge has been out for years. At the old bridge site is a dam where water pours loudly across many small branches built up there by the beavers. I walked around the area for a while to see if I could spot any beavers, but alas they are very shy, especially during daylight hours.

Beaver Dam built across Red Rock Creek.

I headed back along the same road. On the way back I spotted a Kestrel (a falcon) flying above us and then swoping down to get lunch in the high grass. Another one was sitting on a fence post nearby. Then I noticed a lone Pronghorn. He noticed us and took off into the hills above Culver Pond.

Young Pronghorn spots us and heads into the hills along Culver Pond road.

As I headed back, I had to negotiate cows crowding the road in the WILDLIFE REFUGE. The rest of my trip to nearby Elk Lake and Hidden Lake will continue in the next blog after I have a great lunch at Elk Lake Lodge.

Cows crowd the road along Culver Pond.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

 

July Wildflower Landscapes

Now is the time for the appearance of the vast fields of wildflowers around RedRock RV Park (Island Park, Idaho). We've already had the fields of solid yellow and solid white thanks to the Mule's Ear's but now it's the bouquets of mixed flowers. It is almost impossible to drive anywhere without seeing fields of yellow, magenta, purple, mauve, blue, white, orange and red wildflowers. The most attractive are the fields that are mixed with two or more colors. Unfortunately, the camera can't do justice to these fields. The human eye and mind can take in much more of the color and the sense of beauty than the flat, 2D, restricted view of the camera. But.. I'll try to give you a sampling of the beauty you'll see here in the middle of July.

Bouquet of wildflowers off Red Rock Road near US 20. (Click on photo for larger.)

Accentuating the beauty of these fields are the majestic mountain backdrops that present themselves at every turn. The streams, the lakes and the mountain meadows are full of color. It's hard to drive anywhere if you stop to photograph the color.

Looking North from Red Rock Road and US 20 intersection. (Click on photo for larger.)

Flower display along Continental Divide dirt trail with Upper Red Rock lakes in background.


Most of the flowers I've presented for the last month can be seen around here still. The most dominant in today's landscapes are the Sticky Geranium for shades of purple, the tall buttercup for bright yellow, the white textured Yarrow, the purple and white Lupines, the Showy Fleabane (for purple and yellow), the bright red Indian Paintbrush, the white and pink fluffy Sulfur buckwheat, the bright yellow Little Sunflower, and more.

Sulfur buckwheat along the Continental Divide between Idaho and Montana.

Today I drove along the Continental Divide Trail for a short distance and the wildflowers were covering all the hills. This dirt jeep trail is only about 7 miles from RedRock RV Park and roughly follows the Idaho/Montana border. There are still patches of snow at the top of the ridge (Reggie rolled in it), in the last half of July! In places the sagebrush tended to hide the mass of flowers, but the pale green color of the sagebrush just added to the subtlety of the colors. One hillside was covered with the lowly and bright colored Stonecrop succulent to paint it yellow-orange.

Stonecrop even covered one hill. The East Centennial Mtns behind.

Stonecrop succulents cover hillsides at higher elevations here.

Of course, these displays are for a purpose. Nature just didn't decide to make humans happier by providing flowered hillsides. The insects and butterflies are in large numbers, doing their thing by pollinating the flowers so we will have a similar outburst next year. They also provide a bountiful supply of food for the Sandhill Cranes who enjoy searching through the tall flowers for insects and roots. Yesterday I photographed this pair of cranes across from the RedRock RV park happily enjoying the large crop of flowers and grasses.

Sandhill Cranes find morsels to eat among the Little Sunflowers (click on image for larger).


Unidentified butterfly in the flowers near RedRock RV Park. (click image for larger)

Another flower that has just recently bloomed and is in my top five favorites is the Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttallii.) These are the state flower of Utah due to the flavorful edible roots that saved Brigham Young's early settlement there from starvation during their famous famine. They are simply delicate and beautiful wildflowers. These can be often found along the side of the road like they are here at RedRock RV Park. Here's another nice specimen on my photo gallery page.

Looking down the throat of a Sego Lilly found this morning here.

I have a complete gallery of wildflower landscapes you can view if you'd like more.

Of course, you'll have to come here to fully comprehend the beauty of these wildflower displays. Give us a call and see for yourself. (208-558-7442).



Monday, July 13, 2009

 

Sunflowers

It's been a while since I discussed the flowers growing in the meadow across from our RedRock RV Park (Island Park, Idaho). The most ubiquitous and obvious flower now blooming is the Little Sunflower also known as Rocky Mountain dwarf sunflower (Helianthella uniflora). This has replaced the Mule's Ear's as the dominant flower in the meadow across the street. Each plant has a single flower with brilliant yellow/orange ray petals on a hairy stem containing opposite lance shaped leaves. Its bright yellow head faces the sun and tracks it across the sky each day (heliotropic), giving a different brightness of the meadow each time you view it during the day. I'll include a few photos here to give you a sense of the beauty and sense of summertime it creates for us at the park.

A single bloom from the Little Sunflower.

A bouquet of Little Sunflower facing the sun across from the RV Park.

Looking at the back of the Little Sunflowers as they track the sun.

A field of Little Sunflowers across from RedRock RV Park.

Occasionally you find mixed in with the Little Sunflowers the Silky Lupine and Sticky Geraniums. These combination of colors are extremely pleasant to me (at least in nature).

Lupine is often mixed in among the Little Sunflower.

The insects are loving the thick and lush growth. Butterflies are to be found all around. If you look closely you'll see the Circumpolar Bluet (a damselfly) landing on the leaves. Plenty of other insects flit about (including a few of those pesky mosquitos).

Circumpolar Bluet lands on the Little Sunflower leaves in the meadow.

One of the most common butterflies here is the Callippe Fritillary. You'll find many of these flittering around the flowers almost anytime of the day.

Callippe Fritillary Butterfly on Little Sunflower

The lovely Common Harbell (Campanula rotundifolia) has gained a second wind. All of them had disappeared in the last few weeks, but I noticed they are popping up all over again. I'm not sure if this is from seeds formed this season or if they are just a form of late bloomers? Whatever the reason, they are a welcome addition to the potpourri of flowers in the meadow.

Common Harebell are back again in the meadow.

Also found in the meadow is a single large specimen of the White Campion (Lychnis alba) plant. This grows to about 2 feet with multiple blooms on many stems. Behind the flower is a calyx that forms a long, striped tube with granular hairs. This is an introduced flower (from Europe) and is often found by the roadside in disturbed soils. The flowers open at night and have a pleasant fragrance for attracting flying insects. In the meadow across the street it stands out among the Little Sunflower as a very white abberation.

White Campion or Bachelor's Buttons growing in the meadow across from the RV Park.

White Campion (entire plant) in meadow grasses.

Well, this is just a few of the plants that you'll find wandering through the meadow across from our RV Park. Next time we will look further into the forest from the meadow to see what surprises are growing there. Come see us and enjoy this little bit of heaven for yourself at RedRock RV Park in Island Park Idaho. We are only about 25 miles from Yellowstone National Park too!

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