Trumpeter Swan

Swan (Trumpeter), Cygnus buccinator, Jackson Hole WYI’ve been waiting and hoping to encounter a new species to blog about, but I didn’t have much luck in November.  December wasn’t starting out too well, either, with terrible winds and no snow making it difficult to spend much time outdoors.  In an attempt to follow the winter, I took a short trip out to Jackson in the western part of the state and saw my first ever trumpeter swans, Cygnus buccinator.

Swan (Trumpeter), Cygnus buccinator, National Elk Refuge, WY

E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan was one of my favorite books as a kid, but I had never managed to spot one of these guys in the wild.  While watching them yesterday, I didn’t hear any extensive trumpeting (and no one seemed to be playing any extra musical instruments), but they did humor me with few cute honks.  I thought these birds were endangered, but apparently, their numbers are doing much better, and they are a fairly common sight along Flat Creek at Jackson’s National Elk Refuge just outside of the town.

Swan (Trumpeter), Cygnus buccinator, with mallards, National Elk Refuge Jackson HoleThe trumpeter swan is the largest swan in the world, and these big white beauties were quite impressive.  A handful of these large birds were floating in the icy water alongside dozens of mallards.  They were feeding, in cute duck style, with their bottoms straight up in the air.  Their pretty white heads and necks were a little stained from dabbling, or as says, “from contact with ferrous minerals in wetland soils.”

Thanks, Jackson Hole, for giving me at least one more new blog post for 2012, not to mention the chance for a little skiing and snowshoeing!

Swan (Trumpeter), Cygnus buccinator, Flat Creek, Jackson Hole

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Posted by on December 16, 2012 in Nature


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Pine Grosbeak

Due to time constraints and the onset of harsh winter weather that tends to hide species from view (it is snowing as I type), I have decided to cut back on my daily blogging.  I will try to continue to post whenever I encounter a new species.  I don’t expect to find any more Wyoming wildflowers this year, but perhaps there are a few more birds and mammals that I can yet blog about.

For instance:  the pine grosbeak, Pinicola enucleator.  On a recent, surprisingly warm, snowless hike in the Snowy Range I saw a flash of red fly into a nearby spruce tree.  At first I thought it was a red crossbill, but I managed to snap a photo of the bright bird and on closer inspection it appears to have the large, finchy bill and white wingbars of the pine grosbeak.

While the males have distinctive red plumage–sort of like extra-large house finches—females and juveniles are more subdued with yellow, orange or even olive green touches.  The photo of the female to the left was also taken in the Snowy Range, but during the summer.  I have also encountered grosbeaks in Glacier National Park, MT.

These birds can sometimes appear fairly tame, allowing people to come quite close.  The female that I encountered did not seem very concerned about me taking pictures.  Pine grosbeaks can often be easily overlooked since they can remain very still instead of drawing attention to themselves by abruptly flying up.

This is another hardy species that stays in Wyoming year round.  One more bird to look for on winter excursions!

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Posted by on October 24, 2012 in Nature


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Fall Pause

Autumn has arrived with golds and reds and migrating birds.  It has also brought busy times for me, so I am going to have to put my blogging on hold for awhile. Thanks for following along for the daily posts of fizzy findings in spring and summer!  Happy Fall!


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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Nature



Arctic Gentian

Okay, so I didn’t see arctic gentian today.  I was at work.  But I thought about it, doesn’t that count?  I reminisced about how many wonderful species of gentian I have seen this year and lamented the lousy fact that this year’s flower sightings have not included those of the gorgeous arctic gentian, Gentiana (sometimes Getianodes) algida.  The photo below was taken on September 16 of last year, so the time is right, but current circumstances are not lining up for a high-elevation gentian search.  Perhaps this year was just too dry for a good showing, or perhaps I just haven’t looked in the right places!

This very small plant, also called whitish gentian (in yet another boring, unromantic USDA name), is easy to overlook, but the white flowers with purple streaks and dots should not be missed.  This is a late summer alpine plant, and as visible in the photo of snow in Rocky Mountain National Park on September 16, 2011, it thrives in harsh, alpine climates in the central Rockies.

Some refer to this species as the “boo-hoo flower”, becuase it is one of the last wildflowers of the summer to bloom (as in, boo-hoo, the summer is almost over).  Some websites note seeing it in July this year, where I have only ever found it at the end of August or beginning of September.  I guess the wacky weather made me miss my chance this year!


Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Nature


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Chipping Sparrow

Chipping sparrows, Spizella passerina, have been gathering into larger groups for the autumn.  These little brown jobs can be difficult to distinguish from other sparrows this time of year, especially clay-colored sparrows (Spizella pallida, which have a mustache and white central crown stripe) or American tree sparrows (Spizella arborea, which have reddish eye stripe and dark spot center chest) .

S. passerina males in the breeding plumage have a reddish cap that contrasts with their black eye liner and makes them look very distinctive in the summer.  As we head into fall, they are mostly identifiable by the unstreaked gray neck and chest and longish tail.

These birds often are found foraging on the ground and seem to especially like open areas near protective trees.  They can be found throughout the U.S. and Canada during the summer, and they migrate to the southern U.S. or Mexico for the winter.

The name chipping sparrow derives from their song, which sounds a bit like “chip-chip-chip-chip-chip” at full speed.

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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Nature


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Common Broadleaf Cattail

Cattails, more specifically the broadleaf cattail, Typha latifolia, is the kind of plant that I recognize without any hesitation.  I don’t live around marshy areas and I don’t see these plants with any regularity, but when I do encounter them, I immediately think ‘cattails’.  I must have absorbed this knowledge as a child, perhaps because the seedhead looks like a big corny dog, which I loved as a kid until I puked one at an overheated Garth Brooks concert (sorry, other people in the crowd…).  But, though I may have more or less outgrown my appreciation for fried hot dogs and Okie singers, that didn’t keep me from looking at the grassy-leaved plants turning brown by Spring Creek and mentally saying, ‘look, cattails.’

I don’t really think this plant even resembles the tail of a cat at all, but that’s because I’ve never noticed the flower in June (see this illuminating post on Naturespeak).   This species can also be called common bulrush or great reedmace.  Utah State University has a website that explains the flowers and seeds:  “Yellowish male (staminate) flowers are located at the top of the inflorescence and greenish female (pistillate) flowers are located underneath….Flowers bloom in summer and after bloom the male flowers rapidly disperse, leaving a naked stalk tip. The pollinated female flowers turn brown as the seeds mature, forming the familiar cylindrical, sausage-like, cattail fruiting spike (to 9” long in this species).”

This plant is native to all states except Hawaii and can also be found throughout the world.  It typically grows in or near shallow water and can hybridize with other species.

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Posted by on September 15, 2012 in Nature


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MacGillivray’s Warbler

Today, I had another migratory warbler sighting:  one MacGillivray’s warbler, Geothlypis tolmiei.  A quick, little guy scooted through my backyard while I was filling up the birdbath.  He checked out a few of the shrubs and was gone.  He was too quick to allow for a photograph, so I am attaching a picture of one that I took last May at Vedauwoo east of town.

This is the best photo of this species that I have in my collection because these guys often shyly hide in the underbrush and refuse to have their portraits taken!  The website Birds of the Rocky Mountains states, “Keeping to the densest and most impenetrable shrubs in the Rockies, the MacGillivray’s Warbler is a very difficult bird to observe. To get a clear view you must often crouch down, peer deep into dark bushes and strain your neck in rapid response to the bird’s faintly perceptible actions. A hard-earned glimpse of this bird is often satisfying, however, because the male MacGillivray’s Warbler is certainly one of the most beautiful warblers in the Rockies.”

This is not a bird that I have seen very often, though they can be at least occasionally found in the area from late-May through this time of year.  They are quite recognizable with their yellow bellies, green backs and wings, and grey hoods, as well as their distinct black eye stripe cutting through their white eye ring.  Their coloring is similar to the mourning warbler, Geothlypis philadelphia, of eastern North America.  William MacGillivray, by the way, was a Scottish naturalist (an Aberdeen man!) and friend of John James Audubon, who gave this bird its common name.

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Posted by on September 14, 2012 in Nature


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Northern Pocket Gopher

Wonderful natural things I saw today:    1.  Pronghorn in town on my walk home.  A beautiful momma snorted at me and flared her white rump patches because I was watching her twins.  2.  Various flocks of starlings, robins and grackles flying busily through the neighborhoods.  3.  A white-breasted nuthatch on the cottonwood out front, like the one that wintered here.  Could it be that the same one has returned?

Wonderful natural thing I did not see today or this year, but should have:  Northern pocket gopher, Thomomys talpoides.  I saw this crazy looking animal busily digging a tunnel in an open meadow in the National Forest east of Laramie last year, and I watched all summer to see one again, but no luck.  He’s such a funny creature, that I felt he deserved a blog, even though he didn’t show his whiskered face to me this year.

These guys do not hibernate, but tunnel under the snow during the winter, sometimes caching food from the growing season to make it through the bleak months.  Wikipedia states:  ” A special note about the Northern Pocket Gopher is that it rarely appears above ground; when it does, it rarely ventures more than 2.5 feet from a burrow entrance. Underground, however, they often have tunnels that extend hundreds of feet where they live, store food and mate.”  I felt lucky to watch this guy dig his tunnel last year, especially because it is the only time I ever saw one!

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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in Nature


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It’s a Mystery

I spent quite some time this afternoon watching a flock of birds swoop to and from the trees of a local city park.  They were very busy–I thought flying after insects–and returning to large conifers to perch for short periods of time.  Even with photo evidence, though, I cannot tell what type of birds these are.

One possibility is that they are olive-sided flycatchers, Contopus cooperi, because of the grey and white markings on the chest that look like a vest and their enjoyment of perching on the top of trees.  But the bill might not be large enough.

And then there’s that yellowish belly.

I thought these might be the western wood-peewees that I saw the other day (if that ID was even correct!), but these birds don’t seem to have the exact same coloring and seem to lack a crest.   Wood-peewees are described as somewhat unsocial and today’s group was definitely a flock.

They could be willow flycatchers, Empidonax trallii.  Or western kingbirds, Tyrannus verticalis.

As you can see, I’m at a loss.  If anyone can identify these birds from these photos, I would be very interested and grateful!

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Posted by on September 12, 2012 in Nature


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One of the last autumn wildflowers left standing is the tough cookie yarrow, Achillea millefolium.  I wish it were a cookie, because then I would eat it, yum yum.  As it is, I don’t put crazy plants in my mouth.

This plant is sometimes called common yarrow or western yarrow, but as there are several subspecies it may be difficult to determine between them.  One variety is still hanging on in my back yard, with its ferny leaves and numerous white (sometimes pinkish) ray flower with yellowish central disks.

This wildflower grows throughout the U.S. (it can be found in every state) in a wide range of environments and elevations from spring through fall.  In Wyoming, it can be found anywhere from 4,600 to 11,000 feet (according to the U.S. Forest Service).  Incidentally, the lowest point in Wyoming is the Belle Fourche River near the South Dakota border, at 3,101 feet, and the highest is Gannett Peak in the west at 13,809 feet.  So yarrow fills most of Wyoming nicely.

It’s good to have such a consistent friend, even if it does lack tasty snack potential.  You could use it as a poultice to staunch a bloody wound, though, so, bonus points there.

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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Nature


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