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Tag Archives: Montana

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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Alpine Sandwort

On the high, treeless mountaintops of Wyoming and Colorado, another tiny, sturdy flower is still blooming in the harsh August sun.  The cushions of alpine sandwort, Minuartia obtusiloba, can be found in similar environments to the moss campion that I wrote about yesterday.  This cute, white flower can emerge from June to September, but only on the rocky slopes above treeline.

 

 

Also called twinflower sandwort or stitchwort, this species used to be known as Lidia or Areneria obtusiloba.  It should not be confused with the Nuttall’s brittle sandwort, Minuartia nuttalli, shown in the picture on the right, which also grows high in the Rocky Mountains, but is slightly bigger and more star-like.  Both of these species can grow on rocky areas that look impossible to sustain life.  Nature finds a way!

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2012 in Nature

 

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Moss Campion

After spending some time on the top of Farview Mountain in the Never Summer Range of Colorado yesterday, I realized that I have been remiss about blogging on alpine plants.  These sturdy species have terribly short growing seasons in often inhospitable weather, yet they still manage to thrive on those windy, unsheltered rocks.  One hardy example is the moss campion, Silene acaulis (variety subacaulescens).  This plant looks a lot like a clump of moss this time of year–once most of the flowers are gone, as in yesterday’s photo on the right–but in early summer, it is covered with starry, pink blooms.

This species is one of those that grows both on the tops of mountains and in the far northern arctic tundra.  According to the U.S. Forest Service, “The cushion shape helps protect tender parts from frost and high winds, helps retain moisture, and holds in heat. Studies have shown that the temperature within a plant cushion can be up to 10 degrees centigrade higher than the ambient temperature.”  Other species seem to like this cushion, too, and their seeds often find it a suitable place from which to grow.  It is not uncommon, therefore, to find other flowers (like cushion phlox and mountain bluebells) blooming right on top of the helpful campion!

This species can also be called cushion pink, moss pink or pink family because of how close together the blossoms can grow.  The pink flowers are almost all gone now–only one or two still cling to sheltered, sunny sides of the cushion.  Autumn reds and purples are already edging into the high elevation landscape, but moss campion is still a cheerful summer green.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Nature

 

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False Hellebore

Colorado false hellebore, Veratrum tenuipetalum, is a lush, moisture-loving plant that can, according to the USDA plants database, only be found in Colorado and southern Wyoming.  This Colorado species is quite similar to the California false hellebore, Veratrum californium, and there is some debate over whether these are just different varieties rather than separate species.  False hellebores are most recognizable by their enormous, long leaves, but the flowers can be quite pretty and distinctive when they are blooming.

I have encountered V. tenuipetalum in the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness of north-central Colorado, but I also found false hellebores on my recent road trip farther west.  Veratrum californium var. californium was blooming at Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, while the Cascade false hellebore, Veratrum californium var. caudatum, was adorning the banks of the Metolius River in Oregon.  All of these false hellebores can grow quite tall, but Cascade false hellebore was crazy, with its blooms snaking around in all directions to catch the sunlight.

I recently saw green false hellebore, Veratrum viride, on a hike in eastern Glacier National Park, Montana.  Even when the entire landscape is green, those thick leaves stand out.

Sometimes called corn lilies or skunk cabbages, Veratrum species are not related to corn or lilies, skunk cabbages or even hellebores for that matter.  The leaves do resemble those found in cornfields, but the similarities are only superficial.  Beware common names!

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2012 in Nature

 

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Fringed Grass of Parnassus

Fringed grass of parnassus, Parnassia fimbriata var. fimbriata, is a lovely, delicate white flower with fizzy accents.  Like star gentian and elephanthead lousewort, this is another species that likes damp areas.  I have found it hidden in the grass of marshy, subalpine meadows, like in the picture below from the Never Summer Wilderness of Colorado.  I have also seen it streamside in the Tetons of Wyoming and among rocks near snowmelt runoff in Glacier National Park, Montana.

Sometimes referred to as a bog star, the name grass of parnassus comes from the supposed discovery of a similar species on Mt. Parnassus in Greece.  Despite the name, this is not a grass, but a wildflower.  Again, watch out for those misleading common names!  But, you have to admit, saying “grass of parnassus” is a little bit fun.

The stems of these flowers are mostly leafless, emerging from rounded to folded heart-shaped basal leaves that are often hidden in other foliage.

 

These flowers aren’t exactly rare, but I usually only come across them about once a year, so a sighting is always notable.

I find this species quite pretty, with the funky center and attractive colors.  But my favorite part of this pretty blossom is most definitely the petal fringe!

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2012 in Nature

 

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Autumn Dwarf Gentian

Since we’re on such a roll with sightings of purple gentian species, let’s not stop now!  Gentianella amarella ssp. acuta, the autumn dwarf gentian, is also blooming in the area.  I spotted a cluster not too far down a trail from a streambed filled with Rocky Mountain fringed gentian in the Rawah Wilderness, Colorado.  When I passed them going uphill in the early morning, the flowers were closed up tightly, but the afternoon sun brought out pretty purple blossoms with some not-to-be-ignorned central fizziness.

I feel slightly alarmed relating the sight of ‘autumn’ gentian.  Autumn?  It’s still August!  I still hope to have summertime left to enjoy!  But these flowers actually do start blooming during summer, and the name simply indicates that the flowers often continue to blossom throughout September.  So, my sighting is not necessarily an indicator of an early winter!

Another, perhaps more accurate, common name for this species is little gentian, and Gentianella actually translates to that name. I have also seen it referred to as northern gentian or felwort, but, as we have seen with other common names, those can also refer to completely different species.

Autumn dwarf gentian has also shown itself to me on the higher slopes of the Snowy Range west of Laramie and near Kintla Lake on the west side of Glacier National Park, MT.  This species is usually in slightly moist areas, but it seems to prefer things a bit drier than Rocky Mountain fringed gentian.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2012 in Nature

 

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Glacier National Park

I’ve spent so much time writing about species that I’ve recently seen in Glacier National Park, Montana, that the park probably deserves its own blog post before I return to focusing on Southeast Wyoming and Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

Glacier National Park certainly continues to impress with each visit.  I always think of it as a nice place, but whenever I return–especially when I get deep into the park on a nice hike–it still makes me say, “Wow.”  The peaks are craggy, the lakes brilliant and the wildflowers magnificent.

Look at the colors in the first picture!  This photo was taken from the Ptarmigan Tunnel, a very cool, recently-completed hike.  Throughout the hike up to the 1930s tunnel built through a sheer cliff wall, I was admiring the scenery.  Each gain in elevation brought a new variety of gorgeous flowers.  There were waterfalls, pretty streams, a lovely lake, and then you walk through the tunnel and–BAM–you get that view of Belly Valley.  Pretty awesome.

Ptarmigan tunnel itself is an impressive engineering feat–complete with doors!  They close it for the winter!–that perhaps doesn’t exactly fit into the pristine natural beauty.  I wouldn’t support the creation of something like that today in such a beautiful area, but it gave people jobs during the Depression and is interesting to check out.

 

The picture of the field of glacier lilies on the right is from a July hike on the Highline trail a few years back.  The scenery was stunning for miles.

And, in my favorite picture, there I am on the edge of a cliff near Pitamakin Pass.  I will keep going back to Glacier for those kinds of moments.

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2012 in Nature

 

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