7.29.12 A few days ago, I had the great good fortune to visit Albion Basin at the Alta ski area near Salt Lake City. The altitude we trekked around in was between 9,000 and 9,800 feet; scraps of last winter's rather meager snow still remained in protected areas. An abundance of wildflowers were in bloom in the mountain meadows, watered by icy seeps and small streams. Species of these alpine flowers I found particularly interesting were Elephanthead lousewort; Green Gentian (also known as Monument Plant for its 4-5foot towering mass of bloom); and Purple Monkeyflower (aka Lewis Monkeyflower, named for Meriweather Lewis who discovered the plant growing near Glacier National Park. Moose find the meadows a good source of browse, and the cold streams provide plenty of water to drink; the bull moose we saw was feeding on fireweed; we also spotted a cow moose a couple hours later.
Tomentose Burying Beetles (Nicrophorus tomentosus) work diligently to inter a dead chipmunk. After it's safely underground they will remove the fur, form the remains into a ball and lay eggs on it. When the eggs hatch the larvae feed on the chipmunk remains. Adult beetles remain with the carcass to guard the young.
Morning walks are a time to get acquainted with new-to-me fauna and flora in this high, dry climate surrounded by mountain peaks. This morning I encountered a Black-headed Grosbeak that had come in to feast on ripe plums in a yard; a Mule deer doe and her fawn were headed downhill through Common Sagebrush toward a reservoir. Alongside the trail, Musk Thistle (Asteraceae Carduus nutans), an alien, provides cover and nutrition for a host of birds and bees.
7.07.12 Blue Vervain may be considered a weed in places where it's too plentiful, but around here, its purple-blue spires are infrequent enough to be welcome. Showy Tick-trefoil is at its prime with pink pea-like flowers; but Japanese beetles are attracted to its showy blossoms and can chew through buds and blossoms in short order. These alien insects were first observed in New Jersey in 1916. They are very destructive to many food crops as well as grass and ornamentals; control measures have, for the most part, prevented their spread west of the Mississippi River.
7.05.12 A small woodland stream that meanders down a rather steep hillside among mixed hardwoods with a dense canopy of leaves was the setting for these visual treats today. The Snakeskin Liverwort seemed to plaster itself to a rock in the stream; the deep greens of other mosses and liverworts were highlighted by the brilliant circles of orange-colored fungus; even a streamside tree with its roots probably scoured by some unusual rain event helped create this collection of nature-art.