Monday, June 17, 2019

A New Perspective

By Beth Sullivan
June is a most beautiful time here, and while I hated to leave home, we had the opportunity to go out west, Montana, Wyoming and Yellowstone area, so we spent the last week exploring spring in a new area.
I always find it so interesting to compare and contrast wildlife, plant life and landscape when I travel to different places. There are many similarities and when noting differences, it is obvious that those differences really reflect similar niches to the ones we have here.
Hidden reservoirs, rolling sage brush covered hills, and always snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Imagine the forces that created such an upheaval in the earth.

Not in Connecticut anymore

The biggest difference was the altitude. We are used to sea level and barely above. I was quite surprised at the effect that 7,000+ feet had on my stamina With the altitude comes the very big difference in temperature and life zones. At lower levels it was a little warmer, and spring had begun. Early wild flowers dotted the fields and woodlands. They had experienced a spell of warmer weather before our arrival and the snow melt had begun. The record snowfall and warmth had created roaring falls and streams.
At the mid elevations, it was still pretty cold, and at the highest points there was still a lot of snow pack. On June 8 we even experienced a snowstorm. Not exactly what I was hoping for on our vacation, but it made things quite beautiful and allowed us to spot a moose and calf which stood out against the whiteness.
It is interesting to see the progression of the wildflowers, in full bloom lower down; the same flowers would be barely breaking the ground or in bud higher up. There are some similar flowers there: white trillium and trout lily are flowers we have here, but ours bloomed in mid April. Native orchids are a treasure for me, no matter where I go, and the Calypso orchid was a gem hiding at mid-elevations in the moist forests near streams. I felt most at home in the green forests and stream sides.
We would never have seen the moose and her calf, if not for the snow.

Calypso Orchid

The snow melt made for some beautiful waterfalls.

Some familiar birds

Some of the bird life was familiar. The yellow-rumped warbler we have here as a fall migrant is the Myrtle form with a white throat. In the mountain west it is the Audubon’s form and has not only a yellow rump, but a yellow throat. There were red-winged blackbirds, but also yellow-headed blackbirds sharing the same cattail swamps.
The vastness of the landscape can be disconcerting. The rolling hillsides, sage bush covered and soft gray-green, seem to stretch forever. There were different wildflowers dotting the dry sage brush flats. A favorite was the Indian Paintbrush, very rare here, which is the State flower of Wyoming. It was there we found the pronghorn antelope with their young, some beautiful wild horses, and in Yellowstone, there were the herds of bison and elk. The local deer were the mule deer, which are huskier than ours, with a black tip on the end of their tail. Like our white tailed deer, they are having their young now, and the males were loosely traveling together in smaller groups, sporting velvety antlers. Everywhere the trees showed signs of buck rubs: worn areas where they have scratched and rubbed their antlers much like we find here. The black bears used the buck rub trees as back scratching posts.
Always in the distance were the snow covered peaks of the different mountain ranges. They were stunning sights on our blue-sky days. We didn’t have a lot of sun, but when we did, the landscape lit up and truly glowed.
We traveled to Cody, Wyoming and there again, we were astonished by the landscape. I was never much of a geology buff, but seeing the rock formations and jagged cliffs, it was impossible not to wonder about the violent, ancient history of the Earth hidden in the rocks themselves. It was a harder, browner, less welcoming landscape, but those who live there have come to love the shapes and views and the way the sunlight plays on the rocks. We were guided to hidden lakes with large rainbow trout. Swallows of all kinds, as well as nighthawks, swooped low over the water. Osprey nested on telephone poles ,and bald eagles occasionally chased them for the fish they were carrying. The pine siskins we have here in the winter nest there. We saw cedar waxwings, and the bluebirds there are mountain bluebirds which are fully blue, no rusty chest.
So many wonders our country holds for us. Great swaths of land preserved for future generations. It was pretty amazing, but as always, there is no place like home and the familiar embrace of our local preserves.
Yellow-headed blackbird

A black bear enjoys a back scratch.

Indian Paintbrush

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

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