Posts Tagged ‘Colorado’

Flora on the Forest Floor

June 6, 2018

This Spring in Colorado has been a gift. Thanks to mild temperatures and abundant moisture, the Boulder forests are resplendent with late Spring flora. The floor on the North Fork of the Shanahan Ridge is one of the best places to experience the joy of Spring’s reawakening.

The Shanahan Ridge Trail is easy to get to. My entry point starts where Lehigh and Lafayette streets intersect (Map search 1903 Lehigh Street Boulder). Parking is on the street.

Shanahan Ridge Access Point

Shanahan Ridge Access Point

The forest floor with its tall green grasses forms the stage where the plants will perform their evolutionary duties by producing sweet treats and visual clues to attract their pollinators. Fortunately these visual clues are very pleasing to humans and keep photographers busy.

Grassy Field

The Forest Floor with Foothills Backdrop

Here’s a bee caught in the act pollinating Blue Mist Penstemon. Note the yellow pollen sack on the hind leg. Blue mist covers large sections of the forest at its peak and it does look like mist…

Bee on Penstemon

Penstemon with Pollinating Bee

Asteraceae offer the butterflies a sweet treat in exchange for transporting its pollen to another aster…

Aster (Asteraceae) with butterfly

Aster with Butterfly

These shy Chiming bells (Mertensia fusiformis) have pink buds which turn blue to purplish…

Chiming Bells

Chiming Bells

The Blue Flax (Linum lewisii) makes no secret of its pollen…

Blue Flax (Adenolinum lewissi)

Blue Flax

Mouse-ear chickweed grows in bunches attracting crowds of insects…


Cerastium – Mouse-ear chickweed

Add Heart-leaved Arnica to the cast of flora …

Heart-leaved Arnica (Arnica cordifolia)

Heart-leaved Arnica

Here’s a glimpse of the National Center for Atmospheric Research with arnica…

NCAR with Arnica

NCAR with Arnica

No nature celebration is complete without Wild Roses (Rosa arkansana)…

Wild Rose on Rock

Wild Rose

The ladybugs (Coccinellidae) are prolific this time of year…


Ladybug Waiting for Lunch

Add some lonesome Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) to the mix…

Western Wallflower

Western Wallflower

These southwest desert spikes of Yucca are throwing up their flower stalks. This is about as far north as these pointy plants can grow…

Yucca with Rock


Put all these plants together for ten thousand years or so (after the end of the last glacial period) and let them compete through natural selection with each other for survival on the forest floor. The result is a very pleasing panorama where the flora and fauna have all found their niche…

Shanahan Ridge Forest Floor

Shanahan Ridge Forest Floor



The Real Turkeys of Boulder

December 7, 2016

Slow though the process of selection may be, if feeble man can do much by his powers of artificial selection, I can see no limit to the amount of change, to the beauty and infinite complexity of the co-adaptations between all organic beings, one with another and with their physical conditions of life, which may be effected in the long course of time by nature’s power of selection.

— Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species

I was out walking on Boulder Colorado’s  Goshawk Ridge Trail after the US Thanksgiving Day and I saw a single line of at least 15 Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) cross the trail in front of me. This seemed ironic as Thanksgiving is a time when lots of domesticated turkeys in the US are sacrificed for dinner. According to the National Turkey Federation, 95 percent of Americans surveyed eat turkey during Thanksgiving. They also estimate that about 45 million turkeys are consumed each Thanksgiving holiday.

I was sorry I didn’t have my telephoto lens and an off-trail permit to get some photos of these real, not for sandwiches, naturally selected (vs. artificially selected) turkeys. I was determined to return and get some photos for you.

Our journey starts on the Fowler Trailhead. To get to the Fowler Trailhead go left about two miles west of highway 93 on Eldorado Springs Drive (highway 170) to County Road 67. County Road 67 goes up past the Eldorado Mountain Yoga Ashram and ends at the Eldorado Mountain entrance where we pick up the trail…


Eldorado Mountain Trailhead Sign

Here’s a trail map…


Take the Fowler to Springbrook North to Goshawk Ridge

The Goshawk Ridge Trail is within the Eldorado Mountain Habitat Conservation Area (HCA), meaning hikers must stay on trail unless they have an Off-Trail Permit. This free permit can be immediately obtained on-line.

Follow the Fowler Trail to the Springbrook  Trail. The  Goshawk Trailhead starts on the opposite side of a metal bridge over an aqueduct where you will see this sign…


Sign at Goshawk Trail

After several fruitless attempts I found a flock on 05 December 2016 in the old growth forest on the South side of the Ridge about 1/3 mile (550 m) from the trailhead…


I Found a Flock!

 Some Wild turkey facts:

-The wild turkey, throughout its range, plays a significant role in the cultures of many Native American tribes all over North America. Thanks to this we eat turkey on Thanksgiving day.

-The turkey was Benjamin Franklin’s choice for the United States’ national bird. He described the Great Seal…

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… “

If the turkey was chosen as the US National Bird would we eat bald eagles for Thanksgiving?


United States National Bird (Almost)

-By the early 20th century, thanks to hunting and habitat destruction, wild turkeys no longer roamed over much of their traditional range. Wild turkey reintroduction programs began in the 1940s. These efforts worked well and wild turkeys now live across North America.

-Only adult male turkeys (Toms) display the ruffled feathers, fanlike tail and bare head commonly associated with these birds. They also gobble with a distinctive sound that can be heard a mile (a kilometer and a half) away.

-Wild turkeys can have over 5,000 feathers. Male turkeys also have what is called a beard located in the chest area. Upon sight, the beard appears to be hair, but is actually a mass of thin feathers.

-Turkeys have a keen sense of hearing and can pinpoint sounds from as far as a mile away.

-Despite their weight, wild turkeys, unlike their domesticated counterparts, are agile fliers. They usually fly close to the ground for no more than a quarter mile (400 m) at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour (88 kilometers/hr.)…


These Wings Are Made For Flying (note the “beard” growing from the breast)

-Males are polygamous, mating with as many hens as they can charm and may be seen courting in groups. Genetic analysis of pairs of males courting together shows that they are close relatives, with half of their genetic material being identical. This evolutionary strategy is unlike that of species (e.g., deer) where only the dominant male mates. This ensures that non-dominant male’s genes will have an opportunity to remain in the turkey gene pool…


Two Wild and Crazy Toms

-Turkey hens lay 4 to 17 eggs in early spring. The eggs are incubated for at least 28 days. The hatchlings are called poults and they hit the ground running. They are precocial (they are born able to survive) and nidifugous (they leave the nest shortly after hatching). Poults leave the nest in about 12–24 hours allowing mom to join the flock as a free bird. Hens do not invest much in rearing offspring because they don’t have to. Male turkeys don’t invest any effort in their offspring because that’s the way it is for turkeys.


Two Hens

-Occasionally, turkeys may behave aggressively towards humans. They have been seen to chase people. However, attacks can usually be deterred and minor injuries can be avoided by giving turkeys a respectful amount of space. A telephoto lens is required!


Thirsty Hen

– Predators of both adults and poults include coyotes (Canis latrans),  American black bears (Ursus americanus), and northern goshawks (Accipiter gentilis). This may explain why the latter are attracted to this forest.

-Wild turkeys are omnivorous, foraging on the ground or climbing shrubs and small trees to feed. Turkey populations can reach large numbers in small areas because of their ability to forage for different types of food.


Tom Foraging on the Forest Floor

I discovered this young mule deer buck (Odocoileus hemionus) watching me photograph the turkeys. He appears to be saying…


How About Taking My Picture?

Wild turkeys have been created and evolved by natural selection. This makes them precisely adapted to the environments they inhabit. They are amazing and beautiful wild creatures reflecting the influence of the natural world.

Domesticated turkeys have been selectively bred by humans to satisfy our needs with traits that we want. The result is a freak unsuited for the natural world. For example, domesticated turkeys are bred to have large breast muscles. The big breast muscles on these turkeys make it too difficult for mating, so they must be artificially inseminated. What a life…


Modern Domesticated Turkeys Under Commercial Conditions. Photo by Scott Bauer

I prefer tofu.



Sanitas’ Salvia Spectacle

August 31, 2014

The flora, fauna and cultural resources on the Sanitas Valley Trail (pronounced san-eh-toss with the emphasis on the first syllable since it is derived from the word sanitarium) make it one of my favorites here in Boulder. Among its charms is a diverse floral display from Spring through Autumn. The heavy rain pattern this Summer has greened the Valley making this an exceptional season for wildflowers. On my last visit with Mandy the dog I discovered that the lower Sanitas Valley has recently witnessed an explosion of tall blue flowers. I have never seen them this big…

A Floral Spectacle in the Sanitas Valley (  40° 1'19.19"N, 105°17'44.89"W)

A Floral Spectacle in the Sanitas Valley (40° 1’19.19″N, 105°17’44.89″W)

After several attempts and help from a few experts I identified these flowers as Salvia azurea (Wild Blue Sage). This hearty member of the mint family attracts butterflies, bees and hummingbirds to the Valley.

This was too good to miss so I leashed Mandy in the shade and I took my camera into this field to capture the pollinators at work and the wildflowers that attract them.

Some of the blue color is provided by Chicory, a beautiful though noxious weed here in Colorado…

Cichorium intybus (Chicory)

Cichorium intybus (Chicory)

Next we come to the Salvia azurea…

Salvia azurea (Blue Sage)

Salvia azurea (Blue Sage)

A few of the Salvia are white…

White Salvia

White Salvia

Bees love this stuff…

Bee on Salvia

Bee on Salvia

Some touches of red are provided by Blazing Star

Blazing Star (Liatris)

Blazing Star (Liatris) with Butterfly

An occasional dab of yellow is provided by Gumweed…

Butterfly on Gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa)

Butterfly on Gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa)

In addition to insect pollinators the Salvia’s nectar is attracting a flock of hummingbirds. This morning there were at least a dozen of them humming about the delicate blue flowers. I’m told that these little jewels are Broad-tailed hummingbirds


Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) Flight on Salvia Azurea

Hummingbird Flight on Salvia Azurea

Hummingbird Flight on Salvia Azurea

Hummingbird Flight on Salvia Azurea

This is hard work for a little bird, it’s time for a break…

Hummingbird on Tree

Tired Hummingbird Resting on Tree

Looks like Mandy needs a break as well. Here this cool trail provides welcome relief for a hot dog…



Boulder Birch Survived Big Chill

June 9, 2014

Paper Birch Vista

“Beneath you birch with silver bark
And boughs so pendulous and fair,
The brook falls scattered down the rock:
and all is mossy there.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

When the ice sheets from the Last Ice Age receded from Colorado about 11,000 years ago they left a vastly different environment for the fauna and flora that survived. Colorado’s high altitude encouraged great glaciers, some of which remain to this day (although they are now thawing quickly). This epoch not only wiped out the wooly mammoths, it took out the Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) trees as well.
Our Rocky Mountains were covered with Paper Birch until the climate warmed after the glaciers retreated. Now there is one small canyon in Boulder Colorado which is so narrow and protected that it endured the harsh Arctic-like climate and subsequent warming that changed the local landscape. We don’t have any remaining mammoths but we do have a small stand of Paper Birch that survived the post Ice Age warming. This Ice Age-free place is called Long Canyon, sometimes called “the Canyon that Time Forgot”. Let’s go back in time to find our ancient trees.

We start at the South side of the Realization Point parking lot on Flagstaff Road

The Trail is on the South of Flagstaff road at realization Point

The Trail is on the South of Flagstaff road at Realization Point (the traffic cones)

Descend thru the trailhead to the left of the Green Mountain Lodge Sign…

Descend to the Green Mountain Lodge

Descend Past the Green Mountain Lodge Sign

Soon you encounter the upper end of the Gregory Canyon Trail. Go right (West) after crossing the streambed (which was severely rutted by recent flooding)…

Cross the Rutted Stream and head West

Cross the Rutted Stream and Head West

The Habitat Conservation Sign holds a clue of what’s to come…

Paper Birch Clue

Paper Birch Clue

Continue to the Lodge where the trail splits, take the right trailhead into Long Canyon…

Soon the Trail Splits

Soon the Trail Splits

Sorry, no pups allowed because of the sensitive ecology on this trail…

Sorry Pups

Sorry Pups

Here’s the Green Mountain Lodge

Green Mountain Lodge

Green Mountain Lodge

Continue over the bridge…

The Bridge to Long Canyon

The Bridge to Long Canyon

Enjoy the welcoming stream…

Enjoy the Gurgling Stream

Enjoy the Gurgling Stream

Enter the Forest…

The Deep Forest

The Deep Forest

Enjoy the Canyon flora…

Heart-leaved Arnica (Arnica cordifolia)

Heart-leaved Arnica (Arnica cordifolia)

Lance-leaved Chiming Bells (Mertensia lanceolata)

Lance-leaved Chiming Bell (Mertensia lanceolata)

Shooting Star (Dodecatheon)

Shooting Star (Dodecatheon pulchellum)

Western Wallflower (Erysimum asperum)

Western Wallflower (Erysimum asperum)

Coral Root Orchid (Corallorhiza maculata)

Coral Root Orchids (Corallorhiza maculata)

Enjoy the fauna…

Long Canyon Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)

Long Canyon Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)

We finally come to the ancient Birches…




Betula papyrifera

The flowers are wind-pollinated catkins 1.5 in/38 mm. long growing from the tips of twigs…

Birch Flowers

Birch Flowers Appear In Late May 2015

If you continue 1.1 mi/1.8km to the upper end of the Trail you are on Flagstaff Road where you can catch a quick glimpse of the Continental Divide at the Indian Peaks. Here is where the glaciers went …

Continental Divide Peek

Indian Peaks Peek

This is the end of the tale of the Boulder birches until the Next Ice Age is induced by climate change.

Boulder Fall Color Fades To White

October 29, 2011

Here on the front range of the Colorado Rockies the mountain peaks tower as much as 9,000ft/2743.2m above the Great Plains. The higher you climb the colder it gets. This temperature change, called the lapse rate, is 6.5 degrees Celsius per 1000 meters or 3.57 degrees Fahrenheit per 1000 feet. This represents a 32F/18C temperature gradient from peak to prairie. It is for this reason that the autumn hues start their descent from the high country tundra in early September and work their way down to the prairie by late October. Boulder Colorado is on the boundary (ecotone) between the mountains and the prairie and is located at the base of the foothills. This temperature gradient conveniently provides Boulderites with lots of time to savor the fall color season (and the spring flowers to come).

Our first major snowstorm arrived yesterday so I used this week to take some photos before and after the snowfall. The storm eventually left 10in/25.40cm of snow. The last of fall color, descended from the high country, has completed its journey and is now fading to white.


Fall Color On The Prairie Before the Storm


Snow Blankets the Prairie

Boulder’s iconic First Flatiron before…

Flatiron Color Captured 23 October 2011 Noon @ 39°59'40.74"N 105°17'14.46"W


Frosted Flatiron

One of my favorite Boulder fall hangouts is the South Mesa Trail. Mandy and I went there to capture the last hues before the snow quenches the color…

Mandy Takes a Colorful Break

The landscape changed the next day…

Mandy Chills Out

South Mesa offers great fall vistas…

Captured 19 Oct 2011 10:15am @ 39°56'25.45"N 105°15'36.88"W

The sumac (Rhus coriaria) was at its peak…

The Fall Sumac are Brilliant

South Mesa Sumac Vista

Today many of the brilliant leaves have fallen onto the snow…

Many of the Sumac Leaves Have Fallen

Even the remaining sumac seeds (drupes) are beautiful…

The Sumac's Fruit (Drupe)

Still many leaves remain forming the foreground for Devil’s Thumb and Boulder’s southern peaks…

Frosty Fall Wonderland

Soon the South Mesa sumac will be bare, its red hues fading to winter brown and white…

South Mesa Wintermoon Vista Captured 23 Feb 2010 9:07 am

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