Posts Tagged ‘Rocky Mountain National Park’

Deceptive American Calypso

July 6, 2013

A recent orchid alert by a photographer friend sent me off searching for what is arguably the most beautiful orchid in North America, the Calypso bulbosa var. americana (Eastern Fairy Slipper). Calypso (Kalypsō) was a nymph in Greek mythology. The etymology of Calypso’s name is from καλύπτω (kalyptō), meaning “to cover”, “to conceal”, “to hide”, or “to deceive”. The Calypso orchid lives up to the name.

The fairy slipper orchid has a circumpolar distribution, occurring in Europe, Asia and North America. In North America it occurs from Alaska to Labrador, south to northern California, Arizona, Michigan and Maine. Although they have a wide range they are uncommon and very hard to find. Fortunately here in Colorado there is a hiking trail which goes to a water feature named for this elusive beauty, the Calypso Cascades. After a 2.8 mi/4.5 km hike up the Wild Basin Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park I was rewarded with my second encounter with this uncommon 4-6in/10-15cm plant…

After a 2.8 mile hike I encountered Calypso bulbosa var. americana

After a 2.8 mile hike I encountered Calypso bulbosa var. americana

In autumn, generally around September, the single dark green leaf of the fairy slipper orchid sprouts from its stem. This leaf lasts through winter, even surviving under snow in the cold parts of its range. With the arrival of spring the orchid flowers and the leaf fades. This means the plant is leafless for most of the summer.

The single leaf has a very limited ability to photosynthesize and so cannot provide all the nutrients the plant needs. This orchid, along with many others in Colorado, is a parasite that grows by exploiting a fungus in the soil that shares nutrients taken from the roots of trees. This is why they cannot be successfully transplanted.

I grabbed my close-up lens and got down on the ground to capture this uncommon sight thereby attracting a queue of photographers waiting for a turn. Here are the results of my turn…

Calypso bulbosa-1

Calypso bulbosa-2

Like many orchids, the Calypso bulbosa has a deceptive flower that provides no reward for insect visitors. The scent and shape of the flower mimics those that do have nectar which lures bumble bees (Bombus species) to the bloom. The bees land on the lip of the flower and enter the pouch in search of food. Failing to find any nectar the bee exits the pouch rubbing against the overhanging column. Pollen is deposited on the bee and is then transferred to the next flower it visits. The deception consists of markings and an odor of vanilla both of which promise a nectar reward that does not actually exist. The flowering period of this species is synchronized with the emergence of naïve bumblebee queens. Individual bees subsequently learn to avoid these flowers and that avoidance is learned quite rapidly. Avoidance behavior by pollinators is detrimental to reproduction in Calypso. This negative effect is offset by small variations in flower color and pattern and by the large number of seeds produced in plants that successfully pull off this deception.

Calypso is said to be in decline particularly in the southern part of its range. Unfortunately habitat destruction is a threat for the fairy slipper orchid. Another significant threat to this stunning plant is the presence of people. We either accidentally trample them or deliberately remove the plants from the wild for unsuccessful attempts to transplant them to our gardens. In addition to being very fussy about where it grows, the fragile roots of the fairy slipper orchid make it susceptible to disturbance. A small rearrangement by a well-meaning photographer could kill the plant. The fairy slipper orchid is listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which means that any international trade in this species is carefully monitored. Hopefully this may lessen the threat of over-collection. In addition, this species is protected within many parks and reserves throughout its range.

Let’s hope this deceptive little parasite is here for generations of photographers…

Calypso bulbosa-5

Rocky Mountain Mighty Moose

August 5, 2011

It was 4:30 am, an hour before dawn, and I was on my way to 8,200 ft/2500m Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. I was drawn by the vision of a sunrise on the Continental Divide reflected in the placid lake. An hour later I was rewarded for the abbreviated snooze. The backdrop (left to right) consists of Taylor Peak, Andrews Glacier, Hallett Peak, Tyndall Glacier, Flattop Mountain and Notchtop Mountain…

Dawn at Sprague Lake

Clearly I was not alone. Those folks in the canoe were looking at a young bull moose grazing on the other side of the lakebed (look to the left of the canoe at the edge of the shadow in the above photo…look closely…it’s small). So there I went to capture this magnificent sight. I found a suitable hideout in the closest thicket and got this shot…
This was not my first face-to-face with a bull moose  (Alces alces) and I’m smitten. There is something exceptionally compelling about this big, solitary, mostly peaceful, vegetarian giant of the deer species. This ungainly product of evolution has survived despite human behaviour at its worst and because of the recent benevolence of humankind. This is is a story of our redemption.
Since being hunted out of Colorado by 1900 their number has recently recovered thanks to a reintroduction program in 1978 and 1979 by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Two groups of moose (12 each year) from the Uintah Mountains and Grand Teton herds were transferred to an area just west of the Never Summer Range near Rand, Colorado. The Colorado herd (estimated to have expanded from the original 24 to nearly 700 in 1994) is scattered over a range that now extends to Winter Park in the south, and Steamboat Springs to the west. In 1980, visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park saw the first members of the herd that had migrated into the Kawuneeche Valley on the Western side of the Divide. Two thrill seeking cow moose were sighted by rangers on the Continental Divide at the Boulder-Grand Pass just a year later.  Since then their numbers are increasing on both sides of the Park. Who knows, this mighty moose might have left the Valley to strike out on his own crossing a 14,000ft/4267m mountain range to do so. Moose are like super deer.
Here are some moose facts…
Here in Colorado we have a subspecies called Shiras moose (Alces alces shirasi) which are the smallest of the subspecies of  moose. They are also known as Yellowstone or Wyoming moose.
Shiras Moose are the largest mammals of the Rocky Mountains.
The moose has a very thick, strong neck from which hangs a long, round flap of skin and hair called a dewlap, or bell.  This varies in appearance from moose to moose and occurs in both the male and female of the species.  Some dewlaps are fat and up to 20 inches long; some are short and thin; and some others may just be a tuft a hair. Bull moose have been observed contorting their bodies in order to urinate on their dewlap, thereby soaking it in their pheromone-rich urine. It drives the cows mad!
The moose has a top speed of 35 miles (55 kilometers) per hour. Those long spindly legs work well in snow and water too.
Moose are loners by nature and these largest members of the deer family rarely travel with more than one or two other moose companions.
Over a 20-year life span in the wild, bulls may reach a height of 6½ to 7½ feet (2-2.3 m) at the shoulder, and weigh from 800 – 1,600 pounds (360-725 kg). Cow moose are only slightly less imposing at 5 to 6½ feet (1.5-2 m) tall and 600 – 1,000 pounds (270-450 kg).
Both mature males and females can be extremely unpredictable. Rutting bull moose have charged horses, cars, and locomotives. The female is particularly protective of her calf.
The moose is a herbivore and is capable of consuming many types of plants and fruits. The average adult moose needs to consume almost 10 thousand calories per day to maintain its body weight.
Much of a moose’s energy is derived from terrestrial vegetation, mainly consisting of non-grasses, and fresh shoots from trees such as willow and birch. These plants are rather low in sodium, and moose generally need to consume a good quantity of aquatic plants. While much lower in energy, these plants provide the moose with its sodium requirements, and as much as half of their diet usually consists of aquatic plant life.
Here are some more photos from my lakeside hideout…
That’s All Folks! ©Bullwinkle Studios

Rocky Mountain Golden Groves

October 19, 2010

Marching along all clothed in white
watching o’er mountain meadows high.
Bathed in heaven’s soft morning light
framed against a bright cobalt sky.

Colorado, a place so free
between the mountains, trees and streams.
I close my eyes and I can see
October Aspen in my dreams.

                                                                © 2010 Nita G. Isenhour (All rights reserved)

The Season’s Finale is Underway

I went chasing aspen color these past few weeks and the venue was Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Place for Aspens @ 40°22’1.40″N 105°34’42.90″W

I tracked these golden trees from high on the Bierstadt Moraine (named for western landscape painter Albert Bierstadt) where the vista is sweeping…

Bierstadt Moraine Fall Vista Captured 1 October 2010 9:30am @ 40°19’19.47″N 105°37’24.40″W

More of Bierstadt’s Gold

to a solitary aspen glowing next to Alberta Falls

The View at Alberta Falls Captured 20 September 1:10pm @ 40°18’12.88″N 105°38’16.03″W

Some form golden aspen atriums…

Aspen Atrium Captured 14 October 2010 9:27am @ 40°21’25.55″N 105°36’7.20″W

some reach for the sky…

Bierstadt Skyward Aspens Captured 1 october 2010 @ 40°19’14.49″N 105°37’26.02″W

some hide in the pines…

Behind the Pines

while others reach for the peaks….

Moraine Park Tree Stand Captured 14 October 2010 9:15am @ 40°21’33.52″N 105°35’53.94″W

Some groves form “golden sentinels” blazing with color on the outside…

Beaver Meadow Aspen Grove

Beaver Meadow Grove Captured 14 October 2010 11:15am @ 40°21’32.82″N 105°35’42.48″W

while offering more intimate light play on the inside…

Inside the Grove Captured 14 October 2010 9:30am @ 40°21’25.55″N 105°36’7.20″W

Light Plays in the Grove

Soon the season’s glorious finalé will end and the aspens will be completely “all clothed in white” leaving me with only my memories (and photos) until the first subtle notes of spring return.

Waiting for Spring’s Return on the Continental Divide 13 October 6:30pm @ 40°21’27.37″N 105°36’33.24″W

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