Sunday, May 7, 2017

7 May 2017 - It isn't just about the birds

I recently went to the St. George area with some friends. We are currently in the third stage of migration and the warblers are heading north. In four days we saw 143 species of birds, which was wonderful, but it is all the other stuff that makes trips like this so perfect. Growing up, our house was surrounded by acres of sage brush and scrub oak. As kids, my sibs and I would catch tarantulas, lizards, snakes and horny toads. At twilight we would lie on the grass and count bats. All that wild county and its inhabitants have  disappeared beneath the ever growing urban sprawl. 

One of my favorite moments on this trip was the horny toads. I can't even tell you the last time I saw a horny toad. (For all you purists, yes, it really is called a horned lizard, but old habits are hard to break.)  I had forgotten what sweet faces they have. We saw a couple desert horned lizards which are very white compared to the grayer ones I was familiar with. Great protective coloration. Their diet consists mainly of ants. As people move further into the desert, the first thing they do is kill the ants, which deprives them of their food source. I hope we don't deprive them into extinction.

So many lizards! Striped whiptails, leopard lizards, fence lizards, side-blotched lizards are a few of the ones we saw. 

Toads! We found both the Woodhouse toad and the Arizona toad which is now on the endangered list. The Arizona toad below was a first sighting for me. 

Along with the toads we also found tadpoles. 

Of course there were the ubiquitous rabbits and squirrels. I liked how the early morning sun shining through the rabbit's ears illuminated the blood vessels.

Bighorn sheep are always a treat. Saw about 27 of them, but all does and kids.  

This is a Uintah Chipmunk.

The desert was gorgeous. Many plants were blooming, although some of the ones I had hoped to see were already done. The rest made up for it. The Sand verbena (abronia fragrans) was in full bloom. I thought it smelled like fresh sawdust with a slight sweetness. Everyone else thought I was nuts. 

Loved this desert four o'clock! (mirabilis multiflora)  Great color and blooms all summer. Subdued in the shade...

and glorious in the sun.

Indigo bush--beautiful! Adds a cooling effect to the hot desert landscape.

Desert marigold

The cholla has an interesting pollination process. When an insect lands in the flower, the pollen laden stamen close up around the bee and coats it in pollen.  It is sort of like watching a venus fly trap close on a bug. Here you can see a cholla flower with all the little stamens standing up straight. 

There is an insect underneath all the stamens. See how they have all leaned into the center of the flower?

Next, another flower where the bee has just landed and the stamens are starting to move.

We wandered through a huge field of barrel cactus and ran across a tiny little corky pincushion cactus. 

The spines on some of the barrel cacti were deep pink to rosy red. Nice contrast.  The tiny little corky pincushion is about two inches across.

It was interesting how often cactus tended to grow up through other plants.  It made for interesting combinations. 

The Utah State Flower is the Sego Lily which flowers in white, cream, pink, purple and yellow. Again, I haven't seen one of these in ages, so it was a great find. 

All this is just the tip of the iceberg. The landscapes were spectacular, too. My pals have found a tiny bit of shade under a joshua tree. 

The low western sun really illuminated these red hills over the lake. Gorgeous country. 

Utah. Truly amazing no matter where you are standing. 

Note below. Sometimes this program drives me crazy.  I set the type size and it shows up quite small no matter what I do. Operator error? Maybe. Maybe not. Grump. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

27 April 2017 - Spring in Utah

Spring. It is a blessing and a curse. As I write this, I can look out the window and see big fat snowflakes coming down. The grass is rapidly turning into a sea of white. I know it won't last long, probably won't even last the day. The trees are mostly leafed out. Fruit trees are in full bloom, gardens are filled with the bright colors of daffodils, tulips, iris and lilacs. And it is snowing. Again. Two weekends ago, I woke to 10 inches of wet heavy snow. The weight of the snow left the neighborhood covered with broken limbs, trees snapped off a foot above the ground and debris everywhere. The  next day all you could hear was the sound of chainsaws. 

While winter does not give up easily and these are rather normal spring events, it doesn't mean I don't like winter. Snowy landscapes are stunning, but by late March and April, I prefer watching the world begin its gradual turn towards chartreuse as the first buds and blades of grass appear. The desert's gray, dried mud playas punctuated with the white bones of greasewood are transformed as the vibrant green leaves unfold. In addition to the emergence of a world of green, the sky can be spectacular in the spring as well. 

Spring is sneaky. It starts well before you might notice. Here, in late March, tree and shrub branches glow against the snow.

As the snow recedes the fields take on a tinge of color. 

One of the first signs of the seasonal change is the appearance of spring parsley. It brightens our deserts with its fresh greens and yellow flowers. 

Sunsets over the Great Salt Lake are saturated with color.

This last winter our snow pack was high enough that as the air began to warm up and melt the snow, our rivers overflowed their banks. 

This is normally a sleepy little stream meandering through a large meadow. Most of the meadow is now under water.  Another month and it will be a small creek again. 

The Bear River was above flood stage for weeks, covering fields with water for miles along its course. 

The second week of March, I was looking over this valley in its winter drab gray. Two weeks later the same spot was quite changed. 

I am also a big fan of contrasts. The colors of spring against snow covered ridges are one of my favorite things. This is the south end of Utah Lake. 

Next is the south end of the Great Salt Lake looking at Antelope Island. 

Standing in the same spot, but turned 180 to look at the Oquirrh Mountains. 

As often as possible I take the back roads. This lovely field bursts into bloom mid-April. Subdivisions are encroaching and I doubt it will last much longer, but it is a joy to see in the spring. 

It is also fun to see plowed fields in the spring, especially in areas where the dirt is red. 

There is an invasive weed that often takes over in the spring. The huge swaths of purple are pretty, but problematic. 

But all of this makes my heart happy. I love to see the changes slowly work their magic on the world.