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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Island Park, Idaho

This is our second home, a place of natural beauty, where the lodgepole pine forests of most of Island Park give way to fir and aspen north of Henry’s Lake, around our cabin and near Raynolds Pass. 

Magnificent wildflowers carpet the fields and hillsides each spring. Early in June, delicate glacier lilies cover the ground, and flowers like the shooting star, western virgin’s bower, and sugar bowls bloom.

Glacier Lily

Shooting Star

              Western Virgin's Bower
 Sugar Bowls

The rare Calypso Orchid below was photographed somewhere in Fremont County. I have promised not to reveal where, as it is rare and endangered in large part due to the impact of human development on its habitat and growing requirements. The plant has very precise requirements regarding the soil and other conditions in which it grows, including the particular fungi in the soil. Even walking close to it can disturb the soil enough to jeopardize the health and reproduction of the plant. What a lovely, delicate flower.

Calypso Orchid

In contrast to the delicate beauty of the orchid is the showy, splashy bright yellow of the mules ears that bloom around early July. These are actually my favorite flower around our cabin, because they cover acres of the surrounding hillsides, and meadows throughout Island Park, with bright swatches of color. The acre and a half of wildflower meadow below our home is dominated by these flowers for a few weeks every summer - amazing us with the saturation of color that is almost more than the eye can take in, and defining my mental image of this place that I love.

Yellow Mules Ears

Interspersed in this bright wildflower meadow are sticky geranium, lupine, and paintbrush, along with many, many other flowers that will come and go in their natural sequence throughout the summer.

Sticky Geranium



The birds are all in their brightest breeding plumage in June, and the annual robin’s nest appears again under our deck. 

Breakfast for the babies!

We are cautioned by Forest Service flyers left at our door, and by the local newspaper, to keep bird feeders 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet from the nearest vertical support so as not to attract bears - or better yet, not to put out feeders at all! 
This season there have been more bears around homes and cabins here than in the eleven years we have been in Island Park, and our neighbors all have stories of a large black bear that had been regularly circulating through our area up to a couple of weeks before we arrived, climbing up on porches and decks and peering through windows. Two years ago we found big bear paw prints in the dust on our garage door, five to six feet above ground level. However, we have still only once seen a bear in our area in eleven summers, which is fine with us.

Some of the birds here are so bright and exotic looking they might look appropriate in the tropics.

Lazuli Bunting

Western Tanager

The tree swallow and mountain bluebird are both cavity nesters that readily build their nests in nest boxes provided by humans. The tree swallow seems to be more aggressive, winning out most fights over a nest box. But this one chose the more natural route, nesting in an aspen that faces the morning sun.

Tree Swallow

Mountain Bluebird

Other frequently sighted birds:

Rufous Hummingbird

Red-Naped Sapsucker

Black-Headed Grosbeak

About the third week in July, a blue-winged teal appears on the pond with 11 ducklings. In this photo they are about a week old.

Nearby, a spotted sandpiper hops along the bank, with the characteristic bobbing of its rear end.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Yellowstone is a sacred place to me, a place of immense natural beauty, awesome scenery, abundant and amazing wildlife, unique and wondrous geothermal features. 

Lower Yellowstone Falls

Bison grazing in Lamar Valley

Pond near Swan Lake
Ledge Geyser (l) & Black Growler Steam Vent - Norris
Each season offers special opportunities to observe wildlife, and by early to mid June, visitors can spot black and grizzly bears with their cubs, wolves with their pups, bison and elk with their calves, and pronghorn with their fawns. In the Madison River Valley, we enjoyed watching a herd of bison cows with their calves, as they walked along the river, several of the animals swimming back and forth across the water.
Bison with two calves

Bison mother and calf ford Madison River

Bull Bison calf

A pair of sandhill cranes were followed through the grass by their chick, who mimicked their every move.

Sandhill Cranes
Sandhill Crane with chick

Bighorn Ram

In the beautiful and wild Lamar Valley, in the undeveloped northeastern corner of the park, we saw hundreds of elk and bison, as well as a majestic bighorn ram, and two female pronghorns with their fawns.

Pronghorn females with fawns

Pronghorn nursing

Staying overnight in nearby Silver Gate, we were up well before dawn to join other wolf watchers with our rented high-power spotting scope, and were rewarded with the opportunity to watch the five adult wolves and four pups of the Silver Pack just as the sun rose.

The animals were much too far away for photographing the wolves, but from high on a sage-covered hillside on the north side of the valley, we watched the pups romp and play, and the adults lounge about, in the early morning sunlight. 
Later in the day we watched two of the three adults and two of the three pups of the newly-named Lamar Canyon Pack, near the location known to experienced wolf-watchers as the den of the former Slough Creek Pack, which the new group used this season to have their pups.

Bald Eagle with "chick" a few days before fledging
A highlight of our first visit to Yellowstone this season was watching a bald eagle nest, with one young bird who was testing his wings and flight skills just days before he fledged.
The adult eagles in flight were magnificent - more than worthy of being identified as our national symbol.
Bald Eagle adult

Firehole River, Midway Geyser Basin

On another visit to the park, we stopped along the Firehole River where it meandered through the Midway Geyser Basin.

A great blue heron in full breeding plumage preened on the opposite bank, in a colorful wildflower meadow of purple larskpur and other flowers. The fancy plumes are only present in breeding adults, and although I have watched great blue herons all over North America for more than thirty years, this was the best opportunity I have had to watch and photograph such a beauty.

Great Blue Heron in breeding plumage

Old Faithful Geyser

Old Faithful is the most famous geyser in the world, attracting tens of thousands of visitors annually to observe its regular eruptions which occur about every hour to 90 minutes and last from one-and-a-half  to five minutes.

Grand Prismatic Spring 

Grand Prismatic Spring is not far from Old Faithful, and is one of the largest and most colorful of the hot springs in the park. The color of the hot springs comes from microbes living in the hot water - and varies from blue through orange depending on the temperature.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

Spring in southern California is magnificent for glorious weather and wildflowers. We are lucky to live near the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, 86 acres which are home to the largest collection of native California plants anywhere.

Naturally, the Garden attracts many birds. The image below captures the pert Bewick's Wren.

One year a pair of owls nested and raised their young in a tree a few feet from one of the trails. This year a pair of Red-Shouldered Hawks nested above another trail.

The Garden also attracts many butterflies, among them the Pipevine Swallowtail.

This June, one of the research associates, "BugBob" Allen, a biology professor, botanist, entomologist and photographer, who teaches digital photography classes at the Garden, organized the Garden's first butterfly exhibit, a wonderful presentation of native plants and the butterflies that pollinate them.


Pipevine Swallowtail

Chalcedon Checkerspot

June brought bright pinks to Fay's Wildflower Garden, replacing the oranges, yellows and blues of poppies and lupine a month earlier.