July 16, 2013

Rocky Mountain Foothills

The big peaks seem to get all the attention in the Rockies, but the foothills can be interesting too, especially to us flatlanders! We are fortunate to have a daughter that lives in Boulder, Colorado and we have visited her each summer for the past 3 years. We always try to get up to the mid- and high-elevations as well, but more about those later. This post is about the eastern foothills, where the grasslands of the Great Plains rise up to meet the high peaks of the southern Rockies.

We usually get into Denver mid-morning, and head west to Red Rocks, which according to the website is "the only naturally-occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater in the world." 

Here you can see the city of Denver behind the stage:

This is just an awesome place with interesting birds, flowers, geology--and just the aura of the place is so cool. Practically everyone who is anybody in the music business has performed in this space, from opera stars to the Beatles to U2, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead--basically everybody, even Pat Boone! I'd love to go to a concert here but in the meantime it is a great place to visit in the daytime.

Huge sandstone ledges have raised from the prehistoric ocean floor, and fossil dinosaur tracks occur nearby. Prairie and Peregrine Falcons nest in niches in the sandstone, and we usually are fortunate to see one or the other or both. On our most recent trip, in late June, White-throated Swifts and Violet-green Swallows swirled around us quite low, giving us great looks. 

This year brilliant blue larkspur was blooming all over the property:

There isn't much prettier than the Sego Lily, sometimes called Mariposa Lily:

I love these Prairie Coneflowers, which are sometimes called Mexican Hats:

These large white flowers are Prickly Poppies. Their leaves are so spiny that even cows won't eat them. The seeds are full of oil, making them excellent food for quail and other birds. In fact, the oil was at one time used as a fine lubricant.

Here is a typical foothill view: large erect Yucca blooms on a fairly dry slope. Yuccas are pollinated by specific types of moths, and this relationship is mutually beneficial. This is one of the more fascinating plant-pollinator relationships, and you can read about it at this link.

Finally, this plant seemed to be everywhere at both lower and mid elevations in open sunny areas. Some even occur up to 12,000 feet. It is called Sulphur Buckwheat and was used by Native Americans to treat a variety of illnesses:

Moving a bit north to Boulder, here is what the foothills look like set against a backdrop of much higher mountains:

Prairie dogs are common inhabitants of foothill open space. Although farmers deplore them, I always enjoy watching these rodents while they keep a sharp eye and ear out for predators:

Every Saturday the Boulder Wild Bird Center store offers a bird walk, typically in an area in the foothills. This is a great way to meet friendly people and learn about some really nice localities just a short drive from town. This time we climbed up a great trail near the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR. 

A lot of trails crisscross this area and it would be easy to explore for hours. Some of the birding highlights included lots of Yellow-breasted Chats, a bird that isn't common in Ohio and often is much more readily heard than seen. These birds weren't shy at all!

You won't see this bird in Ohio--it is a Black-headed Grosbeak. Its song is a bit like a robin's. Apparently they winter in Mexico and are one of the few predators able to deal with the toxic chemicals in monarch butterflies.

The western version of our Baltimore Oriole is the Bullock's Oriole. The two species hybridize where their ranges overlap so until recently they were considered to be the same species, but molecular studies have shown them to be only distantly related so now they are considered separate. The Baltimore Oriole's all-black head is much different than that of the Bullock's.

I love seeing these Black-billed Magpies--so different from any bird we have in the east. With their white wing patches and long tails they are quite visible as they fly from fenceposts and trees. Their raucous calls make certain that they won't be ignored.

Wiedemeyer's Admiral is a common butterfly in the foothills. Here it is "puddling"--getting minerals from the mud that are necessary for successful reproduction.

This is just a very brief tour of some of the plants and critters that live in the foothills of the southern Rockies. Stay tuned for more posts as we gain elevation!

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful, and informative as always. I sure would love to go to a concert at Red Rocks, too. Thanks!