Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February in Review

Yesterday I saw my first Great Blue Herons of the season, even before this extra day we're getting in February this year. They weren't right here, mind you, but I saw two flying while I was driving to Boulder, then two more wading in a marsh when I got there. If herons come, can spring be far behind?

I think I saw a flock of swifts last week, too, and we've had whole rashes of robins chattering away in the trees most of this month. As I walked around the block a couple weeks ago, there were 20 to 50 birds generating a cacaphony in each of several trees: here in an elm, there a locust, another rash in a cottonwood. Sizable flocks of Eurasian collared doves have been with us all winter, for the first time in memory.

"February total snowfall to date is 20.2 [at DIA, on the 24th]. The record is 22.1″ set back in 1912." So close to being the snowiest February on record. Just to recap, here's an instant replay:

Tomorrow we head into what is normally our snowiest month of the year. Will it be different, after all this February snow? I can look back, here on the blog, on six Februarys now, and it seems snow is always there: more in 2007, less in 2008. This time of year, snow captures the camera's attention. Oddly, I tend to think of February as a dry brown month, kind of like the last picture above (and who wants to take pictures of that?). Perception reflects reality only with a greater or lesser degree of distortion.

Snow (again) is promised later this week, so we'll see what March brings. As you can see from this morning's view, our white ground cover is getting tattered and is due to be refreshed.

Happy Leap Day!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Blue Rabbitbrush Road

How native is native? We have to applaud the trend toward using more native species in efforts to reclaim natural landscapes after disturbance, don't we? Sometimes, unfortunately, the gesture backfires no matter how well intentioned it may be. Such was the case several years ago (about 2006?), when the Town of Morrison built a water pipeline through the local open space park (Mt. Falcon).

I'm sure the fact that the pipeline was going through publicly owned open space rather than private property simplified the approval process considerably and probably also stimulated the desire to plant native species so the pipeline would blend in. You be the judge: how did they do?

This photo was taken last June, many years after the project was completed. That swath of blue through the landscape gives this post its title.

The Plantlist shows 25 accepted subspecies or varieties of Ericameria but my botanical consultants, the Chemist and the Propagator, tell me this is likely to be Chrysothamnus speciosus var. gnaphalodes Greene, which is a synonym of Ericameria nauseosa var. hololeuca (A.Gray) G.L.Nesom & G.I.Baird. Native it is, but to northern NM, AZ, and most of Utah. The USDA profile shows his Colorado distribution as only in our county, a tad disjunct for a native, wouldn't you think?

Plantlist also reports “the genus Chrysothamnus contains no accepted names.” Shucks! I knew the genus had been changed, but I haven't quite accepted it yet. (Chrysothamnus has served me well during more than 40 years of acquaintance.) Sorry, botanical friends, I lean more and more toward "common names," the ones they always taught us were unreliable and unstable. Besides, I'm taking a broader ecological view rather than a taxonomic one, and it seems clear to me that this guy is a proverbial sore thumb who just doesn't belong! The gestalt simply doesn't fit. (In this photo, he's overwhelming the little green rabbitbrush guy on his left.)

You can explore our native rabbitbrush a bit further at this previous post. I mentioned the species's wealth of associations with insects, and our friend Ted at Beetles in the Bush provided this detail in the comments:

I love this plant because of the fantastic variety of cerambycid beetles (genus Crossidius) - large beetles with long antennae and vividly colored black and yellow, orange, or red - that visit the flowers. Like the plant they feed on, the dozen or so species show a dizzying diversity of forms (about 3 dozen subspecies are formally recognized) across the western U.S.

Photo of Crossidius coralinus fulgidus courtesy Ted MacRae. Read more at the link.

That's about one unique form of beetle for every unique form of this plant species in the western U.S. They say that a central tendency of ecological thinking is always to ask "and then what?" So I'm asking: what does bringing one new plant, subspecies or not, into a landscape bring in terms of insect associates? And what, pray tell, are the implications of that? As they also say in ecology "You can never do just one thing."

What does this mingling mean? CDOT is using this blue rabbitbrush on local highways. You can check it out along Hwy. 285 between Indian Hills and Conifer. Besides being an experiment in plant (and insect?) breeding on a regional scale, it's messing with what we perceive as "natural," perhaps as much as planting exotics. (Not advocating a return to that, though, okay?)

Along for the Ride
I don't know exactly what they planted, but blue rabbitbrush turns out not to be the only new face in the local landscape. There are other "natives" too! Native—but "improved"—cultivars of little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium, formerly Andropogon scoparium) and sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) are springing up in the roadside ditch downhill from the open space (along with blue rabbitbrush). No concerns about their fecundity! And recently, when the Husband and I followed the blue road down into the park to walk the Dogs, I found this treasure, which might be cliffrose! (Cowania stansburiana; now, apparently, Purshia stansburiana) If that ID is correct, it's far from its home in southwestern Colorado and Utah, but will certainly be an attractive addition to our local flora. Looking at the bright side, our species richness is expanding!

Thanks to the Chemist and the Propagator for consultation on this post. They are not to blame for errors and goofy opinions expressed herein.

Submitted for the February 2012 Berry-Go-Round Plant Carnival.

You can, of course, explore the range of diversity of rabbitbrush further at Wikipedia or at the USDA Plants database.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

What's Nice about Colorado... that the day after a big storm looks like this. Blue skies, bright sun on snow, and, special blessings, clear roads! (Unless you're in the City or suburbs, in which case, good luck!)

It occurs to me that I'm always showing Red Rocks in the "from home" view, and rarely do you get to see the park from the inside. Yesterday about 5 p.m., we drove through Red Rocks Park to take in the post-snow views. First up is Park Cave Rock, lit by the setting sun.

For lack of a better plan, I'm posting these in the order they were taken. These icicles were just across the road from the first photo.

Then back for a closer view of Park Cave, whose warm west-facing scarp holds many nooks for roosting birds. Park Cave Rock forms the east wall of the Park's "southern gateway."

At the top of the Park, two final views. Looking east past Creation Rock and a waxing Moon, I couldn't resist tweaking this one a little. Yes, I enlarged the Moon. I had to update my photo-editing software this week, and it was a good opportunity to practice.

That's why the Moon is fuzzier than the rest of the image. For high-quality Moon pictures, please visit Beyond the Fields We Know. Cate's skills, equipment, and patience are better than mine!

As for me, I vow not to mess with photos overmuch, and to be sure to note it when I do more than crop, resize, or tweak brightness and contrast. FF celebrates reality, not photoshoppery. But it sure is tempting when you're confronted with a light pole in the middle of an otherwise interesting view, as below!

One thing I like about this one, actually taken by the Darling Husband, is the way the shadow of the mountains has engulfed the Park, and is approaching the hogback. Green Mountain also catches a few last rays, and the City, as ever, welcomes sunset later than we do.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

A Long Winter's Night

Snow started falling Thursday evening, just in time for rush hour. Though results were not, at first, impressive, dire forecasts calling for record amounts of white stuff turned out to be right on target. Yesterday was a howling blizzard, keeping most everyone close to home.

Forty hours later, we have about two feet of good wet insulation on the ground, and it's feeling much more like one of the spring delights March traditionally brings than anything we'd expect in February. This storm was thoroughly predicted, leaving no one unprepared. I was just surprised the weatherfolk were accurate this time!

So today, as the flakes finally stop and the sun even touches the rocks now and then, is a day for digging out. The cars are unrecognizable lumps in the driveway. The dogs have been finding great joy in romping through the drifts; not a single cat has been interested in exploring the new landscape.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Rose-colored Glasses

It's as if the whole world is wearing them! Despite my usual view and the rising sun lighting up Red Rocks, I know that the "big picture" is anything but rosy, especially for those of us who care about the Earth.

This morning I've been reading around in Honest Ab's blog (no typo there), and even ventured over to his website. Dr. Stanley Rice is honest indeed, about our planet's situation and its prospects, no rose-colored glasses there. Too bad I didn't find him last week; he would have been good on our "rant" list! See his archive for July-Sept 2011 and scroll down to You Can’t Do Just One Thing and Our Great Big Opportunity for some entertaining reading.

Even the dog looks to be alert in this morning's dawn. He has few worries. His (and my!) advancing age mean that our chances of being greatly at risk in the coming "transition" are relatively slight, and diminishing with each passing year.

It's young people, and the young of all species, I fear for most these days. They traditionally "have their whole lives ahead of them"... but that isn't the joyous prospect it once might have been.

The rosy outlook above was fleeting, fading quickly into a grey cold day with promise only of snow.