Saturday, October 31, 2015

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel - A Lost Soul

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

Crowned with a russet headband, the golden-mantled ground squirrel is a lost soul living at the forest’s edge. Usually stationed on a fallen log, this solitary creature lives most of his life alone, quietly observing the activity happening all around him.

Always alert, he’s an inquisitive animal that seems to tolerate a peaceful approach. For this rockhound of a rodent, summers are spent lying about in the sun while fall becomes more frenzied as he must fatten up for a five month hibernation.

Specialized cheek pouches allow the golden-mantled ground squirrel to gather generous amounts of food off of the ground. With all fours freed up, he is able to transport the mouthful back to his burrow at full speed.

The edible cache is reserved for winter so if he wakes from hunger, he can gnaw on a mid-slumber snack. It’s also a convenient energy source that can be eaten when the sleepy squirrel reemerges in the early spring.

Because they share the same ecosystem and physical features, he is often confused with the Colorado chipmunk. The golden-mantled is easily distinguished, though, as he lacks the facial striping so prominent in his smaller cousin.

He doesn’t have much impact on the environment and despite human alteration to his habitat, his kind seems to be thriving. It’s our world and he’s just a simple squirrel searching for a nut but if he ever disappeared, he would be sorely missed.

A lost soul

Stationed on a fallen log

Always alert

He tolerates a peaceful approach

A rockhound

Fall becomes frenzied

He has specialized cheek pouches

He gathers food

He lacks facial striping

He doesn't impact the environment

His kind is thriving

A simple squirrel

He would be missed

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Ornate Box Turtle - A Harmless Homebody

Ornate Box Turtle

Inhabiting the arid sandhills of western Nebraska, the ornate box turtle is perfectly content to live life in the slow lane. Sharing some of the same traits as the persistent pioneers that first settled the area, he is admired for his grit, determination and perseverance.

The species was first discovered in Nebraska circa 1795 and described by early explorers as occurring in “vast numbers” all across the prairie. Today, their status is uncertain but the population must be at least stable because I frequently see them during the summer.

This tortoise is a harmless homebody that doesn’t require much room to roam. Active from April through October, he saunters through the brush existing in a small territory that’s just a few acres in size. By the first frost, he digs a shallow burrow and hibernates over the winter.

In his small world there isn’t much competition for available food resources because this easy-going omnivore isn’t a picky eater. His favorite meals are insects, spiders and worms but he’ll also happily consume fruits, vegetables and carrion.

Like most reptiles, his daily activities revolve around thermoregulation. Mornings are spent warming up in the sun but during the hottest part of the day, he rests in the shade. Drawn back out by cool temps, he's probably most active in the evening.

The little land-dweller is distinguished by the yellow paint that’s splattered artistically all over his dark body and shell. Created with a hinged plastron, he can completely withdraw his head, legs and tail into a defensive box position for protection from predators.

He's a sensitive creature that’s terribly vulnerable to disruptions in his homeland. Habitat destruction due to agricultural expansion is probably the biggest threat to his continued survival but surprisingly, the most common cause of death comes from car collisions.

He doesn’t ask for much, just green grass, soft dirt and fresh water but if you’re ever driving through Nebraska, please keep an eye out for our humble friend. If you do happen to see him in the middle of the road, kindly pull over, pick him up and place him on the other side.

Perfectly content in the slow lane

The species was first discovered in Nebraska

He doesn't require much room to roam

An easy-going omnivore

Mornings are spent warming up

He's splattered with yellow paint

He can completely withdraw into a box

A very sensitive creature

Keep an eye out for our humble friend

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Square Top Lakes - A Quiet Kingdom

Lower Square Top Lake

Stair-stepped below a secluded thirteener, the two Square Top Lakes are connected by a streaming cascade of cold water. Beginning at the bustling Guanella Pass, the alpine trek to get there concludes at a considerably less crowded location.

Bushwhacking through muddy bogs and thickets of prickly willows, it’s an uphill haul all the way. Established at such a high altitude, this quiet kingdom is defined by wide open space, clear air and a steady breeze.

Upon arriving at the cobalt-colored reservoir, the vivid color contrast is simply too much for the human eye to comprehend. It’s satisfying to explore the lower lake’s lovely setting but curiosity may compel you to ascend to the next level.

After scrambling up to the far ledge, you behold another quite shocking color scheme as the long, upper lake is surprisingly green. Squinting into the sun, you can see Square Top Mountain’s eastern slope slide right into the silky tarn.

Dusk is an unquestionable signal that it’s time to depart without delay. As the low light softens the scenery and shines a spotlight on the spectacular peaks to the east, a few fluffy clouds cast curious shadows across Mount Bierstadt and the jagged Sawtooth Ridge.

During the fall, twilight above tree line saturates the already ochre grassland with pure yellow. While tramping across the tundra on a warm autumn evening, it becomes obvious that the wealth of beauty amassed by these mountains can’t be measured in anything but gold.

Guanella Pass

A less crowded location

Thickets of prickly willows

Wide open space

Clear air

A quiet kingdom

A cobalt colored reservoir

Vivid color contrast

A lovely setting

The upper lake is green

A silky tarn

Curious shadows across Mount Bierstadt

An ochre grassland

Tramping across the tundra

The wealth of beauty

Is measured in gold

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Chief Mountain - A Pedestal for Panoramas

Chief Mountain

Rising out of Colorado’s Front Range foothills, Chief Mountain is a rocky pedestal for panoramas. The top juts up just above tree line and offers some of the best views in Clear Creek County.

All of the area’s big peaks can be surveyed from this single spot. Massive Mount Evans looms to the west while beyond, the distinct contour of Grays and Torreys is unmistakeable.

Bulky Longs Peak has a block-shaped summit that can be clearly seen to the north. Down south towards the Springs, Pikes Peak is barely visible as a ghostly apparition painted with pale blue.

During this season, all is quiet so the lonely mountain is delighted to receive guests. Squawking for attention, a pair of gray jays swoop close by and mingled amongst the rocks, chipmunks scurry for cover.

Traveling up Squaw Pass Road, yellow aspen are an obvious indication that fall is here. As pretty as it is now, I’d like to come back in a month or so and see what this place looks like when buried under a foot of snow.

Rising out of the Front Range foothills

A rocky pedestal

Above tree line

Best views in Clear Creek County

Massive Mount Evans Wilderness

Grays and Torreys Peaks

Bulky Longs Peak

Pikes Peak is pale blue

All is quiet

A lonely mountain

Fall is here

I'd like to come back when there's snow