Saturday, August 22, 2020

Abert's Squirrel - Give and Take

Abert's Squirrel

Some years I barely see them at all but this summer the Abert’s Squirrel has been unusually conspicuous. They have allowed me to document, through photography, their delightful behavior. 

The younger ones are especially curious and playful as they scurry down within arm’s length, taunting me to come closer. If I resist the dare, they continue to close the gap but if I make the slightest twitch, they rocket back to the tree trunk.

Exhibiting no fear of heights, the mature adults perch safely on tree limbs high above the forest floor. Early mornings are spent on the ground cautiously collecting pinecones for breakfast.

The large, bushy tail and long ear tufts are the distinctive features of this endearing creature. Compared to the rowdy, little red squirrel, who thinks it owns the forest, the Abert's is quite charming.

A story about the simple life of a squirrel may seem tedious but we can learn much from its interesting and complex partnership with the ponderosa pine tree. Also known as the tassel-eared squirrel, it is strictly confined to ponderosa pine forests.

The tree provides not only a home but also most of its diet. In exchange for food and shelter, the squirrel spreads fungal spores around the tree that are beneficial to the pine's health.

The squirrel has to manage its fragile resource wisely because if the exploitation becomes too extensive, the tree will go into defense mode. It will produce extra terpenes (chemicals that give pines their scent) to ruin the squirrel's appetite.

The tree's reaction evicts the squirrel but at the cost of reduced vitality and a slower growth rate. In other words, they need to get along in order for each species to thrive. Just like any prosperous relationship between plant and animal there must be some give and take.

They have been unusually conspicuous

Delightful behavior

Curious and playful

They scurry down the tree

Taunting to come closer

Quite charming

Large ear tufts

It manages its resource

Tassel-eared squirrel

Confined to a ponderosa pine forest

Give and take

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Forest Bison - Buffalo Calves

Forest Bison

An enduring symbol of the Great Plains, the American Bison was driven to the brink of extinction during Westward Expansion. After a modest recovery, they can now be found in a woodland that adorns Colorado’s Front Range foothills.

The mountain herd roams through a labyrinth of sharp slopes, draws, gulches and ravines that comprise Genesee Park. There is lots of activity at the forest’s edge where this year’s spirited younglings kick, buck, run and play from dawn until dusk.

Born in May, the precocious devils are born into the world big and agile. The whole congregation is pretty protective and the cows collectively take care of the calves for about a year.

They are reddish-orange at birth but their coloring gradually deepens in concert with the development of their fierce independence. On this warm summer evening, the different individuals engage in various behaviors such as resting, grazing and rock climbing.

The easy-going adults move efficiently through the timber as they’ve adapted wonderfully to their high altitude home. Even during the harsh winter, these confident creatures bulldoze through deep snow and conquer the steepest hills.

Taking his cue from the long shadows that creep across the landscape in low light, the dominant bull guides his scruffy flock into a deep valley. Vanishing below an array of pale peaks, the last of the buffalo fades quietly into the gloaming like a dark apparition.

Found in a woodland

An enduring symbol

Calves are born in May

A deep valley

They kick, buck and play

They are reddish-orange at birth

They've adapted wonderfully

The whole congregation is protective

A bull guides his flock

Resting calves

An array of pale peaks

Genesee Park

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Blue Bergen Peak - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Blue Bergen Peak" Colored Pencil

Below a blue Bergen Peak, the late winter landscape is a clash of complementary colors, changing seasons and converging perspectives. The spirited mood is heightened by stylized shapes, gradual shading and the application of dense pigment.

Burning under a bright sun, the fiery field in the foreground blazes across the picture plane from crimson red to Spanish orange. The confusion of excessive detail has succumbed to a smooth gradient of analogous colors.

A stubborn remnant from a recent storm, a drift of deep snow lingers in the shadows of a troublesome gulch. Patches of still more snow are scattered across the vermillion grassland that recedes into the distance.

A remarkable pine tree explodes into the composition from the right, dwarfing the other elements during its desperate call for attention. It’s vibrant foliage is an organic swirl of light and shadow that is splayed out into the air.

The sky is broken into two tiers of different compartments separated by a soft-edged line. Pockets of lucid atmosphere show through the bulky tree’s canopy, allowing birds to fly through freely.

Bergen Peak’s boxy profile is painted with blue which designates it to the background. Its dark value sneakily compresses the space, creating a tension that adds subtle drama to the scene.

Another in the Bergen Peak series, this drawing is more expressive as it displays artistic license with flowing contours and saturated color. The mountain is a beautiful, local landmark whose perfection is impossible to reproduce but it’s intense magnetism has issued a challenge that is too strong to resist.