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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nighttime visitors, mountain biking with my dog, and wildflowers

It was a long night of multiple bouts of frenzied barking from our dogs, telling us that at least one wild animal prowled our territory. S needed a middle-of-the-night walk and immediately led my husband directly to a tree where an animal had recently rubbed off shedding fur. I think that the shedding visitor was either an elk or a bear.

My best bet is an elk based on massive cloven tracks leading directly to the tree and then continuing past it. The animal trampled the ground at the base of the tree too much for me to see a single clear track. Also, S didn't break into 'spooky barking' and K didn't drool this morning near the tree. Both dogs very reliably display these behaviors when bear scent hits them.

The animal rubbed against the pine bark so vigorously that skin flakes flecked the clumps of coarse outer guard fur and fluffy undercoat fur. This clump is blondish like the body coat of an elk.
Another clump was primarily chocolate with a cinnamon glow - perhaps from the darker neck fur of an elk. Fur completely encased the circumference of the tree from 2-4 feet off the ground.
The animal didn't investigate our bird feeders so we have no photo. The motion-sensitive camera captured a coyote visit about an hour earlier so we know that the camera was working. A bear would have trouble resisting an attempt to reach the bear-proof feeders - which also points toward an elk visitor rather than an ursine visitor. In any case, at least two wild animals traveled past our house last night, a coyote and probably an elk.

After the overnight pandemonium, I struggled to drag myself out of bed at my new summer wake-up time. K and I headed out for a short ride, through the deepening green aspen leaves on narrow trails.
My chocolate lab and I climbed up on a pile of boulders to sit in the sun.
Although it wasn't apparent from the trail, a great view awaited us.
Later, high on a dry ridge, I spotted what I believe to be a yellow montane violet (Viola nuttallii). On violets, the radiating lines lead to the nectar and pollen. In an insect's infrared vision, these lines are thought to look like landing strips. Despite having landing strips, scientists say that few of the spring-time violet flowers are fertilized. If a violet fails to sexually reproduce in the spring, it grows small autumn flowers that hide among its leaves or even remain underground. These late flowers allow asexual reproduction, leading to many self-fertilized seeds. Apparently, this strategy isn't terribly unique - it occurs among early spring blooming flowers who frequently fail to be pollinated due to the wild fluctuations of spring weather in the mountains.
I also spotted a diminutive but distinctively shaped blue wildflower called Chiming Bells (Mertensia lanceolata, I think).
Each tiny blue flower is a gem.
I love spring, especially the start of spring. I know that we have so much natural beauty and mountain biking to look forward to.


  1. Lovely wildflowers. And the mountain view is spectacular.

    That must have been one itchy elk. Nice photographs of the scratching tree.

  2. Wow, that is an impressive amount of hair on that tree! That's odd that bear-smell makes K drool. I may have mentioned before that the smell of a tick always made my S dog drool.


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