July brings wildflowers above tree line

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By Sylvia Brockner

June has been a wonderful month, so green, so fresh after the cold winter, it seemed almost magical. Now, July lies ahead with warmer weather, dusty roads and skyrockets in bloom for the Fourth of July.

July is the month to explore the high country for it is at its best then. The last patches of winter’s snow are melting, and everything above timberline is beginning to grow and bloom as it does here in June. Tundra plants are an amazing display of bloom. Most of the arctic-alpine plants are perennials and quick growing. They are capable of blooming and producing seeds in just a few weeks.

It starts with the snow buttercup, which pushes its golden chalices up through the edges of the melting snow drifts and ends the season with the arctic gentian, which is often covered by the first snow. Tundra flowers are hardy, forged of sun and ice. They are showy, durable and beautiful. Some are especially fragrant.

July is the time of peak bloom for they are pressed for time to bloom and produce seeds before the snow returns in late August. Most arctic-alpine plants are short, hugging the ground to escape the cold wind. They are often referred to as “belly plants” since the best way to see and identify them is to get down flat or at least on your knees. They must not be picked or pulled up for they are very slow growers and it takes many, many years to form a small clump, and any open soil on the tundra is prone to becoming a blowout, which grows larger with every gust of wind.

I have a special place in my heart for the land above the trees, and I shall miss it again this summer. It is difficult to reach in most areas, but the Mount Evans highway and the highway across Rocky Mountain National Park make it easy. We are fortunate to live so near both of these roads.

The Mount Evans highway is practically in our backyard. Bill and I used to go up this road six to 10 times every summer. Now, I have to take oxygen with me and can’t walk about as much as I used to, but I still can’t wait to go this summer. There is nothing more beautiful than to sit on a rock in the sun and watch the cloud shadows scudding across the windblown flowers and grasses or to look down on the tops of clouds as they sail through the valley below. It is humbling and awesome, as Bill used to say, “I can’t believe I am lucky enough to live in a place like this!”

Spring migration of birds came to a roaring climax in early June. The first of the fall migrants are already beginning to appear. Young birds of many species are beginning to appear at everyone’s feeders. The red crossbills, which I thought were just late migrants, turned out to be summer residents. They turned up at my feeder last week with a single youngster. He still had a deeply streaked brown-and-white coat, and I might have had trouble identifying him if he had not had an exceptionally large bill with just the beginning of a curved lip. Then both parents began to stuff food in his mouth, and I knew for sure. They normally have four eggs, but some predator must have eaten some of the eggs or young. We have a very large population of western red squirrels, and they unfortunately enjoy eggs for breakfast as well as the small young.

The Eurasian collar doves continue to increase in the area with J.T. reporting a pair at her feeder near the Hiwan area, and another resident pair in Kittredge has been coming to Trisha Tofte’s feeder all winter and spring.

Arrie Dollard reported an Eastern blue jay in Hiwan Hills in early June. Blue jays are quite different than our Steller’s jays. The blue jay is a bright sky blue, not the dark blue of the Steller’s jay. It also has a white cheek and underparts, with a black necklace across its breast and large white patches on its wings and tail. They both have crests. They have become relatively common in the Denver area and sometimes show up here at our feeders in post-nesting exploration. This is usually in October or November when they seem to be looking for a feeder that they can rely on for the winter.