Thursday, July 01, 2010

Note from the range

As the days grow hot in summer, the hillsides erupt in pink beauty – the rock rose, or bitterroot blooms. The bitterroot is a completely nondescript presence until it blankets the sagebrush steppe with its colorful spray, ranging from white to bright pink. This year the landscape is honored with deep pink flowers. Although delicate in appearance, the bitterroot is actually a succulent plant, with carrot-like roots that provide for water storage, allowing the plant to thrive in desert or semi-desert regions. The bitterroot was once an important food source for Plains Indians, who dug them up in the spring and peeled and boiled the roots before eating them.

Birds that nested earlier in the spring are now tending to their broods, as my recent trip to a nearby spring revealed. The spring is surrounded by a high-walled earthen reservoir, so I never know what animals I’m going to meet up with until I come over the top of the reservoir and the meeting occurs. Earlier this week, I came over the top to find a half-dozen killdeer chicks scurrying around on the ground, wading through water on their long legs, and generally making the two mothers that accompanied them very nervous. One of the females took to the air, flying close to my head as she let out a shrill call, while the other dropped into the broken-wing ploy. I apologized to the harried mothers and backed out of the situation, laughing at the trouble I can get myself into without even trying.

Late yesterday afternoon the wind picked up and the skies threatened a storm, and I arrived at the spring to find one of the killdeer hens hunched down, with six extra legs sticking out from her wing feathers. Three of her babes were huddled underneath the hen, seeking shelter from the weather. Although I’d seen domestic chickens do something similar during a rainstorm, I was pleasantly surprised at the eight-legged hen I met at the spring.

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