Thursday, August 11, 2016

Rocky Mountain National Park: The Alpine

After leaving Upper Beaver Meadows, we lurked upslope on Trail Ridge Road, past the treeline and into the alpine. A great deal of this special, hard-to-access habitat is there for your enjoyment in Rocky Mountain National Park. Though the crowds were not a surprise (we first got there in the afternoon), they were still a bummer, but the scenery and wildflowers were awesome.

The birding up here is not necessarily thrilling...its mostly American Pipits and Horned Larks, with the occasional raven and commuting hummingbird. I did see my only Rufous Hummingbird of the trip zip past up here, as well as a subadult Bald Eagle soaring over Lava Cliffs.

Quickly you get used to seeing fat, slothful marmots scattered around, but if you loiter around rocky outcrops, you can find one of the most prized wildlife species of these areas...Pikas! Pikas, as you surely know already, are unique, endearing and hard to see...not because they are elusive or super rare, but because most of us don't happen to live someplace with Pikas nearby. With so much greenery and a cornucopia of flowers in bloom, we arrived during the brief window of easy living for alpine species.

A great many of these luscious yellow paintbrush flowers were beautifying the slopes above treeline.

Everywhere you looked was covered in an array of blossoms. Spectacular.

Cushiony moss campion hugged the ground closely.

Tall chiming-bells and Mountain Bluebirds appear to be cut from the same cloth.

Right before we were about to leave Rock Cut Trail, I decided to cross the street to take a couple scenery shots. The scenery, I was surprised to find, was dominated by this Bighorn Sheep...lifer! It's not often I get lifer megafauna, and I had waited a long time to see one of these. Look how fucking majestic and pastoral this shit is. Downright bucolic.

This ram was super mellow and unconcerned with the handful of tourists who had noticed him, Yellowstone style. Great looks at this sheep, I could not have asked for anything more.

However, my sheeping was interrupted by a Pika running around directly beneath me. I crushed it unapologetically.

So cute it makes me want to throw up.

After the first bighorn wandered off, another appeared on the ridge. Dazzling mammals and crippling views up there.

After deserting the high-elevation mammal outpost, we pulled over at the Lava Cliffs for another target bird. After a short wait, Brown-capped Rosy-Finches started appearing on and next to the snow banks as promised. I have no photos to document this birding victory, so you'll have to take my word that connecting with this species again was good times. I had only seen them once before, and thanks to geribirding (thanks, geribirding) I had not seen a rosy-finch of any sort away from a feeder since 2010. Several more were present here the next day as well.

The Alpine Visitor Center was a complete and total clusterfuck, yeesh. In the midst of the tourist zoo, Mountain Bluebirds had a nest that appeared to be on the verge of successful fledging, despite the bizarre location. Both the male and female dropped by with food deliveries while we were there.

Both birds paused briefly on this beam, casting judgement on the tourists below, before flying to the nest.

The nest, crammed full of big chicks, was humorously built in a hole in the wall outside of the women's bathroom. Interesting approach.

After ditching the visitor's center, I figured some loitering on the trail at Medicine Bow Curve was in order, after all this is the best place in the park for White-tailed Ptarmigan, and Felonious Jive (The Great Ornithologist) always says "Middle of day is best time to make for birding good". I don't know why he talks like that, but he is rarely wrong. The smattering of elk next to the trail were hard to ignore, especially while standing on ridges with epic backdrops.

We dipped on ptarmigan that afternoon (no surprise), but would return early in the morning the next day to punish ourselves again. Sorry I only posted photos of one bird species today, that is super weird, things will be different next time around.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on the sheep lifer. Pleasant post. I refuse to read the next one on account of ptarmigan-envy.