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Over Beartooth Pass--More Rodents!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

There is something deeply disorienting about climbing high, high up over a mountain pass--let's say Beartooth Pass, between Montana and northern Wyoming--and going from hot hot summer, strip-off-your-shirt summer--to walls and fortresses of lingering snow, to American pipits scrounging snowflies, for Lord's sake, because there's nothing much else to eat.

If the hairpin turns and the million-foot dropoffs on the road weren't enough, that simple dissonance would be scary enough for a person like me, who is so tied to the seasons and the particular light of a particular time of year that I really don't know what to do with myself when everything is upside down and we're making snowballs in mid-June.

Snowfields, just now melting off. And mountain bluebirds, giving their low chortle and floating from boulder to boulder, just to bring me to my knees.

Mountain bluebirds in hard mountain light and thin mountain air, bolts of cobalt and cerulean, straight shots to the heart.

We get back in the car and OK now I'm a little freaked out by this.

I mean, we had a whole winter of this, well, nearly this, and I thought I could put my white knuckles away. Hon, will you please drive? I'm done.

Whoa. Car coming. Let's push on, get down to some altitude that makes sense for an Appalachian Ohio girl. I'm feeling a little woozy, here on top of the planet.

I know what will fix me. More cute rodents.

We offered Corn Nuts and almond bits, but sunflower seeds were the favorite. We looked him up in our Kaufman Field Guide to Mammals of North America.

Wrong page. Them's Californy chiptymunks.

Least chipmunk, Tamias minimus. Mmm, how cute! And teeny. And snappy and bold.

But wait! there's more. A golden-mantled ground squirrel, Spermophilus lateralis, such an arresting HUGE creature that it elicited gasps of "What the heck is THAT?" from us. The thing was at least 10" long and fat, fat, fat. I immediately christened it the Sumo Chipmunk.

No secret how it got that fat.

Gimme a peanut, now.

Dead heat between the yellow-bellied marmot and the Sumo Chipmunk for favorite rodent of the trip. He's just a guinea pig in chipmunk's clothing.

We made it through Beartooth Pass and happily descended into... YELLOWSTONE!!

Before we start wallerin' around in Yellowstone Park, I have a few pressing Ohio matters to share. Pawpaws and a spectacular caterpiggle... Speaking of Ohio matters, don't miss the next Ohio Ornithological Society conference October 8-10 at the Radisson Eastlake (Cleveland). Field trips, crazy great migration birding, even a Lake Erie 'pelagic' trip. People--it's an inland sea! and it has some surprisingly great birds. Go here for details.


I was going to ask what Spermophilus lateralis meant, but on second thought I decided it was more fun not knowing.

Cute Critters.

Sidestriped seedlover!

great pics

After seeing the photos of you and your family feeding critters, I just have to ask, what's your take on the whole issue of feeding wildlife? I know that national parks strongly frown on it, and I can see why - when I was at Crater Lake recently, seeing Clark's Nutcrackers eating Dorito bits was really disheartening. But obviously it's so tempting, and animals are so cute, and maybe in some cases the greater connection that feeding forges between people and our animal kin outweighs the negatives? And maybe if you feed healthier (?) things like peanuts and seeds instead of junk food it's okay? Sorry, this is in no way meant as any sort of criticism of you feeding peanuts to ground squirrels, I'm just curious as to your thoughts.

I agree whole-heartedly with your poetic statements about the bluebirds!

Good question, Rebecca. We DON'T feed animals in national parks (and my Yellowstone posts to come reinforce that strongly). This was a highway stop at Beartooth Pass and the chipmunks and ground squirrels were practically climbing our pants legs for our almonds. I hate to see wildlife fed junk food, but I do very much enjoy getting close to birds and small mammals with the kids, using good nuts and seeds. Obviously, I go both ways. I respect the rules in parks and sanctuaries, but I let 'er fly where it seems it won't do any harm. Plenty of room for criticism there if anyone wants to take a swing. I am a huge believer in getting up close and personal with wildlife where it's possible and safe for all concerned, and I think the kids and I are much, much the richer for it.

Love the latin name for that pork-chop!

Thanks for the answer! It's certainly a tricky issue. I've been on way to many picnics with my parents (including some in national parks and other protected areas) where they ignore the no-feeding signs and slip crumbs to jays or what have you, and I just sit there torn between my fascination with seeing the birds up close and my inner biologist voice telling me that habituating animals to begging at picnic areas is bad.

Love the photo of the chipmunk standing on your field guide, it is laugh-out-loud, wonderful !

chipmunks are just so funny. I think there must be a physical connection between their voice box and their tails.
Those passes are full of snow again tonight. Ugh. I'm a touch north and we're getting some forecasted later on in the week. It is JUST WRONG.

Mountain bluebirds...Ma Nature snatched a piece right out of the sky and gave it wings. They are so welcome here in the dead grass, no leaves yet days of early March.

Whenever I see photos of mountain passes like that, I think about what it must have been like to cross such ranges on foot, on horseback, with wagons and oxen. Trying to gauge the seasons so you didn't get caught up in the higher areas too late, with early snowstorms. Getting caught with families and hoping that you'd get to lower altitudes before the next blizzard. Drinking melted bear fat and tallow candles in the Bitterroots (a la' Lewis & Clark) because your body is literally starving for fat.

I can't imagine most people today enduring what pioneers did. We complain if motel doesn't have HBO. What the pioneers accomplished boggles my mind every time I see pics such as yours.

Posted by holly, mama of Lucy Tucker September 15, 2010 at 4:45 PM

what, no pika? (ok, not a rodent, but even more awesomely cute...)

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