I Love the Four Seasons

Red Admiral Butterfly, Thomas G. Barnes, US FWS Digital Library
Red Admiral Butterfly
Thomas G. Barnes
US FWS Digital Library

Glacier Lilies
Erythronium grandiflorum
Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore


I love the four seasons. Having spent my 72 years residing in the mid latitudes, I’ve learned to celebrate each of our seasons, but especially spring!

This is the rebirth flush with abundant water, new greenery, and air filled with bird song and sweet aromas as new flowers perfume the air hoping to lure in a pollinator.

With mid-April upon us and our 42 degree latitude, spring is in full swing here in northern Utah! Winter departs grudgingly slapping us with snow squalls intermingled with glorious, early summer days, a wild roller coaster ride which I truly enjoy!
I’m an avid phenology follower. Phenology is the study of how life adapts to seasonal changes. I revel in the first floral bloom, the first neotropical birds returning from Latin America with a heart full of song, and newly emerged, gaudy butterflies.

With a relatively stable climate, until recently, the timing of these events has evolved to near perfection
Let’s take a closer look at some of these phenomena. I’ll begin with our neotropical birds such as lazuli buntings, yellow warblers, and Western tanagers to mention a few. These species spend over half of their year in Mexico, Central and South America flying thousands of miles to for the breeding and nesting season in the Intermountain West. This may seem a bit extreme for these tiny flurries of life.

On closer inspection, you will find they have good reason for this daunting and dangerous task. The tropics have a relatively stable climate without the dramatic seasonal change that we experience. This results in relatively stable populations of flowers and insects, the primary food sources for most species. Further, the ratio of daylight to darkness is nearly constant with 12 hours of each. Our days lengthen as we journey toward summer solstice with nearly 16 hours of daylight! This allows a burst of energy to flow through ecosystems resulting in eruptive populations of insects and floral bloom. It also offers long hours of daylight for parents to gather food for their young which grow rapidly toward fledglings, thus reducing the possibility of predation and also preparing them for the arduous flight south as fall approaches.

Let’s examine flowers and insects. With our very warm winter and spring, I was expecting a much earlier arrival of both and was not disappointed. I counted 17 species of flowers by the second week of April! And butterflies were on a similar schedule with 9 different species during the last week of March- remarkably early! Although delighted, it occurred to me that returning birds may not be so pleased. If the flowers begin to fade, and insects begin their downward slide at the peak of birds rearing their young, trouble is afoot! A five year Audubon study revealed that 1/3 of our birds are predicted to be severely impacted by these rapid climate shifts.

On a more positive note, spring will continue as will bird song, vernal waterfalls, eruptions of wildflowers and butterflies. And spring repeats itself as we move to higher elevations. As cornices on our mountain ridges recede, up pops flowers for yet another spring bloom, and with them butterflies, bees, and birds!

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, US FWS
Pictures Lilies: Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

https://wildaboututah.org/usa-national-phenology-network/

Sereno Watson and the King Survey

Sereno Watson and the King Survey: Click for a larger view of a King Survey Camp near Salt Lake City, Utah. Courtesy USGS, T.H. O'Sullivan, Photographer
A King Survey Camp
Near Salt Lake City

Courtesy USGS
T.H. O’Sullivan, Photographer


Click for a larger view of Ogden Canyon taken by the King Survey. Courtesy USGS, T.H. O'Sullivan, PhotographerThe Mouth of Ogden Canyon
at the time of the King Survey

Courtesy USGS
T.H. O’Sullivan, Photographer


Click for a larger view of Penstemon watsonii. Photographed in Millard County. And named for Sereno Watson of the King Survey. Courtesy PenstamenFestival.com
Penstemon watsonii
named for Sereno Watson
of the King Survey

Courtesy PenstemonFestival.com
Copyright Lisa White, Photographer

The mid-1800s were a transformative period in US history. The bloody Civil War had run its course. Twelve years earlier, the Mexican/American war had forced annexation of a vast territory that stretched from the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. Across the northern edge of this territory, a transcontinental railroad was planned. An ambitious young geologist, Clarence King, convinced President Lincoln of the need to explore, survey and map the topography, watersheds, geology, mineralogy, flora and fauna of this vast uncharted region. King mustered 20 scientists, technicians and frontiersmen to form his Survey of the 40th Parallel. The Survey team took multiple years to thoroughly explore and map a 100-mile-wide band from Virginia City Nevada to Cheyenne Wyoming.

Among the men was one Sereno Watson, who at 42, found himself disenchanted by his forays into medicine, teaching, farming and banking. Word of the King Survey fired his imagination, so in 1867 he joined the migration west. A barefoot, penniless Sereno Watson found the Survey encamped on the lower Truckee River south of Pyramid Lake. More from pity than need, Clarence King let Watson join as an unpaid assistant. When illness sidelined the Survey’s botanist, Serano Watson eagerly took his place.

King prized Watson for his diligence and enthusiasm. In June of 1869, the Survey staked out what would become a favorite encampment at Parley’s Park north of Park City. From that base, Survey members fanned out to explore the Wasatch Range, the western spurs of the High Uintas, and the Great Salt Lake. Watson added to his plant collections, ultimately pressing 900 specimens, many new to science. He later curated them back at Yale. Watson honored the Survey’s leader by naming new plant species kingii, including a species each of biscuit root, buckwheat, bladderpod, flax, lupine, clover and ragwort. Asa Gray, then the reigning US botanist, honored Sereno in naming Penstemon watsonii, a lovely species discovered by the mining town of Austin Nevada. You can see the striking sky blue flowering spires of this wildflower amid montane meadows from eastern Nevada across central Utah into Colorado, including the vicinity of Parley’s Park.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy USGS

and Courtesy PenstamonFestival.org, Lisa White, Photographer,
Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading: