Where Did All the Flowers Go?

Aquilegia_Colorado Columbine_Emerald Valley-EPCo-CO_LAH_5416rWhere did the wildflowers go? It was the end of June, and we were making our annual pilgrimage along  the trail through Emerald Valley, on the slopes of Pikes Peak. This time we weren’t just looking for birds, but for blooms and bugs as well—in fact, the birds were the least of our priorities. There were bugs, especially as the day warmed, and we saw some excellent birds, but where were the flowers?

Emerald Valley usually has a wide assortment of wildflower species, including many of my favorites—Colorado Columbine, Shooting Stars, various Penstemons, and three species of orchid. This year, columbines were in short supply, the only Shooting Stars were creekside in the moist soil, and I didn’t see a single clematis blossom.

Yellow Lady-slipper Orchid_Emerald Valley-EPCo-CO_LAH_5488rThe orchids were just as sparse. Instead of close to a hundred Yellow Lady Slippers, we saw less than a dozen. Many hadn’t bloomed, and what flowers we saw were withered and brown weeks ahead of schedule. We found two Green Bog Orchids. Two. And the Spotted Coralroot was completely absent. We couldn’t even find the plants, and we know where they should have been.

Penstemon_Emerald Valley-EPCo-CO_LAH_5467Paying closer attention, the plants told us the story. The healthiest species were those who thrive in drier conditions, such as Penstemon, cranesbills, yarrow, and various yellow composites I struggle to identify. I knew we had a dry spring, and here was proof.

Yes, we were disappointed by the dearth of flowers, but that’s one nice thing about appreciating nature in all her ways. The bright colors weren’t attached to the plants, but rather fluttering overhead. It was a banner year for butterflies.

Then there were the other insects—weird looking flies, scarab beetles (no wonder the Egyptians made jewelry out of them!), and an abundance of ladybugs, just to name a few.

Apparently we weren’t the only ones enjoying the bugs. So were the birds. I didn’t bring my birding lens; it’s big and heavy and we were hiking up hill. Instead, I took mental snapshots of the Western Tanagers, Williamson’s Sapsuckers, and various vireos, swallows, jays, and more.

We also appreciated the gorgeous day we had. The end of June can be miserably hot or wet and stormy. This year, the weather was perfect—warm sun, cool breeze, blue skies, and a few puffy clouds.

Abundant birds, intriguing insects, and a flawless summer day. So what if we missed seeing some flowers? Three out of four isn’t bad!

Photos, from top: Colorado Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea); Yellow Lady-slipper Orchid (Cypripedium parviflorum); Beardtongue/Penstemon, probably Rocky Mountain Beardtongue (P. strictus); Weidemeyer’s Admiral Butterfly (Limenitis weidemeyerii); ? butterfly; Weidemeyer’s Admiral on hat, St. Lawrence Tiger Moth (Platarctia parthenos); Fritillary Butterfly (Fritillaria sp.); Tachinid fly; unknown larva; Ornate Checkered Beetle (Trichodes ornatus); Scarab Beetle; Net-winged Beetle (Dictyoptera sp.)

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