By early July, Oceanspray is living up to its name with large panicles of tiny white flowers; Fireweed and the native White-flowered Hawkweed are starting to bloom. Half-grown Columbian Ground Squirrels, rodents with a rich orange belly and a white eye ring, are playing outside their burrows – they were born in May or June. Beargrass is now starting to flower in the high-elevation meadows that it dominates. A single plant blooms every 3-10 years, rather than every summer. Often, all or most of a population will bloom at once, and the sight of an entire slope covered with its bright white “candles” of flowers is quite impressive. Several species of Buckwheat are flowering, pretty natives with umbels of white, pink, or yellow. They are common in dry subalpine meadows, although it may be a week or two yet before they begin blooming at these higher elevations. The first of the Black Huckleberries are ripening, much to the joy of bears, birds, and humans. Huckleberries are a very important food source for Black and Grizzly Bears, particularly in late summer and early fall, when fruits such as these form the vast majority of their diets.
By the middle of July, Thimbleberry and Serviceberry fruits are starting to ripen, and Cedar Waxwings, American Robins, and Chipmunks are among the animals taking advantage of the sweet, blue-black pomes of the latter, which were also an important food for native peoples. Pearly Everlasting, a pretty but often overlooked plant that frequently grows on old roadbeds, has started to bloom at the lower elevations. So has Showy Aster, with its egg-shaped, sandpapery leaves and its light purple flowerheads. A vigorous introduced species, Common St. John’s Wort, is now covering the dry slopes and disturbed sites it has invaded with bright yellow flowers. Its leaves, if held up to the light, show translucent spots, distinguishing it from the native, low-growing Western St. John’s Wort, a much prettier plant (in my opinion) that is frequently seen at higher elevations. Pipsissewa is in bloom, and you may find it easy to overlook the small, white flowerheads of Pathfinder, a common forb in moist woods. At the edge of a lake or wetland, you may see a Moose, possibly a cow with calves, wading in the water and feeding on aquatic plants. Admire her from a distance – a Moose can be aggressive, especially if she thinks you pose a threat to her young.
Beargrass continues to bloom in the high meadows, along with Birch-leaved Spirea, Fireweed, Lupines, Buckwheat, and several species of Lousewort and Penstemon. The heat of summer has arrived, and the air may be hazy from wildfires, forces of nature that have a long history of shaping the forests. Mountain Bluebirds, nesting in snags – some of which may be the results of a past wildfire – are feeding babies on protein-rich insects, especially beetles and grasshoppers.
By the end of July, Western St. John’s Wort is blooming in high elevation meadows, and the light blue, nodding flowers of Common Harebell are open. Look for the flat-topped pink flower clusters of Subalpine Spirea. In moist subalpine sites, Monkshood is showing its deep purple, hooded blooms, beautiful but quite poisonous if ingested. These same areas may be dotted with the white umbels of Canby’s Lovage, a member of the carrot family. You might see a pair of young White-tailed Deer tagging along with their mother. For the first three or four weeks after they were born, the fawns stayed hidden, and the doe visited them only to nurse. By now, they are very active, playing and learning about the world around them.
At lower elevations, Canada Goldenrod is showing its striking yellow flowerheads. In moist areas, you may see the pretty pink-purple blooms of the native Mountain Hollyhock contrasting with its large, maple-like leaves. This plant bears quite a resemblance to the domestic hollyhock. The seed cones of Douglas-fir and Western White Pine are ripening, and the Red Squirrels are active cutting the cones to store for winter. You may hear a noisy chatter interspersed with buzzy trills, as a flock of Pine Siskins passes by, moving from treetop to treetop in search of the same conifer seeds. I’ve also seen Chestnut-backed Chickadees, richly brown-backed relatives of the well-known Black-capped Chickadees, hovering at Douglas-fir cones, apparently feeding on the seeds. By now, many songbirds have fledged, and the avian chorus is much quieter. You may still hear birds making calls, but the singing of the breeding males is much less frequent than it was a few weeks ago. You may see a flock of Townsend’s Warblers, relatively silent except for occasional soft calls. The young have all fledged, and the birds are gleaning insects and other invertebrates from tree branches. Within a month, all or most will be gone for the year, en route to their wintering grounds in the far southern US, Mexico, or Central America.
By the second week in August, you may find clusters of six green, star-shaped fruits on the Pathfinder. The fruits and flower stalks of this plant are slightly sticky, an adaptation that allows the cylindrical green achenes to hitch a ride on wildlife, as well as human pant legs and wool socks. It’s quite amusing to see a Black Bear moving noisily down a slope, its shiny black coat covered with Pathfinder fruits. Subalpine Fir cones are ripening – you may find the evidence of a Red Squirrel’s meal, a pile of shucked cone scales, along a trail. Cow Parsnip, a robust member of the carrot family with broad, lobed leaves, is showing its large white flower umbels in the high meadows. In moister areas of these meadows, such as along small streams, Pink Monkey-flower may be advertising its reddish-pink, two-lipped flowers to the bees which pollinate it. The fruits of the Black Huckleberry are ripening at increasing elevations, and those on the lower slopes have mostly dried up. The large, berry-filled scat piles of Black and Grizzly Bears are quite evident to hikers and huckleberry pickers.
By mid to late August, it has become obvious that most birds are done breeding for the year, although a pair of Mourning Doves may still be incubating their second or third clutch of eggs. In riparian habitats down in the valleys, the Eastern Kingbirds, which are highly territorial during the nesting season, may be forming migrating flocks. Black clusters of Chokecherry drupes are ripe, attracting the Kingbirds, Cedar Waxwings, and many other species. In the subalpine meadows, you may see a large flock of sky-blue Mountain Bluebirds. Once the young Bluebirds have fledged, they and their parents flock with other families, and unsuccessful breeding pairs may join as well. Lower down the mountain, the upright, barrel-shaped cones of Grand Fir are ripening at the tops of these trees, providing another food source for Red Squirrels and other animals. Western Mountain-ash fruits are turning orange-red. Often many of these shrubs grow in moist subalpine sites, along with a closely related species, Sitka Mountain-ash, whose deep red fruits have a whitish bloom to them.
Scientific Names of the Species Mentioned
Oceanspray – Holodiscus discolor
Fireweed – Chamerion angustifolium
White-flowered Hawkweed – Hieracium albiflorum
Columbian Ground Squirrel – Urocitellus columbianus
Beargrass – Xerophyllum tenax
Buckwheat – Eriogonum spp.
Black Huckleberry – Vaccinium membranaceum
Black Bear – Ursus americanus
Grizzly Bear – Ursus arctos horribilis
Thimbleberry – Rubus parviflorus
Serviceberry – Amelanchier alnifolia
Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla cedrorum
American Robin – Turdus migratorius
Chipmunk – Tamias amoenus, T. ruficaudus
Pearly Everlasting – Anaphalis margaritacea
Showy Aster – Eurybia conspicua
Pipsissewa – Chimaphila umbellata
Pathfinder – Adenocaulon bicolor
Common St. John’s Wort – Hypericum perforatum
Western St. John’s Wort – Hypericum scouleri
Moose – Alces alces
Birch-leaved Spirea – Spiraea betulifolia
Lupine – Lupinus spp.
Lousewort – Pedicularis spp.
Penstemon – Penstemon spp.
Mountain Bluebird – Sialia currucoides
Common Harebell – Campanula rotundifolia
Subalpine Spirea – Spiraea splendens
Monkshood – Aconitum columbianum
Canby’s Lovage – Ligusticum canbyi
White-tailed Deer – Odocoileus virginianus
Canada Goldenrod – Solidago canadensis
Mountain Hollyhock – Iliamna rivularis
Douglas-fir – Pseudotsuga menziesii
Western White Pine – Pinus monticola
Red Squirrel – Tamiasciurus hudsonicus
Pine Siskin – Carduelis pinus
Chestnut-backed Chickadee – Poecile rufescens
Black-capped Chickadee – Poecile atricapillus
Townsend’s Warbler – Setophaga townsendi
Subalpine Fir – Abies lasiocarpa
Cow Parsnip – Heracleum sphondylium ssp. montanum
Pink Monkey-flower – Mimulus lewisii
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Eastern Kingbird – Tyrannus tyrannus
Chokecherry – Prunus virginiana
Grand Fir – Abies grandis
Western Mountain-ash – Sorbus scopulina
Sitka Mountain-ash – Sorbus sitchensis
Retrieved March 19, 2015 from the Integrated Taxonomic Information System on-line database, http://www.itis.gov.
References All About Birds. 2014. “Mountain Bluebird.” Accessed November 26. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mountain_bluebird/lifehistory. eBird. 2014. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Available: http://www.ebird.org. (Accessed: January 26, 2015). Ehrlich, Paul R., David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye. 1988. The Birder’s Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds. New York: Simon and Schuster. Elbroch, Mark, and Kurt Rinehart. 2011. Behavior of North American Mammals. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kasworm, Wayne, and Timothy Manley. 1988. Grizzly Bear and Black Bear Ecology in the Cabinet Mountains of Northwest Montana. Helena: Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. Accessed November 26, 2014. http://www.cfc.umt.edu/GrizzlyBearRecovery/pdfs/Kasworm%20and%20Manley%201988.pdf. Kershaw, Linda, Andy MacKinnon, and Jim Pojar. 1998. Plants of the Rocky Mountains. Edmonton, AB: Lone Pine Publishing. Kricher, John C. 1998. A Field Guide to Rocky Mountain and Southwest Forests. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. Murphy, Michael T. (1996). Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus). The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.), Ithaca: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online database: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/ Patterson, Patricia A., Kenneth E. Neiman, and Jonalea R. Tonn. 1985. Field Guide to Forest Plants of Northern Idaho. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-180. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station. Power, Harry W. and Michael P. Lombardo. (1996). Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides). The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.), Ithaca: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online database: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/ Reid, Fiona A. 2006. A Field Guide to Mammals of North America North of Mexico, 4th ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. Smith, Jane Kapler, and William C. Fischer. 1997. Fire Ecology of the Forest Habitat Types of Northern Idaho. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-GTR-363. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station. Wright, A. L., G. D. Hayward, S. M. Matsuoka, and P. H. Hayward. (1998). Townsend’s Warbler (Setophaga townsendi).The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.), Ithaca: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online database: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/