Cooper and I mosey into the prairie just after daybreak. For the first time in days gentle westerly breezes caress our advance. What a relief from the 40-50 mph pummeling, dust clouds and range fires of the last several days.
Yesterday’s brief snow flurries and overnight temperatures near freezing once again slow the pace of spring. As I amble along, working out the last kinks before my morning jog I come across several Purple Locoweed (astralagus mollissimus) clumps. They seem to weather the cold quite well. The first wildflowers of the season. This deceptive beauty also known as Woolly Locoweed and Rattleweed is harmful to livestock. Animals can get addicted to it. A small amount can be fatal to horses. The toxic allkaloid called swainsonine in the plant attacks the nervous system of grazing animals. As a member of the pea family, it produces kidney-shaped seeds which rattle when mature. Hence its moniker "Rattleweed". The plant is quite fuzzy in appearance, which invites dramatic backlighting effects in photos.
In the meantime Cooper streaks across the cool morning plain in search of playmates. He has limited success in rousting several Desert Cottontails, which in usual fashion escape his pounce by diving into the nearest Black-tailed Prairie Dog burrow. The prairie dogs appear to heckle his exploits and cheer the rabbit Houdinis with short barks from the safety of their burrow rims.
I pause to watch a light-morph Swainson’s Hawk (buteo swainsonii) soar overhead. The dark leading edges of its wings contrast the mostly white underparts and the morning light emphasizes the reddish bib of feathers on its chest. My heart soars, my soul longs for such freedom.
© Ilija Lukić 2011