Summer Sleuthing - Can you spot these four things at Vermejo? — Ted Turner Reserves
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Summer Sleuthing – Can you spot these four things at Vermejo?

By Deann McBride and Sara Holm

Summer is the season when Vermejo comes alive in every way. Bright green fields and forests stretch as far as the eye can see, dotted with a kaleidoscope of wildflowers. Bees, butterflies, and birds flit from tree to tree and blossom to blossom. Wildlife is busy finding nourishment and families, friends, and couples bring a buzz of excitement to the air. If you wander through the lodge, Casa Grande, or anywhere around Vermejo you’ll hear people talking about the bison and elk, the bears and the lakes, and the cutthroat trout. Of course, we love them all. As you take in the vastness and variety of landscapes here, we hope you’ll look even closer and see these and so many more small creatures and subtle sights and sounds that come together to create Vermejo’s natural magic. Here are a few of our favorites this season. Now let’s get outside and go exploring.


Rocky Mountain Iris

It’s hard to miss the dusty purple blossoms of the Rocky Mountain iris which often blooms from late spring through mid-summer at Vermejo.  The scientific name indicates ‘from the Missouri’ – in this case, the Missouri River in western Montana. The Rocky Mountain Iris was named by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1806.  Also known as the Western blue flag, it grows in slightly wetter locations of montane grasslands, along riparian areas, and in wetlands including Castle Rock Park.  Summer in the high country of Vermejo often brings fields filled with these brightly colored beauties. The plants spread from rhizomes, or underground stems with nodes, to send out new shoots to start offspring.  The iris’ rhizomes are poisonous, and the leaves are tough and not often eaten by bison and elk, but the flowers provide nectar for the native broad-tailed hummingbird. Other flowers to look for are bright orange Indian paintbrush and yellow and brown coneflowers that tend to line the roadways in some parts of Vermejo.


Boreal Chorus Frog

If you hear the chirping sound of frogs at Vermejo it’s likely these little singers. Boreal chorus frogs are tiny, only 0.5 to 1.5 inches in length. But their song is very loud. They can be heard up to a distance of 1,000 ft or more!  The male frogs inflate a vocal sac to project their call.  Chorus frogs can survive bitterly cold temperatures and are freeze tolerant overwintering under vegetation, logs, or in shallow mud.  Sometimes they even freeze solid and then thaw out in the spring, and go right back to their normal froggy lives. That’s a pretty great trick! Because of their small size, the frogs are more often heard than seen.  The frogs lay eggs, dark in color and about 1mm in diameter, in mostly still water including ponds or pools in streams.  You can often hear them on the Fitness Trail by the reed-filled pond near the Game Barn at Vermejo. The frogs are currently listed in New Mexico as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Here’s a sample of their song.


Damselflies and Dragonflies (Which is which?)

These brightly colored bugs are fun to watch at Vermejo’s lakes, stream pools, and ponds. Can you tell the difference between the two? Dragonflies have eyes that nearly touch, often a thicker body, and rear wings that are wider than front wings. These wings stay out to the side of the dragonfly when it is perched on vegetation. Damselflies have a small gap between their eyes, a thinner body shape, and wings of similar size that may fold back along the body when not in flight.  Damselflies and dragonflies are important organisms in wetland, fluvial (river), and lacustrine (lake) food webs, eating flying and aquatic insects including mosquitos, flies, moths, and beetles. They are in turn, eaten by fish, frogs, and birds. Some specific varieties are bluets, darners, dancers, skimmers, and meadowhawks. They have unique and diverse colorings that are as fun as their names.



Most of us hope to see a mountain lion while we’re at Vermejo, but only a lucky few spot one of these sneaky cats. While catching a glimpse of any wild feline is rare, bobcats are a common predator at Vermejo and are more likely to be seen. The spotted cat has tufted ears like its relative, the lynx.  Bobcats also have striped markings on their face, are smaller weighing approximately 15 – 40 pounds, and have a ‘bob’ or short tail giving the cat its common name. The often-curious cats are frequently seen in the ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests but live in most ecosystems on Vermejo.  Bobcats have a much smaller territory than mountain lions and usually prey on rodents, rabbits, turkeys, snakes, and insects.  The cats in turn may become prey to mountain lions, coyotes, golden eagles, and owls.


We can’t wait to hear how your search goes. Tell us about your adventures and share your photos and videos. You can tag us @tedturnerreserves #Vermejo #SaveEverything.