Last weekend I went to explore the alpine tundra of Utah's Uinta Mountains with Craig Fosdick and Carl Stiefel. The alpine tundra holds a number of species that are unique to that habitat. In particular, we were in search of White-tailed Ptarmigan, a species none of us had ever seen before.
We camped at about 9600 ft. elevation, in a stand of Lodgepole Pine. Several mountain species were common here, such as Mountain Chickadees, but I was surprised at how many American Three-toed Woodpeckers we saw - we had at least five at one time!
On Saturday we started early and hiked through more pine forest up into the alpine tundra, where we hoped to find the ptarmigan. On the way up, we heard a couple of Pine Grosbeaks, only the second time I've encountered this species, and saw several Gray Jays, another specialty of high-elevation habitats. We later saw a Northern Goshawk in this same habitat, and I had seen a Northern Flying Squirrel in this habitat the night before. Several Townsend's Warblers were also seen here on their way to their wintering grounds.
At the top we saw several alpine tundra specialties. Pikas live in open boulder fields, and have to be among the cutest mammals. The flyover Golden Eagle and Northern Harrier would have gladly taken one as a meal, though. America Pipits were common up top, at about 11,500 ft., and breed here in the summer.
Although the hike was beautiful and included several animals that are only found at high elevations, we never found our target species, the White-tailed Ptarmigan. But that just gives us a reason to go back. (As if we needed one!)