Western Montana Lodge Abounds in Wildlife

Guests to our Western Montana Lodge this week were treated to numerous opportunities to view - and sometimes interact - with wildlife. John and Carol, repeat and welcome guests from Colorado, shared the adventures of their hike up to Hidden Lake and regions beyond with us at dinner last night. Carol, a talented artist who returns from her daily excursions with copious notes and delightful drawings, told us of their encounters with a couple of Wood duck families as well as the other varieties of wildlife.

Of course, the dining room is often the gathering place of a home, and it is no different at our Western Montana Lodge. As Carol and John enjoyed their dinner, the rest of the dinner guests -including me - enjoyed the retelling of the day. Carol told of the Wood duck family they observed on Hidden Lake. A proud mother, with 10 little fluff balls barely out of the egg, led her family away from the shoreline as they approached. However, rounding a corner she spotted a couple of Red-Necked Grebes in their line of travel. Startled, and obviously alarmed, she began scolding her chicks - obviously telling them to turn around. When the chicks failed to react post-haste, the alarmed Mother kicked water in their faces to force their retreat. This violent action sent the frightened chicks rushing back the way they had come with Mom herding them from behind. Of course, all of us wanted to know if Red-Necked Grebes were an enemy to Wood ducks - since both are water birds. Unfortunately no one knew. And so, the mystery will remain until we find someone who can give a plausible explanation for the Mother's anxiety.

Further down the trail, our hikers ran into - almost literally - another Wood Duck and her chicks. The duck was startled, but so was Carol. What was this duck doing so far from the water? - at this point they were quite a distance from the water back in the woods. Whatever her reason, the Mother duck immediately went into protection mode, creating quite a racket and pretending she was injured to draw the 'predator' away from her helpless chicks. However, her chicks still need to take 'Predator Survival 101' since they made more racket than their Mother, thus drawing the attention to themselves in spite of her antics.

A pit stop at Otter Lake offered the opportunity to observe a Sandhill Crane on her nest and a few of the large illusive trout which live in this crystal clear pool. Thanks to Carol's attention to detail and her ability to draw - along with her detailed notes - we were able to determine the species of the fish. Brook trout. Wow! With Cutthroats in Elk, Rainbows in Hidden, and Browns in Wade and Cliff, the discovery of Brookies in Otter was quite a surprise.

On down the trail a bit further and John and Carol told us they found themselves in a large meadow following a beautiful stream which lead on to the north. Here they found a Trumpeter Swan on her nest, some nesting Herons, and a large variety of other bird species. Their tales definitely left me wishing I'd been with them rather than working on their dinner in the kitchen!

No sooner had they finished their story and another guest piped up to tell us of his encounter with an Elk calf that very morning. This guest, Kurt, told of his trip down Elk Lake Road early that morning. Apparently, the mother Elk had been a bit remiss, ordering her young, wobbly-legged offspring to lie quietly on the edge of the road. Afraid the little guy might get injured, Kurt and his buddies got out of their rig and attempted to shoo the little fellow off the road. However, this fellow, who looked only a few hours old, had already passed his "Predator Survival 101" course. He refused to move!

I will attest to his Mother's rescue, however, as I had no such encounter when I went down the road a few hours later. Darn!

This truly is an amazing time of year here in the Centennial Valley. Babies are popping up everywhere! The wildlife is numerous, and the opportunities to view and interact with nature abound. I can't wait for my chance to take a walk on the wild side.

Lady of the Lake

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