If You Only Have Eyes To See

What a day! Yesterday, in spite of a recent abundance of gray skies and showers, was WONDERFUL! Oh, we got a few sprinkles, but overall it was a dream day. Blue skies. Puffy clouds. A bit of wind. Perfect!

But, the weather really wasn't the highlight. It was the hike I enjoyed with one special repeat guest and one new employee which made the day for me - actually for us all. And, as I sat on the banks of a small mountain lake I realized, many would pass this by because they lack the eyes to see the beauty and the patience to wait for nature to reveal itself.

For us, however, nature delighted us even before we really got started.

Our itinerary began with a short drive to Hidden Lake. From there we planned to walk around Hidden into the Lost Mine Canyon and on down to Goose and Otter Lakes. Little did we know we would enjoy the sight of five trumpeter swans before we reached the trailhead.

Yes, two beautiful white birds flew overhead while three graceful swimmers followed their reflections across the tarn's surface. After a brief awe-struck silence we continued on to the trailhead.

As we walked along a trail more heavily traversed by elk and moose than humans this time of year, we relished the sights and sounds of a pair of Red-Necked Grebes on the nearby water. We identified several species of ducks keeping them company. Then rounding a bend, we came upon the saddest sight the day would bring - the carcass of a bear cub, dead for probably a month or more.

Passing Hidden Lake we continued down Lost Mine Canyon to an amazing discovery! Every time I had passed Goose Lake (including two years ago following a wonderful snowy winter) it had been nothing more than a lily-pad covered pond. However, as we rounded the curve and the lake came into view, I gasped in surprise. Instead of lily pad pond I gazed upon a crystal clear little mountain lake!

Whether this new treasure is the result of the wet winter followed by a wet, cool spring or something else, I don't know. As I studied the lake (something I'd never been tempted to do before), I found the original shoreline still a good 3 - 4 feet above its current level. Obviously this little lake was substantially larger in years past.

Creavices and holes in the nearby hillside suggest the past existence of some decent springs. They appear to have flowed into the east side of the lake, just south of the current outlet. Sadly they show no recent activity.

Much of the creek outlet is covered by a large thick mat of vegetation - a favorite hang out for a lavish bug-eating bird dinner. There is an old beaver dam across the outlet (another is located on the shore south of this location). Although it is currently occupied (due to the increased water levels maybe?), there is no sign of new construction.

The lake's outlet is at least three to four feet wide at its inception and probably six to eight inches deep. Like much of the lake floor, the water flows over an orange and gold base streaked with green highlights. As it levels out in the small meadow below and to the east of the lake, it appears to begin seeping into the ground. Flowing in a question mark shape (from bottom to top) for a dozen yards or so, it then disappears into two holes in the rocks.

While we sat on the sidelines, the fish put on quite a show. At one point, Felicia was watching (through the binoculars) a spot where a fish had just jumped. Imagine her surprise when another jumped right in her face - or so it appeared due to the magnification. She got a good look, however. She described the fish as being about 18 inches long, silver with a pink stripe and black dots - Rainbow Trout anyone?

The water served only to liquify the gold and orange colors so prevalent on the lake's bottom. Most of the lake floor is rocky (unlike Otter lake which sports numerous vegetation mats) with some deeper green holes. When we arrived, the fish seemed to be hanging near these deeper pools. However, as time passed, they ventured out. In fact, before we left I took a picture of a school of 25 - 35 fish near the shore. They appeared to be in the 10 - 15 inch range (although viewing any object through the water can be deceiving).

The 'birds of the day' were the Audobon Warblers. These colorful and curious little birds were abundant. In fact, the longer we lingered the more curious they became. Perched on nearby trees, stumps, logs, and even sturdy grasses they studied us with as much solemnity as such a bright fellow could muster. One even chased a buggy snack at Felicia's feet.

This delightful lake also supports a variety of duck species. We observed a Mallard pair, a Bufflehead pair, a Cinnamon Teal pair, and a lone Blue Winged Teal (apparently they cross-bread with the Cinnamon Teal). A muskrat also makes its home here. We watched it swim 20 - 30 out from shore, numerous times, dive for something, then swim back again. With its hind legs churning the water, our furry friend looked much like a young swimmer leaving a frothy trail.

Numerous Spotted Sandpipers danced, bobbed, and dipped along the shore in their quest for bugs. One pair decided to vie for the same grass mat. This only lasted briefly as the more dominate bird fluffed its feathers and appeared to 'mock-charge' its competition. Although it looked like a bluff to me, sandpiper number two must have taken it seriously.

We spotted a large dead tree near the outlet stream with two large apparently abandoned nests and several nest holes. No birds visited the nests while we were there. However, I suspect they may be old osprey nests. They weren't big enough for eagles, but two ospreys were in the area. In fact, we had the pleasure of watching them drive another hawk (which we were unable to identify) from what we suspect is their current nesting area south-west of the lake.

Another delight was watching a Caspian Tern catching lunch. This large winged bird circled, hovered, and swooped repeatedly. It dove twice, hitting the water with a splash. The second time it came up with a two to three inch fish in its beak (unlike the Osprey who catches the fish in its talons). It shook off briefly while flying, swallowed its lunch, skimmed the water for a drink, shook again, and flew away.

To our delight, numerous tree swallows also skimmed the water as well as danced and dove overhead. In a fir tree nearby a Wilson's Warbler sang us a song. Robins added a background chorus while ocassional hawk cries provided the accents. A bald eagle even flew by to check us out.

The weather changed as we headed toward Otter Lake with a brief shower slowing down the wildlife action. In spite of that we enjoyed viewing several local residents.

Of course the fish continued to dance and spin, flashing their colors as the scattered rain drops dimpled the water's surface. A pair of ducks puzzled us briefly until we realized they were both female Buffleheads. Another over-the-top highlight awaited, however, just around the corner.

Two rusty-orange sandhill crane chicks, about twelve inches tall, wandered near the water's edge. Mom and Pop, vigilantly alert, spotted our careful approach. Fading back into the nearby timber, they were uncharacteristically silent as they paced, sentinal-like, watching us with wary eyes. One lonely chick, suddenly deserted, looked around with a puzzled look on its downy face. You could almost hear it saying, "Hey, where did everybody go?"

After several minutes and numerous attempts to cross a log barring their path, the two chicks joined their parents in the timber. As they swiftly toddled out of sight behind their stately parents, I wiped the goosebumps off my arms but didn't bother to touch the grin splitting my face.

The trip back up the valley yielded a bold Yellow-Bellied Marmot who posed for several shots. Turning from side to side he reminded me of a movie star, showing his best side, proud of his good looks. One more delight awaited just down the trail. A pair of Red-Necked Grebes were nesting in a secluded cove. As we approached, several ducks flew away. A lone grebe, however, non-challantly swam around before diving into the deep green waters. As we stood silently, he popped back to the surface his mouth full of nesting material. With head high he carried his burden to the floating nest where his mate incubated their eggs. What an eye opening experience! Now I know why the grebe's floating nest disappears once their young are hatched! What an amazing example of team work! What an incredible day!

Lady of the Lake

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