Summer Returns To The Centennial

While I may not always notice the wildlife's departure in the fall, I certainly relish their return in the spring. Of course many critters remain in the valley year round. For some winter is life as usual (with a few extra challenges thrown in). For others it is the ultimate nap. For others it is travel time - from summer grounds to winter grounds and back again.

One way or the other, the onset of winter and the arrival of spring affect the valley wildlife. One of my favorite times of year is spring. If you have never lived in snow country, it may be hard to imagine the metamorphosis which occurs.

As the snow melts, brown grass is revealed. With the departure of the beautiful white snow, everything appears drab, dead, and lifeless. Then the sun's warmth works its miracle. As if by magic the brown grass turns green. Slowly the sun coaxes vitality into the bare, lifeless tree branches, and soon we are surrounded by varied shades of green. Next come the first wildflowers. Sprinklings of yellow (Early Buttercups) and blue (Leafy Bluebells) and white (Phlox) are the first to appear.

Then I start looking for the animals. Of course some have been trickling in for the last few weeks, seemingly on the trail of the first tender shoots of the new, green grass. However, once the landscape has undergone its dramatic change, the animals just seem to appear - back in their old haunts.

The mule deer on the hillside above the spring. The elk on the higher ridge tops. The pronghorn on the valley floors. Bear scat on my hiking trail. A wolf kill just south of the lake.

With each new arrival my heart leaps a little higher. It is as though I am enjoying a visit from well-loved friends. The first elk sighting cannot help but stir my blood. Stumbling across my first fawn, hunkered down and oh so still against the forest floor can bring tears to my eyes. Seeing the first pronghorn young bouncing gaily beside their mothers on legs resembling match-sticks always brings a smile.

However, before I enjoy these anticipated summer pleasures, I revel in the birds and squirrels and chipmunks which appear even before the summer is in full swing. Regardless of the weather, I know summer is here when I wake to the Tree Swallow's chit and chatter. Being serenaded by a House Wren while I hang fresh laundry - ahhh, what could be sweeter. The rat-a-tat-tat of a Woodpecker or Yellow-Bellied Sap Sucker punctuates my hikes. The thump-thump-thump of a grouse tells me the game birds have returned. The familiar tunes of a fat, red breasted Robin perched in a nearby willow. The sweet chorus which begins before the sun caresses the hilltops and continues until it has long passed below the horizon. These are the sights and sounds of summer!

This past weekend we were privileged to host a group from the Montana Audobon Society. A group of 23 people were here for the sole purpose of enjoying the Centennial Valley's beauty and serenity and wildlife. While they spent much of their time in the wide open spaces which make up the Red Rock Lake's National Wildlife Refuge, they also enjoyed traversing the local hillsides seeking glimpses of the many birds (and the various game) which spend their summers in our backyard.

And, while they managed to hear and / or see over 120 species in their day and a half search, I stayed home and enjoyed the birds which came to visit me. I do believe both of us were equally blessed in our encounters with nature.

One of the leaders, Bob Martinka, has a passion for birds (and even insects) and a great hand with the camera. You might enjoy reading his rundown of the weekend as well as perusing the photographic images he captured during his stay in the Centennial. His blog, Bird Man Bob, is fairly new but very interesting. Check it out!

Well, I must run. There are birds to listen to and animals to watch and a brief summer to enjoy to its fullest.

Lady of the Lake

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