5/18/2010


The Valley Wakes Up - Early May In the Centennial


In keeping with the theme from my last post, I decided to give a 'day-by-day' narrative of what I see and hear on my hikes this time of year. Before I start, I encourage you to keep in mind, 7,000 feet is a long way up! Thus one year spring can come quickly (although never quickly enough when compared to the rest of the world) and another it can come late (which means REALLY late). This year I'd say was a moderately early year. Thus the sights and sounds I've enjoyed this past week are normal but may come a week or two earlier or later in other years .


Since returning to the valley, I have enjoyed new sights and sounds every day. Unfortunately because I did the unthinkable (I must be getting old, I've never done this before!) - I came back without one camera - I cannot 'prove' some of this narrative. However, I'm already busy making up for lost time.


Day One: Today I took a walk with the family and the dogs south along the lake. While I did not expect to see more than a few ducks on the small area of open water at the south end, I hoped we'd see some tracks left by elk crossing the road heading for higher ground. Unfortunately the wind was stiff (so stiff it blew over semi-trucks, signs, and trees and even removed a few roofs just north of here) and the blowing dust on the road left few tracks. Nonetheless, the day was not without entertainment. A buzzard (a rare sight in this area) appeared to be late for a very important date!


For whatever reason, this buzzard just HAD to go south - directly into the wind. While I have observed numerous birds flying backward when trying to buck a stiff head wind, this bird looked more like a drunk sailer on a pitching deck. He dipped and dived, even flipped upside down more than once, all the while taking 2 steps forward and 3 steps back. We all had a good laugh (in between cringing when it looked like he was about to run into a tree or crash into the hillside). Amazing. Last I saw he was pointed south (sort-of) and flying brisking north!



As I mentioned earlier, this time of year is always amazing. From silence to sound. From dead to alive. And so, each day, I listen for new sounds and look for new species - primarily of the feathered variety. Today I saw my first bluebird.


Day Two: Today the family and I took a walk up Narrows Creek. The pond is thawed (the lake is not) and the ducks have returned. I identified a pair of mallards and a pair of buffleheads before they moved to the far side (or flew away - I guess four people and two dogs were just too much). On up the draw we ran across some old bear tracks in a snow drift. Nothing fresh, however.



The dogs and I searched for a den I'd found last year. No success! However, the dogs did find a what looked to be a coyote den (based on the tracks around it) in progress. I wonder if their presence will stop the critter from denning there. I hope not. I always hate to disturb the wildlife.


Rather than retrace our steps, we decided to head up over the ridge and take a look at the north end of the lake. A good stiff climb always gets the heart pumping, and after spending a few weeks at a lower elevation, I could tell my lungs weren't quite up to snuff.


Gaining the top of the ridge we turned south. My hubby spotted a lone elk down the hill in a patch of timber. He cow talked to it a little. It turned and looked, but obviously just wondered what we were. A Red-tail Hawk. A few ducks. Several Robins. And, my first Kingfisher rounded out the day.



Day Three: While I didn't walk today, we did spot an otter on the lake's ice and I watched the bluebirds checking out their nest. Hopefully they make up their mind before the Tree Swallows return. While the swallows are a favorite of mine, I do love to have the Bluebirds nesting right outside my dining room window.


Day Four: Took a walk by myself today. The wind was kicking up quite a fuss so most of the birds appeared to be hunkered down in the trees. I walked north today, up the road then along the top of the ridge to the west of the lake. I saw a few fresh squirrel and rabbit tracks (it snowed early this morning - about an inch) in the fresh snow. I glimpsed a smaller hawk but was unable to identify it - outside of gathering it was not a red-tail.


Day Five: This was a great morning for a walk. A bit brisk (about 15 degrees when I left the lodge), but no wind and brilliant early morning sun. I decided to head up the first draw off Narrows Creek and see where I ended up. Climbing the draw I was again reminded it was early spring. While manya areas are now snow free, the bottom of these narrow draws still hold some large drifts.



Reaching the junction - go south? go north? keep heading west? - I opted for sunshine which meant west. Popping out of the trees into the sage brush I really didn't expect to see much. However, the sun sure felt nice on my cold face.


Sure enough, nothing but sage covered hillsides with a scattering of snow drifts on the north slope. However, I was able to ascertain the Upper Lake's ice was disappearing faster than that on Elk Lake. It appeared to be about 1/2 gone.


Not one to walk without at least 'looking' for a little excitement, I decided to drop down into Horse Creek and at least check out the creek's flow. The ridge drops steeply as you drop down into the canyon. With the sun behind me and the dogs close by, I began the decent still debating whether I really wanted to drop back down into the shadows (and cold).


My decision was made for me. Just over the edge I nearly walked into three elk. I was literally about 50 feet away when I realized they were there. As I told my family when I returned, "They were fake elk. They couldn't see. They couldnt' hear. They couldn't smell." But they could move. At least one of them. The one, I believe a cow (I think I was looking at two cows and a last year's calf), lifted her head a looked at me - or so it seemed.



Apparently, with no wind and the sun to my back, they could not smell me (or the dogs) and were blinded by the sun when they looked at me. So, as I said above, I hate to disturb the wildlife. This meant, as quietly as possible I beat a hasty retreat. Fortunately the dogs were as sight-less and nose-less as the elk. Thus I turned east, heading along the ridge top, back toward the lodge.


Elk weren't the only things enjoying the warm sun on the ridgetop. The grouse were there in force. Rosie, the 'bird dog' (who is scared to death of gunshots), was thrilled to flush four grouse (one from nearly under my feet). I suspect they were munching on the early Buttercups which the sun had coaxed from the cold earth.



Day Six: Today the family and I took a little excursion. Snow blocked our progress everywhere but on the main roads (which is boring) so we decided to check the willows for sheds. My brother-in-law found a nice shed a few years back at the north end of the lake - so we decided to see if we could have the same success. No luck. We did find several carcasses (something munched down on several deer?? this last fall). Numerous ducks and 1 goose plied the open water nearby.


I saw my first kestral of the season as well as my first (and a lone which is also a first sighting for me) sandhill crane. We also managed to get too close to a couple of Marmots who let us know they were not pleased with our presence.


Day Seven: Today we made our weekly trek out for supplies. While riding is not nearly as much fun as walking, it does mean we covered more ground. During our excursion today we saw 7 moose (two were calves which was great news), several small bunches of elk as well as some lone animals, about 200 pelicans (on Henry's Lake - thankfully - I enjoy seeing a couple, but that many on Elk would make me nervous), three sandhill cranes, 5 eagles (3 mature and 2 immature), Red Tail Hawks, Swainson's Hawks and (I think) a Cooper's Hawk and my first Osprey.


We also spotted eight pronghorn, one buck was hanging out alone by the south end of the lake. We also spotted several flocks of black birds and a few new duck species (one, I believe, was a Canvasback). I also saw my first swallows of the season - a true sign spring has finally arrived.


And so the week came to an end. Sunshine. Snow. Birds. Wildlife. It all blends together to make like a wonderful adventure here at Elk Lake.