Around The Area - Part 2

There is just SO MUCH to see. I am often amazed at the diversity and abundance which surround me. While these photos were not taken at Elk Lake, they were (Montana speaking) in our extended back yard. Most of these photos came from the upper Madison Valley and just a little further down the road.

Looking at these photos I stand amazed. It is no secret. We have enjoyed an abundant snow year followed by a wet, cool spring. Nonetheless, all these photos were taken in April. Most are wildlife - however there is beauty to be found everywhere, at least if one has a discerning eye. We are trying to make ours discerning!

Yellowstone National Park, even at its best, cannot begin to produce elk sightings to rival the upper Madison Valley from about December to (typically) early April. Numerous herds of hundreds of animals are a normal sight. The long lasting snow, this year, pushed the elk closer to town than I have ever seen them. This photo, taken only a few miles from town, shows the elk grazing alongside domestic horses.

Just because these elk spend their winter in fairly close proximity to humans, does not mean they are in any way 'tame'. I've seen elk in YNP continue grazing while humans approached within a few yards. Not so with these animals. While occasionally herds are seen grazing, apparently unconcerned, close to Highway 287, this apparent 'ease' around humans disappears the moment a car stops. As you can see from this elk's body language, she is anything BUT comfortable with our presence. In fact this shot was snapped right before she jumped to her feet.

Sphinx Mountain is not only the most distinctive peak in the Madison Range, it also has a special place in my heart after my trip last fall around its base. While elk are often the animal we go to see, the Madison Valley (this time of year) abounds with a surprising wildlife variety. Pronghorn, while not as abundant as the elk, are still seen in many areas along the road. To catch the two (Sphinx and Pronghorn) together just added to the pleasure of the photo.

These three pronghorn bucks paused for a photo shoot as we traversed one of the back roads which wind through this beautiful valley.

I am no Pelican 'fan' - at least not when they desend upon our local lakes and streams in huge flocks. However, they serve their purpose - and they are a unique and fascinating bird. Nonetheless I am thankful few visit Elk or Hidden Lakes. I found these birds fishing the Madison River.

Deer are also frequently seen in the valley through winter and into early spring. While one might expect to see more White-tail than Mule Deer, this is not the case - at least this time of year. Mule Deer herds are a common sight along the back roads (and even close to Highway 287) in the spring.

While Pelicans do not top my favorites list, we did enjoy several sightings of one of my favorite large birds. I always feel compeled to pause and listen to the Sandhill's haunting cry. A good friend who spends a LOT of time in the Park has reported the return of many pairs this year - but not a single nest in sight. Let's hope this does not negatively impact the sandhill numbers.

Here is a beautiful bird which also boasts a distincitve cry. However, I admit, I have never seen one in the Centennial Valley nor in Yellowstone National Park. However, they are residents of the Madison Valley.

Lest you think I forgot what I'd said about a 'discerning eye', here are a couple of shots to prove we were paying attention. Apparently farm auctions are not slowed by cool, spring weather. We drove past this one early in the day. When we came back by, everything was cleared out except these two tractors - an almost comical picture of then and now!

It seemed only appropriate to end - at the end! Sometimes we forget how much the farmer and rancher has impacted this area. Those tractors are not just expensive toys. These cattle are not just one man's hobby. It is the farmer and rancher who have preserved this land. It is the farmer's and rancher's land which feeds and provides for the elk, deer, and pronghorn I've shown above. Thus, my hat's off to the Montana men and women who have played such a VITAL role in keeping my extended backyard such a delightful place to visit!

Lady of the Lake

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