Setting Up House!

The birds are at it. The big game are doing it too. We're even putting our hand to the same plow. What do we have in common with our wild neighbors? Putting our house in order!

It's that time of year again. Time to get things put in order and ready to go. With the slow spring, it seems like everywhere I turn I see signs of some critter setting up house or knee-deep in baby-raising.

We've seen or heard of baby moose, baby elk, baby deer, and baby pronghorn. While some birds are still setting up house, some (like the Robins who nested at Cabin 5) have their young nearly grown.

With all this industry going on around us, we couldn't just sit around and watch. Thus here at Elk Lake Resort we have been busy getting things in order.

Although our employees had a hard time getting here (courtesy of Beaverhead County Road Department), they have arrived and are working together like a well-oiled machine. Boy am I glad!

No matter how much time I spend enjoying God's creation, I continue to gain new insights and appreciation for the way He made it to adapt to challenges. I wondered (in an earlier blog) how our late spring would effect the wildlife. Well, it seems to have done so in several obvious and I'm sure many not-so-obvious ways.

One - no one has reported seeing more than one calf per cow or one fawn per doe. That doesn't mean they aren't there - it just means they aren't very prevalent. While some birds - particularly the little guys - appear to be here in abundance (and many are nesting), some of the larger birds appear to have suffered.

Take the Lesser Scaup. Plagued by issues, many still unknown, outside the valley, the Scaup who summer here have seemed to lead a charmed life. Until this year. Although I haven't heard the final findings, the consensus seemed to be leaning toward the long hard winter followed by a long cool spring. Whatever the causes, several Scaup died this spring.

In addition, our local Osprey don't appear to have nested. I haven't seen our resident eagles, either. Although the variety of ducks seems to be up, nests appear to be down as well.

Of course, all this could be because everything is running a little behind schedule. Or it could be due to other non-weather related 'natural' causes. Take the 'favorite' nesting hole behind Cabin 3. Would you believe a Red-Naped Sapsucker, a House Wren, and a Tree Swallow are all arguing over the same hole? True enough! They are hilarious to watch. In the meantime, however, time marches on and our short summer keeps step.

It always amazes me when I think about all I learn watching nature. Take the Red-Neck Grebes. Last year we had a pair nest across the lake from the dock. I'd see them whenever I took out the kayak - the female on her floating nest tucked under a dead tree. The male always nearby.

I watched their progress carefully, hoping for a chance to see the young grebes once they'd hatched. You might imagine my amazement when, one day, I come floating by in my kayak to check on their progress only to find no birds; no nest!

It was with relief I spotted Momma and her crew a day or two later. At least I knew nothing had happened to the family. However, I have wondered many times since what happened to the nest. Well, I gained a little insight into this enigma the other day at Hidden Lake.

Although it wasn't easy to verify my 'find' on the web - most common Grebe sites do not mention this phenomenon - I learned why the Grebe nest disappeared last summer.

I already knew the Grebe's built a floating nest attached to nearby vegetation to keep it in place. What I didn't know, until my experience at Hidden Lake, was how they maintained the nest.

Watching the nesting pair the other day, I noticed something unusual. Papa Grebe doesn't just hang around and look pretty. In fact, he's a very active fellow.

As I watched the other day, Mr. Grebe dove down into the lake's green waters. Moments later he popped back to the surface with a bill full of 'weeds'? Yes, weeds. He to the nearby nest and deposited his bill-ful with care. Mystery solved!

Apparently (and it makes good sense) the Grebe's nest looses buoyancy at a regular pace. To maintain a useable nest, the Grebe's add to the pile regularly. So, when they leave the nest, with no one to replenish its sinking material, it quickly succombs to the water's weight.

But, have you ever found one answer often leads to another question? Now I'm wondering what happens to those eggs? Does Momma move them regularly to the reinforced sections of the nest to keep them from sinking into the water? I suspect I'll have to spend a lot more time watching to solve that puzzle. But, then again, what a wonderful way to spend a day (should I manage to get that much extra together)!

Of course, the wildlife and the humans at Elk Lake aren't the only things making good use of our lovely early summer weather. The fields are sprinkled with the ever-moving color spots we call butterflies. New wildflowers appear each day turing the meadows into colorful kaleidoscopes. The fish swim by in schools - obviously on the hunt of good spawning grounds or fresh bug hatches. The trees wink and shimmer showing off their new clothes.

The view from my front porch (or back or side or wherever I turn my eye) has to be about the prettiest thing on God's green earth. Just another reason why I'm glad to be the,

Lady of the Lake


Little Did I Know!

I've always been under the impression our Forest Lands were the property of the people. Granted, it seemed like a 'few' loud voices often over-rode the majority who had less powerful friends, but I operated under the impression that, in general, these wild, wide-open spaces were the property of the people for the pleasure of the people. WRONG!

If you, too, are suffering under this illusion, read on. I believe this post, although not what I'd intended to 'celebrate' this week, will open your eyes. I also hope it makes you mad. Because, unless we, as the American people, stand together against this kind of thing, we will forfeit yet another freedom and reliquished yet another precious 'right'.

Yesterday I received word the USFS has decided Elk Lake will soon become a no-wake lake. Let me rephrase that - one man with some power within the local USFS has decided that Elk Lake will soon become a no-wake lake. Now, I don't have a problem with making Elk Lake a no-wake lake - at least in theory. I love the quiet. I know many who come to enjoy the fishing - or canoeing - or kayaking. However, I also know there are folks out there who enjoy water sports on the few hot days of summer we get in our high mountain valley.

However, the heart of the issue, for me, is access. It is similar to the wolf issue. I don't believe one has to be a wolf-hater or a wolf-lover. I don't think a person who can see both sides of an issue is therefore, by definition, 'a fence-sitter'.

On the contrary. I believe this world is made up of a lot of people. I believe we are surrounded by many complex issues. I believe the people who think, read, and study enable themselves to make difference for this very reason - they are more aware of both sides of an issue.

Thus, although I prefer a canoe to a speed boat, a kayak to a jet ski, or a quiet stroll along a lake's shore to chasing a boat around that same lake with a board strapped to my foot, I don't for a moment think my feelings represent those of every living, breathing US citizen to whom Elk Lake belongs. In addition, I am also well aware this beautiful lake has a way of setting its own cycles.

Unlike Hidden Lake which is pretty consistent throught the season, the fishing at Elk Lake is best in the early summer and from late summer to ice-up. A brief, month-long warm spell (usually mid-July to mid-August) the lake is suitable for water sports. As a result, the lake has controlled its usage well.

Now, however, one man who works for (and obviously has some power in) the US Forest Service, has decided he knows best. In fact, he not only knows best, he has the power to make his opinion not only heard but felt. He has decided Elk Lake should be a no-wake lake - regardless (or in spite of) what others may think.

Don't get me wrong. He doesn't need to know what you think. He doesn't care what I think. That isn't part of the equation - nor is it required to be. And, that, my friend, is what is so terribly WRONG with this whole scenario.

Let me explain. There have been no studies (no, not one) which suggest wake-creating motorized craft on Elk Lake has caused harm to (or could potentially harm) the fish or the wildlife. There have been no reports of increased erosion. There have been no complaints or reports of conflict. Did you get that? No complaints! No studies! No NOTHING!

And yet one man can shut down an entire lake on a whim. On a presupposition. Because it suits his desires or ideas or purposes. That, my friend, is what a dictator does. That is what a king can do. That is NOT what a single man working as a employee for the people of the United States should be able to do. After all, doesn't that land belong to us? Shouldn't we (regardless of who the 'we' are) have the final say? Last time I checked we still lived in a democracy - regardless of how flawed it may be.

That is a MAJOR flaw in our system. No one person, no matter how noble or right they believe their motives to be, should have the power to make a decision which completely changes the use of our public lands without even asking our concent, without having a valid reason, without providing proof this is in the best interest of the land and its owners (the American people).

And, lest you believe your consent (or lack of) really makes a difference, think again! This same man told a few select people (which he chose to come to his 'meeting' on this subject) that our comments only matter if we point out something 'they' (the all-wise? controllers of our public lands) think is valid. Think about that a moment. How many times have you changed your mind because someone for whom you have no regard presented you with a new thought or idea which, although you had no value for the presentor, carried weight over your own opinions? Please! Give us a break! In other words, it doesn't matter what we say or think - this man has the power to do what he wants, regardless of what we may want.

So, next time you want to go out and enjoy your public lands, whether your interests turn to motorized or quiet recreation, be sure to drop a note to your local forest service ranger and thank him for letting you trespass on the 'king's forest' (oh, I meant your public lands). In the mean time, get involved. Don't sit on your laurels while those with too much power take away your rights and freedoms!

We live in a wonderful country. However, we are leaving to each successive generation a little less. Less freedom. Less rights. Less options. Why? Because we let 'them' take it away from 'us'.

Don't endure the system - change it!

Lady of the Lake

P.S. Since putting this blog together (my blogs are always posted a week earlier on our website), I have learned Mr. Forest Service isn't quite as all-powerful as he would have us assume. In fact, he cannot push through his agenda without a comment period. And, in reality, he won't make the final decision. So, for all you Elk Lake lovers - or for those of you who still believe our public lands belong to all of us, please send a letter to the Beaverhead Deerlodge Forest Service, Madison Ranger District, 5 Forest Service Road, Ennis, MT 59729 and let them know you still believe in multiple use! (Thanks!)


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


The Weather Has It!

(Photo courtesy of Gary Pumplin) Regardless of who is talking, regardless of their conversation's original purpose, regardless of how well (or not) they know each other, it seems the weather always comes up - especially this spring. Of course, as Americans, we tend to use the weather as a filler - a safe subject - common ground. However, this year I think the weather is getting more than its share of attention.

Maybe it's the rain. The thunder storm which blows through every afternoon. The wind. The muddy road - boy let me tell you about the road. Regardless, it seems to be on everyone's mind. And, not just folks living in our corner of Montana.

In Florida, it's the drought. Everywhere else it seems to be the cold, wet, unseasonably slow spring.

Here at Elk Lake we have enjoyed an unusually cool spring. However, the cooler temperatures and wetter weather have brought to light a few 'discoveries'. Nothing new. Nothing world-shaking. Just a few little things I've never really paid attention to before.

Dewdrops on the grass. The 'spider web' which surrounds a slowly melting snow drift. Tiny and hardy wildflowers springing up in some of the most unlikely places. The birds.

For many years I've enjoyed birds. In fact I will always be thankful to the lady who, years ago, pointed out the incredible variety in our front yard (back in Oregon). Her suggestion I get a bird book opened new worlds for me. I moved my love and interest in birds from Oregon to Montana. And, in the last several years my bird book has gotten a lot of use.

Whether it is the weather or the bird feeder or something else, I have noticed more color than usual in my yard this spring. Finches. Warblers. Grosbeaks. Hummingbirds (yes, already!). Yellow-headed black birds. And more. It has been a visual delight to watch for new visitors.

So, although I can talk the weather as good as the next guy, I've also enjoyed the fact it has brought to my attention (and my feeder) some new and beautiful details abounding in my own backyard.

Lady of the Lake


Hardy and Beautiful

While we tend to associate the word 'hardy' with words like 'sturdy', 'tough', 'durable', I've learned a new association this spring. These associated words are not neccesarily synonymous with beauty. In fact, they are often equated with something entirely different.

I associate things like clunky shoes, plain furniture, and reinforced knee jeans with the word 'hardy'. However, this spring I have learned the word can be associated with beautiful things.

I'm referring to my hero of the week. Wildflowers! With an uncommon abundance of grey skies, I was thrilled to find several splashes of color set against the green carpet covering the hillsides around the lodge. At least four beautiful wildflower varieties are withstanding our not-too-friendly weather - if for no other reason than to bring beauty and pleasure into our lives.

Sometimes I think the wildflowers, in spite of the challenges they face this time of year, are the lucky ones. Their job in a nutshell - bloom for our pleasure. They face the weather without worry or fear, trusting their Creator to provide for them. I guess, although I wouldn't trade them places on one of our cold, windy, nights, in some ways they enjoy the best in life.

None-the-less, in spite of the more 'political tone' of my recent blogs, I consider myself very lucky too, to live in such an incredible place. A place where each new day brings new discoveries - the Red-Necked Grebes return, elk silhouetted against the morning sky, sandhill cranes strutting their stuff on the lake shore, and majestic eagles riding the wind currents. I am blessed to be the

Lady of the Lake