Spring up Narrows Creek

Springtime is such an amazing time of year in the high mountains. As the snow melts back, new shoots of green appear. As creeks throw off their icy mantel, new plants seem to materialize as if by magic. New feathered friends appear on a daily basis. Big game species start to return. Sound comes back after the quiet stillnes of winter. Twittering birds. Trickling water. The scream of an osprey. The trumpet of a passing swan pair. The unique warbling call of a sandhill pair. The quacking of ducks. Summers chorus is warming up!

Narrows Creek has always been a favorite haunt. I love to watch the changes each season brings to this narrow canyon. The ice melting off the pond in spring. The profussion of wildflowers in the summer. The passing groups of elk in the fall. The quiet stillness of the frozen landscape in the winter.

This spring is no different. While snow drifts still dot the landscape, the dogs and I have not slowed down. I want to share, via a photo journal, a recent morning spent 'up the creek'.

The first thing I enjoyed were a pair of Sandhill Cranes. She was quite ladylike. He was making quite a fool of himself.

Of course the pond had other 'critters'. Three pairs of ducks were staking out their territories. A pair of Bufflehead had the water nearest the outlet.

The Barrow's Golden Eye pair had the middle left section. She was quite shy (thus the lack of her photograph), except when the Bufflehead Female strayed into her territory. Whenever this happened, she would begin to complain quite loudly. And, amazingly (to me), her mate would drive away the invading female.

On up the canyon I enjoyed a few more sights. Some critter tunnels exposed to the light of day.

A creek breaking free of its snowy mantle and some pretty new growth emerging in the shallows.

I was amazed to see some willows beginning to bud - baby pussy willows being born!

And, as fast as the snow melts, the Sage Buttercups (aka Early Buttercups) pop up dotting the landscape with little yellow splashes of color.

On the way back down the canyon, I enjoyed a beautiful spring panorama.

To top it all off, this little lady was admiring herself in my pickup mirror (and making quite a mess of my truck window and mirror) when I returned to the lodge.

Lady of the Lake


Animals Do The Funniest Things

I'm HOME! Finally! After waiting three weeks for the road department to open the road, I was able to come in from the West. Montana has still not opened the eastern route (the shorter one) so I enjoyed putting about 250 additional miles on my truck while driving for an additional 3 ½ hours. But, who cares? I am home.

While there is still plenty of snow around and the lake is still frozen, I am enthralled to see many new faces around. Most faces are sporting ‘beaks', but there are mammals included in the following true tales.

On the way home we were treated to an unusual sight. If you have followed this blog or visited the resort, especially in the spring, you are probably aware of my fascination with Sandhill Cranes. I am compelled to stop and listen when I hear their haunting cries echo across the canyon. Furthermore, I have enjoyed watching these large birds go about their daily routines.

Some previous highlights have been watching a late season romance - she wasn't interested - I mean she really wasn't interested! However, like some guys I've met, he couldn't get the "no" through his head. It was quite comical!

Another favorite which will remain imprinted in my memory was the opportunity to observe three tiny, orange Sandhill chicks last spring. When we realize how large these birds actually are, it is amazing their chicks can be stopped by a moderately sized log. Such cute little buggers!

Even with all the sightings I've enjoyed over the last few springs, I have never seen the Sandhills antics during their normal mating season. However, on the way home yesterday, I had a brief opportunity to observe a pair of birds getting to know each other. Believe me, watching a bird not much smaller than a Emu perform a 180 break dance is quite a sight. Hilarious!

The second story I will share with you is a combination of sightings and tracks. As I mentioned above, the ice is still on the lake. However, this does not stop the playful otters from getting around. Not only are they making good use of the small patches of open water which are appearing here and there along the lake's edge, they aren't at all bashful about enjoying the surface of the ice. In fact, they have just the right attitude - enjoy life, whatever your circumstances.

Their latest ‘game' is what we call ‘run and slide'. In fact, they remind me of kids playing on snow-covered ice. You remember? You run as hard as you can to the edge of the slick spot then slide (on bottom or belly or, if you're really talented, on your feet) as far as you can across the icy surface. Well, if you can picture that, replace the kids with otters and you will have a mental picture of the latest ‘game' occurring on the lake's icy surface.

While we have only had the opportunity to observe the game in action one time, the tracks on the snow covering the lake ice tell the tale of numerous games. In fact, on my hike, I happened to see some very unusual tracks. Four paw prints then a 6 - 8 inch wide by 5 foot long swath then four tracks and a swath - repeat, repeat, repeat. You get the picture.

An otter at play. However, I was even more fascinated as I followed this critter's tracks. Across the lake. Up the bank. Climb the hill. Up the road for several hundred yards. Then up the hill near the old fox den toward???? I'm assuming Hidden Lake, but that seems like an interesting, far from water route. I would have loved to follow the tracks further, but the snow drifts are still too deep once one reaches the north facing slopes.

While the otter stopped its game of run and slide once it reached the lake's shore, its tail which left a groove in the snow along with its tracks, made for a very distinctive trail to follow. Aren't animals amazing?

Another story combines a cast of unlikely characters - two bluebirds and a chipmunk. The setting is the bird house just outside the dining room window. Picture this - along comes a curious chipmunk - searching for a warm spot for a nap, maybe, or more likely something to snack on. So it climbs the post and enters the ‘door' of the bird house.

Little did this curious critter realize a pair of bluebirds had their eye on this birdhouse as a great nesting site. As soon as the chipmunk disappeared into their living room, the bluebirds flew in to deal with this trespasser. Let me tell you, if you are chipmunk size, don't trespass on bluebird territory!

Fearless Mama stuck her head right in the door and appeared to give the trapped chipmunk a few nasty knocks with her beak. Whether she made contact or not, the chipmunk took her seriously. As soon as the doorway was clear, he beat a hasty retreat. However, he was not quick enough to avoid a couple of parting pecks from the beak of one very irritated blue bird. I doubt he will be wandering unwelcomed through their doorway again!

And then there was the elk. A lone elk, so I assume it was a ‘he'. The first elk of spring is always a special sight. However, when you get a good long look at them because they are taking a good hard look at you - that makes it even more special.

So, this was an ‘even more special' sighting. After the fact, however, I had to chuckle. The wind was just right. He couldn't smell me. Thus he had only his vision to determine what he was seeing. And what a sight he saw. Remember, I hike with my dogs. The dogs were at my feet. So, this is what he saw: a 10 legged, 2 armed, 3 headed, 2 tailed creature which was broad and hairy on bottom and long and thin on top. That poor elk is probably still shaking his head!!

And so life goes on. Spring is coming - I saw green tint appearing in some of the grass!! The critters are returning. Bear tracks have been sighted nearby. We saw five moose between here and the Refuge Headquarters. No sign of deer, but I saw my first elk. And, believe it or not, the flowers are starting to bloom! No joke. I saw numerous little yellow flowers, "Sagebrush Buttercup" aka "Early Buttercup" dotting the south facing slopes. Now the Blue Grouse have something to munch on when they return.

Ahhhh, spring. Such a delightful time of year in the high mountains!

Lady of the Lake


Yellowstone in the Spring

We took our annual spring trip into Yellowstone National Park this past weekend. It is always a spring highlight and helps to get our minds off the frustrating road department who 'still' has not opened the road! We always see wolves and bears or at least wolves or bears. Of course that is in addition to the bison, elk, coyotes, sandhill cranes, eagles, and other critters. The best part, however, is the lack of people. While there were more people out and about than we had expected, with the exception of a handful, they were all ‘local' folks (Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah).

Compared to last year, which as most of you know was a BIG snow year, I was surprised. There is a LOT of snow still in the Park. In fact, the Lamar Valley - usually our best bet for a wolf sighting - was nearly completely snow covered. A few bison and a lone coyote were all we saw. Of course there were folks with spotting scopes watching three WAY UP on the hill, but without a fancy scope (which we do not own), they were invisible.

The highlight of our trip were three wolves and one coyote. The coyote was running down the road in front of us. With the river to one side and a snow covered bank to the other, he was not too interested in moving off the road. When he eventually did, he did not go far. This afforded me the opportunity to take a couple nice photographs.

The wolves were close. A rare treat. Granted we've seen them as close at the lodge, but when they are in your back yard their interest does not outweigh their danger. These three wolves were hanging between the road and a small lake between Norris and Mammoth. They were a bit shy, but did not appear afraid (kinda like the wolves who came to visit us at the lodge).

Because the wolves only appeared, were visible for short periods of time and then disappeared around a group of trees, the crowds did not gather. We did hear the Cougar Pack has now become the Gibbon Pack and consists of about 20 animals. Perhaps these were part of that newly formed pack.

The day's disappointment was our failure to see a bear. Granted we spent less than 6 hours in the Park and someone else reported seeing a Grizzly, nonetheless, we had hoped. However, while there are reports the bears in Yellowstone are coming out of their dens, I have read of bears in other areas in Montana which are still not out. It made wonder if the local bears weren't moving a little slower than usual. Of course a recently Grizzly track sighting on Elk Lake Road proves at least one bear is awake near the lodge.

The most encouraging thing this year was the condition of the bison. Last year at this time, all the animals we saw on the west side were scrawny, pitiful looking specimens. While the slaughter of about 1,000 animals which wandered out of the Park last winter prompted a large protest, I must say I think it improved the conditions considerably for the remaining animals - at least based on what we saw.

There were also more ‘visible' bison, this trip than I had ever seen on a past trip through the Park. Still no calves, but several cows looking close. The elk, on the other hand, were scarce. We only saw a few on the west side and a few near Mammoth. Apparently they are still making their way back from their wintering grounds.

As we drove through the beautiful country which makes up this national treasure, I was struck again at the privilege I have of living so close to such a beautiful place. While other parks may boast more unique landscape, no park in the lower 48 offers a greater variety of wildlife or such unique geological features. It truly is a treasure. I hope those seeking to restrict our access do not win out in the end. I hope our children and grandchildren can continue to see and enjoy this special place for many, many years to come.

Lady of the Lake