A Year For Birds

Introductory Photo - Singing Junco - courtesy of David Slaughter.

It seems every season at Elk Lake is punctuated by some particularly twist. This has been the year for birds and wildflowers. Thus in my next few posts I hope to share some of my sightings (and those shared by a kind guest and friend) of the birds and flowers which have brightened our lives this spring and summer.

I do not know whether to credit the wet spring, or a stiff wind which blew them off course, or maybe I am just seeing them for the first time. Whatever the reason, I have spotted several birds around the resort which I have never seen before - at least not right here. Some I have seen in other locations in the valley. Some I have never seen here at all (although I know they are all at least rare visitors).

Not that seeing something 'unique' is all that unusual at Elk Lake. Every year I find a new flower or new bird. Every year I see something I missed on previous hikes. Every year there are birds or animals seen in places we do not expect to see them. Thus I am sure these sightings are not as unusual as they seem. Nonetheless they struck me as worthy of note.

Early in the season I shared with you our 'blackbird on steriods'

Yes, A Common Grackle - but not so common in these parts! I also shared a photo of a little visitor which excited at least a few of our Audubon folks

The illusive Ruby Crowned Kinglet is a bird which is not as 'common' as some and had yet to be seen (at least by me) around the resort. Another more common bird which was an uncommon sight at the Lodge this year

A 'common' Goldfinch.

While common in some areas, these little birds had never graced us with their presence - until late May. Then, whether stopping for a rest during the less than friendly weather or just taking the scenic route, my finch socks were suddenly overloaded with these colorful birds for two days. Then, like a dream, they were gone. During the same period, another visitor, seen occasionally in the valley but very rarely at the Lodge showed up (and brought his mate).

While Black-Headed Grosbeaks are supposed to be common in our area, they are not as commonly seen as one might think.

This was only the second time I'd seen one at the lodge, and the first time I'd seen a pair. This photo, captured by one of our generous guests, David Slaughter, is much better than my own. I am so glad he was willing to share!

Another bird species I commonly see on my spring walks are grouse. Commonly see and commonly photograph are often two entirely different things. However, one late spring hike produced photo opportunities for both 'common' varieties

The Ruffed Grouse seem to hang out in the draws.

While the Blue Grouse tend to prefer the ridges.

My next feathered friend is not such an uncommon sight. Yet I have found them illusive and quite camera shy. As a result, this photo is less than what I'd hoped and yet it at least proves he came for a visit.

While Western Tanagers are seen occassionally, my next find are not only less common around Elk Lake (I've only seen them on Elk Lake Road in the spring. Always in the same spot. Always gone in a few days never to be seen (in our area) again for the season). Thus when I spotted this pair along the road (making quite a racket, too), I took advantage of the opportunity.

Long Billed Curlews are not known for standing around posing for photos. When I spotted a few downy heads bobbing in the grass, I understood why this pair posed so nicely!

There are more photos I want to share, but for now I will close with what I consider my 'best' bird photo opportunity of the season!

Not only are Great Grey Owls HUGE! Not only are they majestic and magnificent and a marvelous specimen of the owl family - they are also unusual and unique! Thus when this one landed in a tree not 30 feet off the side of the road to Hidden Lake I was absolutely thrilled.

So much to share. So little time! You can bet I'll be back with more stories and photos to share.

Lady of the Lake


Beautiful Montana Skies

“There Is Nothing Like The Montana Sky”

So said my hubby recently. Oddly enough, he is usually more practical than poetic. So it really is not surprise that while this statement carried poetic undertones, he really just stated the obvious. Yet sometimes the obvious is what is most often overlooked. Thus I had to dedicate a post to the subject.

Because I concur completely, I have been collecting sky photos for quite some time. Typically it takes good clouds to make an interesting sky. The right proportion. The right shape. The right lighting. But not every time!

Sometimes all it takes is a clear, still evening with a full moon.

Yet nothing really compares with a big thunderstorm boiling over the horizon.

Or brilliant thunderheads building just over the hill.

Or the approaching showers and dark clouds accompanied by pockets of light.

There is something magical about vibrant hillside colors enhanced by the passing dark storm clouds.

Or puffy white clouds floating on a deep blue sea.

Or reflected on still water.

Or the combination of light and dark which gives it all an added depth.

Perhaps you are drawn to the mystery in evening clouds sliding down the mountain slope.

Or the drama of brilliant sunlight spotlighting the landscape against a dark sky backdrop.

It certainly is easier to wake to a gloriously brilliant sunrise bursting over the horizon.

But the soft red and gold of a gentle summer morning can evoke such a peaceful feeling at day's dawn.

And I find the combination both invigorating and relaxing.

Even when reflected in an ice-covered early winter lake.

Be it wispy mid-summer clouds sweeping across a deep blue sky,

Or a winter sunset turning the Madisons a rosy hue,

Summer or winter, there really is nothing which compares to our Montana skies!

Like so much I attempt to share, photos really cannot do justice to the majesty and grandeur of the canopy surrounding Elk Lake. Yet, I hope my inadequate medium has brought you some satisfying snatches of our Montana sky!

Lady of the Lake


A Slice Of Humble Pie

Perhaps it was the light. Perhaps it was the company. Perhaps it was the angle or the location or just an over-active imagination. Whatever the reason, I have now enjoyed a large slice of humble pie.

Hiking with guests and employees is always a highlight of my summer. These longer hikes allow me to access areas I do not get a chance to visit very often. Thus, when one of our annual visitors asked me to join her on a hike near Hidden Lake, I jumped at the opportunity.

With water and bug spray and snack and camera in tow, we headed off to re-visit old haunts and explore new areas around that beautiful lake to our north. Unlike many previous hikes, the wildlife was scarce and the people were abundant. Too abundant.

Perhaps that is why we headed off trail near Goose Lake, determined to follow the ‘old section’ of trail along the opposite shore. Except for abundant deadfall, things were going well until I almost stepped on an interesting find. There, in the heavy timber, lay a unique bone.

While finding a bone in the woods is not an unusual event, this bone struck our fancy. Why? It must have been the light - or the angle - or just the desire for more adventure than the day had provided thus far. Whatever the reason, what we saw was not really what we saw.

Thrilled at my find - a ‘most unusual skull’ - I determined to carefully carry my treasure back to the lodge for what I hoped would be identification. However, we still had miles to go before we turned toward home. Thus we began our four-mile side trip.

Long story short, I set the ‘skull’ down during one stop and, would you believe it, failed to pick it up again! I did not recognize it was missing (obviously I had several other things to distract me from one little item) until another mile or so back down the mountain.

My tired feet and the ticking clock convinced me to leave it and continue on home. Surely we had taken a good enough look. We could figure it out at home. What I had not done - something I rarely ever forget to do - was take a good picture. If I had . . .well, my slice of humble pie might have been a little bit smaller!

Back at the lodge we scanned the books and the Internet trying to identify our find. We drew sketches. We contemplated. We asked other people for their ideas. To no avail. Nothing would do but that I return to where I knew the ‘skull’ lay waiting.

Taking a serious look at the schedule I determined to fit it in the next morning. Granted I’d have to jog as much of the seven to eight miles as my tired feet would allow. Granted I’d be pushing my luck. Granted I didn’t really know if I could fit it into the schedule. But curiosity wouldn’t leave me alone.

Then, kind hubby came to my rescue. Offering to take me via motorcycle (which is legal on these trails) to ‘the’ spot. I jumped at the offer. Thus, after dinner we headed out - one misguided naturalist (if you really stretch the definition!) and her kind chauffeur.

The trail was NARROW - amazing how much narrower it seemed on a motorcycle than on foot. The trail was ROCKY - I had forgotten all those rocks and water boards! The trail was STEEP - in places. However, the motorcycle was FAST.

I had figured, even with jogging as much as possible, it would take me at least three hours to make the round trip - plus a bit extra for the drive time to and from the trailhead. On the motorcycle it took about ½ that time. Amazing.

I was able to direct him right to the spot. There it lay. My unique and unusual ‘skull.’ Glad to find it still intact, I proudly showed it to my escort. “A backbone. You drug me up here for a backbone?”

A backbone? It’s not a backbone - it’s a skull! Look!

It all depends on your perspective. I have said that so many times in so many different situations. I had to laugh. What a fool I had made of myself! Oh well! This was not the first time I have had to laugh at myself - and it certainly will not be the last.

Humble pie is not so unpleasant eaten in a relatively private location. However, I could not remain up there - nor did I want to considering the abundant mosquitoes. Thus I swallowed my pride, grabbed my ‘skull’ (after a quick picture should I lose it again), and jumped on behind my kind (and talented) chauffeur.

Back at the lodge I ate my humble pie with good graces and then decided to turn the experience into a joke for others to enjoy. Thus, on your next visit to Elk Lake, be sure to check out our “Genuine Montana Jackalope Skull.”

And now you know the rest of the story. . .

Lady of the Lake