28 May 2009

Spring Ramble: New Dogs, Wildflowers

Dave is retired and I'm on summer schedule, so we pick & choose our hiking days. With a glorious sunrise and clear early morning sky, I called Dave & we decided on a leisurely start with the dogs at 8:30 a.m.--to give the frosty morning air a chance to warm. Dave has had JackTheDog for a few months (gray & white), and Jan & I have had MollyTheDog (black lab mix) for just a week. Here they are in a meadow of yellow wildflowers:

These meadows along a stream drainage were still snow-covered a week or so ago. Ah, Sagebrush Buttercups (Ranunculus glaberrimus):

Also blooming in the wet meadows, the aptly named Spring Beauty (Claytonia lanceolata):

As we climbed higher, we got to about 7,000 feet elevation and decided not to fight the knee-deep snow drifts. Near melting snow fields, Glacier Lillies (Erythronium grandiflorum) are just beginning to open:

Between the lodgepole pine woods and open meadows, the "edge plant" Blue Violets (Viola adunca) are putting on a show:

While cutting through a patch of woods, the dogs found a delicate little bird skeleton. As a sort of small miracle, they fetched it instead of eating it like the Wolf People they are!

As we looped back toward the parked Land Rover, we had to cross a small stream running high with snowmelt. The technique is: remove socks & cross wearing boots; then warm & dry your feet in the sun:

Dang--I should have gotten a photo of Dave crossing, since he was wearing long pants and took them off to cross:

As we crossed, a nervous elk cow watched us from the opposite hillside. This is sure sign that she had a calf hidden somewhere nearby (elk is center, just below tree line):

This is also Sandhill Crane nesting territory. You hear their haunting cries almost constantly, and occasionally you see them in their Pterodactyl-like flight:

I wish we also got good pics of the ducks, bald eagle, osprey and other critters. Well, sometimes memories are as clear as the finest photograph.

Dave checked his GPS when we returned to the Rover--wow, 9 miles (but who is counting?). Back in Butte America, the Violet Green Swallows are in my neighbor's nest box, and they buzz MollyTheDog and I was we walk past. This one posed for a rare still shot:

Until the past week, Spring temperatures were running about 10 deg F below average. Some years, the apple trees are in full bloom by now (of course, in those years, the blossoms often get weigted down with snow!). This year, the buds are just now swelling with lascivious beauty:

Oh, to be a Humble Bee!

The Spring Sky Goddess of the Northern Rockies

We are in the heart of Spring on both sides of the Continental Divide near Butte, Montana. On clear, warm days Spring Sky Goddess blows moist air over the mountains to create high, lenticular clouds, which make for spectacular sunrises:

On these clear days, the temperature swings from frosty 30 deg F mornings to 70+ deg afternoons. The sky is so pure and blue, you drink it in and it creates euphoria:

But Spring Sky Goddess cares for her Earth and waters it well. The rainstorms that sweep into town make for wonderful views like this one from my front porch in Walkerville:

And, so long as you have your raingear and warm layers, Spring Sky Goddess is even more beautiful when you are out hiking in the hills:

The high prairie is greening up, just in time for the elk cow people. They have migrated from their winter range, and are filling their bellies to nourish soon-to-be-born calves:

21 May 2009

Brook Trout Fishing, Elk & Other Wildlife

I drove from Butte, Montana, across the Great Divide to a favorite little valley that leads to the Big Hole River. My excuse was to catch a few trout for supper, but mostly I just wanted a day to ramble around the high, moist prairie. I parked near an old homestead that is now public land:

And which has a few extant buildings such as this great old barn:

The night had been clear and frosty, and it was still too cold to fish. I decided to hike along the old Indian road dotted with the occasional tipi ring. In addition to pieces of jasper (blood red or buttery yellow; a flint-like rock used for tools), there is petrified wood to be found:

Primarily, I was out to see what flowers were blooming (which I posted in the previous entry). Taking advantage of these early flowers was a blue butterfly--what an amazing, turquoise-like color (if anyone knows the species, please let me know):

But life is not all pretty flowers and butterflies, of course. Near a badger den, there was this partial skull (probably from a Columbia ground squirrel):

And as I was sitting in the windbreak provided by a small pine tree, I noticed gray, turd-like masses of fuzz all around me. Owl pellets, containing fur and skeletal remains of the owl's prey:

As I stood up to continue my hike, a small band of cow elk -- fearful that they might be prey -- burst from the willows below me:

Back at the ranch (i.e. the truck), I had a beer, lay down in the bed & took a nap, and waited for late afternoon to begin fishing. When I awoke, critters were all around, with pronghorn antelope on one side:

Elk on the other:

And, literally at my feet, a Columbian ground squirrel:

An hour or so later, I was on my home with supper--several fat brook trout:

Mmmm... good:

As a hiking partner Dave Carter likes to say, "What are the poor people doing today?"

A Week in Flowers, and a Few Birds

My home in Walkerville, Montana, is somewhat higher than 6,000 feet (a few hundred feet higher than nearby Butte America). No wonder spring takes a little longer to get here than most places.

There is still considerable snow at 7,000 feet or above, but the high prairie is really coming alive. As the line in Night Rider's Lament goes (click for version by Suzy Bogguss and Jerry Jeff Walker), when the cowboy considers why Easterners think him crazy for "roping the short pay" in the mountain West. His answer is (in part), "They've never seen Spring hit the Great Divide..." It is a gorgeous site to watch the prairie green up and then edge its way up into the hills and on up the mountainsides. Here's a little valley bottom covered with water as the mid-elevation snow melts off:

In moist corners like this of the upper Big Hole River prairie, the shooting stars are blooming. Both the violet Few Flowered Shooting Star (Dodecatheon pulchellum):

And a white species that I haven't been able to identify:

In an aspen stand just over the Divide, on the Clark Fork side, an Elk Thistle (Cirsium scariosum) pokes up from the moist duff:

Nearby, some moss comes alive from the water saturated ground:

As does the soft, scaly leaves of a Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis):

Yellow flowers of a cushion Drabas (Drabas spp.) brighten a dry, open hillside:

Out on the desert prairie of the lower Big Hole River, the Cushion Cactus (Coryphantha vivipara) are blooming singly [correction: these are Pediocactus simpsonii, common name Rocky Mountain Cactus or Mountain Ball Cactus -- see the comment from Tom (Czech Republic, below)]:

And in bunches:

On the rocks, the lichens too are brightening up:

Closer to home, the sagebrush steppe around Butte America is still recovering from the days when mining and smelting made the hills a barren waste. It is surprising how many species do quite well on the mine waste strewn and knapweed infested land, such as Cutleaf Daisy (Erigeron compositus):

Check out the close-up detail of this plant's beautiful, tiny finger-like leaf lobes:

Hood's Phlox (Phlox hoodii):

And colorful Rocky Mountain Douglasia (Douglasia montana):

Even quartz crystals left over as surface burden from the days of hardrock mining seem to come to life in the spring sun. No wonder people once thought crystals grew and bloomed in the earth like flowers:

While looking for flowers, I sat down awhile to see if the red fox would show herself. She dens in a gully behind the house near an old wrecked car:

Foxes have lived here for awhile, according to his old jaw bone:

I didn't see the fox that morning, but this Mountain Bluebird came by to visit:

As did this very handsome red-shafted Northern Flicker:

Wow! It pays to sit down and be still once in awhile--I might become a birder yet!