View of Centennial Valley

View of Centennial Valley
View of Centennial Valley

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Lives of Tree Swallows

 The refuge has been collecting data on bluebirds from a 50 box trail.  It is to study mountain bluebirds but we also keep track of what other species use the boxes.

The two other species that use the boxes here are tree swallows and house wrens.  Tree swallows are considered "bad" by many people because they compete heavily with the mountain bluebirds for the boxes.  But I love watching them and seeing how beautifully they decorate their nests. And they are of greater conservation concern  then are bluebirds, so we do need to be providing nest boxes for them.

The pair from box 19E - taken last year but one of my favorite pictures

The bluebirds got here before I did,  and my first assignment was to do my first survey, and repair/replace any boxes that were damaged.  We have a big mountain that shadows the eastern part of the trail so the first nests are always in the far western boxes.

The tree swallows arrived just after I did and immediately started competing for boxes. In a few cases, they actually moved bluebirds out of the boxes, and just added a few feathers to the bluebirds nests.  But mostly they didn't have much luck taking nests away from the bluebirds.  If you didn't see it, check out my blog on the house wars I photographed.

This box was started by mountain bluebirds, then four tree swallows displaced them.

Female tree swallows frequently sit in the nest box like this before they have even built a nest and also while they are just laying eggs. This one just snuck into a box used by mountain bluebirds and ultimately kept it.

But while the mountain bluebirds are all almost finished with their first clutches, the tree swallows are just settling down for nesting. The first two earliest nesters each had one-day-old nestlings on my last check, almost a week ago.  The rest are still either building a nest or laying their clutch.  I have seen bigger clutches then I remember from last year - there have been a couple of nests with eight eggs in them.  Imagine having to find food for eight babies!

Only the female builds the nest but the male is usually very attentive

Tree Swallows often have nest attendants. At the beginning of the season, I sometimes saw four tree swallows flying around one nest and tormenting the bluebirds. I was interested to know if these attendants were helpers and would bring food to the nestlings. Apparently they do not, but rather steal food from the nestlings, if they can, according to one paper I found. But they do help intimidate the bluebirds.

The females are sometimes in the box while egg laying is going on but don't start incubating until the next to last egg is laid.  And sometimes, if the weather turns cold, they postpone incubation a little longer.

Tree swallows do return to the same nests year after year.  Last year, when I was entering my data, I noticed that some boxes are traditionally either bluebird boxes or tree swallow boxes while others seem to switch back and forth. I'm certain that the occupants of my box 19E are the same birds that were there last year because they built a super beautiful nest both years and laid their eggs early and had babies earlier than most other swallows did.

Both parents develop brood patches and help incubate the young.  The birds catch most of their prey on the wing - and most is really small, including flies, leafhoppers, bees, wasps, and dragonflies and beetles. . They pack 19 to 34 of these tiny insects into a bolus which is about the size of a BB. One nestling gets one bolus. Since they catch most of their prey on the wing, they  may not be able to find food if the weather turns cold and wet.

The eggs can be white like these or pink like the one in the previous picture. A clutch usually consists of 4 - 6 eggs but a few of my boxes have eight eggs.

Hatch day with one baby showing. I didn't try to count babies this time. 

Hatch day at box 19E last Thursday- how many babies can you count?

These birds are about nine days old - taken last year. 

Tree swallows usually fledge between days 19 and 22, depending on how well they were fed during the nesting period. They have non-iridescent feathers for a few months after they fledge, then start to look like their parents, but with more brown.  I usually don't get to see much of them after they fledge. 

On the personal front, I am getting to go out with Jim and check on water and work on fences. Very fun and gets me into places I can't get in a car.  We were in a mule today.  I'm also spending time entering data from field cameras that are measuring the height of water upstream and downstream of beaver dams.  We'll correlate that with the success of grayling to get upstream over them.  That is not as much fun.  

I'm also trying to finish getting my garden planted and have seeds and seedlings all over the place, waiting to get into the ground.  But my latest garden patch now has 12 wheelbarrow loads of dirt taken from dredging a  boat put-in from lower lake plus composted horse manure mixed with dirt, so it should grow some big plants. 

And we are winding up to have the Rally in the Valley with at least 40 off-refuge adults and accompanying children and dogs. This is in addition to maybe 25 - 30 on refuge adults. We'll be partying Friday and Saturday. I  also will have a friend arriving soon after this blog publishes.  It's going to be a wild weekend here.

Click the picture to see more wild bird blogs from around the world.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hike on Odell Creek Trail

June 14, 2015

We have  two hiking trails on the refuge, Sparrow Trail and Odell Creek Trail.  Sparrow trail is a good place to go look for moose and elk, but is a short walk through a flat meadow.   Odell Creek takes you off the refuge and eventually connects you up to the Continental Divide Trail, after you connect to a couple of other trails. It's supposed to be only five miles up to the lake, but I still haven't proved that.

The trail certainly doesn't look like much at the beginning.  In fact, I never actually found the trail at first, since I thought the sign was pointing to the trail. and it starts against the fence to private land. But as you go further along, the trail becomes very easy to see.

The trail has a lot of ups and downs, but not a lot of total elevation change.

It starts in a meadow, passes through an aspen grove and soon is in the conifers.

Wild Iris

Aspen grove near beginning of trail

The bark of one aspen looked like lips

Uinta chipmunk eating a dandelion - the only wild mammal I saw

Most of the trail is through conifers

The trail crosses several little creeks and eventually crosses Odell Creek on the way to Odell Lake.  The smallest streams have bridges over them, but the bigger crossings require rock hopping, wading, log walking.

One of the smaller streams

I don't know this flower

This was the first Stellar's jay I've seen around here

This late-blooming balsamroot was blooming in the middle of the path

I love the look of this fly but don't know either it or the flower

This was the end of the line for me since I didn't want to wade and wasn't up to walking the logs

Looking downstream from trail crossing

Paintbrush was blooming at the big creek crossing area

I think this is one of the bluets

There will be wild strawberries along the trail soon

These yellow flowers formed ground-covers in many places

This is the bud of  the ground cover flowers - one of those DYC's

Not sure what this is but loved the look of it


Sticky geraniums are among my favorite flowers 

This is my second attempt at this hike.  I'm going to get all the way to Odell Lake one of these days.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Birds of Brundage Lane

June 20, 2016

I've been dying to get to go birding on Brundage Lane, the road that connects the South and North Valley Roads on the west. But it has several low spots that are made of clay and, when it rains, the road is impassable except for a 4-wheel drive vehicle.  Today I finally had a good road and time to go visit.

Brundage Lane has all the birds we have on the refuge - it's only few miles off the refuge - but it has marsh and ponds very close to the road, so I often get much better shots of birds.  Today the light lasted through a partly cloudy morning that gave me lots of shots that made me happy.

I hope you enjoy them too.

I'm only seeing one sandhill rathan than a pair - think moma is on the nest

I  think this is the first phalarope I've ever seen feeding on land - probably tending his nest. 

Yellow-headed blackbirds were everywhere that was wet, singing their mechanical, whirring song - this one is exhibiting the attitude I associate with them 

This was the first day I've seen female yellow-headed blackbirds. 

Long-billed curlews were flying and calling their loud, ringing calls everywhere -
a few were also feeding in the tall grass

Brewer's blackbirds were hanging out around the cattle in the fields

There were many vesper sparrows about

Horned larks spent most of their time running in front of the car -
one of the easiest ways to ID them here. 

A cliff swallow fledgling - I couldn't get the picture of a parent
 feeding through my dirty windshield

A very surprising find - a snipe s-i-t-t-i-n-g on a fence post - I probably have 20 pictures of him

He was so close, I missed his feet in this shot but loved seeing/hearing him call

This little green-winged teal was at a distance and looked like he was swimming through pale grass 

I was practicing shooting a hawk on the fly and while I held my shutter down,  the courting pair crossed to give me this lucky shot. 

The rest of my day was mundane - doing my wash, cleaning, and shopping. But I will always remember it as special for all the amazing birds I got to see.  Click on the picture below to see bird blogs from around the world.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Weekend Adventures Part II: A Marvelous Hike, Even Without a Glimpse of Albro Lake

June 7

I pulled into the trailhead for Willow Creek Trail and immediately was drawn to the sound of rushing water. Even before I got my stuff together, I had to go check out the stream making all the water music.

My first view of Willow Creek from the bridge 

Soon I was checking that I had all my stuff for the day - water, snacks, hat, GPS, camera, extra battery, walking sticks.  I started off in a jacket but it wasn't long before I had to take it off  and before 10:00 A.M., I had to convert my pants to shorts.  The hike went up along Willow Creek for about a mile and a half. The creek was mostly out of sight but the sound was always fortissimo. When I could see it, the water was leaping, boiling, and spraying as it roared down the creek bed.

View near the beginning of the trail

Balsamroot flowers glowed in the early sunlight

View upstream on Willow Creek at one of the few viewing points

Yellow glacier lillies made groundcovers beneath the trees

Close view of yellow glacial lily

Shooting stars

I think this is a uinta chipmunk checking me out

Finally I turned and crossed the creek, following a new trail to Albro Lake, my planned destination. The sign said it was four miles away. After climbing through more forest, and sometimes up very rocky areas, I came to an beautiful meadow, filled with flowers, abuzz with bees and with long views to other mountains, some still snow-covered.

Yodelers  definitely seemed called for here - but alas they were missing - but it should have sounded something like this

View to mountains

Closer look at wildflowers

Bumblebees, as well as smaller bees, were frantically gathering pollen

Another view

Then I reached the far side of the mountain meadow and descended through a mix of forest and meadows. I crossed a couple of streams and passed one area of huge rocky outcropping. Then I came to a series of signs and found the sign for Albro Lake and turned off the two-track trail onto a one track that was decending.

Rocky outcropping

Some streams were also the path

Clark's Nutcracker - one of a pair

Trail along a mix of trees and meadow

Amazing "wall" of stone a long way down in the valley

I continued to cross streams - think I got to five until I reached a really big one with no way to cross without getting wet. That is where I decided to turn back.  The next stream back was only about a quarter of a mile away.  Right after I crossed that, I met the only people I saw all day - three dirt bike riders.

Another stream - this is where I decided not to keep going and try to cross this

One of dirt bike riders crossing a stream

Mushrooms glowing in the evening sun

But where, you say, is the lake?  When I climbed back up from going mostly downhill, and crossing 4 streams, I checked the signs again.  I should NOT have turned on the single track, but stayed on the double track for another mile. However, by the time I figured this out, I just hoped to be able to do another three plus miles and make it back to the car.

Another beautiful mix of wildflowers

Down around the curve will be the trailhead - I'm saved

I hiked this trail in record time - for the slowest time ever.  I did around eleven miles in 11 hours.  I was totally not in shape for all the elevation changes.  Of course, I spent  almost half the time stopping to take pictures, and chase birds, butterflies, and bees.  I was tired for two more days - probably also due to the fact that I slept about 4 hours a night for three days straight.  I drove from the trailhead to my campground, about an hour away, stopping only for supper in Ennis, and barely got my tent up  and my sleeping pad aired up before crashing.  I had to get up at 4:00 A.M. and break camp so I could do a dove survey, so I barely got home, around noon, before I went to bed again.  But this hike was so worth the effort.

This is coming out on June 21. Happy Summer Solstice Day. Hope you take the time to get out and enjoy nature.  I'm planning to work in my garden and take a hike.