My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Bitterroot Search Rewarded

Last Sunday evening, Steve and Chari, my fellow volunteers invited me to go with them in search of bitterroot flowers.  This is Montana's state flower, but it grows on eroded rocky outcropings. The flowers have a very short blooming season and close up if it's cloudy,  so you have to work and also have some luck, to get to enjoy them.   I visited the National Bison Range while they were in bloom, but there were only rainy days while I was there so I didn't even  bother to go to the Bitterroot Trail to look for them.

But last Friday, my boss, Kyle Cutting,  married Rebekah Levine, a geologist who is working on her Ph.D. here.  They were married at probably the most  beautiful spot in the valley, a mountaintop with views of Elk Lake and the Madison Mountain Range. As people walked up the mountain to the wedding site, they were greeted with bitterroot flowers in bloom, purportedly at a place they have never been noticed before.

View from the wedding site

We volunteers heard about all this last Saturday night at the Rally in the Valley party that goes on over the Fourth of July. Hence the trip on Sunday night. We waited until 6:00 P.M to leave and easily found the spot.  But the sun was still hot on the flowers. I waited until the last minute - making Steve and Chari wait on me - to take my pictures.

Bitterroot flower

Then we decided to drive down the road that accesses Widgeon Pond and further down, Culver Pond. The light was finally starting to get beautiful and the western sky was getting beautiful clouds. We got out and enjoyed taking pictures of Picnic Spring, which forms Culver Pond. This is where the original swans spent the winter and were they were fed grain to keep them in good breeding shape, so they would have lots of babies to disperse to other refuges. This is one of the ways their numbers grew from a low of 70 in 1932 to at least 46,225 swans today.

Steve and Chari enjoying Culver Pond near the warm Picnic Springs

Picnic spring

When Steve and Chari were ready to leave, I was still taking pictures of the evening clouds and their reflections and wishing they would let me stay until sunset. But I quit, but asked for another stop to take more pictures.  This required me to walk down to the edge of the lake while they sat and twiddled their thumbs.  Then Steve stopped a few more times to record the the sunset that kept getting more and more impressive.

Almost sunset from Culver

Sunset from further down in Culver Pond

Sunset at the junction of the road to Widgeon Pond and Elk Lake road

Finally we started seriously driving towards our trailers. AND THEN..... in the road in front of us a mom and baby moose walked out of the willows alongside the road. They stood there, and then wandered back and forth a little and seemed pretty unconcerned about us. We carefully stepped out of the truck to fight our cameras to get pictures of them in the dim light. Suddenly they were joined by a young bull moose. The female went over to him and licked him on his neck.  He joined the family and the two adults flanked the youngster.  The trio started walking casually towards us while we madly tried to get shots that weren't totally blurry. Our refuge manager thought that we had seen a mom with a son from last year and this year's baby.

Young bull moose

Moose greetings

Family walking towards us

Thus ended the best day for wildlife I've had up here.  I had to work Sunday because the Ecological Project International brought in a group a kids and I had to take them to set insect traps and talk to them about the refuge. On the way over, I'd seen about forty pronghorns and three bull elk in velvet horns. Later I saw still more antelope, both in the sandhills where we were setting insect traps, and back in the wetland areas we visited in the evening. And I saw sandhill cranes, swans with cygnets. Swainson hawks, a red-tailed hawk, and a pair of northern harriers, as well as lots of smaller birds.

And Steve and Chari didn't mind  at all me making them late coming home.