My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Red Rock Lake Critters

There are many animals that share the refuge with the swans and other birds. Some of them are seen frequently and some only rarely, but all them are exciting to watch.

The most visible animals in the summer are the pronghorn antelope and the cattle that browse on our pastures, on a grazing plan. I saw several herds of antelopes on my trip  to the refuge. I see at least one almost day and usually see thirty or more any given day I'm out and about. They are fascinating to me since they used to be the prey animal of the American Cheetah which is now extinct.  But they still depend on their blazing speed - in bursts some can attain 55+ mph and they can maintain 35 mph for several miles. But they can't jump and fences need places for them to crawl underneath.

Pronghorn antelope females

Pronghorn buck

My favorite animal to find are moose. I seldom see them because they live away from the roads in the willow flats.  But if I'm out early or late, I sometimes see them, often when the light is too low for good pictures. I  recently saw these twins when I had left before 6:00 A to go tend the grayling eggs - and of course look for wildlife.

Female yearling moose twins

Then I realized they wanted to cross the road and stopped to let them do so

They continued towards Upper Red Rock Lake, after checking out a sandhill crane

I posted a picture of the moose on facebook and someone sent back a picture of them with their mother just a few weeks earlier.  I imagine the mother is about to or has just given birth to a new offspring and has cut these girls loose.  Last year I watched a mother and about a two month old baby come out into the road.  A minute later we saw a young bull moose approach them.  The mother walked over and licked him and then the three of them continued up the road toward where we were standing and photographing them from behind our truck doors.

You looking at me?

This may be the young male I photographed last year - he was at the same location

We also have lots of elk on the refuge but they get hard to find in the summer months.  I saw this herd of females on my arrival trip to the refuge. I've had distant views a few times since but haven't identified any bucks, yet. 

These girls definitely need a makeover

Coats look better a few weeks later. 
We have both mule deer and white-tailed deer on the refuge. The next picture  is of part of a larger herd of mule deer. We have fewer white-tailed deer and I'm so used to seeing them I don't usually try to get a picture.

Some mule deer have recently been documented migrating 150 miles twice a year. For the full story click here.

Mule Deer

The animal I see the least is the American badger. I only saw one here last year. This year, while photographing sandhill cranes, I noticed a white spot about halfway between me and them.  When I focused on it I saw this.

American badger

He watched me a couple of minutes, then went on about his business.  He turned and sniffed to the right, then to the left, before moving out of sight in the sagebrush.

Checking out the smells

A very commonly seen animal is the Wyoming ground squirrel.  The squirrels provide food for large raptors, like red-tailed hawk and Swainson's hawks. In the last few days, I've been seeing half grown babies running everywhere.

Wyoming Ground Squirrel are out - and making more food for raptors

I've started to help get the fences ready for the cattle that will arrive here this summer. I hammered staples into fence posts for about 1/3 of a mile a few days ago.  Have about a mile more to go.  I replace missing stables and drive down staples that are working loose.

 But we already have close view of cows pasturing next door the refuge.

The one animal I'm DYING to see is a wolf.  While I was surveying my bluebird boxes, one of the interns came on the radio and said, "I'm looking at a wolf and he's just sitting and looking at me. " He was where our fence runs into the mountain.  The wolf was only about 40' from him at one point.

We also have foxes.  I've seen one to far away to photograph but it lives in the meadow near the bunkhouse, where I also have my garden so I'm hoping to get a closer look soon.

On a personal note, as this comes out, I'll be leaving for a little camping, exploring, and hiking trip.  We are to have three days of sunny weather so I'll do a mourning dove survey on the way home Tuesday.  We have never had any doves on that survey so I think it will be pretty easy, except I have to start at sunrise, which is 5:44A here now.  This is my first camping trip since I got here so I'm pretty excited. Hope you are having a great weekend as well.