My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Last Little Bits of Red Rock Lake Life

Last week I was busy.  I was building  new bluebird boxes,  repairing some of the old ones, and moving and adding boxes so that a lot of our boxes will be in pairs.  My boss let me do this because of an article that I got as a comment in one of my Flickr albums. In it, I found out that tree swallows are in more trouble than are bluebirds and that, if we pair boxes, we should be able to house both species without competition.

I was also babysitting a dog for one of my bosses. That also added a couple of hours of walking, and ball-throwing time plus just hanging out when I was mostly reading and petting.

I planned to play hard this past weekend and planned to hike with Roxie dog, then quickly put up a blog.  We had thunderstorms and high winds which stopped me from doing that or even taking a paddle on Upper Lake. Suddenly I was busy talking to one friend about our Yellowstone meetup and to two others about our trip to Glacier. One friend is coming up from Florida and 5 others are coming up from Texas.  And I was planning entrees and making grocery lists.

THEN I realized I have only two more weeks here and have several projects unfinished. I really only have this week to finish repairing or making old bluebird boxes open from the top with wire attachments. Some boxes  still need replacing or repairing.  And I have to get my bluebird date into the database. And my poor van needs a very serious detailing before I get someone to help me put the middle seat back in.  Ditto for my own car.

So this is going to be one of my last posts for a while. I'll leave here on September 11 to go pick up a friend in Kalispell, then go on to Many Glaciers, in Glacier NP.  We'll get campsites early Saturday morning, then meet up with the rest of the group on Saturday evening.  I'll take the following Wednesday from hiking to take Julie back to Kalispell to fly home, then I'll play a few more dayw before stopping by Red Rock Lakes to wash my clothes before driving on to Yellowstone for a week of play with friend, Laurel.

I'm writing this on Sunday night and just found another friend is in Yellowstone.  He accepted my invite to supper tomorrow.

Next week I'll work 4 days on the September scaup roundup, then leave Friday.
Oh yes, I hope to have a least 5 entries frozen for the camping trips, along with lots of dry food, some of which is still at the store. I also have to fit in a haircut this next weekend.  And washing and packing clothes and the food.

I'll get back to you as soon as I have time to edit pictures, write about my adventures,  and get to Wi-Fi.  Neither Glacier nor Yellowstone have Wi-Fi within the park. But I'll be back, at least a little, by the end of September. I'm going back to Galveston for one more surgery - on my right rotator cuff so I won't  be taking pictures or writing much for a while after that.

Here are some bits of my life during the last ten days.

The birds are still keeping me entertained whenever I'm working or sitting around in the trailer. My pine siskins will let me walk to within eight feet of them.

The usually dull pine siskins look real different when they open their wings.

I've been quite successful in training the white-crowned sparrows to eat my lard/peanut butter mix

This was my second junco in the yard - taken this morning

My sneakiest feeder visitor - a green tailed towhee - he usually comes at first
light but today he came later 

I'm suddenly up from two chipmunks to maybe six. One of them is often lying on my
stoop when I get home in the evening to remind me to put out more food.
And one came into the trailer last week

Roxie enjoying a morning walk

Roxie running with a stick she found on a walk

We often had playdates with Dottie, a five month old lab. They each knew their ball. Dottie went from not being willing to give me the ball to giving it to me too far out, then finally to always bringing it all the way back to me - all in three days.

Evidence that I sometimes work

 In addition to working on the bluebird boxes, I also spent a wonderful morning walking 4 miles and unhooking a fence. But there are really no interesting picture opportunities  except for the quick views of wildlife. I enjoyed a pair of red-tailed hawks and a pair of sandhill cranes interacting, a pair of harriers, and a few quick glimpses of sparrows. One mallard duck flew near me.

I spend a lot of time looking at the wonderful mosaics the willows are making, while driving
around the refuge and even along the creek in my backyard. 

Last Saturday we had several showers and one short glimpse of a rainbow

The quaking aspens are starting to turn.  Fall is coming and I must go south.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Scaup Roundup: Three Days of Bliss

August 19-21

Better grab a cup of coffee - this is long. 

Last week I got to help with the lesser scaup roundup.  This has been going on for  five days in both August and September of each year for the last several years as part of several ongoing research projects. The young of the year, and a few molting adults are trapped and banded.  Data is gathered on each bird includes:  the sex and age, the length of the tarsus - which would be like measuring our knee to our ankle, the distance from a notch on the back of the head to the bill, and the weight.

The huge trap has to be moved to a couple of different places during the week. Cody Dean, a graduate student, has been running the scaup roundup the two years I've been here.  He uses a rowboat to haul out the trap parts as well as the boxes we use to haul the birds back to shore to process.  The rest of us are in canoes or kayaks. He also hauls a canoe out to the trap location and then uses it to round up the ducks, while the skiff is hidden near the trap.

Putting up the net is a huge job involving several people. It takes about an hour to get it up.  First two lines of poles are pushed into the mud to form a 'V'.  At the bottom of the 'V', there is a space where fine wire piece of fencing is formed into a circle with enough fence left over to be able to close the circle after the ducks are driven in it. Netting is strung on each arm of the 'V'.  Finally the netting and wire fencing are all tied to the poles.  Then the bottom must be stretched out from the poles and sunk into the mud so the birds can't dive under the trap and escape. On subsequent days, we only have to restick the bottom of the net tightly into the mud.

The poles have been put into place in two straight lines and the netting is being played out of it's storage box

Meanwhile, the other arm of the net  is also being installed

The wire forms the actual trap and will have flaps extending past the two poles in the picture. 

The trap is attached to the poles as are the ends of two nets -
a lot of twist ties are used

Finally a paddle is used to push the bottom of the nets deep into the mud
 so birds can't dive under them

We also have to take the holding boxes, stored flat each day put them back together, then add a bottom and and a pad to help dry the birds.

Building the boxes before going out to drive the ducks to the trap

When the net is ready to hold birds, we all start paddling off per Cody's instructions. We have to block escape routes on the way back to the net and gently push the birds to swim in the direction of the net.  So we have outriders that push birds both towards a center line and the net. We push the furthest groups (called creches) of young birds into groups closer to the net and finally we close in on them from three sides and push them along the extended arms of the net to the middle wire circle.

Birds swimming toward the trap.  Can you spot two species that are caught up with the scaup?
Smoky skies made it hard for me to show more distant birds.

Then controlled chaos ensues.  By this time several people are out of their boats and are pushing the catch  through the narrow opening into the circular fence.  One guy has been assigned to grap the two ends of the fencing and hold them together after other people jump into the enclosure behind the birds.  Some of the more knowledgeable birds are diving back under the boats.  Cody has ducked under an net arm of the trap and grabbed the skiff, now full of open boxes and pulled it up and has handed large dip nets to the people in the enclosure.  Other people gang up on or around the skiff the everyone works really hard and fast to get the ducklings out of the trap and  into boxes and to separate the larger ducks from the small ones - some we caught were only a week old while others were molting adults.  We want to get the birds dry and resting as soon as possible to put the least stress on them.

Ducklings are grabbed with big dip nets and also just by hand, then handed off to people on the skiff to sort into boxes

The guy in front is holding the trap shut while Cody is helping to lift a net full of birds and the women in the back are putting ducks into boxes. 

We caught several species of birds we didn't want.  This baby American coot was so ugly, we had to take its picture.

A face only a mother could love - juvenile coot

After we get the birds into boxes, they are distributed among the canoes and we all paddle hard back to shore to process the birds. The birds are brought up and put in the shade of the trucks.  Birds are transferred to new boxes with dry pads. Then empty boxes are set up and the birds sexed. Females are put at one end of the truck and males to the other.  Then we form into two  or more groups to process them.

A box of ducklings waiting to be processed

Sexing the birds - we have to peel back the cloaca - beginners can tell males but all possible females are double checked by the experts to be sure we didn't miss some males

Processing the birds requires a recorder to enter the data, a bander,  a person to measure the tarsus, or distance from the knee to the ankle on the bird, a person to measure the head/beak length, and a person to weigh the bird. I got to do all these jobs on various days,  except the actual banding. Some of the birds are too tiny to band, so we put on a toe clip and hope to catch them on the roundup we'll do in September, when they will get a band. 

Getting the band on the bird is the hardest work and only done by a few experts

Measuring the distance from the back of the head to the bill

Measuring the tarsus length

Weighing the duckling - here by a researcher in training

One of our smaller researchers and larger ducks caught - on the way to release a group of birds

As soon as we get a good group of bird processed, we release them to form a new creche
and thus be better protected from predators.  That is a favorite of the children who each
hold one bird to release on the count of three

A few of the adult females were nose tagged with markers that are different colors and shapes, as well as have different colored and shaped attachments, so they can be identified in the field without having to be recaptured. Some of these may return to nest her next year.

A female duck with the bill marked so she can be observed at a distance in future years

Can this much fun be counted as work? Picture of me by Cody

Even though I ended up covered in duck poop every day

Cody just reported that in the four days of catching lesser scaup, we processed six hundred and fifty ducks.  And we'll be doing this again in September.  Can't wait. 

Click on the picture to see more Wild Bird Wednesday blogs.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Haunted Weekend, Part II

Last weekend I started out on Friday by visiting Bannack State Park, the site of the first gold rush in Montana, as well as the first territorial capitol of Montana. The buildings are deteriorating but are being maintained, for the most part, so the roofs are watertight and thus don't fall.

I was camping at Grasshopper Campground, which is on the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway, just south of Elkhorn Hot Springs. I wanted to explore the byway further and get to Butte in the afternoon to put up last Sunday's blog.  I broke camp and started out without breakfast or coffee, planing to stop somewhere along the way for same.

Fog was pretty heavy, especially in the valleys. I listened to the radio as I drove, and found out I was heading into unhealthy particulate levels from the smoke of two wildfires. I started climbing as soon as I got to the road and soon came to some (probably) breathtaking views. But alas they were hidden under the smog.  But I could see that I would have been able to see alpine meadows, above the tree line.  I stopped at all the campgrounds along the way. (Grasshopper is the best one, followed by Price Creek.) Over two hours after I'd left my camp, I got to Mono Campground.  When I stopped to explore, I found both a trail and a sign that said Elkhorn Mine was only four miles further down the side road. So I  had to stop there also.

This mine and ghost town was an entirely different experience. I hike in and most through all the mine area as well as the town before I met any people. And this is not being maintained, except possibly for one house that is still standing.

The town of Coolidge, Montana was only in existence for 28 years, from 1914 - 1932. But what a change in just over a person's lifetime. Today it is mostly rubble.  The mine was never profitable and then a flood took out the train track and several bridges, it was the killing blow to the town. The town was established to support the silver mine, but there was never enough silver to get the mine to full production.  I felt a much greater sense of people's struggle to make a living here, than at Bannock.

Map of Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway with Coolidge Ghost Town marked

View of the Upper Mill 

Closer view of Upper Mill

This can has probably been here at least 80 years

Not sure what this was used for but it seemed to be a huge rotating tube

I could envision living in it but couldn't figure how to add a bathroom.  

The town and mill had electricity and phone service - this is a fuse box I found near the mill

The mine entrance

A cooking stove  - there were several sitting outside the homes

I saw this dragon caught in the wood and had to capture it with my camera

The town must have had a jail

The only house that is still intact

Wash basins in the intact house

Interior view of the intact house

There were a lot of golden-mantled ground squirrels around

And I was interested in seeing just how important a roof is to maintaining the rest of the house. I was reminded of way houses in hurricane areas now have to have the roof tied to the walls of the house, because walls can't stand without the roof.

This house will probably be walls and rubble by next year

A decorative part of what was maybe a ruined stove

Almost deconstructed by nature

Walls are giving way

There was a crooked little house

A view of part of the town

This roof had blown of its house intact and landed in Mono Creek, forming a waterfall inside itself

I got lost in the past and spent about three hours here before heading on up to Wise River and turning to go to Butte. I didn't get there until after two o'clock so didn't get my breakfast. Instead I drank a pot of tea with my Chinese food before going to the library and putting up the blog.

Then I went all the way back to the same camp  to get out of the worst of the smoke, and got the same camp site.  The two ghost towns and the hike to Sawtooth Lake (Wednesday's blog) made for a wonderful weekend.  Then I got to help with the lesser scaup roundup for three marvelous days - I'll tell you all about it Wednesday.