My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Remembering 2015: Migration to Montana and Summer Work and Play

I was busy with friends and with doing lots of birding, during the early spring and throughout April. But I was getting more and more excited about getting back to Montana. I'm always torn between wanting to go back to a place where I've had a really good time and feel I've made a difference, and with seeing new places. My 2014 volunteer job was so fun and everyone I worked with was so nice and all the research was so interesting, that I decided I wanted to go back there. 

The first thing I do is to map routes to my destinations. When I saw it only took an extra hour to travel through Utah, I was hooked. I had missed Island in the Sky so wanted to visit it. And I knew of a cheap BLM campground, very near it, which would only cost me half price, so I planned to spend a couple of days in the area. 

Dark blue line marks my travel route

I drove to Utah, without my usual stops along the way, taking only a little time to sleep at a Motel in northwest Texas. Soon I was happily back at the same campground I'd stayed at the year before on the way home from Montana. I got to go an a wonderful hike on the Grand View Overlook Trail in the Island in the Sky part of Canyonlands.

(Click on each picture to access the blog from which it came.)

View along trail in Islands in the Sky

I also had time for the auto tour and a hike to Mesa Arch.  But I wasn't able to get there at the best time, just at sunrise, when the arch is lit from underneath.

Mesa Arch with a few of the many tourists

I left the area a day early due to a forecast of rain and snow.  I went on up to Salt Lake City, following a snow plow for part of the way, then spent the night at a motel. I realized I could visit Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, if I got up early and then finished my trip in the afternoon.

The play of light, clouds and water on Salt Lake was remarkable. It was too cold to even think about floating in the water. I was amazed at the hundreds of eared grebes there.

View of the Great Salt Lake from Antelope Island State Park

I finally managed to tear myself away from the ever changing views and finish my trip to Red Rock Lakes.  There, even before I finished unpacking and fitting myself into my trailer,  I started my bluebird survey by repairing all the boxes that needed it and gathering data on the birds that were already nesting.  We had a little snow fall not long after I arrived in mid May.  I ended up helping a fellow volunteer tend our arctic grayling fish eggs in the snow, then had to stop and repair a bird house, after ravens tore the top off, pulled the nest out, and ate the eggs. (We arrived while they were still digesting their breakfast.)

Me pipetting out the fungus-infected eggs

Then stopping to repair a box damaged by ravens

When I had time off, I had lots of adventures and some misadventures. My first little misadventure was getting stuck in a place where I couldn't rescue myself and then, after I figured I had cell phone service, a rarity up there, I spent a lot of time lost to the Indian guy who was trying to locate me, and then to the wrecker who finally pulled me out.  But the rest of the day was wonderful as well as was the following day's hike.

Oops! One of the times I wished for a high-riding truck and four-wheel drive

A waterfall on a wonderful hike

The landscapes I pass while doing my jobs are amazing.  I sometimes have to devote whole blogs to them.

Upper Lake with a rain squall coming to stop my bluebird survey

Even cleaning bathrooms is but an excuse to wallow in the scenery

My very favorite job is to get to help with the scaup roundup.  This year I got to help several days during the roundups in August and September. We drive the flightless adults and young into nets, then capture them and take them back to shore to measure, weigh, band and otherwise mark them, then release them back on the water.

The controlled chaos that takes place after we trap the birds. They are dipped out of the trap and packed into boxes while also being sorted into the same sized birds in each box. 

I was really lucky in that eleven friends came to see me.  I met most of them in either Yellowstone or Glacier, although two of them also spent time on the refuge with me.  A few highlights were the rainbow that rewarded me for first forgetting my billfold, then not being able to get a campsite, then having a flat on a Sunday, when no repair shops were open.

One of the many pictures I took of a double rainbow and its reflection

Each set of friends had a different agenda while at Yellowstone: to look at the geological features, to hike, to find wildlife, or to take great photographs. Oh yes, and to bask in the hot springs.  I had all that on my bucket list so we all had lots of fun.  And at Glacier, one friend wanted to both paddle and hike, while the others came for hiking and to do driving tours.

There are pictures in every direction

The Boiling River soaking spot

Paddle with Julie on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River

Lunch on the shores of Iceberg Lake

I had one other really fun, albeit frustrating job at Red Rock Lakes NWR. It was to survey our three breeding pairs of eagles. I turned out to be much harder than I anticipated and I never found one eagle pair's nest, although I'm sure they had at least one live chick because they screamed at me the whole time I was looking. This job went on for several weeks and I finally reported one chick that I actually saw, at least one chick I didn't see, and one pair that didn't have chicks, although the adults stayed by the nest.

One of a pair of eagles that screamed at me for most of a morning

In mid-September,  I went back to Texas and Louisiana to visit friends and doctors, then started up to North Carolina for the winter, stopping only to visit my friend Laurel, in South Carolina.  I'll not look back on my time during the fall with a blog, so the past four will be the only look-back ones.

I'm having slow adventures here, because most days off are rainy, and I always work in one or another Visitor Center, put hopefully the weather will soon improve and I'll have new adventures to share with you.

Have a very Happy New Year and plan to spend more time outside in your gardens and wild places.