Good Grebe!

I’ve been watching a pair of Red-necked Grebes on a local lake since early this spring.   They mated and built a nest in May, but the nest must have failed, because no little grebes ever showed up.  They hung around though, and a few weeks ago I saw the mating behavior again.  I eventually found their new nest, and last night we took the kayak out to check on their progress.

No grebes at the nest.   Uh oh.

But wait….there they are….and….success!    Baby on board!



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I’m not too sure about these grebes’ parenting skills.  I watched as they tried to feed the baby a fish that was twice as big as the baby:



Not surprisingly, junior couldn’t manage such a huge mouthful, and the parent dropped the fish.  In his excitement, the little guy toppled overboard:


The parents didn’t seem to know what to think about this flopping around behavior.


But he popped up again, and managed to scramble back on mama’s back.

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Ain’t nature grand?


Posted in Birding, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Exploring Rainy Lake

We have a new toy, and I’m just loving it.

DSCN8361 The cool thing about our new kayak is that it’s inflatable, which means we can fold it up and put in the camper.  And it’s a cinch to blow up.  Check it out:

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Nifty, eh?

We tested it out at Rainy Lake, a lovely little jewel of a mountain lake in the Seeley-Swan Valley.  Rainy Lake (and isn’t that just a perfect name for a lake?) is a loon nesting area, and I was hoping we’d see a loon carrying a baby on its back.   Mainly though, we were just happy to spend some hours on the lake, playing with our new toy.

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We watched a heron fishing along the shore,  and were watched by a bald eagle from his perch.



A couple of loons were calling to each other at the east end of the lake.  We got as close as we could without disturbing them, and – success! – one of them had a baby on her back!   The photos I got were from pretty far away, so they’re pretty fuzzy, but still…such a grand sight.  Can you see the little baby on her back?





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It’s Windy on Top of the World


It was 89 degrees and dead calm in the Skalkoho Creek valley when we left.  Now the wind is howling, and I’ve put on an extra shirt and the fleece jacket that I just threw in at the last moment, thinking it would make a good pillow.   But it’s all good.  I’m on top of the world.


The Gird Point Lookout is the fourth lookout we’ve stayed in, and it’s a dandy.    You can’t drive all the way to the lookout, but it’s a pretty manageable walk:  from the parking area it’s 3/4 mile up a hill.  A steep hill, yes, but not far.

The harder part is the 13 mile drive up the winding and twisty Forest Service road.  The directions tell you to budget an hour and a half for the drive, and that’s pretty much right.  But it’s not too rocky, so just about any car could make it.  (Although I noticed a number of folks who wrote comments in the lookout journal also commented on the flat tires they got on the way up.  The wind was also a common theme!)

After 12 miles, we got our first view of the lookout:


Every lookout has amazing views, but sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate; smoke or clouds can hide the scene.  But the wind just adds to the drama, and this place is full of drama.  We were even visited by a group of six mule deer bucks and a magnificent big horn sheep.  The wind died down just before sunset, which meant it was perfect for sitting out on the catwalk and just looking.



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Posted in Adventure, Backpacking, Hiking, Montana, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Hidden in Plain Sight

We’ve been hiking down Bear Trap Canyon for a couple of hours now, and I’m more than ready for lunch.  I stop by a big log, turn to Bill and suggest that this would be a good stopping place.

“Well, maybe not.”

“Why not?  I’m starving.  It’s a good place to sit.”

“Ummm…the guy right behind you thinks so too.”

What?? I turn to my right, and about jump out of my skin.   There’s a big dude sitting not three feet from me, totally decked out in camouflage.  Holy crow…that stuff works!    He laughs, we laugh, and we move on to find our own lunch spot.

We learned this nifty hiding trick from the animals, of course.

How about this example?  Not the bear, he doesn’t need camouflage.  But do you see anyone else in this photo?


Is it easier if you look where the bear is looking?


Sometimes we can be distracted by one critter and not see everyone in the frame.  I bet if you just take a quick look at these photos who won’t see everyone…




Pretty cool, eh?

Standing still works pretty well, too.  I saw a couple of these herons at first, but didn’t realize there were so many of them until I looked at the photo!


And I was so distracted by the lovely forms these two herons were creating that I totally missed that there were two babies in the nest:


Sandhill cranes can hide themselves incredibly well…except for that silly red spot on the top of their heads.


The system works much better if the light isn’t on them:


Owls have this camouflage thing nailed.  I bet I’ve walked within feet of hundreds of owls without a clue that they’re there.  Even when you know they’re there, it can be a challenge.



Of course, the old stand-by technique of putting a lot of brush around you is always a good choice.  Do you see anything in this tangle of branches?

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How about now?


Or closer?  Now you see the moose, I bet!


She was so well hidden, I just about walked into her.   What a shock that would have been!


Posted in Hiking, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Wildlife | Tagged , | 31 Comments

Between a Critter and the Hard, Hard Ground

Cowboys are pretty much always caught between two bad choices, don’t you think?







Posted in Adventure, Life, Montana, Photography | Tagged , , , | 24 Comments

Really Forest Service? You’re Locking Us IN????

We came through this gate on Saturday.  On Sunday it was locked.   No other way out.   Are you kidding me???

Our camper, and that of our new friend Tom, on the wrong side of a locked gate that was definitely OPEN when we came in.

Our camper, and that of our new friend Tom, on the wrong side of a locked gate that was definitely OPEN when we came in.

I am generally just fine with the Forest Service.  I haven’t always agreed with their decisions, but I think they do a pretty good job of balancing the competing needs and wants of public land users.

BUT when I’m stuck behind a locked gate, on a road that that their own website says should be open, you can trust that they are on the receiving end of plenty of cussing.

Here’s the tale:

On Saturday we decided to do some exploring of the Shields River Valley, even though it was cold and rainy.  I checked out the USDA-Forest Service website, and read up on the Shields River Campground to make sure it was open.    The site said it was open from Memorial Day to September, so we headed out.    (Just to be clear, there’s only one road to the campsite: Forest Road 855.  No other way in or out.)

We arrived at the Forest boundary around 6:00, in the rain.   We obviously went through an open gate, but we didn’t even notice it.

The campground is about three miles in, and it really is a lovely spot.  Only one other camper was there.  We even managed to fit in a nice little walk between rainshowers.

The next morning we explored and bit more, and then planned to head into the little town of Wilsall for the rodeo.

Good plan, except that we couldn’t get out.  When we got to what had been an open gate, it was closed.  And locked.  The other pickup was parked there, but nobody was around.    Of course, no cell service.  We decided to start walking to see if we could get service (although I’m not sure who we were planning to call; do you think there would have been any way to reach the Forest Service on a Sunday?)   We did meet a nice couple of women driving up the road, and they said that they’d do their best to get someone to help us when they got back to town.    We also ran into the other camper, who had arrived at the locked gate at 7:30 that morning.  He’d walked a couple of miles further and still couldn’t get a signal, but he had also spoken to someone who said they’d work on getting someone out there.

The three of us popped up our campers and ended up having a nice visit.  Tom was just beginning a 5 week trip to Alaska, and we got some great tips on doing that sometime in the future.  We were in a pretty spot, had food and water and heat  — could be worse.     Overnight at a locked gate?  OK ….  if we have to.

After about an hour, another pickup came up behind us.  Someone else was up there?

To our surprise, he worked for a rancher up the road, and he had the combination to the lock!   He said that there were a number of people who ranched along there, and the forest service gave them the combination.  One of them must have left the gate open on Saturday and then closed it when he left.   I asked why the gate was locked anyway, since the campground had been open since Memorial Day.  He said no, the campground and the road wouldn’t be open until June 16.  What??   He guessed that the website must be wrong.  Geez.

What kind of harebrained operation is this?  First, get the website right.  Second, if you want to put a gate across a public road, don’t go giving out the combination to who knows how many people, and then act surprised when the system gets screwed up.    Because yes, when I called the Forest Service today to tell them about this, they seemed perfectly willing to blame this on “someone who had the combination.”     They were contrite about the misinformation on the website, at least.

Despite our misadventure, it was a beautiful spot to camp, so if you end up in the Shields River Valley (after June 15!) I’d recommend checking it out.

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Spring in Glacier: Short and Sweet



Mid-June is definitely not summer in Glacier National Park.   The snow is starting to recede, and the wildflowers are just starting.  Nights are cold, but the long days and lack of crowds make it a great time to visit.    Last year we had such a great weekend at Many Glacier campground in early June that we went again last weekend.  There were a few folks in the campground, but not many.


A group of big horn rams visited the campground one evening.   They’d probably been hanging around for a few weeks, and were doubtless perturbed that people were suddenly invading their space.


We hoped to be able to hike a good part of the way to Iceberg Lake, but the snow stopped us after just a couple of miles.    No worries, though – it was still a spectacular hike.

The Iceberg Lake Trail is not only a favorite of hikers:  the bears are quite fond of it as well.    Having my bear spray along helps me feel more comfortable, for sure.    There were four of us hiking on this trip, and we all had bear spray:  if a bear had indeed surprised us I can just imagine the foggy fiasco as we all sprayed each other!   Just to be on the safe side I tried to hike at the end of the line.     This trail is one of my all-time favorite.  It’s about 5 miles to the lake – which usually has ice chunks floating in it all summer – and only climbs 1200 feet in that 5 miles.     And the views!    Here’s a sample from just the first couple of miles:





Flowers, too.  Pasque flowers, glacier lilies, indian paintbrush, forget me nots…



The chipmunks love the flowers as well:


We didn’t see a single bear on our hikes, but one guy did spend some time in the trees near the campground.  He wasn’t too cooperative about having his picture taken, though!



Posted in Camping, Hiking, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Wildlife | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments