All posts by grizjohnson

I am a current graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks studying through the Resilience and Adaptation Program (RAP) to achieve my M.S. degree in Wildlife Biology and Conservation with intended graduation in the spring of 2015. I am an avid outdoors-man who hunts, fishes, backpacks, canoes, goes birding, and kayaks; aside from that I am an amateur photographer who dabbles in guitar playing and fiddling/violin. I grew up in rural Minnesota and lived in Maine for several years before coming to Alaska. My different adventures and pursuits outside bring me up close to a lot of cool stuff, and I enjoy documenting nature and all those other pieces of my life. My primary goal in this blog is to interweave pictures and text to bring you closer to nature.

Travels to the West: Chapter 3: 06/22/13 – 06/28/13 (Family, and, Headed East for the First time in 3 weeks!)

So Ian is giving me the reins here to document  the last leg of our incredible  journey west. For those of you who don’t know me I’m Kassie, Ian’s girlfriend of 7 years. It’s been a long and wonderful relationship although most of it has been long distance but we make it work somehow, I suspect God has a had a big hand in that. : ] Ian and I are alike in many ways and that is probably why we get along so well, one of the best parts of our relationship is we both see God in the creation He has given us and there is nothing we enjoy more than being out in His creation.

I’ll give a similar disclaimer to that of Ian’s, I’m not the best writer or storyteller and I make lots of grammatical and syntax mistakes so please bear with me as this is not my strong suit! :S Also I have a feeling this will get rather long since we have done much in the last week, even if Ian said it would be a short one we’ll have to see how long it gets…

Ian left of last time with our stop at Allyson’s in Corvallis, OR. After that amazing stop we drove the left over 8 hours back to Sandpoint, ID on Friday. Sunday we went to Farragut State Park with Sean, Jada, and Dane. The boys played disk golf while Jada, Dane, and I did some biking and hiking. Dane, Ian, and I also played at the playground in the campground. Dane loves the swings and Uncle Griz!



That night we had some awesome venison shish-kabobs over the fire, they were a little messy but so good! It was Dane’s first camping trip and he did very well, we did have to drive him around in the car to get him to fall asleep that night but he definitely enjoyed the outdoors and the s’mores! Dane is 17 months, and has been running since he was 10 months!

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The next day, Sunday, it was a rainy morning so we found a picnic shelter to hide under and made a breakfast hash of potatoes, eggs, cheese, and tomatoes. Then we took a couple of short hikes around Lake Pend Orielle before it started to downpour. Ian got nice pictures of a Rufous Hummingbird and a Black-chinned Hummingbird (see chapter 2, and managed to get this cute picture with Dane before heading back to Sandpoint.


The next morning we went back to the  Pend Oreille Wildlife  Area Oden Bay, as our last morning birding trip in Sandpoint. Again the little Calliope Hummingbird was guarding his little patch of land and Ian was able to take those amazing pictures in chapter 2 of him (

Tuesday we went to Round Lake State Park with Dane and Sean. It was a beautiful little spot. We took the trail around the lake and Ian got some great pictures of a female Goldeneye. i’m not positive if it was Common or Barrow’s they are so similar but here she is with her young of the year. (NOTE FROM IAN: I was walking on ‘solid’ but muddy ground along the lake shore when I went into waist deep mud on the next step. Fortunately, saved the camera!!! :S. Once that happened I decided I enough pictures of the lady with the red head.)

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I was pretty excited when I saw them, never having seen a female Goldeneye, I thought it was some species of duck I’d never seen or a hybrid…  I got Ian pumped up to until Sean ruined my parade after looking at the pictures he knew exactly what they were… Oh well, still nice to see the little family.

Wednesday, It was time to say good bye to the Johnson family and head eastward again. It was a sad morning but also a bit exciting for the next leg of the journey.

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We headed out for Great Falls, MT so we could hit up Benton Lake NWR that night and the next morning. We had a spectacular birding time out there, it was a great site. We saw over 33 species of birds in 2 hours the first night we visited it. Some highlight species for us were Cinnamon Teal, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Upland Sandpipers, Black-crowned Night-Herons, White-faced Ibis, Black-necked Stilt, Ruddy Duck, and Marsh Wrens.

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NOTE FROM IAN 🙂 We were treated to an explosive sunset over the hills of the refuge. I, for one, have a preference for sunsets with clouds in them. The oranges, purples and blues were spread for almost 180 degrees.  One last meadow lark was singing for the night silhouetted against the array of colors. Pretty!!!

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The rest of Thursday was spent driving to Washburn, ND.My old stopping grounds. 🙂 When I was a sophomore in college I spent my summer out at Cross Ranch as a Piping Plover Technician through The Nature Conservancy. Ian and I went to the John E. Williams Preserve by Turtle Lake and walked around some of the lakes I did my research at. It was sad to see how high the water had risen this year! There were hardly any areas with enough beach for the plovers to nest. We saw around 10 pairs on one lake that still had some beach left, but only one chick was spotted. I hope next year will be a little easier on these beautiful little birds.


While the water was too high for plovers it was great for some species of birds I had never seen in this area, a couple of them being Black-crowned Night-Herons (BCNH) and Black Terns. We saw around 30 BCNH in about 2.5 hours! They just kept flying over us from East to West, I’ve never seen so many in my life! Some other noteworthy species were Marbled Godwits, American Avocets, William’s Phalaropes, Willets, Upland Sandpipers, Common Nighthawk, Northern Shovlers, and Northern Pintails.

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**NOTE FROM IAN 🙂 : The common nighthawk flying around in the daylight was a real  treat! on top of just seeing one in the daylight, he complied with picture taking by flying right over head! The red-eyed bird (you can’t miss it!) is an eared grebe. Their red eye was so intense that it was actually really difficult to photograph because of the saturation.

The warning calls from the shorebirds (NOTE FROM IAN: INCREDIBLE), specifically American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Upland Sandpiper, and the cute little Piping Plovers brought me back to a summer of being yelled at as I walked and surveyed these lakes. At times it was a bit much to take in when you are being dive bombed by Avocets but I can say I stood tall and never actually got hit by one of those sharp beaks! (They were all pretty good about flying up at the last second ; ] )

After birding we went back to Washburn and stayed with one of my previous supervisor’s, Chris Gordon.  We stayed up late chatting and reminiscing with Chris and Karen, we had such a great time! The next morning Ian made crepes and Chris took out some walleye civeche which was amazing.  We then had to say good buy as Ian and I headed out to do some more birding this time at TNC’s Cross Ranch Preserve. Before we hit the trails we got to visit with my past boss Eric Rosenquist before heading out. It was so nice to be back in this part of North Dakota, I miss this area with all of its natural beauty, its wildlife, and its down to earth residents. While hiking the trails at the preserve we were hoping to see a Baird’s Sparrow and a Spragues Pipit which have been spotted in the area before but no luck. However, Ian got pictures of a Clay-colored Sparrow and some beautiful Prairie Lilies!

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And finally we hit up the last leg of our journey home, about 5 hours back to Perham. We have about a month to relax (and do some summer school here for me) before we head out to another long road trip but this time to Alaska! (NOTE FROM IAN : Looking forward to the AK TRIP! 🙂  🙂 🙂 )

Thank you all for your time I hope you enjoyed Ian’s amazing photographs! More soon!

Travels to the West: Chapter 2: 06/14/13 – 06/21/13 (From the top of Bonner County, to the Redwoods of California)

Well, it’s been an adventuresome last 10 days! However, I’m actually writing this blog entry on my final night in Idaho. It’s been an unbelievable trip, but Kass and I will be starting back to the East by heading through Benton NWR in Great Falls, MT, Cross Ranch SP and the Little Missouri Grasslands. I’m looking forward to being back. However, without further ado, I’d like to share some of the exciting events, stories and sights from the last week!

Also, a re-note on notes 🙂

NOTE: it’s kinda  long blog entry, but I hope you’ll take the time to read through it all. Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think or what you might like to see for next time!

NOTE 2: I’m not much of a proof-reader when it comes to non-critical things as a blog entry. SO, please ignore and work around any errors. THANKS! 😀


We were fortunate enough to see three species of humers while on our travels.

The Calliope humming bird is one of the smallest migratory birds in North America. Kass and I were fortunate to find this dominate male at Oden Bay Wildlife Management Refuge. I was able to stand very close to this bird has he offered both pictures, memories and insights into the world of a hummingbird! He flew post to post as he staked out his small territory, often fending off other males. He was likely defending a female on eggs. He kind of looks angry, doesn’t he?!

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This full male ruffous hummingbird also sports an incredible throat! And, although less showy, the black chinned is also a very cool bird!

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Scotchman’s peak is tallest peak in Bonner County, ID and the trail up the mountain was described in our book as “a heartless ascent”. They were right, it was absolutely brutal! A 15 to 20 % grade had my lungs burning as we cooked through the first mile in about 30 minutes. On our way up we encountered Indian Paintbrush. This has been a pretty common flower throughout our trip in the west, however, this was the first time I had taken the opportunity to photograph it.  Its a plant normally associated with open areas, (in this case a sunny, mountain hillside) or more often in prairies.


One of the mammals that we found on the way up was this little Pika! These little buggers are herbivores and stockpile food throughout the summer. This one didn’t hang around long, but he sure did a nice little pose!


We were also treated on the way up by this mountain bluebird! He was a big down the slope from us, so you can see how the heat coming off the mountain is warping the bluebird as well as the scenery around it? Although it’s not the best shot of a mountain bluebird, I sure like the artistic effect! The deep blue of these birds was shocking to me. We actually found some great mountain bluebirds at Farragut State Park, so I’ve included this one twisting into a pose on top of a mullen.


Also on the birds of the peak, you’ve seen them before, but the western tanager is always stunning!!


Now here is one of the iconic animals of the mountains! The Mountain Goat! These goats are notorious for scaling impossible slopes. When we first reached the top we spotted this one peaking over the edge of the mountain at us. After reaching the summit he walked across this snowy flat (After Memorial Day!!) across the mountain top. COOL!

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After reaching the summit  at ~6800′ we were greeted with unprecedented views of 4 different mountain ranges. Here are panoramas of each of them as seen from Scothman’s. I present to you the tail of four ranges.

The first range is the SellKirk range. These are the distant mountains seen to the north of the Scotchman’s Summit.


To the south of the summit are the purcells. They are the distant mountains seen here in this panorama.


The southwest summit was the Monarch mountains. These were the lowest of the surround ranges. Notice, no snow!


And finally the Cabinet mountains! This range contains the Scotchman’s peak summit. Can’t go wrong with those summit conditions!!


And finally, to summarize the hike, here is Sean and I on the summit of the peak, overlooking Lake Pend Orielle the the west. I love the old-timey feel of this shot!



Kootenai NWR is located about 30 miles out of Sandpoint on route 2. It’s a managed area for mostly ducks and deer, however, we also saw a moose while there!

I think the fledgling Great-horned owl pictured below was the highlight of the birding at Kootenai. Those eyes are intense and beautiful! There was actually a pair of fledgling owls, but the second, which was closer to us, flew off before any pictures could be taken.


This bald eagle was overlooking the Koonenai river.


After leaving KNWR we headed to snow creek falls. I will start by saying if you ever get the chance, take it! The trail is tucked back up some gravel roads and is very nice. It leads you through across a hillside about a mile before you arrive at snowcreek falls. There are two falls in this area. The lower, which is in my opinion the more specactular is a misty haven shrouded in green moss. You are able to be right at the waters edge and breathe in the moist air. The sound penetrates through you.

Pictured here is the lower falls, the combination of sunlight, mist and noise (which you’ll have to imagine) was delightful!


After moving from the lower falls we meandered up to the top were managed to pose for a pretty nice group photo. The top falls were gorgeous, but their primary function was to feed the lower falls and crash onto the rocks below. There is really nothing more mind-clearing than a waterfall! Next time you are at one stand close to it for as long as possible and then report back to me on what was going through your head as the sound resonated in your bones… I’ll be surprised if it was anything!



Kass and I started on our journey to California by heading to southern Idaho and doing some birding. Pictured here are a western kingbird and mourning dove. I feel like MODOs are underrated. They are really a strikingly beautiful birds. I caught this one in the act of batting her lashes and me and blowing kisses my way. Sorry, MODO,  I’ve already got my chick! 🙂

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After moving on from southern ID I was stunned at the similiarity of the landscape to North Dakota and the Plains regions! There was a fire burning on the distant horizon and windmill spun lazily throughout our drive. Even the dry wheat and grass fields along with grazing cattle in the sage were a famililary sight! Here, we captured a few of the landscapes from our care window.

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And then, after 12 hours of driving, we were THERE! And let me tell you, the redwoods are even bigger than Imagined! Everything is big there. We found horsetail (aka ‘Indian Tinkertoy’) that was above my head! The first were lush and huge and spread throughout the forest. Within the woods was silence, which an important contrast to one of the scenes I will demonstrate later. After walking a ways you were simply dumbstruck the trees that were all around you. Here I’ve climbed up one of the largest trees in Stout Grove and I look like an ant!


Below is a side view of just one of the ferns throughout the woodlands. And along side of that is a rhododendron. Many people imagine these plants being yard ornamentals, however, they are native to CA, and are very beauiful! They often stand 12-15 feet tall and have many of these large blossoms.



But, anway, back to the trees. Really, it was all so amazing there I’m having a hard time writing about it without small anecdotes! (ie: fern above) Here are just some more pictures of me trying to convey just how big some of the trees are! These trees are up to 33 feet in diameter and over 2,000 years old. They are able to grow there because of a humid climate which happens to be stable to boot! (of course… that is until CA falls away from the rest of the United States).


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I wedged this penny into the sawed, 3.5 foot diameter section of limb for perspective. These trees DO NOT grow fast! Imagine how many of these rings fit into a 2000 year old tree! Actually, that’s a bit of a joke, because the answer is 2000.


We also were able to have some fun on one of the fallen trees, which I have dubbed as the “Dance of the Redwood Fairies” :). Note the fairies here are about 15 feet off the ground, so it was no small feet getting them to dance like this! A rare sight, indeed!

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After moving from the redwoods we headed to Crescent Beach for the tidepools. I had been to tide pools in Maine, but I had never seem them like this before! Green anenomes teamed throughout them and star fish hung onto the rocks, waiting for the tide to return. Crabs and small invertebrates crawled everywhere. Hopefully just these two  pictures will speak for themselves here! I wish I had more, however there was a camera debacle. I had the brilliant idea to wrap a ziploc bag around my lens and then submerge the lens under the water for underwater photography. That actually pretty well, but my safety measured didn’t account for a small wave that came over the top of the camera. 5 minutes later I noticed bubbling and oxidation coming from my flashport. OOOOOOHHH NO! So, I turned the camera off, took out the battery cleaned it, said a prayer and put it all back together. When I turned it back on a small black smoke rose from the flash port and there was a singe of burning electronics in the nose. So, with that story in mind, my tide-pooling pictures were cut short!

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One of the most incredible areas (other than the redwoods) that we experienced at the park was the Kalmath River Estuary.This area was teaming with birds and mammal life alike and was a high contrast to the deafening silence of the redwoods. Pelicans, ospreys and cormorants relentless fished for small bait on the incoming tide. However, it was the Stellars Sea lions that were the most incredible to watch! These gracesful and huge mammals were feeding on lamprey (pictured) and other fish. Several times Kassie and I observed them tearing apart large fish by brutally thrashing them on the surface. Of course, if you were a sea lion you wouldn’t have opposable thumbs to grab and pull with, so thrashing would be the only acceptable way to tear apart meat! The osprey were apparently also fishing the lamprey, as one flew overhead with one! The pelicans mouth can hold more than his belly can (like helican!! :D) and this pelican has just come up from a successful dive, see a few of the fish in his pouch??

Also, the black oyster catchers pictured here were a VERY cool bird to see! On top of these amazing animal encounters was a rocky jutting coastline and gray whales feeding and blowing in front of the river mouth!

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One of the well known mammals, which came as a surprise to me, were the Theodore Roosevelt Elk. As the name suggests these elk were transplanted from TNRP (see Chapter 1) into the park to re-establish the populations which had been hunted to extinction. Here are just a couple of the ones that we observed!

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I honestly could go on, and on about our experiences at the park. But, in order to save my fingers, and you a bit of a reading time, I thought I would just do a picture ‘dump’ from some of the other things observed that need little explanation.

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On our way back north we stopped by the humble household of a friend and PhD student, Allyson. She was generous enough to take us out birding and show us one of the coolest birds of the trip. The Acorn woodpecker! These birds are known for drilling holes into trees and then stuffing the hole tightly with an acorn as a winter larder. They often need to fend off the squirrels, and the sequences of that can be seen in the new documentary, North America, be sure to check out the episodes on TV, as they are truly stunning!

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Also pictured here are a song sparrow, scrub jay and barn swallow:

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And here we are! The reunion.


So folks, that chapter 2, hopefully 1 more chapter in the making! I think it will be a shorter chapter, but will include the journey back to MN, and with a little luck burrowing owls!!  I hope you enjoyed!

Travels to the West : Chapter 1 : 06/07/13 – 06/13/13 (Teddy Roosevelt NP, Glacier NP and Idaho)

Since my last entry I have departed from Maine and driven to Minnesota with my dear mother. She was willing to tolerate me (and I her? 🙂 ) on the 1800 mile journey between those two states. After reaching home I spent a few days there before leaving on a sabbatical/vacation/adventure for the west with my Girlfriend, Kassie Pesch. This trip has a few purposes including seeing the west, birding, being a naturalist and visiting my brother in Idaho for a few weeks. I am struggling on the best way to display some of the many images taken on this trip. Group them by location? by activity type? by species? By genera? After a lot of consideration I have decided to display them chronologically or by species groups. I’ve also done my best to show my pictures which I feel demonstrate the region where they were taken.

NOTE: it’s kinda  long blog entry, but I hope you’ll take the time to read through it all. Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think or what you might like to see for next time!

NOTE 2: I’m not much of a proof-reader when it comes to non-critical things as a blog entry. SO, please ignore and work around any errors. THANKS! 😀


Teddy Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) is located in the western side of North Dakota. It can be seen here (MAP LINK). The land is divided into 2 ‘units’. The north and the south.

Spotted Towhee are one of the common birds found throughout the praire lands of North Dakota. Here a spotted towhee is sitting above the painted canyons.

Spotted Towhee
Spotted Towhee

And, speaking of the Painted Canyons here they are! These are extenstion of the Badlands of South Dakota, to which many are familiar. If anyone every drones on how flat and boring North Dakota is… it’s probaby because they have not been far enough west! These painted canyons are beautiful in any light, but when a sunset or sunrise pours over them the lights up in reds, browns, grays and and greens that twist together into one of the most memorable scenes you can have. These lands are aptly named by the ox-cart travelers. They cannot be farmed or easily traversed.

Painted Canyons, Theodore Roosevelt NP, Panorama
Painted Canyons, Theodore Roosevelt NP, Panorama

Here they are, the mosaic and color of the Painted Canyons! These clay balls become like grease when wet. They colors meld together into the painted landscapes that surround you on all sides as you hike through them.

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This bird is unidentified, however, I just throught it was amazing how big of a meal he was able to find in the wilderness of the prairie. Dinner is served!

Dinner is served! Unfortunately I'm not sure of the species of this bird. But, it's amamzing to think how full his stomach will be!

This American Crow may be one of the most common birds that people remember. They are known for the intelligence and social behavior. This one obviously knew that I was not a threat, and allowed me to approach him quite closely!

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American Crow

Here are just a couple of the flowers that you’ll find in the prairie and painted canyon lands of North Dakota. The pink flower on the left is a rock rose and the flower on the right is prairie smoke. It certainly is well named. I can see both the red-fire of it’s flower and the smoke of the seeds poking from it!

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Bison are the ICONIC mammal of the plains of ND, WY and SD. These mammals once numbered in herds that numbered in the millions, but were hunted to near extinction by pioneers and settlers throughout the course of the history in the early west. These days there are stable populations of these great animals throughout the plains. However, one thing that is hard to convey in a picture is just how enormous they are! Here, on the left, I’m hoping that the picnic table gives scale to this large bull who was scratching his beard on it. The bull on the left may have been even bigger! He had littler concern for us as we passed by.

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Here are another famous mammal of the canyon lands. The residents of Prairie Dog Town! These rodents are known for colonizing large areas and often spend their days chewing grass. The advantage of being in such a large colony is that many eyes see coyotes, raptors and humans much better than few! The young prairie dogs shown on the left were about half grown. They were always the first do disappear when the warning “CHURRIPS!” were sound across the Town.

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And, since we are on the mammals of Theodore Roosevelt Nation Park here is one the most sought after, mystical and famous. The ‘wild’ horses of the plains. These horses are not truly native, but are feral horses who range throughout the plains eating grasses and raising young. The thought of them being feral doesn’t take away from their beauty! They are often seen at sunset or in the dusky hour grazing in roadside areas. On the left they are shown on a distant ridge-top  silhouetted against the waning sunset. On the right a group of horses are harboring two foals as they graze along.

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There are naturally many birds that are throughout the painted canyons and TRNP. On this trip we did have some that we absolutely wanted to see, and here are a few of them! On the left a red-headed woodpecker browses through its favored cottonwoods. Unfortunately it was an overcast day when this photo was taken, because he’s such a beautiful bird! In the middle a lazule bunting sounds out to all the single females around him, hoping to find a mate. And on the right an orchard oriole sits up in the evening sun. One other oriole not pictured here, but was a ‘lifer’ (one that I had never seen) was the bullock’s oriole. Maybe next time I’m in TNRP  I’ll get the opportunity to take pictures of them!

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The sunrise of over TNRP in the morning was truly a treat, and was a great way to start the end of our stay at TNRP. The fog, sunlight, cottonwoods and canyons were a delightful combination!


Although tent caterpillars are never a welcome site, you cannot really deny their uniqueness and beauty. Based on the number of tents and emerging worms that were seen I think that it will be a bad year for the trees, but a good year for the birds! I predict it will be a prolific year. My grandmother, Phyllis, once told a story of these caterpillars being so thick when growing up in northern MN that the trains were unable to stop due to the slickness of the tracks! Here the tent worms are shown dappled in the sunlight.



The Little Missouri National Grasslands (LMNG) are vast, and beautiful. They house many birds and animals. If you have have the opportunity to watch a thunderstorm roll over these plains, be sure you take it and enjoy it! It is powerful to watch the distant rain and thunder arc between sky and land.  Our tour of the LMNG brought out many of the classic grassland birds. Here are just a few!

This marbled godwit was actually a bit pesky! It was so intent on protecting its nest it stood in front of the car and tried to shoo us away. You do not always think about the shorebirds of the Great Plains, but they are there, and plentiful to boot! Another interesting example is included below.


This is a Wilson’s Phalrope. One of the most interesting things about this bird is that the femals are colorful and the males are drab! In this species the male actually determines which of the females he thinks is the most fit and beautiful! They are a pint sized bird and I believe they are smaller than a robin. Here these two females are shown wading and foraging.

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There are many, many types of blackbirds in the prairie! Here, a yellow-headed black bird looks on while perched on a cattail and a bobo-link trills perched on top of this fencepost. Fence posts are actually a great place to observe many of the grassland birds as it offers them a vantage point for predators and a high visibility location for likely mates to see them. Below are a few more of the examples birds that like to sit high on the posts.

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This horned larked (left) was sitting on his vantage point. I’m not sure if he was just enjoying the sun or watching for predators. However, the savannah sparrow (right) had a purpose for his high post! Sing and show off for the ladies. This sparrow sat on top of his post and quivered his wings sporadically and held poses before signing to anyone would listen. When we departed 5 minutes later he was still intent on wooing a mate!

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Below is another of iconic birds of the grasslands. The eastern meadowlark is known for its beatiful voice and striking yellow breast. They will often sit as high as possible, but are often very skiddish to approaching humans.



After leaving grasslands of the Little Missouri we were off to Montana and Glacier National Park (GNP) which can be seen at this link here: MAP LINK . Montana is known as the big sky country, and rightfully so! Our trip to Glacier was filled with grand views and grasslands. We skirted to the south of GNP and then came into the west side of the park, where I had never been before. About 8 years ago I had the opportunity to do some backpacking in the east side. One of the great parts of the west side, as I found out, is that many of the roads are maintained as gravel for cultural reasons. The terrains and means of getting to it are rugged. We stayed 2 nights at the Bowman Lake Campground, located on the south end of Bowman Lake (MAP LINK) . I will put in a shameless plug for this area now and say if you get a chance to visit it, please do!!

However, before we made it up to Bowman Lake we had a few other things in Mind. Here, a river rages into the north end of McDonald lake, one of the biggest lakes in West Glacier. Our hike to this spot yielded a varied thrush, a lifer for me! We also had a special duck on the brain when visiting this area. Did we get him?? You bet! See below!


Harlequin ducks are one of the most unique ducks I can think of. They remind me of clowns. Harlies breed in the river areas of mountains and feed on invertabrates. On the left two males are shown looking for larvae and crayfish. I thought it was simply lucky and incredible to catch this male with his head in the water while looking straight at me. Look at those eye spots he has!! The female in the middle is drab compared to the males, but a very cool duck. On the left a male takes a rest on the rocks in the middle of the river. There was a significant event in GNP in regards to these ducks this year. Biologists now know that they get OLD! In short, a banded duck was found that is a minimum of 17 years old. For the full story you can visit here: STORY OF 17 Y/O HARLIE DUCK

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You have never seen night until you experience it in an area with no lights except the stars! The number of stars in the sky is truly unbelievable. Here, three different starscapes were captured. On the left the starts were captured looking straight up through the ponderosa pines. In the middle the stars are captured looking to the north over Bowman Lake. And in the image on the right an 8 minute exposure shows the celestial movements that never cease!

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The next morning we headed out the the Numa Lookout Fire Tower. The climb to the tower moved up 3000 feet and ended at 6900′. The trail was well graded throughout and I would recommend it to anyone! The view from the top was beautiful, see for yourself! Here, the panorama of the mountain top show as well as a Glacier Lily set to a mountainous landscape in the rear.

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We also found several birds to look at throughout the day. Some of the highlights included ruffous humingbird ( not pictured), pine siskins (left), WESTERN TANAGER, McGillvary’s Warbler, Dark Eyed Junco (oregon phase) and townsend’s solitaire. Of course, of all of these birds the tanager is the visually most stunning! I’m a bit disappointed that the light was so dingy when we saw them, but I think you’ll get the point!

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Our way up and down was also graced with may types of flowers. One of the most dainty and beautiful is the fairy slipper, which is pictured below. Can you imagine a fairy wearing it??!


Up and down the trail there were also many stalks of bear grass. It looked as though thousands of of tee-balls were stacked throughout the woodlands waiting for a couple of teams of players.

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Were also found a wild form of  clematis , Western virgin’s bower.  Clasping-leaf Twisted-stalk which reminded me of soloman’s seal and the Glacier Lilies, which I’ve featured again.

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Our next morning yielded a foggy, moody morning over the mountains which had been layered in stars just two nights earlier. Again, I can’t emphasize just how breathtaking EVERY moment was here!



And finally, a few of the pictures of the instigation and reason for this trip, family! The reunion of my brother, sister-in-law and nephew is sweet indeed! Here we are on our hike up a portion of Mt. Mickinnick


On our trip up the mountain we came across quite an array of flowers! One of the most unique to me was the Coral root, shown here.


And, here, in no particular order, are some of the others! I do know their names, but for now, perhaps just the visual will do?

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So, that’s the first week of my 3 week trip to the west! Please check back in for parts 2 and 3 of this blog which will include conquering the daunting Scotchman’s peak, trips to Kootenaie NWR and to the Redwoods or California! I will leave you with this one last photo of an osprey feasting on a Kokanee salmon in the Kootenai NWR. COOL!

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Un-static Time

I really haven’t been around my home here in Minnesota for over 7 years. My time in college drug me away from here in 2006 and the ponds, roads and woods where I tread as a wee lad haven’t seen my toe prints in quite some time. However, today I went out and walked behind the pond, one of my favorite spots, and was rewarded with birds and wildlife. A grouse was drumming, but was too smart for me to get close and watch him. I did encounter the  green below. He was bit skiddish, but posed in the back of the swamp for a bit.


On my way back I encountered the Minnesota equivalent of a Cicada hatch. The fish flies were hatching in vast numbers and a north wind was pushing them off of Big Pine lake and onto the mainland in front of me. The cedar waxwings, possibly a hundred or more, were dining, scoffing and pigging out on the crunchy flying wings. I sat and watched with my Mom for 15 minutes as waxwings gleaned in front of us. It’s amazing to me how everything we see is such a snapshot in time! If we had been there tomorrow we would have never known that such a large collection of bugs and birds had gathered. Below, I caught this waxwing going for the fishfly, which got away!


As we rounded down our gravel road we came upon a Hoary Pacoon (below) growing in the ditch. This prairie remnant was the only one blooming in an area that I recall having many along with prairie smoke and other prairie species. How long would it be before the small, wooded lot I watched the cedar waxwings in would suffer the same fate as these species? When I return 7 years from now, will there be any more hoary pacoon? Should I be saving the seeds and re-planting them somewhere else? But then, I walked by, sensing the fruitlessness of any interaction.


One bird we saw was a welcome sight was this Tree Sparrow. These birds are defined by the lone black spot on their chest. This one obviously has a family on the brain!


I do still see many of the things that are familiar to me. The forget-me-nots are in bloom, and these delicate flowers are always welcome around the house and in the garden! They remind me of growing up and going to my Grandpa’s, where a fast, ocean colored field of blue out back was always a contentious point between my grandmother and he. When to cut the lawn? Could the lawn be cut before the FMN’s were done blooming? YES! Said one, while “NO!” said the other. My grandmother always won, and the lawn wasn’t cut until the flowers stopped blooming.

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So, it’s no secret, but time isn’t static. However, don’t lament in it, or feel bad for yourself. Instead use it as incentive to be out doing what you enjoy, knowing that it will never look the same twice!

Rare-ducks, rare mornings and rare views. Acadia National Park!

I have to start out this post with a description of trials and tribulations. My mom (who had just flown in from MN) and I wanted to head to Acadia National Park one last time before making the drive from Maine to MN. To sweeten the deal we decided to leave early for some black-bellied whistling ducks that had been hanging around the MDI highschool. We left early, and on the way experienced car trouble. The clutch dropped out of my truck! Ever pulled up to a toll plaza and had no ability to downshift? It happended to me… once. So, we had to call in a flat bed and got towed into Augusta. There we dropped the vehicle off and picked up a loaners. All within 60 minutes. GREAT! We arrived in Bar Harbor in time for our scheduled Whale Watch tour and were standing in line when the cancellation announcement came through. It was shocking, seeing as the sky was clear and there was no wind, but I guess the offshore fog was just too bad! After the cancellation of the whale watch we decided to head for the BBWD’s and were rewearded! They are shown below.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

We also were rewarded with new life throughout the pond. There were goslings and ducklings in both of the ponds. In both cases it’s plain to see Mom and Dad watching out!

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From a little birding it was time to command and conquer! We had a Cadillac Mountain Summit in our future and on our brains.  We took the West Face trail up the mountain which starts at Bubble Pond. If you have had the opportunity to climb this mountain and this trail, good on you! It’s straight up the mountain and is a bit grueling at times, but you can’t miss the summit! Here you can see a panoramic shot of the mountain.


We headed back down the mountain and went straight for the Wild Gardens nature area. There we met up with my coworker, Tim Divoll, to do some bat trapping. One of the main pieces of the work at Biodiversity Research Institute is its bat monitoring and research efforts. As you may know bats have been hard hit by white-nose syndrome which has killed an estimated 5.5 million bats. This disease, along with deforestation and other habitat loss have been some bad species in a critical state. The objective of the bat trapping in Acadia was in collaboration with state, federal and university individuals to help understand the immunology, mercury and population dynamics of small-footed bat in Acadia. These bats are very small – one that was captured this night weighed in at a mere 3.2 grams! The picture below shows a small-footed bat with its characteristic black mast. The wing pictured is Tim Divoll checking this bat for scarring, which is an effect of white-nose syndrome.

Small-footed Bat Small-footed Bat

The next morning at Acadia was indeed a rare, and beautiful one! We drove to the summit of Cadillac Mountain where we watched the sunrise. From this vantage point we are one of the first to see it in the US! I did a time-lapse capture of the sunrise, which can be viewed:


After taking in that rolling fog (did you see it?), passing planes (did you see it?), lobster boats (did you see them?) and of course, the sunlight and changing landscape we headed down to Jordan Pond for a walk. The highlights of the trip were many, but included few people, expansive views and incredible weather! I’m told pop-overs at Jordan house are a necessity, unfortunately we missed those.

Here is the view from the south end of  Jordan pond (see the sun to the East?). There was blooms coming from the cottonwood trees and lazily floating on the surface.

Jordan Pond

Wildlife was abundant through our 4.5 mile hike around the pond! here you can see black-throated green warbler gleaning insects, a red squirrel digging for some insects behind the birch bark, a black-and-white warbler, a peregrine falcon flying a long the ridge-line and a common yellow-throat warbler. Of course my camera can only capture so many things! It didn’t capture the sounds of blackpolls, redstarts and black-throated blues. Nor did it capture the small minnows in the water.

Common Yellow-throat Warbler Black-throated Green Warbler Peregrine Falcon Black-and-white Warbler Red-Squirrel

Once we hit the north end of Jordan Pond the views were still there (they never left). The rocks in the picture below are only a few inches in diameter. Don’t be fooled by perspective!

Jordan Pond

From the north end of the pond I found the highlight of the trip. This may fly had just hatched. Most likely he spent the year growing and growing, this is his moment to shine! He posed in the sun, soaking it in before taking off in front of my camera. Thank you for your Time and Beauty!

Mayfly Mayfly

So, that’s my trip to Acadia National Park. I hope you enjoy!


Baxter State Park : Flowers, roaring water, wide vistas and Quintessential Spring

Sometimes you have to aim a bit lower than you want. If you were to head to Baxter state park you might have a Katahdin summit on the brain. I know I did! However, snowy conditions at the summit (on Memorial Day!) as well as high winds ensured that I wouldn’t be taking to the high-roads. So, Carl Anderson and I stuck to the lowlands for some birding and sightseeing. We covered some ground, about 5 miles, and it was perfect! Below are some of the pieces of spring in BSP that lead to an incredible experience.

Painted Triliums were a common forb along the trails and bogs. These flowers are delicate and beautiful! It was my first experience with these type of trilium. Very cool!


Painted Trilium - Baxter State Park, Maine
Painted Trilium – Baxter State Park, Maine

I’ve seen a lot of Ruffed Grouse in my time, but never had I seen such a “ruff” display. Incredible!


Ruffed Grouse
Ruffed Grouse

One of the northern breeding ducks, Ring-neck ducks are often confused with scaup. Here a female (above) is sunning herself on the rocks of Grassy Pond.  Below a male preens himself while a female looks on.


Ring necked Duckst at Baxter State Park
Ring necked Duckst at Baxter State Park

Ring-necked Duck Female

These white trillium are a bit of a mystery to me. If someone is reading this blog happens to know… are these white trillium a white phase of the painted trillium? Or are the a separate species?

White Trilium (species unknown)
White Trilium (species unknown)


A roarining waterfall at Baxter State Park
A roarining waterfall at Baxter State Park

A lifer bird for me this Swainson’s thrush was bouncing around the streamside at Abol Campground.


Swainson's thrush during a migratory fallout at Baxter State Park
Swainson’s thrush during a migratory fallout at Baxter State Park

Here’s the view of Mount Katahdin from the Dacey Pond road. See the snow on summit?!


A Panorama of Mount Katahdin
A Panorama of Mount Katahdin

Carl and I agree, Big Niagra falls (Above, Below) was instant Zen. How many times have you listened to the waterfalls and cleared your mind? I can guarantee, if you take the time to sit next to a waterfall, that you will not remember anything that you were thinking about! The sound, the smell, the vibrations in your chest, the sights all clear inundate and clear your mind!


Sitting at Big Niagra Falls, Baxter State Park with Carl Anderson
Sitting at Big Niagra Falls, Baxter State Park with Carl Anderson



Observe: The impossible


Observe: The impossible <<- Click Link

WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO SEE has been figment of legend for years. Can one truly, honestly train a cat? Well, I’m here to both submit testimony and evidence of its possibility. For evidence, look no further than the short video of this trained cat rolling over on command. This oreo cat, named Missy, has been in intense training for the last year or so to learn to roll over. And she’s finally mastered it. Now, fetching newspaper is next!

Les Miserbles Finale

Les Miserable Finale Solo

My time here in Maine, has been music filled! Thank you to Gorham Community Chorus ( and the Portland Community Chorus for great times singing in each of those choirs! My last Maine concert was held last weekend, and I got to sing the final solo to Les Miseables. I felt it was very fitting! The music is beautiful, and if you’ve ever seen the show (either the play, or the movie, which is recommended). You can just imagine each of the scenes as the the music starts. In the final Jean Valjean is dying after completing his life work. Enjoy!




This half pint porcupine was just too funny. I was birding with Robby Lambert and heard a rustlin in the woods. This guy came trundling out and panicked when he saw me. So, he climbed the first thing that he could. An 8 foot pine tree! He got about half-way up before realizing that it was time to switch from “RUN!!” to “BLEND IN!”. I can just imagine this little guy thinking “I Am a Pine Tree… I am a pine treee…. I am a pine treeee”. So cute and so funny!!

In fact. I even wrote a short ballad about him:

Deep in his thoughts
Porky trundled along
As a human next to him
Listened for a bird song

When their eyes quickly met
Neither would or could forget
And one scrambled up a tree
As the other slang his OM-D

But alas! This tree is too short!
Thought Porky, I have no retort!
The human thought differently, this tree is just right!
Now, only if I had a bit better light

So they stood eye to eye
And then it was done
For the porky had transformed into a pine tree
And the human had had his fun