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

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!

American Crow
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!

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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.

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MISSOURI NATIONAL GRASSLANDS

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.

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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.

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GLACIER NATIONAL PARK

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!

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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??!

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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!

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SANDPOINT, IDAHO

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

Summit!

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:

HERE <<- CLICK!

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!

Ian

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 (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gorham-Community-Chorus/431017440319928?ref=stream) 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!

Porky-Pine

Porky-Pine

Porcupine

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