Tag Archives: Memorial Day

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!