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Photographic Reflection : The Morning After Hurricane Sandy

Hello Readers!

I am incorporating a bit different aspect to my blog and will be periodically be taking some of the photos from the ‘past’ (before the creation of this blog) and writing about them; you will know if it’s one of these photos because I will start each entry with “Photographic Reflection”.  These photos are not just unstructured, random selections, but are moments in time which hold tremendous significance for me. There are stories behind the photos which cannot be portrayed just from 1000 words worth of pixels (using the old adage) and I’m hoping to take them into a third dimension. If I’ve done my job these entries will serve as an insight into my senses and perception of the moment the image was captured, and will securely place these moments in my oral/narrative past.

October 30, 2013 marked the 1 year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, which was the second hurricane I experienced during my three years of living in Maine. It differed a lot from Hurricane Irene which rolled through in 2010. Hurricane Sandy brought sustained 50 mile-per-hour winds to the Northeast coast and winds gusting to 64 miles-per-hours pushed up towering waves which broke upon the granite coast of Maine. During my visits to Dire Point, Pine Point and Cape Elizabeth leading up to the storm the waves continued to grow larger and the evening grew darker. By the time night had fallen the weather buoys outside of the Portland Harbor were reading wave heights of 18 feet or more. It was interesting staying in the house that night. As the winds howled outside the house felt close but comfortable. Each buffet on the window brought a sense of security – false or not – because every time a tree resisted the urge to let Sandy tip it over the more confident you felt it would continue to prevail in the next onslaught. I went to sleep that night knowing the next morning would not be like one I had ever seen.

When I woke up an hour before sunrise I cracked open the shades and took a short evaluation of the trees outside my window. Aside from the smaller limbs down and a covering of leaves on the ground our yard trees seemed to be in pretty good shape. I got out of bed and grabbed my camera; it was my intention to head out and document the wanton destruction of Mother Nature’s daughter, Sandy. As I drove along Black Point Road towards Two Lights State Park I could not really perceive anything wrong with the world. Power lines were not tangled, there were few injured trees, flood surge was not present and all houses were intact. To emphasize this feeling of assurance that we had gone through the worst of it mostly unscathed, overhead the sky broke and turned yellow, lit by a low-lying sun just cresting the horizon. Somehow out of the suppression of the clouds there was a sunrise. I almost stopped the truck there, but quickly realized the sooner I made it to Two Lights the better. So onward I went, not seeing a single person on the streets and still seeing no damage.

When I reached the coast an ocean breeze was still pushing at about 15 miles per hour. The tide was going out at the time and the rolling waves from last nights chaos were crashing in long periods on the coast, still towering from 6 to 9 feet. Although the waves were incredible to behold, it was the sunrise, spread in front of me, which was the most powerful. On both sides of the sun the dark clouds of Sandy were still present, however, right then I was experiencing the true calm after the storm. The waves broke on the rocks in millions of diamonds illuminated by the warm, yellow light of the sun. The spray produced was pushed by the wind into your face and it smelled of new ocean. I truly attest that the water smelled different than any other day and the tremendous mixing of the waters the night before had somehow changed the waters and how they reacted with the nose.

Sunrise after Hurricane Sandy
Sunrise after Hurricane Sandy

I sat and watched the sunrise for a long time. The speed that Sandy still moved created a dynamically shifting set of lighting and angles in which to watch the landscape. I moved closer and closer to the water edge until every wave that crashed in front of me sent a soaking spray over me and my camera; I realized quickly how important it was to cover my camera. As I crouched in the rocks the frothy waters would boil over my feet and recede again before being renewed by each new wave. After a short period I moved away from my post at the waters edge and perched 15 feet above the water. In another 10 minutes Sandy had regained control of her domain and again the sky was gray and flat. The waves still crashed, but as they broke in the flat light you would never they had been diamonds just moments before.

Sunrise after Hurricane Sandy 2
Sunrise after Hurricane Sandy 2

The sunrise after Hurricane Sandy may stand out as the most incredible sunrise I will ever experience. This moment I feel was reserved for me alone. I was alone when the sunrise started and was unperturbed by any human as the sun wrestled with the Storm. I only saw one other person on the coast that day, and as far as I know the pictures you see here are the only proof of the beauty of that morning.

Below is a short video of several sequences of timelapse from the morning. I couldn’t dedicate my camera to taking more than short bursts of images because the spray was constantly getting on the lens. Not to mention I needed to aim it in other directions to capture as much as possible! So, if you watch the video below keep that in mind. It’s very short and the waves never look as big actually were.

Thanks for reading everyone! I hope you enjoyed the look into the past as much as I enjoyed writing about this. I hope to continue these reflection pieces from time to time.

Some Natural History and Tips : Denali National Park

Ahoy Readers!

So, this is actually a post that has been a long time in the making. I’ve been back-logged a bit on posting this one.  Did you know that’s why the call a blog a blog? Blog just stands for Back-logged. Anway, bad joke. So here’s the background on this post. A majority of the pictures and tales come from Kass’ and my journey up here in August. We visited the park then as part of a trip to the Anchorage region and is the part that I’ve meant to write about for some time. The other part of the descriptions and pictures come from a field trip I took to Denali the last weekend in September to observe moose rutting behavior. And then, to top it all there’s some events observed outside of the park that were cool and noteworthy, so there’s some pictures of that too. So, here we go!

When Kass and I got to Denali we were in for a big surprise: you cannot pass mile 15 of the park road with a personal vehicle. I had no idea a national park would restrict access like that! So, the only resaonable way to get in is on the tour buses and those trips had varying different lengths along the road. We decided to take the Wonder Lake bus tour which was 10 HOURS on the bus, but did bring us into the park almost as far as you can go. I will just say now that, although a 10 hour bus ride is long, and we didn’t get to stop at destinations long enough to truly appreciate them, we both agreed that we were happy we made it all the way into the park even as just ‘tourists’. I certainly have plans to return there with a bike and trek  the entire park road. Hopefully whenever ‘summer’ comes here again, not likely until July.

So, without further ado, here’s a short natural history, based on my learning, of Denali National Park. I will be grouping the different aspects of the park visit in the blog rather detailing each mile. 

MOUNTAINS

Of course there is one really big reason to go to Denali national park, and that’s to see Mt. McKinley – also known as Denali. Denali is  Koyukon Athabaskan for “The High One”. It is the largest peak in North America and rises up over 18,000 feet from the base to its summit. The rise of Denali is what makes it so extraordinary. However, not a large percentage of the visitors in the park each year actually see the peak as it hides behind clouds often. We actually found a day when the sun broke through the clouds and we could see it! For us it was a fortunate break, as the weather had been cloudy the days preceding our trip, was cloudy most of the day we were on the trip (except for the 1 break) and was cloudy after that. I guess we were meant to see it!

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Denali. We were fortunately to see it!! Here you can still tell that there is a fair amount of haze around the summit. We are still well over 50 miles from the mountain at the time of this picture.

Of course there are other mountains within Denali National Park as well. One of the other noteable ranges were the polychrome mountains. The Polychrome mountains are a part of  The Cantwell Volcanics and  include basalt and rhyolite flows (Wikipedia),There were quite colorful. Although, I must say that the panorama could do them more justice. There are many, many good pictures of the colors of these mountains online. If you are interested be sure to check those out! Think rainbows + mountains.  I guess you’ll have to see them for yourself!

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The polychrome mountains of Denali National Park. They are aptly named!

Of course the look and feel mountains can change rapidly! Here are pictures from September 29th in the Savage river valley area while I was there for a field trip. Snow covered mountains were layered in fog and clouds. The reds in the front of the mountains was stunning. While we stood there snow started to fly and it continued throughout the night into Sunday morning. They closed the park for the season due to the snow on Sunday, so we were fortunate to get in when we did!

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A closeup of just one of the peaks in the Savage River Valley area. This peak was shot at 300 mm.
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A changed landscape! The mountains were shrouded in fog and covered in snow. A big change from just a month prior!

MEGA FAUNA

Denali national park is renowned for its wildlife. Part of that renown derives directly from the restrictions placed on tourist traffic- I should quit my griping about long bus rides, as it still beats the throngs of buffalo watchers at Yellowstone National Park. Wildlife in the region thrive due to intact ecosystems and no hunting pressure within the park. Many individuals leave the park boundaries, and can be pursued and harvested at that time. The park has ‘the big four’ of mega-fauna and at any time they may stick their head above a ridge, so observation is essential. Actually it was one of the entertaining parts of the bus ride because we were instructed to yell “STOP!” if we saw anything big. Imagine yelling out bingo because it some ways it was competitive like bingo (who could see it first) and was just as enjoyable. The caveat of the ‘stop’ theory is our bus driver was an older gentleman, named John, and he couldn’t hear well, especially over the diesel bus. So people in the back really had to let him know. Once we were stopped it was an inching game and John did his best to take directions from multiple, camera wielding bus riders looking to line up that ‘perfect’ shot. The rules of the game were to call out anything interesting, but most of the riders there wanted to see moose, dall sheep, caribou or bears. We were fortunate to get all of them. The first of the big four that we came upon was the mighty bull moose. Moose in the park are big due to their protection, and these guys pictured here are no exception! At this time of year the moose were gathering in the valleys for the rutting season.

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A big bull moose at Denali National Park. Look at those paddles!
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Just because they are big doesn’t mean that cannot hide! If you were walking on the ground in the Park I’m not sure that you’d be able to see this one!

Like I mentioned these moose were here with a purpose and that purpose was to meet other males and then either scare them off, or if that doesn’t work fight with them. I was fortunate enough to be back in the park during the rutting season and observing bull moose from a distance up and down the Savage River Valley. I got to observe several key and cool behaviors of moose including:

  1. Territorial displays – male moose will stand face to face in an old west shoot-out style and sway their heads back and forth. If one backs down at this point there is no harm done. It’s the least aggressive way to win the cows for a harem
  2. Rut pits – male moose dig pits with their front feet and then pee in them and rub other hormones into them. Did you ever wonder why male moose have the long beard in front under their chin? When they get into the rut pit they make sure to splash plenty of ‘unpleasants’ onto the beard and then will rub those acquired smells on the cows for their approval, effectively basting them. Cows will also sniff the rut pits and it is suspected that they can tell the maturity of a bull based on  the hormones that it puts out
  3. Harems- we saw two different bulls with harems. A harem is a group of cows that will breed with the bull that has won them. The bull may lose the harem to another bull at any time up until the cows are bred. Once a bull starts into the rut it will barely sleep or eat and may loose up to 600 pounds in some of the larger bulls. For instance, my professor talked about an instance where a bull was known to start at 1500 pounds and shrink to 900. WOW! 1-800-94-JENNY anyone?

For better or for worse we saw many of these moose from far away – so much for wildlife photographer of the year awards on this trip! However, I did take this one set of a video of a distant, large, bull moose chasing after 2 cows in his harem. I think it gives pretty good perspective on how far away we were and also of some of the scenery. Of note in this video: NEVER TRY TO OUTRUN A MOOSE. I couldn’t believe how fast they were able to travel!!

The next in the list of the big four were caribou. We got some really great looks at these animals. I have actually learned some pretty interesting things about caribou. Did you know the females are one of the few (or only??) ungulates to grow antlers? Females actually use them to fend off other females from feeding grounds when calves are present. Lichen, their main source of food, can be a commodity. So it’s important to protect what you have! The caribou herds were just starting to travel for the wintering grounds when we were on our trip.

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Here is one of the big caribou that crossed our path on the voyage to wonder lake.
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Here is yet another one of the big caribou that crosse dour path. Admire those shovels, but also admire that vast landscape behind him!

Another one of the big four in the park were the dall sheep. These sheep were actually hunted to near extinction in history past, so it’s great to see them back in large numbers! It’s important to look waaay up for these guys, as they are mountain extraordinaires and are renowned for their ability to cling to small ledges and make dareing dashes up near impossible slopes. They are always shock white and are known for their impressive horn curls.  We didn’t get too close to these sheep, so use your imagination a bit on those white dots you see! At least one of them is the ram. Can you tell?

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To round off the big four I would be reminisce if I didn’t talk about the bears! We got to observe bears two times while on the trip. The first time was very close, and you’ll see that below. It was a lone bear, probably a male, that was foraging on berries and anything else in the shrubs. He meandered up the draw before walking mere yards behind the bus. It’s really interesting being in the bus beause the wildlife has less tendency to ‘see’ you. They certainly see the bus, but that doesn’t really spook them. Bears are a little different though, I don’t think they give a d*** either way.  You know what I mean? :p.  The second bear sighting was at a distance, but a mother and two cubs were running around and playing with each other on a hillside.

In regards to bears a brown bear is the same as a grizzly bear and both of those are actually the same as a Kodiak Brown Bear. Kodiak’s are renowned for their large size (males in the range of 1500 pounds) but their size is entirely driven by the rich fish diet they get in the Kodiak Island region. If those same bears were transplanted to Denali they would shrink to Denali size- about 700 pounds in big males.

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Here’s Mr Bruin. This brown bear was feeding on berries and shrubs behind our bus. He was described as a ‘fairly small male’. Looks biggish to me!
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More more look with a little different angle at the grizzly bear.

Not all of the mammals in Denali are huge. We did come across this fox who was actively hunting along the road. I think he was using the bus to scare up birds, crafty fox! I didn’t see him snag any, but he came awfully close a couple of times. His behavior was to pad along in front of the bus and as birds came out of the bushes to pursue him. He then jumped into a draw which is where he was photographed here, ears perked and still fully on the hunt.

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This crafty red fox was using our bus as a diversion when hunting birds.

BIRDS

One of the predominant birds in Alaska are the grouse and the ptarmigan. They all can be a bit hard to tell apart. Once you get the grouse vs the ptarmigan you still need to figure out which of the ptarmigan you are looking at, which can be nearly impossible. I’ve found this resource from the AK fish and game. Use it to help me compare the pictures below, and we’ll see if you think I got them right. (http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/hunting/smallgamehunting/pdfs/alaska_grouse_ptarmigan.pdf) I won’t put any captions on the photos other than numbers and you can look up the answers below.

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# 1 : What is it? “answer” below
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# 2 : answers below
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# 3 : answers below

So here’s the answers as far as I can tell. # 1 is a willow ptarmigan. It’s characterized by red breat and those big ptarmigan feet (which you can’t see). She’s all ruffled up here. I know she’s a she because she was surrounded by her chicks, who were about half grown. Willow ptarmigan are VERY hard to discern from rock ptarmigan. In this case I’m going sheerly on the habitat that she was found in, and I’m not sure if that’s valid or not.  #2 is a spruce grouse, not a ptarmigan at all! . Did you guess correctly on #3? If  you got # 2 then you should get # 3! Spruce grouse! I threw you a little double there 🙂

Another one of the birds in the park is the magpie. They are one of my favorite birds for their curious nature and natural intelligence. When I jumped out of the car this one and several others came pretty close looking for handouts. I wasn’t too impressed by that! But was it was nice to have him close for the pictures. They really are a colorful bird, in the right light that tail lights up green as a ‘go light’!

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This magpie came looking for handouts, none to found from this non-wildlife-feeing-photographer though! 🙂

The last bird I wanted to highlight was the white fronted goose. This bird was actually a ‘lifer’ ( I hadn’t seen one before) so it was pretty special! These geese had managed to raise a family on this lake for the summer. I bet they didn’t hang around too much longer after we left the park. Those lakes would have been frozen soon!

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White-fronted goose in Denali National Park

PLANTS

Denali was one of my first exposures tundra plants. I actually don’t have to much to say about these plants because I really don’t know too much about their ecology. Maybe the pictures will tell enough! The best I can give is the name, if you are ready and know some ecology fill me in!

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Gentian.
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Mountain Avens.
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Bearberry

IT’S NO WONDER IT’S CALLED WONDER!

We finally reached wonder lake at mile 84 (I think, or was it 87?) Anway, it was incredible! The lake stretched out before us and was very calm. Kass set about picking berries and I spent my time hunting for birds and pictures to take. I’m looking forward to getting back to Wonder Lake on my own accord and spending some time there. Hopefully the days can all be be like this one was! This will conclude the Denali section. But a few extra pictures are below from different destinations and species. Thanks for reading everyone!!

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BLOG EXTRAS

So the rest of this blog is just dedicated to some nice Alaskan scenery that is found between Denali and Anchorage but that don’t really fit into a blog entry. I will include a little commentary here and there:

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Hi-bush cranberries are a common plant in the woods of Alaska. These tart berries are editlble, and the taste improves as the weather cools off and they freeze at night. They have a pretty big pit, so be ready to spit!
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Beyer’s Lake State Park. Can’t go wrong with these views!
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I am always fascinated by mushrooms exploding out of the undergrowth This one apparently had to push pretty hard to make it through this thick moss.
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I feel I captured this red squirrel at just the right time at Beyer’s Lake State Park. He was chomping on this pinecone and had a see strung across his write. He looks like he’s saying SHOO! Get out of here!
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I was struck by the royal, deep purple of this unknown flower along Beyer’s Lake. Also, thanks to Reader Justin Olnes for identifying this flower monkshood (Aconitum)!!
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Beyer’s Lake State park and a view from the end of the lake. I loved the purples and the red of the rose-hips!
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While in the Anchorage area Kass and I were lucky to observe a strong fallout of warbler. There were feeding in amongst the rocks of shoreline of the ocean (which had a rapidly ascending tide) and also in the fireweed which was common. The combination of fireweed with the birds is hard to forget! I believe (but cannot say with absolute certainty) that this is an orange-crowned warbler. Can anyone confirm??
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A moody day at Ektulna lake along the way to Anchorage.
Lets not beat around the bush here. Do bears shit in the woods? Yes. yes they do.
Lets not beat around the bush here. Do bears shit in the woods? Yes. yes they do. More interesting was to see the strong dietary influence of berries in this scat! It was found directly in the middle of the board walk around Beyer’s Lake

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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