After a week of light rain and temperatures in the low thirties, early this morning an Arctic air mass moved into our area shaking hands with the moist air that remained in place, slowly floating snow down through the now frigid air and leaving a fresh white blanket on the ice-coated ground. I’m glad to see the snow but not quite as pleased about the sub-zero temperatures that will prevail for the next several nights. However, cool, clear water like this (reminding me of the song “Cool Water” made popular by Marty Robbins)
would have looked awfully good on some of those blistering hot and dry summer days far back in the Arizona desert.
In winter, when ice blocks the forest roads that lead up into the high country, it is pleasant sometimes to visit some of the lower valley areas on the Flathead Indian Reservation where there is interesting scenery
Old ranch road
Spring-fed pond above the river
and a large variety of wildlife.
Whistling swans (the American race of the Tundra swan)
Big horn sheep
(The previous two photos are of interest, not because they are particularly good photos, but because they were taken only one minute apart, 180 degrees from each other.)
Last winter on one of those treks I came across a haunting piece of artwork on a very large rock along the river. (Some background can be found in a story I posted then, Pictograph, or Ancient Art…. I initially thought it was an old pictograph because there are some pictographs in the same general area (even though this one was quite different from the others and in a separate location). I contacted some of the authorities of the Tribe and told them of it and took one of their Wardens to see it. To my surprise, they had been unaware of it, but thought it was not an ancient pictograph but a much more recent creation than the others and seemed quite unconcerned about it. While I am certainly not an expert in that subject, I am still convinced that it was painted centuries ago.
A few days ago I made a hike into the same area to enjoy the landscape and revisit the painting, hopeful that it had survived the year without sustaining damage. (It is located in a place that does receive some traffic and its only protection comes from the fact that it is very small and easily overlooked by visitors.) I was happy to see that it has not been disturbed.
The artwork is small, about the size of a credit card. Here is a close-up photo:
Here is a photo of the painting in it’s location on the rock (at the lower right) above the river, where the pair of rams perpetually gaze over the river toward the peaks beyond.
(Not a very good photo, but I thought it was interesting and it does seem to convey the feel of a cold night in mid-winter. The orange cast in the foreground came from an old mercury-vapor yard light that spread a little of its light there.)
There is a stretch of river not far from my home that I have fished for well over sixty years. For three quarters of a mile the water flows in a nice riffle from a bend in the river to the head of a small rapids. It still contains a good quantity of fine Rainbow, Cutthroat and Brown trout and is fished as well by Bald Eagles and Osprey (both of whom are much better fishers than I). Beavers do their very best to keep the willows along the banks trimmed back so they don’t catch trout flies on the back cast and also dig channels into the bank to provide excitement for those who step into them when they are hidden by tall summer grasses.
Each year at this time one can hear from a good distance a pronounced intermittent whistling sound that I have long known to be associated with the flight of some small black and white diving ducks. A flock of forty or fifty will settle in at the head of the riffle and float down through it, periodically diving down to feed on aquatic invertebrates until they arrive at the top part of the rapids when they take off and fly up to the head of the riffle again, whistling as they go, to start all over again. The rather loud whistling sound is produced by their wings in flight. Only recently have I figured out just who they are.
The river where the riffle is located is about two hundred yards wide and when I’m on the bank the ducks prefer to stay toward the far side perhaps a hundred and fifty yards away. The distance, the facts that they are under water much of the time and they fly very fast on their way back up stream have always made it difficult for me to identify them. They also confuse the issue further by including in their flocks a small number of another species of black and white duck (the Common Merganser).
Thanks to a new pair of excellent binoculars and a couple dozen wild wing shots taken with my DSLR, I finally figured out that they are Common Goldeneyes, one of the last species of ducks to migrate south in the fall and who, as is the case here, will winter as far north as open water permits. I’m glad they have chosen this as one of their wintering places.