Montana Outdoors

May 21, 2007

May wild flowers, part 6

Filed under: Environment, Flowers, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Photos, Pictures — montucky @ 4:59 pm

Not everyone agrees on exactly what one should call a “flower”. After looking all over to identify this yellow one, I found it is classified as a weed; Leafy Spurge, Euphorbia esula, and a noxious one at that. It has interesting blossoms,

Leafy Spurge (euphorbia esula)

and a stand of it certainly provides a splash of color on the landscape as seen in this photo along a river bank,

Leafy Spurge (euphorbia esula)

but it has become a serious and expensive problem in the Western states, particularly the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana where it costs an estimated $144 million a year in production losses and control expenses.

Growing right next to the area of spurge, probably because the soil was dry, sandy and rocky, were these little Fernleaf Fleabanes, erigeron compositus, members of the sunflower family. Their flowers are about an inch across and are a common sight in Western Montana through their long blooming season from May through August. Besides the white flowers seen here, they also come in pink, blue or lavender.

Fernleaf Fleabanes (erigeron compositus)

Yarrow, achillea mille folium, at a distance looks like an uninteresting plant 1 to 4 ft tall with a flat topped patch of white flowers and a pungent odor, but I found that if one looks at it closely, its tiny, delicate flowers are really quite pretty. In nature, as in life, sometimes there is beauty where you don’t expect it.

Yarrow (achillea mille folium)

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May 20, 2007

Bald Eagle

Filed under: Animals, Bald Eagle, Birds, Environment, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Photos, Pictures — montucky @ 8:03 pm

Photographing small birds is something I don’t seem to have a knack for, but sometimes I can catch a large one.

Bald Eagle

May 19, 2007

May wild flowers, part 5

Filed under: Environment, Flowers, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Photos, Pictures — montucky @ 1:16 pm

The wild flowers of May are far from completing their blooming cycle. I think Mother Nature spreads out the timing to provide a constant supply of nectar for the hummingbirds and bees and to even out the workload of the insects that are in charge of pollination.

During the past week, the Sticky Geraniums have begun their flower cycle. Fortunately they are very plentiful, because besides providing color to the landscape, they provide food for elk, deer, bear and moose.

Sticky Geranium

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Chokecherries have almost finished their flower cycle for this summer, and next they will be heavy with fruit. There’s nothing better than chokecherry syrup, and the berries will be a staple for the bear population until fall.

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Goatsbeard, always called milkweed around here, is just starting to blossom. Various Indian tribes considered the coagulated juice to be a remedy for indigestion.

Goatsbeard

Wild roses have started to bloom in some of the areas of dense brush. They will continue to bloom most of the summer. They are prolific in this part of Montana, and we will have hundreds of them in our little canyon. After they bloom, they are food for the larger birds and small animals such as chipmunks and squirrels.

Wild Rose

May 17, 2007

Chipmunk’s moving day

Filed under: Animals, Chipmunks, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Photos, Pictures — montucky @ 6:27 pm

We have had chipmunks as co-residents of our place for years now and always enjoy watching them, but have not made any attempt to tame them. We do keep a water dish full and a good supply of sunflower seeds in an area near our woodpile for them and a dozen different species of birds. In late fall, we keep the seed supply plentiful for the munks to hide away in their winter stores.

Across the back of our house we have a rock flower garden that is about 100 feet long. This year, we noticed that a prospective mother had chosen the exact center of it for her nest. This time we had to intervene, because the nest was simply dug as a tunnel into the soil and a good rain would have completely flooded it out. My wife uncovered the nest to discourage her and it caused her to move into a better location in the rock wall itself straight out from our back door. The munk then moved all of her nest material, which was a soft ball sized mass made mostly of moss, into the new location and started over.

It has been interesting for the past many weeks to see her come and go, especially the first thing in the morning when she would come out, sit on a flower planter and do all of her daily grooming.

We knew there would be a crop of babies soon, but of course couldn’t predict just when that would be. Today we found out. Mommy munk had delivered her new family some time ago and now they had grown so big that she completely ran out of space in the nest. So, she started moving the babies (who were close to ½ her size) to more comfortable quarters she had selected in an old shed about 60 feet away. We watched spell-bound for 2 hours as she transferred all eight of them (assuming the first one we saw her move was the first one). It was an incredible and enjoyable scene to watch, and I was lucky enough to get a few photos for her baby album.

Here’s mommy during her rest periods after moving each big baby:

Chipmunk

Chipmunk

Chipmunk

And here are four of the babies en route to their new nursery:

Chipmunk carrying her baby

Chipmunk carrying her baby

Chipmunk carrying her baby

Chipmunk carrying her baby

As far as we can tell, the move was a complete success.

May 16, 2007

Along a small stream

This afternoon I took a short walk through the thick stand of trees and brush near a small mountain stream near my home. Monday while cutting firewood I rather severely strained a few muscles and as for most of the aches and pains associated with being an old gaffer, the most effective remedy is some good exercise. That’s my excuse.

As with all trips into the natural world, there were beautiful things awaiting anyone with the willingness to see them. Sometimes I simply follow the trails of the wild things and just float along wherever they go. It’s always a fascinating way to spend a few hours, or a few days, or whatever amount of time is available.

Nature loves to adorn Herself with color, and doesn’t always choose blossoms as Her medium. Today it was a fungus. It’s hard to imagine more color in one small area than this. For a size reference, the dead Fir tree that provides sustenance for this fungus is about 2 feet in diameter.

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It was also this little butterfly. It’s slightly larger than a quarter, but has the ability to produce an interesting effect with blue.

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And this little guy, nickel sized, but hard to miss because it chose a rather bright orange jacket to wear.

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And finally, a pattern of spots with a few dashes of color in this dollar-sized soft, delicate little aircraft.

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May 14, 2007

Blue Grouse and firewood

Filed under: Birds, Blue Grouse, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Photos, Pictures, Wood cutting — montucky @ 8:23 pm

For those of us who heat our homes with wood-burning stoves, doing so is one of those enjoyable things that we pay for up-front. Now that we have enjoyed the warmth, security and beauty of our winter fires, the cold part of the year is over and it is time to begin getting ready for next winter by cutting and hauling our new wood supply. The Forest Service sells permits to cut wood in the National Forests for $5 a cord: I use 4 to 5 cords a winter, heating a 2,000+ square foot house. My heating bills are therefore minimal, but I pay for it up front with a lot of hard work.

On my trips into the back country the last two weeks, it was apparent that this is already a very dry year. The reports of an early and long fire season may well be correct, at least here in Western Montana. The woods are very dry: I would compare their state now to what one would usually see in late June or early July. Even in areas (like the one I was in today) where there are still banks of snow remaining, the clear ground is dry. A lightning storm would surely be able to easily start a wild fire. Therefore, wood cutting must be done earlier than usual, and I started today.

I spent most of the day at an elevation of 6,000 feet cutting lodge pole pine that was killed by a fire in 2002. It has been drying ever since, and now it’s just perfect. It seems such a shame that most of those dead trees won’t ever be used. We are in such high demand for energy today, and yet there are thousands of acres of prime firewood that will not be harvested, and at the same time, folks all over will pay high prices for heating fuel or electricity to heat their homes. In the area where I cut mine, I would estimate there is enough dead and dry lodge pole pine to heat 10,000 homes for a winter, and that is a conservative estimate: it could easily be two or three times that number. Sadly enough, the upcoming fire season will most certainly create more fire-killed trees to replace these.

One of the pleasures associated with cutting firewood is where it is done. My work today was next to the borders of three of our remaining roadless areas, the Reservation Divide area, South Siegel area and North Siegel area. I had to stop short of where I had intended to go by 4-foot snow drifts over the road, but that’s OK: I’m glad it’s still there!

Grouse hunting is one of my passions, and this is one of the areas I hunt each fall. They are fairly plentiful, fun to hunt, and the Blue Grouse lives in the most beautiful parts of the wild country; the pine, fir and spruce forests above 6,000 feet. Today I was fortunate to see a pair of them and be able to get within camera range.

Here’s a male Blue Grouse in his prom suit trying to attract a mate. It is a rare sight. One of the endearing traits of these guys is that they always (and I mean ALWAYS) keep a tree or brush between themselves and a hunter. After about 15 minutes of playing peek-a-boo with this guy, trying to get him out of the heavy cover without flushing him, I was able to get a few photos, and they show him fairly well, even though there is still that little bit of brush between him and the camera.

Blue Grouse Cock
Blue Grouse Cock

Blue Grouse Cock

Blue Grouse Cock

And here’s the object of his affection. (If you are not familiar with Blue Grouse, they are about the size of a medium sized chicken, and are absolutely delicious! Grouse “nuggets” are one of my favorite foods.)

Blue Grouse hen

Blue Grouse hen

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