Montana Outdoors

February 5, 2011

Some folks rely on a groundhog

Filed under: Wildflowers, Winter — Tags: , , — montucky @ 9:04 pm

The month of January was unusually warm in 2009: most of the snow had already melted and it seemed that during the few hours of each day when the sun appeared it had more strength than that time of year warranted. At the end of the month, taking advantage of the mild weather to get in some minor exploring, I ventured into a place I had noticed on the Lolo Forest map. Both sides of the highway east of where I live are almost all private land, except for a tiny spot about a dozen miles away where a slight sliver of the National Forest touches the road.

There is a trail there that was made and is used by deer, elk, sheep, the predators that have aspirations to dine on them and an occasional human hunter who uses the narrow and steep draw through which the trail leads as an access to the much higher ground to the north. It’s a faint little trail, brush-choked and rocky, friendly only to the animals who do not walk erect; a great trail really, because it is one that will never draw a crowd.

As I walked along the trail about a half mile up, I found myself leaving the draw to follow a sheep trail that meandered up a rocky mountainside to my left that was filled with small cliffs and slide rock. It led to the top of a small, sharp-sided ridge several hundred feet above the river, with a narrow, nearly flat top that was covered with grass and sheltered by some big pines. Under the pines, the ground was covered with sheep droppings: they obviously spend a lot of time there, out of sight and out of the wind where they can enjoy every bit of any sun that comes out, with plenty of graze and a great view. It’s my opinion that Big Horns and Mule Deer enjoy the scenic beauty of where they live just as much as I do.

On that sheep trail, just before it topped the ridge, as I looked down to find some solid footing among the rocks and remaining ice, I caught sight of a bit of bright yellow: I was astounded to find a small buttercup in bloom, even before the groundhog made his annual prediction about the status of spring.

Last winter was also unseasonably warm, and an end of January visit met with the same result; one small buttercup just beginning to bloom.

This year, the last of January and the first few days of February will be remembered for the Arctic air that visited the area, producing nights with temperatures well below zero, certainly not what one would consider wildflower weather. However, just to be sure, a trip up that little trail today seemed to be in order and it led me to not one but two buttercups in full bloom. (In any other place where I find buttercups they will not be in full bloom for at least several more weeks.)

Sagebrush Buttercup

Sagebrush Buttercup

Sagebrush Buttercup, Ranunculus glaberrimus

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