Cliff & Wade Lakes Area, MT

July 7th, 2011

Have wanted to visit Cliff & Wade Lakes in Montana for some time, mainly because it’s an official wildlife viewing area. The area is located between West Yellowstone and the town of Ennis, just past Earthquake Lake. In the picture above, the Earthquake Lake avalanche area is in the center of the picture. Continue on the road through there to get to West Yellowstone.

Looking back on the dirt road to Cliff & Wade Lakes. It’s a dusty dirt and gravel road with some washboarding. People pass you going 35 mph and leave you in the dust. The road gets worse near the lake areas.

It turned out to be a bad time to visit the lakes. The area was crowded and it was dusty and windy. The one thing that made my visit worthwhile was seeing the above eagle. I’ll return to the area again when it’s not so crowded.

Between Earthquake Lake and West Yellowstone is Hebgen Lake (below), another popular boating and fishing area.

West Yellowstone 2011

July 4th, 2011

Above, the Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin.

. . . and the buffalo do roam. Took around two hours to go from West Yellowstone to Madison Junction one day because of bison. First there were a group of females with young ones, then two young males walking down the center of the road. I should clarify that the bison were for the most part not causing the traffic jam–it was people wanting to get pictures. Later in the day, back in West Yellowstone, a young woman with children said her family just turned around and came back to town. Being in a car with young children would make the wait more difficult.

Gneiss Creek trail has two trailheads: one along the Madison River between West Yellowstone and Madison Junction, and another a few miles north of West Yellowstone. You can walk the whole 13 miles if you want! I just went maybe a mile along the Madison River and saw a number of birds, including the Clark’s nutcracker above. The trail is closed a lot of the year to allow for a bear habitat. Probably not a trail you should walk alone.

Pulled into a pullout for no particular reason and was surprised to see a family of sandhill cranes. Could not get close to them, but was thrilled to see the young one.

Near the campground I stayed at, along the Madison River, I was watching some osprey nests when I saw something stick it’s head out of the water. Found it was two river otters swimming upstream. They intermittently stuck their heads up out of the water to keep track of each other.

Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge

June 25th, 2011

Have visited Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge south of Missoula, Montana several times in past years. It has usually been in a drought. Not this year. Above you see snow still on the Bitterroot Mountains. The parking lot for a trail along the Bitterroot River was flooded and water was flowing over the main refuge road.

A bobolink.

Above, an eastern kingbird and a juvenile robin.

A muskrat in a marsh with clouds reflected on it.

Below, wild male turkey’s.

Lowell to Lolo

June 23rd, 2011

First picture, Lochsa Wild and Scenic River. The second picture is a stream that flows into the Lochsa. There were raging steams like this every half mile or so along the river.

Wilderness Gateway Campground is a major base for people rafting and kayaking the Lochsa River. The river was running so full and rough, from all the rain and snow melt, cannot understand why anyone would want to do this. Must be a testosterone thing. The campground was full of red-eyed vireo’s. I identified them from their voice, but never saw one because of the dense forrest foliage.

Completed the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway, following the Lochsa Wild and Scenic River to Lolo Pass. At Lolo Pass Visitor Center, there was still snow on the ground. They said it was the latest there has been snow. Leaving the pass, headed into Montana.

Lolo Pass Visitor Center

Red-naped sapsucker along Lolo creek, in Montana.

Weippe, Idaho

June 18th, 2011

Have driven on three scenic byways the past couple of weeks: the White Pine Scenic Byway, the Northwest Passage Byway, and the Gold Rush Historic Byway. A logging boom appears to be present in all these areas. The Gold Rush Historic Byway was my favorite, along Idaho 11 up a steep grade to the village of Weippe. This is where Lewis and Clark first met the Nez Perce Tribe.

Above, Musselshell Meadow in the Clearwater National Forest just east of Weippe. The bottom picture is a camas flower. Nez Perce Tribe members have the legal right to come into the forest to harvest the roots of the flower. There were some beautiful meadows filled with the blue flowers.

A Eastern kingbird and a flycatcher of some kind in the Musselshell area. There were a number of common snipe’s nesting in the area, but I didn’t get any pictures of them.

Weippe is half a farming/ranching town and half a logging town. Their backroads are like a roller coaster ride and fun to drive. Although they are gravel, they are good roads. Think the logging companies keep them wet to keep people from complaining of dust from the logging trucks.

The red calf above has to be one of the biggest ones I’ve seen. It wasn’t happy with the amount of milk it was getting from it’s mom.

On driving the backroads, I was about to take a picture of a ring-necked pheasant when a woman in a truck blocked my truck. She thought I was a real estate agent and came up to me saying “We don’t want to sell our land, if that is what you’re taking pictures for!” When I explained I was bird watching, she was very nice, even telling me about a nearby pond where you could see elk in the evening.

Hope Weippe stays a small rural village. Let the rich people stay in Sandpoint.

A Swainson’s thrush seen in the Giant White Pine Campground. Have frequently heard their unique call, but it’s hard to get a picture of them in the trees.

Since I was in the area, thought I should visit Dworshak State Park. It’s one bear of a drive there from the town of Orofino. Uneven two-lane road with sharp turns and no turnouts to let people pass. The park is more for boater’s and fishermen. Seeing cedar waxwing’s there, however, made the trip worthwhile. The bottom picture shows what they were eating. Not sure what kind of tree it is. There are also lots of berry shrubs in the area that will provide berries for them in a month or two.

Below, view of the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway along the Clearwater River as seen from the road going up to Weippe.

Farragut State Park

June 10th, 2011

Enjoyed visiting Farragut State Park in Idaho. In 2009 when I passed through the area it was full. It’s located along the southwest border of Lake Pend Oreille, 20 miles north of Coeur D’Alene. There is a beautiful mixed conifer forrest with trails all over the place. Many intersect, so you can design your own hike. Most are fairly level, which I appreciated. The park also has a number of campgrounds, so you can choose hookups or no hookups. Now is a good time, at least mid-week, for people like me to visit. Would not want to come when it’s full (of kids…ok, I admit it).

The weather has continued to alternate between the 60′s & 70′s and cold spells with rain and snow in the mountains. There is some flooding in flood plain areas in Idaho.

Birds and squirrels are the main wildlife here. They say “Don’t feed the bears” on their handout map, but they are rarely seen. They don’t have bear proof trash cans. Mountain goats are on the opposite side of the lake. If you go out on a boat, they are supposed to be tame around people.

Above pictures: a pine grosbeak, like I saw in New Mexico. It was near the visitor center where there are trees and bird feeders. The picture below it is a gray jay near my campsite. Only the second time I’ve seen one.

Above, western bluebirds, the female with an insect in it’s beak. Below, a red-breasted nuthatch.

A Columbian ground squirrel. They were all over the campground I was in. They don’t seem to have many predators here. (update) Talked with camp host who said eagles, red-tailed hawks, kestrals, and coyotes do hunt these guys.

Just saw a few deer. Think road kill and hunters probably keep their numbers down.

Below, a trail near my campsite and Lake Pend Oreille.

Enough rain already!

May 29th, 2011

When I first arrived in the Sandpoint area I noticed they did not have snow in the mountains to worry about. That is no longer the case. A cold front came through adding quite a bit of snow to the surrounding mountains. The rivers and lakes in Idaho, and I guess in Montana as well, are all overflowing. The governor of Montana said there will probably be another month of problems from flooding. Wish there was some way to pipe water to the southwestern states who are in a drought.

Above, the Kootenai River with a submerged bulletin board at a boat launch site. The lower picture is from a forest service campground above Bonners Ferry that I had planned to stay at. Ended up at a hookup site in Sandpoint where I didn’t have to worry about flooding or the cold temps.

On visiting the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge in Bonners Ferry, the movement of some coyote pups caught my attention. I was driving on the refuge tour route and the pups and their mom were on the other side of the Kootenai River. The 3 pups were exploring, while their mom rested in the sun.

When I returned to the refuge late the next day, after a night of rain, saw the wet female coyote in the second picture. It was walking on the same road I was on and looked like she was trying to find a place to cross the river (seen in the third picture). On looking at the coyote’s picture, I’m sure it’s the mother coyote I saw the previous day.

A bald eagle above a nest. It called out and was answered by another eagle that I didn’t see. Have had three eagle sightings, but they were either too far for a good picture, like above, or I was too slow on the draw with my camera.

A western tanager and a yellow warbler seen at the refuge.

Below, a quarter horse colt seen above Bonners Ferry. Talk about being all legs!

Idaho Panhandle

May 26th, 2011

Have been traveling in the Idaho Panhandle. The area has been affected by some bad weather recently. At Heyburn State Park, south of Coeur d’Alene, the water level at the lake had risen. The boardwalk to a marsh area was destroyed and some trails covered with water.

Above, an osprey and a yellow warbler (with a moth) seen at Heyburn.

Stayed along the Pend Oreille Scenic Byway for a few days. It’s a beautiful area. The lake, with its’ forest covered islands, reminded me of Skagit Bay and Anacortes in Washington.

Above, a pileated woodpecker seen along Lake Pend Oreille. The first one I’ve seen. One of the largest woodpeckers in North America, they have a very distinct call and sound like a jackhammer when drumming. The holes they drill are huge. Hope to see more of them and get a better picture.

The campground I stayed at along Lake Pend Oreille
had recently lost around 30 trees in a severe wind and rain storm. This was nothing compared to nearby Priest Lake State Park, who lost more than 100 trees, along with sustaining severe damage to one of their campgrounds. I stayed one night at the campground, in one of the less damaged campsites. The site had it’s own creek that appeared after the storm (seen above). The park is having to call some people who reserved sites for the Memorial Day weekend to tell them they cannot come. A cold front is coming through the area, so some may be relieved to not have to camp in cold wet weather.

A deer in the Lake Pend Oreille area.

Below, Lake Pend Oreille.

Into Idaho

May 18th, 2011

Headed north into Idaho. This year, took a different route, through western Idaho. From Boise, took highway 55, then highway 95, through mountain valley’s, usually along streams or rivers. Unseasonably cold weather in Boise followed me part of the way. It’s a beautiful drive, with lots of places to stay and explore.

Above, a view above White Bird, Idaho, where the initial battle that started the Nez Perce War took place.

Stayed at Hells Gate State Park in Lewiston for a few days. Above shows the Clearwater River (on the left)  as it joins the Snake River. The State Park is along the Snake River in the middle of the picture. There are lots of beautiful trees in the area that look like pictures from a plant catalog. Lewiston is just 738 feet above sea level and has mild winters. Think it gets pretty warm in the summer though. The weather in northwest Idaho lets a lot of the State Parks and National Forest Campgrounds open in May, rather than after Memorial Day.  Hells Gate State Park has one camping loop open year around.

Above, an osprey, with what appears to be a small bird in it’s talons, returns to it’s nest near the Visitor Center at the park.

Also, a wood duck near the shoreline by my campsite.

On my drive through western Idaho, all the rivers were running high and swift. This was the case in Lewiston as well. The Snake River was really muddy and swift. Wondered if that played a part in the osprey going after a bird rather than a fish.

Found that Walmarts in both Lewiston and nearby Moscow had been closed. The one in Lewiston is now a community center and the one in Moscow has a Goodwill store. Both towns are strong farming communities. That may have played a part in the Walmarts’ closing.

A young swallow let me take it’s picture.

After leaving Utah, stopped one night at a campground in the Curlew National Grasslands. On leaving, the young  hawk below let me take it’s picture.

Bear River National Wildlife Refuge

May 10th, 2011

Finally made it to the Bear River Migratory Bird Wildlife Refuge in Brigham City, Utah. They are just completing paving a 12 mile dirt road from their Visitor Center, near the I-15, to their old Visitor Center near a 12-mile unpaved loop around a freshwater impoundment. That makes a 36 mile auto tour route, counting the return trip back over the paved road. It really is an incredible refuge.

Above, a series of pictures of part of the grebe courtship ritual. Grebes carry their young under their back feathers while they swim around.

While some birds are just starting to nest, saw some young American avocets and killdeers.

A huge number of pelicans nest on an island on the Great Salt Lake. They come to the fresh water marshes at the refuge for food and water.

There was intermittent rain, along with snow in the nearby mountains my first few days at the refuge. The swallows (cliff I think) were swarming to get mud and build nests.

The rainy weather alternated with temps in the 70′s, causing concern for flooding from snow melting and adding water to the already saturated ground.

The warm weather also brought lots of bugs. After just driving the paved road during the rain, ventured out on the dirt road loop when it warmed up. Wanted to take a lot of pictures, but my truck was always surrounded by hoards of midges. Locals drove with their windows down and laughed at out-of-towners unnerved by the bugs.

Saw dozens of Western kingbirds. The kingbirds and swallows should have no shortage of food (bugs).

Muskrats are supposed to be a sign of a healthy marsh.

On an off-topic, happened to watch the movie Hereafter. While I didn’t really care for the movie, was surprised when the character played by Matt Damon was shown to like to listen to Charles Dickens’ books. I have just about gone through all of this prolific writer’s books, either listening to a free download read by my Kindle or to an Audible edition on my iPod. A lot of the same themes run through the books and they have happy endings, or at least you are told what happens to all the characters. People in England during this period seem to have drunk a lot of alcohol and eaten a lot of meat.