I urge all National Parks supporters to write to your representatives in Congress and tell them to stop holding the National Park Service hostage every time there is a budget crisis. The NPS budget is barely a drop in the bucket.
My letter to Montana’s Congressmen (subject: “Stop Holding National Parks Hostage”)
“Dear Sir, The National Park Service budget represents just 1/14th of 1 percent of the overall federal budget. Meanwhile, National Parks support $31 billion in private-sector spending and 258,000 jobs each year. Obviously, the National Parks are critical to the tourism industry in the state of Montana that you represent.
Given that the NPS budget is such an infinitesimal portion of the federal budget, budget cuts to the NPS will not have any measurable effect on the federal budget. On the other hand, the $218 million cut to the NPS budget on the table represents a very significant 8.2% of the NPS budget. Such cuts, leading to shorter open seasons, campground closures, visitors centers being closed, reduced staff (staff that is critical to protect and preserve our Parks for future generations), or even Parks not being open to the public, are not acceptable consequences!
Every time there is a budget crisis, the National Parks are threatened. Insist that your colleagues stop holding the National Park Service hostage! Fix the budget, making meaningful changes, without breaking the National Park Service!
On Jan 5 & 6, I made a couple more trips to add more birds to my year list – and enjoy whatever other sights were encountered along the way. This doe sure kept a close eye on me as I walked one of the trails at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.
There was little open water at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, but the water birds were making due and the light was just right for displaying the colors in plumage that often looks black, as with this common goldeneye. The head of this species often appears to be black. In this light we can see there is more color there.
The tail-up posture of nothern pintails gives them a proud appearance, does it not?
This pair of pileated woodpeckers chased each other in a dance around the cottonwood tree trunk.
The dance concluded, the two flew to separate trees and one landed close to me on a burned snag.
The following day I birded the Mission Valley. With rough-legged hawks seemingly being present on every power pole or fence post, I suppose it was inevitable that eventually I would roll up on one, using my car as a blind, and have one sit still, despite how flighty these birds are. I think that’s because I interrupted her meal.
48 bird species on the year list, and counting…
I got started a little later than I had planned on Jan 1 to get my 2013 year bird list started. Darn champagne!
Nonetheless, it was a great day. I saw 37 species, to get my list off to a good start. I was surprised to find 4 western meadowlarks in falling snow on Airport Road in the Mission Valley, as they are “summer” residents of Montana.
The last two birds of the day were a short-eared owl and a great horned owl.
I saw those two species after the colorful first sunset of 2013, over the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.
For several years I’ve wanted to do the Lewis & Clark Caverns Candlelight Tour. This year it worked out. I’m so glad it did! It had been many years since last I visited the caverns, and I had forgotten how fantastic that subterranean wonderland is!
More photos from that tour are here: http://www.bigskycountry.net/lewis-clark_caverns_candle-light-tour_2012
Today my sister and I met a truck driver friend at the rest area near Opportunity, MT to show him around the Deer Lodge Valley. We were sure, just sure, that we’d be able to find some good raptors along the East River Road in the Deer Lodge Valley, or bighorn sheep in the valley west of Anaconda, or great gray owls at Georgetown Lake. We got skunked all around and soon our friend’s free time was expired. We returned him to his truck, but we weren’t quite ready to call it a day just yet. So, we headed west again. We saw distant bighorn sheep, then, at Georgetown Lake, our luck REALLY turned around, when we came upon a most cooperative great gray owl.
When I first spotted him, he was at the top of a tree about 35-40 yards away from the road. We did not leave the road both not to trespass on private property and not to trespass on the owl’s personal space and send him flying.
After some time, he flew to a tree closer to the road, and there he stayed until our fingers and toes were numb.
It was a clear, bright, cold day and the wind was blowing. If you are familiar with the area, you just said “no surprise, that!”
On the way home, we found a small herd of bighorn sheep 20 yards off a road, in the front yard of a home in the Anaconda West Valley.
If only we had been able to share those sights with our friend!
Winter solstice is a couple weeks away, but winter has arrived in Western Montana. From me, winter gets a friendly “Welcome!”
The sub-alpine fir trees up on Lolo Pass are one good storm away from turning into snow ghosts.
Also welcome was a visit from a flock of pine grosbeaks to the ornamental apple trees in our yard.
This young ram seem to be a little lonely – rut time and he’s not a dominant ram yet.
The arrival of winter weather preceded the Geminid Meteor Shower by a few days, making watching the meteor shower from Lolo Pass a bit chilly, but still delightful.
I enjoy the changes of seasons, not just that we have season in MT, all of which I enjoy, but I enjoy the transition from one season to another.
As autumn “falls” into winter, there are so many beautiful sights to enjoy.
Fly fishermen enjoying the fine fall day in the Clark Fork River near Maclay Flats
On another walk at Maclay Flats, I found a napping northern saw-whet owl
Meanwhile, a fine dusting of snow covered the mix of evergreen trees and western larch trees along Lolo Creek. If you aren’t familiar with western larch trees, western larch is a conifer that has needles that turn gold and fall off in the autumn. They are a deciduous conifer.
Ah… Fall in western Montana!
The family and I enjoyed a four day fall weekend in Yellowstone National Park October 18-21, 2012.
The Park was relatively quiet. The fires of September weren’t kicking up smoke, the elk rut was winding down, migratory birds had largely departed, the bears were playing hard to find… But, of course, there was still plenty to enjoy.
This ruffed grouse seemed to be on a mission. We were surprised when it landed on the roof of my dad’s van, but I learned later that was a routine event for this bird throughout the fall.
Gray jays and Clark’s nutcrackers made picnics a bit difficult, living up to their camp robber moniker, forcing us to keep all food covered and under close guard. Pretty little thieves, though…
Dad and I enjoyed a bit of a chuckle when we came across this handsome coyote. He had an audience of about 20 people as he was mousing for dinner. His audience, however, thought he was a wolf and bolted when he charged at a ground squirrel, like a wolf was attacking. Dad asked if I was going to inform them it was a coyote. I said “and ruin their good find and thrill? No way! I’ll let them have their “wolf!” I was pretty sure that if they reported a “wolf attack” (the only possible problem with allowing them to continue thing it a wolf), and showed a Ranger their pictures, it would be a swiftly dismissed report. Naughty of me, maybe, but sometimes…
On the evening of the October 19, I left the rest of the crew at the hotel and went back into the Park for an evening check on the Swan Lake Flat area. There, I found a bull elk with a HUGE harem of cows under a fiery sky.
The next morning we stopped across the road from the Mammoth Campground where another harem bull was, apparently, too worn down from the rigors of the rut to be bothered to keep the younger bulls chased off. This pair was sparring within the harem.
After a day of off-and-on storms, rainbows made an appearance in the afternoon, much to the delight of one cousin/niece.
It soon started storming again, but my other little cousin/niece really wanted to take a walk at the Mammoth Terraces, so she and I took a walk in the rain. After all, her sister got her rainbow…
Palette Springs grows more and becomes more colorful every time I visit for the last couple years.
I had not visited the Upper Terrace for several months and was not aware that the springs were “plugged up” and the terraces dried up.
Here’s a comparison from September of 2009 – aptly titled “Where Geologic Time Flies.” What a difference three years makes, eh?!
The highlight of the next day, and, for many members of our divided party, was this fox hunting from a fallen log the next day.
Not as action packed as some trips (which have been worthy of a report each day), but a great trip nonetheless.
On this day I would have to head home — but not before having some more fun in the Park.
I pulled up my tent stakes and packed up, then headed south from the Norris Campground as far as the Gibbon Meadows. I caught a quick glimpse of a grizzly bear through the morning fog, but he disappeared as quickly as he appeared.
I headed back north to make one last (of this trip) swing through the Northern Range.
It was a peaceful, quiet morning.
Once again, I took the old stagecoach gravel road from Mammoth Hot Springs to the North Entrance and, once again, found only cow elk.
This lovely cow elk, posing with the sun highlighting the gold tones in her beautiful coat, is a view guaranteed to entice any bull elk thereabouts, but the bulls were not to be found on this morning.
I drove back up the Gardiner Canyon main road and headed east.
I never drive by the Petrified Tree turnout without taking that little spur road. I’ve seen moose, foxes, many black bears, and occasional mule deer there. I was a bit surprised to see this whitetail deer doe, along with two fawns with fading spots. That’s mule deer country!
There was some interesting bison activity in the Lamar Valley. There was quite a dust-up occurring in one herd, with a double header of two pairs of bulls sparring at the same time, while other members of the herd were stampeding about.
Just a little east of the Soda Butte geyser cone, I was excited to find an undiscovered bull bison carcass just about 100 yards from the road — only magpies and I had found it thus far. I watched as magpies landed on the carcass and pecked at it. I resigned myself to getting home VERY late that night (or perhaps even calling my boss and asking to extend my vacation). I positioned the car better so I could comfortably watch and wait for bears, wolves or coyotes to discover the carcass. The magpies continued to work at it. I sent a text message to my dad, who was also in the Park, to alert him of the existence of this carcass, which was sure to become an active hotspot soon. Then there was a flurry of activity as the carcass lifted its head and the magpies took off. Alrighty, then. Not dead. Sick? Dying? I debated with myself. Wait and see what might happen? Head home? I decided heading home was the more prudent course. In the end, that proved to be the right call. Nothing ever happened there I found in checking with others that were in the Park in the following days.
I wanted to re-visit the talus slope where I had seen the weasel make a strike on a pika earlier in the trip, hoping for a repeat performance. I didn’t get a repeat performance, but I DID get a great pika show.
Pika eat stems of currant leaves just like kids (of all ages) eat spaghetti noodles. Slurp!
I dared this pika to try the noodle routine with a long stem of thistle leaf, but he ultimately used a different technique.
My dare prompted this pika to make a smart-aleck remark.
This pika almost ran over my feet.
Not to be outdone, this pika demonstrated his talent for fire eating.
Meanwhile, a more serious and industrious pika, like any good haymaker, was busy making hay while the sun shines. Pikas don’t hibernate – rather, they store hay in their dens to get them through lean winter days.
When a red-tailed hawk circled overhead, sending the pikas deep into hiding, I decided it was time for me to head home before my imagination ran entirely away with me.
Last full day in the Park(s) for this trip.
I started the day by heading east over the Norris-Canyon Road. I took the Virginia Cascades drive and stopped for another morning photo from the meadow above the cascades. On this morning, fog and smoke from the Cygnet Complex fires combined for a surreal sunrise.
Thus the theme of the day was established – FIRE.
I found foliage mimicking tongues of flame.
Fiery fireweed stood like torches on an island on Sylvan Lake.
The Cygnet Complex fire was actively burning along the Norris-Canyon road, up to the power line corridor.
By mid-afternoon I found myself back in the meadow above Virginia Cascades, watching the active Cygnet Complex fires from where I could watch the smoke plumes without being socked in smoke. I was mesmerized by the braiding of the white, gray and black streams of smoke. Over the 9 minutes in the video below, the fire grew considerably.