Saturday, May 27, 2023

Bears 399 and 610, A Special day in Grand Teton National Park

We decided to head back to Grand Teton National Park, searching for bear 399. She had appeared with her new cub, on May 16, spending two days along the road and then disappeared for the next week. We decided to go last Thursday hoping to be lucky enough to spot her.
Leaving home early, 6:30 am, we drove to the park and took up a spot where she had last been seen There, we sat and waited for several hours. Quite a few people had the same idea. Some of the cars left and then more. Our friends Fred and Becky called us to say that just North of us was a huge bear jam! Most of the cars seemed to be headed north and so we took left. Going around a corner we found the massive bear jam. Thanks Becky! Renita dropped me off and then parked before grabbing her camera and soon joined me, (you must always park with your vehicle tires being outside the white line).
Looking closer we saw it was with a new coy, cub of the year, and it was bear 399! The cub almost never left her side. They walked to a small copse of pine trees where she stopped and let her coy feed. After being fed she moved to the east and you could see her backside was wet from the feeding.
The two were almost inseparable as they turned west and then headed south into the forest. Most waited, as we did, hoping they would reappear. We discussed where they might head and we finally left, returning to where we had started the day. Rounding the corner, we saw we had waited too long. They were walking up Pilgrim Creek Road. She was feeding on the grass along side the road.
It was rare that both were visible as that’s how close the cub was to its mother. Turning into the field they grazed like cows and finally headed south into the forest. Having an idea where she would go we drove and parked but she did not appear. As we waited another car showed up. The person got a text from a friend who told her that another bear, bear 610 was visible near a different turn off. She told us the news, and following her we arrived at another bear jam.
By the time we arrived we had to walk a bit before we could get her picture. It was grizzly 610 and she was just going down a ridge, where she disappeared. Bear 610 has three yearlings with her, but we never saw them. It had been a great day! Finally, bear 399. It is the fifth year we have photographed her. Clear skies

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Finally Bears!

We had seen a grizzly a few weeks ago but the bear was so far away, and so obscured by brush, that I refused to put its picture on our blog. Meanwhile it seemed like everyone was getting great shots of grizzly 610 and even 399 with her new coy, (cub of the year). Deciding to get up early, six am, we drove to the park in hopes of getting some close ups of bears. Before we reached the park, we saw large herds of elk.
The elk migration was in full swing. The elk first move to calving grounds and then continue to Yellowstone Park. Entering the Grand Teton National Park, we didn’t see much so and did not have our cameras out of the cases. Just as I asked Renita to pull over, we both spotted a large black bear staring at us. Renita wisely took pictures with her cell phone as I hurried to get our cameras ready
I should have used my cell phone as all I got was a picture of a black bear butt. Still, we had finally been close to a bear and so we drove further, to Pilgrim Creek in hopes that 399 would make an appearance. There were quite a few cars and trucks all also waiting. Sitting there, we watched and talked and watched as almost all the cars left. Deciding to try another spot we drove around the curve where a large bear jam was in progress.
The bear was a sow grizzly , bear 1062, and she did not have any cubs. She was grazing on some lush grass on the side of the road. A member of the bear management team let us all approach to about one hundred yards away. We both took pictures and as usual Renita took better ones than mine. She had snuck in between people and gotten closer!
We finally decided to go look for another bear and as our luck would have it, we never saw another bear. However, we had taken pictures of a black and a grizzly bear and any day you encounter bears is a good day. Returning to Pilgrim we sat there for two hours, ate lunch, and napped, No bears. We next drove to the Chapel of the Sacred Heart where a large bull elk was feeding on the roadside grass. He returns there every year at about this time ,and you can take pictures weekly as his antlers grow. Leaving the elk ,we drove past the potholes and encountered another traffic jam. This time someone said it was a bear and so we parked and joined a group of bear management people. Spotting something brown I took a picture and upon enlarging it saw the unmistakable ears and head of an elk. It was getting to be late afternoon, but we still wanted to try another location.
This time we ran into a cow and yearling moose and the young moose posed for pictures. We also spotted a nesting sandhill crane and as I chased other birds
Renita watched as it rose, turned around, and repositioned the eggs.
Meanwhile I took pictures of a chipping sparrow and a hairy woodpecker.
Yellow warblers were everywhere but I was unable to get a decent pic. It was time to head home and so tired but happy we left the park. It had been a great day as we had finally gotten close to bears. Tomorrow morning, we are heading back in search of more! Clear skies

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Back to Grand Teton National Park

We left Hamilton and heading south, our hope was that the snow in Grand Teton National Park had melted. There had been reports of bears out of hibernation, both grizzly and black. Our rv park in Star Valley park was still not open, (due to a record snowfall of 250 plus inches of snow), so we stayed at a motel in Jackson. It was the off season ,so the room cost was very reasonable. Entering the park, we quickly realized that it was still winter.
Bears were out but they were having a hard time finding anything to eat. It was reported that grizzly bear 610 had collapsed on a park road and was having a hard time finding enough food to feed her cubs.
A flock of trumpeter swans were preening in a thawed channel of the Oxbow turnoff.
Renita got a great photo of a northern harrier flying low over the upper bench along the Snake River.
The bird has also been named the grey ghost because of its darker topside and a white underside with black wing tips.
Moose were easy to spot as they are so large especially when feeding in the sagebrush at Moose Junction.
A pack of coyotes were engaged in mousing just south of the Oxbow and we watched as one caught two mice and gulped them down. Using their superior hearing they locate the prey and then pounce headfirst into the snow.
We watched as a pair of bald eagles soared overhead. Below the dam I took a great picture of a pair of hooded mergansers.
The light was just right, and the beautiful plumage shone in contrast with the Snake Rivers blue water! I thought I saw a black bear, but Renita pointed out that it was just a person wearing a black coat. Bears don’t have human heads.
We took pictures of an Audubon’s warbler which is a subspecies of the yellow-rumped warble.
It has different coloration of the yellow-rumped warbler, (named Myrtle’s Warbler that we see along the Gulf Coast), especially the bright yellow throat.
The next day we drove to the Elk Refuge looking for Bighorn sheep. There are currently over five hundred sheep in the herd. That’s a huge number and usually such a large number results in a drastic die-off as they spread pneumonia to one another.
It has been proposed to have a special bow hunting season to reduce the numbers and prevent the spread of the disease. The sheep are so used to people that they approach both people and vehicles, even licking salt off cars and trucks, (which also spreads the disease. Both of us were concerned with how close the rams neared us, before crossing the road and grazing on the other side. \Never spotting any bears, only bear tracks we enjoyed the time in Jackson by eating at two of our favorite restaurants, between trips into the parks. Clear skies

Friday, May 12, 2023

Hiking Blodgett Canyon Trail and The University of Montana M Trail

Renita and I are both in our seventies. While we do have some limitations, we always set a goal of, In the words of our friend Steve Gardiner, “To the Top”! That doesn’t mean we are going to attempt any serious rock climbing or ice climbing, it just means that we set a realistic goal for each days hike. We use the All Trails app to judge the elevation gain, length, and degree of difficulty before beginning. We also plan on going slower, watching our heart rate, wearing proper clothing, boots with ankle support, trekking poles, and sunscreen, well the list goes on… Jen and Eric wanted to take us on two special hikes. The first was Blodgett Canyon, in the Bitterroots, just outside of Hamilton, Montana and the second a steep but short trail up the Mountain to the White M by the University of Montana in Missoula.
Arriving at the Blodgett Canyon Trailhead we started up and reached a monument to a man killed while fighting forest fires. It has a special meaning to me as my brother Mike who was a member of a Federal Hot Shot fire crew and battled wildfires out west. Renita’s brother Phil also fought fires in Minnesota, and as far as the Florida Everglades. He specialized in using explosives to blow lines. Hats off to all firemen and fire women who risk their lives doing their duty. Just past the monument we ran into our first snow patch.
It was snow covered ice, but our new trek poles greatly aided us by aiding us to keep our balance(highly recommended). As we continued up the trail we would have stretches of dry trail, melt water and more snow- and ice-covered areas. The snow covered areas were not deep however, and we were not punching through, That’s a dangerous condition where you can easily break a leg or ankle.
We stopped often, too often for the youngsters with us, but they patiently waited for us to catch our breath and continue. Our goal was to reach a point on the trail of about two to three miles.
Along the way we stopped for pictures of the beautiful and rugged mountains. I picked out climbing routes up the exfoliated walls, watched for fish, and identified rocks for Renita or Jenny to carry back to the car,(just joking).
As we reached the two-mile mark Jen and Eric returned down the trial and told us it was too dangerous to continue. The snow on the trail was simply to deep. The hike back to the vehicle was also slow as we had to step carefully to avoid ankle of knee injuries. It had been a great day!
Three days later we did our final hike of the trip in Missoula, Montana. High above the University of Montana students and staff had built a huge letter “M” visible across the valley. They had also built a good trail with nine switchbacks.
Starting up the trail Jen and Eric watched us as we slowly made the climb. We were passed by just about everyone, but we don’t care, we just stepped aside. Our guides made it to the top way before us and they wondered if we would give up. There will be a time where we will stop our hiking but not today!
Returning down the trail our legs became sore and my knees both begin to bother me. Another member of our generation asked me if I was as sore as he was. Obviously, we need to get in better shape, before we hike the trails around Grand Teton National Park. We loved the two hikes and look forward to many more. Every day is a blessing. Thanks Jen and Eric for the hikes and for your patience. Clear skies

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Soft Rock and River Walk Park Hikes

We arrived in Hamilton, Montana on a Saturday and after asking about hikes Jen and Eric told us that they had four planned. There were quite a few more hikes in the mountains, but they were still heavily snow packed, which is something we try to avoid, (punching through deep snow is a great way to break your ankle). Sunday morning Jen asked if we were ready to take a hike named Soft Rock, (Eric was busy finishing his picnic table.). It was nearby and located in the foothills of the Sapphire Mountains. The area is located on public land, some state and some National Forest and we took the short drive to the trailhead. There were quite a few cars in the parking lot and two people were unloading their mountain Bikes. Shortly after we started the bikers passed us. Ahead the trial was level, for the first bit, and then headed downhill. Knowing that we would be hiking back uphill, I was a little concerned as we had just spent five months at sea level.
Reaching the bottom of the hill we started to climb up a gradual slope, and then headed back downhill to a small pond. The trail turned south and we started up a long gentle slope that got steeper. It really didn’t present much of a problem for two seventy-one-year-olds, Jen of course had no problem at all. Stopping we took some pictures and then Jen took us up a steeper section which ended up on a bloulder covered outcrop. A family was busy bouldering, climbing the boulders, and so we moved over to the next hill top. There Jen took a selfie of us with the Bitterroots in the background. It was a pleasant hike and a good easy hike to start the week.
The kids had to work the next three days and so Renita and I decided to go birding at River Walk City Park. After we walked the first stretch another birder mentioned that we should watch out for the moose. It was napping alongside the walkway but let us safely pass. Leaving the moose alone we took a detour and hadn’t gone very far when a bird above us let out a loud call.
Looking up we spotted a pileated woodpecker! I got some ok pics of it, but the best pose was a little blurred. I remembered a hint that our friend Dan had told us of changing our automatic focus spot and used his tip for most of the hike.
The pileated woodpecker flew off and we heard it continuing to call for a mate. Two northern flickers chased each other and a lesser yellowlegs waded along the Bitteroot River. Canadian Geese, and mallard ducks were everywhere. The flickers moved and following them we realized another moose was blocking our path.
Taking another detour we spotted a wild turkey, and a lbb that we couldn’t identify, (lbb stands for little brown bird). Heading back to the car we spotted the first moose that appeared to be sound asleep, but we still gave it a wide birth. The pileated woodpecker, (think woody woodpecker), had made our day. We have seen them before but this time we got a couple of good pictures. . What a start as we had hiked four trails in the first four days. Clear skies

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Two Days at Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge, Along the Bitteroot River

It was such a relief to finally reach Jen and Erics home in Hamilton, Montana. After the hugs and kisses we set down to plan our week. Jen told us that they had hikes already planned and by the time we finally left we had walked over fifty thousand steps, and some steep ones at that! Two of the days were hikes at one of our favorite places, Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a short drive from their place in Hamilton and we were able to self-guide these days as we had been at the refuge last year, (and they were at work).
On the first day, we stopped to visit with another birder who told us we had to see the Great Horned owls. A pair often nests in a trees cavity which had formed when a large branch had broken off. Telling us exactly how to get there, we looked for the owls without any luck. Our problem was solved when another birder pointed one of them out to us, The male was in the pine tree almost over our heads. It acted owl acted aloof and stared away from us. It was almost impossible to get a picture of its face, but it finally decided to look our way. We also took pictures of the nest, but the female was not around, apparently they had not laid any eggs.
Taking another trail we heard woodpeckers, but we couldn’t get any pics. A pair of northern flickers chased each other and posed on a dead tree, occasionally stopping to feed. It was hard to get a good pic as they seemed enamored with each other and chased each other around the forest.
There are natural springs in the woods, it’s along the Bitterroot River, and we flushed mallards and a female barrows goldeneye and caught her as she flushed from a spring filled tributary.
Black capped chickadees, and mountain bluebirds were everywhere but both were hard to photograph as they were flitting through the woods. We also took some distant pictures of a red-tailed hawk and bald and golden eagles, both of which are common here in Western Montana. Leaving we spotted a flock of snow geese which had landed that morning, after starting their migration from Northern California.
On another day we returned to the refuge and after visiting the great horned owl we took a different path. A pair of northern flickers fed on the ground, and we were able to get their pictures. Walking further a hairy woodpecker landed in the tree next to us and perched.
It’s similar to a downy woodpecker but smaller in size with slightly different markings.Black Billed Magpies are in their breeding colors and the blue really stands out!
Noticing ground movement, a pair of California Quails posed for their picture to be taken.
They seldom fly and instead quickly flee on their short legs. It’s funny to watch them scurry away. Retruning to our car we then drove to the refuge Headquarters. The visitor center is small but filled with mounted birds, skulls of local mammals, and reptiles.
The staffer asked if we had seen the newborn goslings and as we watched the parents proudly swam near us , as if they were showing off the new ones. There are northern pikes on the stream here and we hoped we wouldn’t witness a large swirl as the pikes do feed on the small birds.
As we drove down the refuge road a red-tailed hawk perched and fed on what looked like a snake and if as it flew over us carrying its meal. It’s not the first time we have seen birds eat snakes but this time we could see the snake’s head. Not finished with the birding, a mountain blue bird perched on a split rail fence and a flock of wild turkeys gobbled to each other.
It was a perfect ending to our second trip to to Lee Metcalf.
Clear skies