Sunday, June 28, 2009

Idaho trip wrap-up

I'm tuned into the FIFA Confederation Cup Soccer final on ESPN this afternoon. USA is ahead of Brazil 2-0 with 32 minutes played. Shock!

I have been home for a week and was just blogged out. With the game on, this is a good opportunity to put the finishing touches on my trip.

The last stop I made before making the beeline home was Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. Here I saw wild horses, one old bull bison, a few trip birds and a beautiful desert-like landscape with buttes and canyons. Not quite as spectacular as Glacier NP, but well-worth the visit.
From Theodore Roosevelt NP, I decided I'd been on the road long enough and began the long push to get home. On Wednesday I drove from Billings, Montana to Fargo, North Dakota - amazingly long drive! Two cities which I feel certain I will never visit again are Minot and Fargo. For small cities they were incredibly unattractive, lacking any regional charm and it was difficult to find a reasonable place to stay in either. I don't know why this surprised me, but it did. On Thursday morning I was happy to leave Fargo behind and drove to the tri-cities area of Iowa/Illinois and stayed the night just east of Davenport and Moline in the small town of Geneseo, Illinois. From Geneseo the drive to Detroit on Friday, June 19th was easy. I arrived home at 3:00 pm with lots of energy and happy to see Seabiscuit, who was also happy to see me. Even today, over a week after my return, he's still very cuddly.

I finished the trip with 136 trip birds and of these ten were life birds. I think this was an excellent outcome given that I was birding alone, was most often pressed for time and there was dreadful, un-June-like weather for three of my birding days. I did miss some really sought after birds - Lewis's Woodpecker and Spague's Pipit amongst others. Another time, another trip.
Dean's house.
Dean learning the technique of digiscoping.
Then stepping back to inspect the results. What was he digiscoping?
Bald Eagles perched and calling from a dead tree on the Pack River.
One of Dean's five chickens.

It's now USA 2, Brazil 2. Time to end this blog entry.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day twelve: Leaving Montana

When driving across Montana, this is something you think you will never see. It's such a big state with so many different kinds of landscapes that it's mind boggling. Yet, it seems to me to be a true American landscape with many iconic images. I selected to drive across Montana, so I could visit the Theodore Roosevelt National Park on the other side in North Dakota. I'm happy I did it so that I can say I did it - twice - along the prairie top on my way out west and along the mountain and butte bottom on my return east. I don't think I'll drive it again anytime soon. And, the TRNP was worth the visit.
An iconic image in Montana: trains moving across the wide open landscape.
Rural barnyards with windmills.
A Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel (Spermaphilus lateralis) in Glacier National Park - not a chipmunk as the stripes might suggest. Note that this little mammal has no facial stripes.
Old churches and cemetarys out in the middle of nowhere are evidence of long ago thriving communities.
Old silo under a leaden Montana sky. These are everywhere and always near railroad tracks.

Wide open prairie land along the northern tier of the state and mountains and buttes all along the southern route - definitely a place to visit. Have a plan and give yourself time.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day eleven: Last chance Clark's Nutcrackers

Yesterday, Monday, June 15th, my nephew and I went to Roman Nose Lakes.  My goal was Clark's Nutcracker; our goal was hiking.  Ahhh, sweet success.  I could not believe it.  Everything pointed to me dipping on this bird.
Clark's Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) above and below.
We crested a hill and came upon a newly logged area. Suddenly there were several flashes of white and black.  SSTTOOPP!  I couldn't believe it - Clark's Nutcrackers - there they were.  We stopped to enjoy these and so that I could take these distant photos. 
Continuing on because we also wanted to hike and it is known that Three-toed Woodpeckers are here as well.  Dean's car has four wheel drive and it's a good thing.  The road became muddier and muddier and it began to rain - first just a little, then more.
We had to park the car on the road below the trailhead secondary to snow blocking the road.  From there we hiked to Roman Nose Lake #3. Dressed completely inappropriately, as you can see in the above photo, and pretty darn wet we made it to this frozen lake.  The roman nose is blocked by fog and low hanging clouds.
Dean Schillinger.

In all the time I was here, I never did see a moose or bear.  Dean saw a bear with two cubs on his road, Upper Pack River Road, and his friends reported seeing a baby moose in their yard the day before.  I had to settle for tracks and scat.  Not as much fun.
The experts agreed, this was bear scat with a coyote track.
Moose track.
Elk track.

We did not see the Clark's Nutcrackers again on the way down.  We did see Pine Grosbeaks and a Red-naped Sapsucker gave me a brief scare hoping it to be a Three-toed Woodpecker.  
We stopped at a bridge to photograph this beautiful rushing stream.
Dean's mud splattered car at the end of the day.

This pretty much ends it for me in Sandpoint and environs.  After my nephew, Clark's Nutcrackers were the stars of my time here.  Tomorrow it's the open road again. 

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Day nine: Sandpoint, Idaho

I'm sitting in the Monarch Mountain Coffeehouse after Dean and his friend, Gwen, and I did a tour of the Sandpoint Farmer's Market this morning.  Dean has gone off to work so I have the afternoon to kill. Coffee = free WiFi = killing time = relaxation, i.e. not driving.
Yesterday, day eight, Dean and I did a mountain hike from 4,600 feet up to > 6,000 feet and did not make it to the summit to an alpine lake we had hoped to see.  We were almost there, but we lost the trail in deep, deep snow and had to give up our quest.  I have never hiked in snow wearing shorts and T-shirt.  It was great.  The snow was soft with many areas having an undercurrent of fast running water and this required some caution in spots.
The bright sun on the bright white snow and the contrast of the conifer trees gives this area startling beauty.
We took Dean's roommate's dog, Mei, along with us.  If you are one not to like boxers, you should meet this dog.  
Dean Schillinger.  

We didn't make it to the summit, but we took a rest anyway.  I was afraid our footsteps in the snow would melt and we would lose our way back.  I should not have worried.  In the three years that Dean has lived in Idaho, he has become quite the outdoorsman.  He is really at home in the mountains and fits right in.  
Deep snow, and many times we were up to our hips in it after falling through - a very strange feeling when wearing shorts and T-shirt.

Following our hike, we went to a bar/restaurant called Slates to watch the Redwings-Penguins in the Stanley Cup final game.  The Wings had plenty of supporters in this northwestern town, but I feel certain that I was the only one in the bar from Detroit watching the game.  Wings lost.  I was glad I was out here when they lost and not in Detroit.  I figured that it was the Wings series to either win or lose and they lost.  
This morning we met Dean's friend, Gwen, at the Sandpoint Farmer's Market.  I bought Dean some Sweet Woodruff to plant in a shady part of his yard.  
Sweet Woodruff seller.
This is Francesca Dees and her friend, Shah Sean, selling organic herbal soaps and oils made from her own garden herbs.  Her market stall is called Land of Peace.  Am I out west in a mountain town or what?  She was acquainted with Dean from him having done some gardening work for her.  Anyway, to be polite, I purchased one of her bars of soap for way too much money and then joked with Dean about if afterwards.
Land of Peace healing soap ... ookkaayy!
The market's morning trumpet player also happens to be Dean's acupuncturist.  Again, is this a western mountain town or what? Sometimes it's great to be from Detroit.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day seven: West Glacier to Sandpoint

I've made it to my nephew's and I am currently in a restaurant having a cold beer.  But, this is how I am ending my day.  I started it at the western entrance of Glacier National Park.  I went to the Oxbow Trail because the Montana birding book says that American Dipper can be found at the bridge over McDonald Creek.  I parked at a small pull off and checked the creek and did not find the dipper.  There was lots of bird song coming from the woods, so I started down the Oxbow Trail which runs along the river.  I'll start with the first bird I chased down, but first let me tell you I had a strange morning of birding here.
My first bird was Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula).  You're thinking, big deal. Right, but this bird is funny in Montana.  I sounds very different!  I heard them all along the trail I walked on the east side of the park yesterday, too.  The song starts out the same, but ends very differently. Finally, one landed and sang right in front of me.  I was allowed several photos, but this is the only one that turned out.  In addition to the warble that we are accustomed to hearing in the midwest, Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) also has quite a different vocalization out here.  
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet

The next bird was an empidonax flycatcher.  Four different empids are possible in this kind of habitat and at least one of those is the Least Flycatcher which was present today.  The unidentified empid was one of the other three - Cordillerian, Dusky or Hammond's.  I need to listen to the vocalization to see if I can identify beyond empid sp.
Overexposed Least Flycatcher

But, here's where it gets strange.  I saw, in Glacier NP in northwest Montana, a female Connecticut Warbler (Oporornis agilis).  I chased this bird trying to get a photo.  As always, its disappearing act was amazing.  But wait, it doesn't end here.  I also saw a White-headed Woodpecker (Picoides albolarvatus) in this same general area.  I saw the bird fly across an open area of the woods.  It was slightly distant, but nothing else looks like this.  According to the Sibley range maps, both of these birds are technically possible here - represented by Sibley's gray shading.  I should probably be reporting both birds to the Montana records committee, but I can hear it now. Woman from Michigan comes to Glacier National Park to see American Dipper and finds Connecticut Warbler and White-headed Woodpecker instead.  Right!  Who needs that?  I can come home to Michigan for that. 

As it happens I did see American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) this morning.  Again, it flew upstream over the middle of the river and landed on a pile of debris. When I ran to this spot hoping to see a perched bird, it was gone, gone, gone.  I'm still hoping for a perched view of this bird in Idaho. 
I found many of this large butterfly, the Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon).  This photo is not an overexposure - initially I thought it was really worn, but the butterfly really is this pale.  When I got back down to the park entrance, there were distinctly yellow Western Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio rutulus) flying around.  
This fuzzy male Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) was half of a pair that bid me farewell from Glacier NP.

Reluctantly, I ended my time at Glacier NP with lunch at the west entrance restaurant.  A northern European guy on a motorcycle asked me directions to Great Falls.  As it happens, I was able to help him.   Speaking with him made me feel not so strange making this cross-country road trip.  If he can come from Europe and do this on motorcycle, well ...

My road trip continued along Highway 2 West.  I stopped in a state forest to walk briefly and listen.  Many of the birds I've seen, and have not mentioned, are the same birds we see at home.  For example, Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus), Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) and Pine Sisken (Carduelis pinus) have all been present in good numbers. 
Knowing that this is the last leg of my journey for several days made today's drive quite easy over the mountain highway.  I arrived at my nephew's around 4:00 pm PDT. He lives in a completely charming wooded setting quite a distance north from the town of Sandpoint.  On the drive into his "neighborhood" I crossed over the Pack River. You can be sure I'll be checking this more carefully over the next several days.
Nearly to Sandpoint and on the other side of the Pack River, I spotted this; a chronic reminder of the dangers of our dry west and of global warming.  You cannot see it in this photo, but in the area left of center with the dark plume rising, bright orange flames were clearly visible. Scary!  What was being done about this?  Certainly, as I was driving on Highway 2 and observing other drivers, no one seemed to pay it any attention.  It all seemed very matter-of-fact.

It took me awhile to find this place this evening, but I now know of an internet cafe in Sandpoint where I can connect.  The next four days will be devoted to visiting my nephew.  He'll be working some of the time, so I may take that opportunity to post.  Otherwise, look for more when I begin my trip back east next week. 
This has been great.  Thanks for tuning in.  Hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.  I know for sure that your butt is not as sore. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Day six: Glacier National Park

I've received several nice responses from family and friends who are following my trip via my blog. Thanks guys; it's been a lot of driving and searching for new birds. Tomorrow I will arrive at my destination in Sandpoint, Idaho. I know my nephew does not have wireless access, so the posts may stop for a few days. Thus far, however, I have had no trouble getting wireless in motel rooms. Tonight I am staying the the Glacier Inn Motel in Columbia Falls, Montana. Clean, clean quiet room.

I set off this morning at 6:00 am from the Siesta Motel in Havre - another place I recommend staying if anyone gets out this way. The morning was cool, but bright and sunny; the first full sun I have seen since leaving home. My destination was Glacier National Park. Again, it was highway 2 nearly all the way. I don't have a photo, but I got my first life bird for the day between Shelby and Brownlee - Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis), seen well through my spotting scope. In all I saw three Ferruginous Hawks today. On this same route I had two
Prairie Falcons (Falco mexicanus) fly over. I saw this bird in Texas, but it's gratifying to find on my own. To my surprise, this whole trip has had a dearth of raptor sightings. Mostly I've seen Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), but even they are not common. American Kestrels (Falco sparverius) are scant. Maybe this is it - with so much habitat available to them, they can really spread out.
Still approaching Brownlee, I saw this stray dog wandering with another dog. It looked so much like Ky, just a little bigger, that I had to stop and take this photo. Gosh, that was difficult.

It's always difficult to tell how long a drive through unfamiliar territory will take. Beyond the Native American community called Brownlee, the roads became mountainous and driving on mountain roads always takes longer. Around Brownlee, Black-billed Magpies (Pica hudsonia) began to show up again. I tried for a picture, but it didn't happen.
Montana has fewer prairie potholes than North Dakota, especially this far west, but they're still around and usually have one or two waterfowl species. This pond held an American Coot (Fulica americana) and a pair of Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors). Mostly I just think this was a pretty photo.
I remember that last summer there was a large wild fire in the area of Glacier National Park. I came across the evidence of this on Highway 89 north driving toward St. Mary's and the east entrance of Glacier National Park. Huge swaths of forest were fully destroyed by that fire.
I have not been to many national parks, so I have nothing to compare Glacier to. It is amazingly beautiful. A couple of things up front. Logan Pass was closed - and not because of snow, but because of road construction. If you look a map of Glacier NP, you'll see that this really limits access around the park in any kind of timely fashion. Next, the air in and around the park is wonderfully fragrant. I have never experienced such an omnipresent outdoor pleasure - when all the air you breathe smells pure and fresh and full of pine.
This male MacGillivray's Warbler (Oporornis tolmiei) was singing very near to the start of the Sun Rise trail. Of course, I didn't know what was singing that song, and this was all I needed to chase it down. You can just barely see the bird's eye arcs in this terrible, but identifiable, photo.

As I was spotting the MacGillivray's, I was briefly distracted by a fast flying and tiny Sara Orangetip (Anthocharis sara). Unfortunately, I could not get a photo. Other butterflies seen well enough to identify were:
Old World Swallowtail (Papilio machaon)
I found this one on the road, struck by a car, but not damaged where the colors show up better.
Western Pine Elfin (Callophrys eryphon)

Leaving the park, I stopped at the Medicine River to look for American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) when I saw one fly low up the middle of the river. I hope I'll have a chance to see another properly.

Another long day ends, another blog post. What will tomorrow bring?