Sunday, June 12, 2011
Glacier National Park, Montana
I guess I hit the June Glacier National Park lottery. June is a time constant weather changes, usually from not so good to really not so good with a smattering of glorious sunshine and warm temperatures. I got two in a row. That’s a major league streak! I still have about 10 hours before I break camp so we’ll see how long my luck keeps running.
When I say I birded Glacier National Park, keep in mind that I mean I skimmed the surface. This is a massive park with infinite birding possibilities. The key to accumulating a representative list of the possible birds really means good timing, birding elevation and the various life zones associated with altitude, and as always, various habitats throughout. My timing is pretty good but too early for Vauxes Swift. I can’t bird all the elevations because Logan Pass through tundra and sub-alpine is closed and under forty feet of snow pack! The pass will likely not be open until after July 4th.
A mile walk up the closed highway is a good example of how sensitive timing is. Trees at the beginning were leafed out, about half a mile the leaves were just beginning to leaf out, and after a mile the trees were only budded. The snowpack is at a abnormally low level this year and consequently I saw a flock of Gray-crowned Rosy-finches and a Common Redpoll from the campground this morning. As soon as the snow melts its way up the mountain, these birds will only be found in their appropriate habitat.
I worked three areas today. I started with the Going to the Sun Highway from lowest elevation up in elevation to where the road is closed. I birded Many Glacier north of St. Mary and Two Medicine to the south. All are on the east side of the park. I saw 43 species and added Great Horned Owl (calling during the night @ the campground), Red-naped Sapsucker, Golden-crowned Kinglet, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Fox Sparrow, Gray-crowned Rosy-finch, Common Redpoll, Evening Grosbeak and White Crowned Sparrow. I also added Townsend’s Solitaire on a barren rock face on the way to Two Medicine. It was Tundra-like but only because of the way it faced the brutal weather that come off the Rocky Mountain peaks to the west. That’s where I got the White-crowned Sparrow and I probably missed American Pipit, and Mountain Bluebirds also associated with these impoverished places.
The real story is that Glacier is just a beautiful place that begs to be explored. Like Yellowstone it is a laboratory of life. Here is some of my day. I saw Columbian Ground Squirrels, Red-tailed Chipmunks, Black-tailed or Mule Deer, 2 bull Moose, 20 Mountain Goats, and 3 American Black Bears. I got some pretty good pictures up close and personal of a female Black Bear who was waiting ever so patiently foe a very young cub frolicking playfully 40 feet up in a tree. It was just a special thing to be able to watch unfold.
The National Parks get huge visitation annually. It’s a good thing but often taxing on the delicate ecosystems. Yet people don’t wander far off the main roads and the main attractions. So there is plenty of “in the middle of nowhere” to enjoy. Glacier National Park is a wilderness. Wild places are beautiful and provide supreme opportunities for nature study and appreciation. However it is a dangerous and unforgiving place as well. Bad weather here is really bad and life threatening for those unprepared. Wild animals are dangerous. Their personal space is as precious to them as ours is to us. The consequences of invading wild bears, moose, elk and such can result in the ultimate bad outcome for both humans and wildlife.
The bottom line is to always plan your visit to these places with preparation, respect, caution and above all humility. I am but a visitor in this place where nature prevails. I hardly ever leave Glacier without regret that I have to. But I am always looking down the trail because tomorrow when I leave I know there will be new and wonderful things and places to see. But Glacier will always be a special place in my heart.