Saturday, June 11, 2011
"It's June in Glacier You Know."
The drive from Malta, Montana to Glacier National Park is easy and always interesting. The first leg follows the Milk River and it is a fertile agricultural area tucked in among rolling hills. Aside from yet more flooding, the valley was pretty and produced a fair number of new birds. The best was a Short-eared Owl that appeared from the side of the road and flew, ever so lightly, like a butterfly over the road above me.
U.S. Route 2 rises out of the valley and winds through and over short grass hills. At Havre, Montana the road steadily and gradually rises until it meets the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The “high” prairies are virtually endless or so it seems. I call the drive panoramic. I define panoramic as being able see a train coming and being able to see all150 cars and engines at the same time.
Golden Eagles like panoramic too. They live, hunt, and patrol these vast expanses. I saw a pair of these magnificent birds at mile marker 327 in case you are ever on route 2 in the middle of nowhere. They were perched apart from one another on a ridge line between two massive fields. I stopped and took pictures and marveled all the while. Pronghorn like the panoramic plains too. I saw plenty, twos and threes and sometimes many. The grand view is good for detecting predators. Pronghorns need every edge they can get.
Grain elevators are regular landmarks on this vast prairie. Rt. 2 and the railroad run more or less parallel. Little towns like Kremlin are there because of the railroad, the grain elevator and the grand scale farming in this area. Some of the grain elevators are in the middle of nowhere and some are in operation and others clearly not. But they are known well by all the locals who navigate this place they call home.
One of the most beautiful sights in America is the first good look you get when the snow capped Rocky Mountains first come into view. You’re still 100 miles away but it is always a welcome and spectacular sight. Today was unusual. The Mountains are often shrouded in clouds. But today was crystal clear and it was magnificent.
St. Marys is at the east entrance to Glacier National Park. It’s about a 40 minute drive up through the foothills. The foothill birding can be very good but today I wanted to get to the Park to set up camp in the good weather. The weather in Glacier changes very quickly. When I arrived at the gate I asked the Ranger if this beautiful weather was going to stick around. He looked at me, hesitated, and said “it is June in Glacier you know”. No further explanation was necessary. I know just what he means from experience. By the way today’s forecast was for rain.
It takes me a long time to set up a tent. I can’t do it without binoculars. I was interrupted several times by a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Audubon’s form of Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Western Tanager, Calliope hummingbird, Swainson’s Thrush and hermit Thrush. Putting up that tent sure is aggravating!
I also the Oregon form of Dark-eyed Junco, Mountain Chickadee, Townsend’s Warbler and another soaring pair of Golden Eagles among the Glacier Peaks. You can tell by the list that I am in the middle of nowhere in the great American West.
In addition to the Pronghorn I also saw Columbian Ground Squirrel, Elk, and 14 bighorn Sheep. I don’t have wireless in Rising sun Campground so I’m at my picnic table typing on “word” so I can get this blog out in the morning.