Saturday, June 18, 2011
The rest of my trip will be south of the route I taken to Glacier. The route home will take me eastward and gradually southward until I eventually hook up with interstate 80 for the last leg home. Today was a traveling birding day. I wanted to bird my way from Cooke City, Montana to the southern western foothills of the Bighorn Mountains in eastern Wyoming.
I spent the morning birding one of America’s most beautiful and scenic roads, the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway. It runs 64 miles from its northern junction with the Beartooth Highway, to just a few miles north of Cody, Wyoming. When you enter Yellowstone from any of the other entrances you lose a sense of how high the Park really is. The trip down or up the Chief Joseph Highway leaves no doubt you are high in the mountains.
So the birding is quite good on a great road with some, but not a lot of traffic. It is certainly a nice change from Yellowstone congestion. So you start high in the mountains and ever present for several miles down is the Beartooth Mountain behind you. The first stop is Lake Creek and Lake Creek National Forest campground. This area is a combination of pines, exposed rocky hillsides and sagebrush meadows.
I have been searching ever since I got to Glacier N.P. to find a Water Oozel or more correctly an American Dipper. I have had no success. Not in Glacier, nor in Yellowstone. The Dipper is a bird that eats primarily Hellgrammites and other water insects. Hellgrammites emerge from fast moving steams as Stoneflies. But the Dipper dives into rapid currents and white water to glean these insects from under and around rocks and boulders typical of mountain streams. They are amazing feeders.
I once saw two fly fishermen get swept under the swift current in Slough Creek in Yellowstone National Park. And once they pulled themselves onto shore I watched an American Dipper, about the size of a stocky Robin, dive in and against the same current and emerge 50 yards up stream. Try swimming like that with wings! I think aerodynamics and technique are involved with this crafty little bird.
The water everywhere is high and the snow melt is in full swing but the volume of water is substantially greater than normal. The current is turbulent. I don’t think this is a prohibitive factor for feeding but may be for nesting. However the water is abnormally turbid. The water is picking up a lot of sediment and it’s just dirty. But when I looked off the bridge over Lake Creek the stream looked different. The water was crystal clear. It was swift but clear. And as if on cue, an American Dipper flew up the stream to find a strategic launching point for under water acrobatics and breakfast. Feeling relieved and pleased to find the elusive Dipper I birded the campground and stirred up a Red-breasted Nuthatch, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Pine Siskins.Farther down the road are several small to medium sized pothole ponds that harbor a variety of waterfowl, the most notable being a Barrow’s Goldeneye. Other birds around the ponds include Marsh Wrens, Yellow Warblers, Sandhill Cranes, Western Tanagers, Cliff, Tree, and Violet-green Swallows, Warbling Vireos, and MacGillivray’s Warblers. As I scanned one of these ponds a lone female Elk began