Sunday, May 31, 2009


Mile Creek, Montana

Mile Creek is another one of my favorite nearby places to find flowers and a generally relaxing place with plenty of surrounding natural features. (My Google Earth virtual trail) It is only about 15 miles north of the RedRock RV Park (which is in Idaho) in southwest Montana. It is characterized by a trail head that starts out on a flat alluvial plain which several small creeks traverse (Little Mile creek and Mile creek) and a trail that takes you through a deep canyon up to Targhee Peak ridge in the Henry's Lake mountians. This canyon lies between Targhee Peak and Black Mountain. My little excursion today was just within the first 1/2 mile from the parking lot, along Mile Creek and a trek up Little Mile Creek to look for wildflowers.

Looking up Mile Creek trail. Flowers are on the flat plain in front. Black Mountain in background.

The wildflowers here are very similar to those I've found in the recent weeks at RedRock RV Park. The typical profusion of Glacier Lilies (though they are fading now), shooting stars, goosefoot violets, Arrowleaf Balsam Root, Ballhead Waterleaf, Vase Flower, Low Larkspur and even a few Oregon Grape plants can be found here. I was hoping to find additional species in bloom here and I did find a few.

The first stranger was a bushy little plant about a foot or more in height with little recessed yellow flowers growing from the axis of the upper leaves which contrive to hide the flowers. This plant is known as the Western Gromwell or Puccoon (refering to the Indian name for the purple dye that is in the roots) (Lithospermum ruderale). This plant has 5 lobed petals and long hairy leaves about 4" in length.

Closeup of the Western Gromwell or Puccoon

Another delightful newcomer to our list is the Hooked Violet (Viola adunca). This is a very small and delicate blue flower that grows in bunches low to the ground near the creeks. Note the typical bearded lower petal. This has a spur going back of the central lower petal containing nectar.

These were found along all the stream banks indicating they enjoy moisture. I had to watch where I walked to avoid crushing these little guys.

Another favorite of mine found here is the Low Larkspur. I took a couple photos of exceptional specimens for the detail of their "throats". The 5 sepals look like petals, but the petals are actual in the "throat". Look at the upper petal, all white with fine blue lines.

Another familiar flower here is the Few-flowered Shooting Star (Dodecatheon pulchellum). There are several variations here, including quite a few of the white versions of this beautiful and interesting shaped flower. Last year at this spot I photographed a hybrid between the normal pink variety and this white one to produce a peppermint variety. I looked around but didn't find it. Maybe a subsequent visit will be more successful.

I'm not the only one looking for beautiful flowers. The furry bumblebees are flying around collecting pollen (instead of photographs). This picture might be thought of as a Bumblebee's view of a Arrowleaf Balsamroot flower.

Bumblebee eye's view of Arrowleaf Balsam root flower and pollen.

Another visitor to the flowers (in addition to me and the Bumblebee) is this Western White Butterfly, resting from his flower search.

Western White Butterfly

Another not particularly beautiful flower, but certainly one to catch your attention is the Mountain Goldenrod (Solidago multiradiata) that I found here. I'm not exactly sure about this classification, please let me know in the comments if you know differently.

Mountain Goldenrod?

Realizing this blog has gone on for too long, I'll end with one of my favorite flowers. I've noticed this one trying to bloom around the RV Park, but I actually caught one in the act here at Mile Creek. The uniquely shaped Grandfathers Beard, old-man's whiskers, or Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) Usually there are three bell-shaped flowers per stem (as shown here). This plant has an interesting end-life as well which gives rise to the "beard" or "whisker" designation in the common names (see here from last year.)

Grandfather's Beard, or Prairie Smoke at Mile Creek.

Please come to RedRock RV Park to see this profusion of wildflowers. The peak is still yet to come in mid-June or later. If you can't come to see us, go out into your own "wilderness" and look at your feet. You'll be surprised to see more than your toes!

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Heartleaf Arnica et al

Reggie and I went back to meadow #1 this morning. (It was a beautiful morning again, though it's full of thunderclouds now, with a little rumbling in the distance and rain approaching fast. We do need some rain every so often for the flowers.)

All the regular wildflowers (that we've reported earlier) were still increasing their numbers except the Glacier Lilies and the shooting stars. They are starting to decline, except in the shaded areas. I still look for unusually attractive specimens of both to photograph.

The new flower to appear today was the Heartleaf Arnica (Arnica cordifolia). This extremely bright yellow flower is characterized by the many yellow ray flowers and numerous disk flowers. At first glance you might confuse it with the Arrowleaf Balsamroot, but it's leaves are much different with some looking like the heart-shape we know so well. These seem to like open forest settings with shade and soon will be a welcome addition along the forest paths.

Heartleaf Arnica ray flower

The next new plant seems to be the Sitka valerian or mountain heliotrope (Valeriana sitchensis) but I'm not real sure. It is immature at this point. Perhaps being patient, I'll be able to identify it later. It has tiny little white flowers in a florescence at the top of the step with opposing leaves.

The male and female meadow rue plants are quite common now and resemble little bunches of fringe material hanging from a lamp shade. These tend to grow in bunches in shade. Aren't they interesting (for a wildflower without a flower?)

Male Meadow Rue plant

Even grasses can be beautiful. I'm still researching what this is but there are several specimens in meadow #1.

Hope you've enjoyed today's look at the new wildflowers around RedRock RV Park (near Henry's Lake and Island Park, Idaho.) Come see for yourself.

Friday, May 29, 2009


Henry's Lake Morning Birds...again.

Southwest end of Henry's Lake (at Hope creek outlet)

I had such good luck a couple days ago at seeing birds at Henry's Lake (near Hope creek, southwest corner) I thought I'd try "birding" again this morning. It was a beautiful morning in paradise, about 41F , making it a bit cool, but comfortable with a light coat. By the time I left it was in the mid-50's. I left the motorhome about 7 AM. I drove again since I was taking my equipment, even though it was only a mile down the dirt road. As I gained sight of the lake, I spotted a large object on the log fence on the cliff above the boat launch. Figuring it was an eagle I took the road to the cliffs instead of to the shore. As I got within about 500 yards of the bird, I stopped and turned off the engine. Before I could get a good shot, he flew off. It was a juvenile eagle again, but still an impressively large bird. Win some, lose some! Here's the "butt shot" as he left his observation post over Henry's Lake. I often see the Kingfisher sitting at the same spot. It must afford birds a good place to watch for fish at the surface of the lake.

Juvenile Bald Eagle leaving his observation post at Henry's Lake, thanks to my intrusion.

I drove back down to the shore (1/4 mile) and took my normal place near Hope Creek. The American White Pelicans were out as well as the Coots, the Lesser Scaups, a couple American Widgeon, and the Red-necked Grebe. Various gulls hung around on the periphery and every so often a couple Canada Geese would fly overhead honking. A pair of Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) were poking around the sagebrush nearby. I also saw a single juvenile female Yellow-headed blackbird (these females are really brown with a yellow chest, quite attractive, almost so as their male counterparts.) It was hanging out with a young red-winged black bird.

Young Female Yellow-headed Blackbird and young red-winged blackbird.

Killdeer poking around in the grass under the sagebrush near Henry's Lake.

Although I spent an hour photographing, I really saw no new bird species today. It doesn't bother me that I'm taking the same birds over again since I take the opportunity to improve my photography. It's just great to listen to the birds, watch their behavior and enjoy the beautiful morning scenery and quiet here. This area in the morning always reminds me of the places shown on CBS Sunday Morning News with the bird videos shot at relaxing areas all over America by Charles Osgood. Someday, I'm bringing my digital recorder and stereo microphone down here to record the pleasant bird sounds.

Red Necked Grebes in Henry's Lake this morning.

There were already 4 or 5 boaters fishing, and a couple souls on the shore pitching their nylon into the lake. The ugly trailers that inconsiderate fishermen left empty during the week next to Hope Creek were still there, marring the scenic values a bit. See if you agree:

Abandoned (during the week) trailers at Hope Creek on Henry's Lake mar the beauty.

Back at the RV Park, the bird feeders continue to attract beautiful song birds, including the rare (for this area) Indigo Bunting, American Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and more.

Indigo Bunting at feeder at RedRock RV Park, out of it's range.

I won't subject you any further to my waxing about the beauty of this place since I have little new to report, but I'll leave you with a few pictures I did take that came out fairly well. Again, come see for yourself at RedRock RV Park, near Island Park, Idaho and not so far from Yellowstone National Park.

Closeup of American White Pelican on Henry's Lake

Thursday, May 28, 2009


More Wildflowers

It's been 2 days since I've visited my wildflower meadow down Red Rock road and this is the time that growth is rapid, so Reggie and I walked down there today to see what new flowers have bloomed, me with my camera and flash, and Reggie with... well with nothing but his enthusiasm to explore.

It was a beautiful day, only a few fluffy clouds and a bright blue sky. The mountains still have some snow and in fact, there are still spots of it in our meadow under the Douglas Fir trees and throughout this forest.

My first impression as I climbed the small hill to the meadow was how widespread the Vase Flower (Clematis hirsutissima) had become since it's first bloom only 8 days ago. The entire hillside (east facing slope) was in full bloom with these fresh looking purple bells of joy. I couldn't resist photographing several of them including this one with one of last years florescence of flowers as a backdrop.

On the same hill is a profusion of the beautiful, mostly green, Meadow Rue (Thalictrum occidentale). The male stamens and the female Pistils are on different plants. A few of the plants are "blooming". There are no petals, just the Stamens or Pistils bunched on the end of the stalk. The leaves are lobed and are especially Symmetric and beautiful.

Western Meadow Rue (female plant) is starting to "bloom" on the hillside of the meadow.

Another newcomer today is the Utah Honeysuckle (Lonicera utahensis) which is a perennial shrub that produces twin trumpet-like flowers and eventually, bright red berries. Today, it is showing it's yet to bloom twin flowers. The flowers resemble those of the previously described Fairy Bells. The leaves are green and lobed or almost heart shaped and are attached to a woody shrub-like stem.

Soon this will be found throughout our forest, including across the street from the RV Park. They make a nice accent to the more traditional colorful wildflowers. Once the bright red berries appear they are truly a beautiful accent to the forest. The fruits of Utah honeysuckle are edible raw or cooked. They are juicy and were used for food by the native Americans among others. The others include both Black and Grizzly bears who love the berries.

The Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) continues to burst forth with its sunshine flavor of summer in our early springtime. Not yet pervasive, I'm seeing more and more of this delightful yellow flowers dotting the landscape. This plant is obviously part of the sunflower family. It is similar to the Mule's Ear which will cover the meadows around here with solid orange in about a month. It has more arrow shaped leaves and smaller flowers than the Mule's Ear. The first specimens of this plant were collected by Meriwether Lewis on the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the Rockies in 1806.

I also saw a lonely specimen of the Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) blooming with a single white flower. This plant is part of the larger Rose family. It's low to the ground and easy to miss if you aren't watching your feet most of the time (as I do when in this meadow.) Western Indians prepared a tea from the green leaves of the Strawberry plant. They also made use of the tiny, sweet fruit of the Strawberry. They were used for a variety of medicinal remedies, including curing colds by the Indians.

My biggest surprise for the day was finding the Low Larkspur (Delphinium bicolor), a flower with a deep purple color. There are 5 sepals spread wide with the upper one extended backwards into long conical spur, typical of all Larkspur species. This image shows the Larkspur in conjunction with a Nine-leaf lomatium. Larkspurs contain toxic alkaloids that cause skin reactions and affect the nervous and the respiratory systems of humans and especially cattle.

Low Larkspur is poisonous to cattle and can make you sick.

One of the strangest "flowers" I've been looking for over the last week here is the Orange Peel Fungus (Aleuria aurantia). It's not a wildflower, but certainly a bright spot on the forest floor. I found my first today next to the path in the meadow. It can be mistaken for litter, maybe a wrapper from a candy bar or even an orange peel. It is edible but not particularly a choice one. It's found throughout North America and even in Europe and grows on bare clay or disturbed soil.

Another newcomer to this meadow today is Nuttall's rockcrest (Arabis nuttallii) in the pink variety. There is also a white variety. It is a very small plant as you can see. Soon all the buds will open.

Nuttall's rockcrest

The soft and furry looking (purple flowered) Ballhead Waterleaf continues to proliferate with many more specimens found under other shrubs and plants in the meadow.

As you can see there is no end to the new plants blooming around RedRock RV Park. Many of these same plants can be found in Yellowstone National Park, but they are easier to find here. Come see us and make your own discovery journey. The Glacier Lilies are continuing to put on a show. Every flower has a unique shape and makes them all the more interesting to find and study.

Glacier Lily in Island Park, Idaho

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Henry's Lake Spring Birds

Reggie and I hopped in the car (well, Reggie hopped, I slid in) and headed only a mile from the RedRock RV Park (in Island Park, Idaho near Yellowstone) to Henry's Lake (south side.) I would normally walk, but I had too many cameras and lens I wanted to take.

I hadn't been down there to photograph the birds that normally spend time at the Hope Creek inlet. It's fishing season now and I have to compete with the fishermen for the birds. If the fishermen stay away from Hope Creek there are numerous species of birds there to observe.

But.. prior to getting there, I saw an enormous bird sitting on a ranch fence at the top of the south access road. I stopped the car mid-road and got out with "big bertha", my Canon telephoto lens that at the moment is configured on a camera with an effective focal length of 1250mm. I set my lens on a fence post and shot away. I quickly determined that I was shooting a juvenile Bald Eagle (1st year plumage) (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). I was surprised by the large size of it. After a few shots, it's keen eyesight decided I was too much of a threat and it flew away.

A bit further up the road was a smaller Swainson's Hawk sitting on a snowmobile route pole. From it's plumage I think it is a first year bird. I was able to get a quick photo before he defecated (a sure sign he is leaving) and flew away.

Since it was about 7 AM, there weren't many fishermen on the lake so I was able to have the Hope Creek area (most southwest part of Henry's Lake) to myself. Unfortunately there were some extremely unsightly old trailers parked next to this area which ruined the scenic values here for me. They park the trailer there and come on the weekends to fish. I would love to see Fremont county make this end of the lake (the outlet from Hope Creek) off-limits to camping and fishing. It's a true bird mecca and all the human activity is sure to discourage breeding. In any case, I quietly set up my tripod and Reggie watched quietly from the car as I began photographing.

The area was teeming with birds. From the bald eagle (sitting on another fence post), to the majestic American White Pelican, the Lesser Scaup, the Cinnamon Teal, the Blue winged Teal , the Great Blue Heron, the Red-necked Grebe, Coots, Sand Hill Cranes and so much more, there was plenty to keep me busy observing and photographing for over an hour and a half at the same spot.

On a tree quite far away (probably 1/4 mile) sat another Juvenile Bald Eagle (3rd year plumage) and under him about 10 feet was presumably his mother, but who knows. It was too far for a sharp photo but from the image here, you get the idea. They sat there the whole time I was photographing the birds on the lake. Very patience birds.

The distinctive white head and tail feathers appear only after the bird is 4 to 5 years old. At that time it becomes sexually active and starts looking for a mate. (They mate for life and live up to 30 years.) I suspect this guy is in the neighborhood looking for a mate.

One interesting fact I ran across is that Bald Eagles use the same nest year after year. They add to them each year and some can weight up to 2000 pounds and be 10 feet across. They have to be that large since mature Bald Eagles can be up to 3 feet long with a wing span over 8 feet wide.

By the way, the name "Bald" doesn't refer to a hairless or featherless top but derives from an old English word "balde" meaning white.

Several species of duck were hanging out at the Hope Creek outflow. I spotted a pair of Cinnamon Teal (Ana cyanoptera) sunning, preening and eventually floating away. They are beautiful birds with the male sporting a bright cinnamon color all over and a very bright red eyes. The female is much more muted and pale brown colored. Right behind them was a Blue-winged Teal, distinquished by its blue head and white stripe.

Cinnamon Teal (male and female) at Henry's Lake near Hope Creek (southwest)

Several of the Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) were evident basking on the shore next to the Cinnamon Teal and others. The Lesser Scaup is a bird of concern since for several years it's numbers (while still great) are declining unexpectedly. It's a pretty duck with black head, white body and almost blue bill. They also hang out at the Red Rock Lakes Nat'l Wildlife Refuge 20 miles west of here.

I also saw a female Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) , the smallest duck species. Buffleheads do not tend to collect in huge flocks; groups are usually limited to small numbers (less than 10). One duck will serve as a sentry, watching for predators as the others in the group dive in search of food. Obviously this one was spooked by my appearance as she and others in her group flew away as I approached closer.

Female Bufflehead next to Hope Creek outflow in Henry's Lake, Idaho.

An interesting duck like bird swimming all alone was spotted out a bit in the lake. It had a red neck which brought my attention to it quickly. It was too far away for a really sharp photo but here's my best shot so to speak. I believe it is a Red necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena). It is a rare visitor to this area, preferring to be further North. It breeds from Alaska to Minnesota.

A rare visitor to this area is the Red Necked Grebe in Henry's Lake, Idaho.

Also present nearby were several gulls who tend to stand away from the ducks and spend their time on the shore standing and looking between flights.

Two Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) foraged next to the Pelicans and other ducks along the creek right before it dumps into the lake. They seemed unconcerned with the other avians in the area. I was able to photograph one of them in flight as he came to join the other.

The most obvious of the birds in this end of the lake were the American White Pelicans. They are large (up to 62" long with wingspans over 8 feet) and have interesting yellow and orange colorings on their bills. They fish in small groups. I saw them several times all jump up and converge on a single spot when a fish was spotted. I saw the one Pelican that got the fish and it was sideways it's large pouch prior to swallowing it whole. They make quite a commotion, and it is surprising to me that the fish doesn't get away in the fishing frenzy.

American White Pelicans in fishing frenzy as they go after the same fish.

The White Pelicans are magnificent when they fly. They always remind me of the 747's. Large, slow and very accurate. I'll talk more about the White Pelican in other blogs. I guess I've exhausted your patience with this much information. There was so much to see this morning. Come see for yourself and visit us at RedRock RV Park.

American White Pelican making the turn for the final approach on Henry's Lake.

Fishing Party on Henry's Lake

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Day by Day.. meadow flowers

Day by day the wildflowers bloom for the first time this season, one or two at a time, one bright color after another. It's fun to watch and photograph (that's why I do it.) I'm staying the summer at RedRock RV Park in Island Park, Idaho and have a unique opportunity to see this gradual blooming of the landscape from the forest meadows to sagebrush plains and lakeside riparian environments. These diverse environments are mostly within a mile of the RV Park, but I do venture further in my explorations, a few miles west to the RedRock Lakes Wildlife Refuge or east to Yellowstone National Park or north to the Madison River valley.

Today, my Golden Retriever, Reggie and I walked again to a hillside meadow about 1/2 mile west of the RV park. We had been recently (3 days ago) so I didn't expect to see many new flowers, albeit I did expect to see more fully developed specimens of those we've logged in the last weeks. We had a nice drenching rain storm since then that might have spurred some of the flowers to bloom.

Of course the regular early bloomers were out in full regala: Glacier Lily, Vase Flower, Sagebrush Buttercup, Yellow Bell and the Western Shooting Star. Now in full bloom is the Western Spring Beauty (after they warm up in the morning). Also, the Arrowleaf Balsamroot should start appearing all over this area soon. So far only one bloomer is evident.

Today, I found the beautiful Ballhead waterleaf (Hydrophyllum capitatum) blooming for the first time. It's also called WOOLEN BREECHES . There was only one specimen so far. I found this blooming last year about the same time, so they are right on schedule. This plant grows from Colorado west (except AZ and NM). It is a purple flower with 5 projecting anthers, 5 sepals and 5 petals. The cluster of flowers hides under the leaves.

The entire plant has little hairs that give it a very soft and woolly appearance (hence the name Woolen breeches). The anthers projecting out from the bell-shaped flowers also give it a soft fluffy look. It is found in semi-wet places, like recently melted snow (which certainly accounts for it here since this area was under snow just 2 week prior.) It was used as a nutritious food source by Native American peoples.

The Oregon Grape (Berberis repens) is starting to bloom. I found one specimen. These "shrubs" grow close to the ground and don't really look like a shrub except that they keep their leaves from year to year. The blooms start as little green balls, mature in a few days to bright yellow balls, and then burst into fluffy yellow ball-shaped flowers, as this specimen did today. Since the Oregon Grape is so numerous in this meadow, I expect to find lots more blooming soon.

Finally, the False Solomon's Seal (Meaianthemum racemonsum) is blooming. It's also called Wild Lily of the Valley. It's a forest shade loving plant. It's not a typical flower in the sense that it appears as a tassel on the end of a beautiful symmetrical stalk, but consists of a whole bunch of very small white petaled, yellow-anthered flowers. Look at the closeup for the small developing flowers. Eventually, this flowers will produce a couple red-berries. This specimen is not yet mature, as the final plant will have a white tassel.

Although the Western Spring Beauty (Claytonia lanceolata) is scattered all over the upper meadow here, few are in full-bloom at this time of the morning (8 AM) . I did find out that the flowers close in the late afternoon and open again with the warming in the morning. This one specimen was in full sunlight and had almost fully opened.

Western Spring Beauty with bright pink pollen (Claytonia lanceolata)

These were the only "new" flowers today, but I'll add a couple more pictures of other flowers that I found particularly photogenic today, like this Shooting Star, and this peculiarly colored dark orange Yellow Bell. Come see us and see for yourself at RedRock RV Park.

A lovely little Shooting Star with bud in the meadow this morning.

Yellow Bells (or Yellow Mission bells) (Fritillaria Pudica) in meadow along Red Rock Road

Monday, May 25, 2009


Out Red Rock Road..

I hadn't been out Red Rock Road since the season opened at RedRock RV Park. West of here is the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Red Rock Pass (at the Continental Divide which marks the Idaho and Montana border) and lots of isolated ranchlands in Montana. Red Rock road goes through the Centennial Valley. The Centennial Mountains (both east and west) are on the south. It's a nice drive and all only about 10 miles from here.

East Centennial Mountains and willows on Memorial Day 2009.

I had decided not to go all the way to the Refuge today (Which is only about 12 miles), but to look for wildlife up to the entrance to the Refuge. Wildlife includes finding out what wildflowers are blooming out here. Yesterday brought about .2 inches of rain here and probably more west of here so the road was muddy, but not impassible. It was a clear day but with lots of cumulus clouds.

Reggie jumped into the Jeep and we were off about 9 AM on Memorial Day. We weren't without thoughts about what today was about. (See Reggie's blog about Memorial day here.) I drove slowly, looking for flowers, fence birds, and raptors, not to mention Moose in the willow areas.

The rain had made everything fresh looking, and I suspect dumped a bit more snow on the higher mountains, though it was hard to see the tops due to the clouds hovering about them. It was a beautiful morning all-in-all.

Our first stop was over the Continental Divide at the Hell Roaring Creek, down in the Centennial Valley. This creek has a bit of fame from the fact that it is verified as reaching the furthest from the Gulf of Mexico and being the "source of the Missouri River" at about 3720 miles to the Gulf from the start of it near Mount Jefferson. Remember, Lewis and Clark were looking for it (they missed it by about 100 miles.) The creek was running high from the recent snow melt. I looked around for wildflowers and all I could find were ones we found before near the RV Park: Glacier Lily, Wyoming Kittentails, and the Sagebrush Buttercup. It was peaceful here, with the sound of the rushing water and the mountains towering so nearby.

Many of the ranchers here have cooperated with the Nature Conservancy to preserve this land as it is (forgoing future development). To date, roughly 45,000 acres out of 100,000 in private ownership throughout the valley has been protected through easements.

Sitting on a fence next to the Hell Roaring Creek was a beautiful Tree Swallow. Many Mountain Bluebirds were evident as well.

Tree Swallow along Red Rock road in Centennial Valley, Memorial Day, 2009.

A little ground squirrel ran across the road and peered up from a place of relative safety at us. Reggie, of course, was delighted to see him and got quite excited from the car. These guys aren't extremely popular due to their habit of digging holes that people and cattle step in, carrying fleas that transmit disease and munch on crops, but they've been here a lot longer than either humans or cattle. They play a big part in keeping the topsoil mixed and viable and are part of the larger food chain.

Down the road a bit is a ranch that specializes in raising Scottish Highlander Cattle. These cattle have wavy shaggy hair and big horns, both male and female. They are very hardy, having been breed in the rugged highlands of Scotland and spend the winters in this valley, which can get down to -40F or colder. They were the first registered breed of cattle and are used to strengthen stocks of normal breeds.

One of my favorite places to stop along Red Rock Road in Montana, next to Red Rock Creek.

Reggie and I finally stopped and explored for a while at a favorite spot of mine on Red Rock Road. It is right next to Red Rock Creek and has a great view of the Western Centennial Mountains. We looked around for new wildflowers (at least I did.) The only real different one I found was the False Dandelion, or the Mountain Dandelion (Agoseris glauca.) It's actually not closely related to the Common Dandelion, which it resembles and which is considered a weed. It's bigger than a dandelion and lacks the central disc of flowers. It's also rather attractive. There were a few specimens across from Red Rock Creek, in the cattle pasture.

Next was the low growing Leafy Bluebells. They seem to be slightly more blue than the ones near the RV Park, but very beautiful. They grew in full afternoon sunlight on a hillside next to the pasture. There were quite a few there. Alongside the bluebells were several specimens of the Shooting Star but most of them were puny compared to others I had found. Maybe the extra cold and exposed nature of this spot contributed to their size.

While lying down on the ground to photograph the bluebells, I noticed this spider next to me. It was almost totally camouflaged against the ground.
camouflaged spider

We turned around here and head back to the RV Park. We first stopped at the Continental Divide to look for flowers. Here, I found the lanceleaf Spring Beauty (Clyatonia lanceolata) in full bloom on the hill above the road (north). It's a tiny flower and easily overlooked, but lives up to it's name in the details. Some years, many of it's flower appear pink instead of white.

Two deer appeared above us, but Reggie's presence scared them off. Reggie was interested but I warned him off and he was good. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to photograph them this time.

The Spring Beauty was interspersed with the Glacier Lily which was pervasive in this area. Also present were nice specimens of the Shooting Star and the Goosefoot Violet.

Shooting Star

Goosefoot or Upland Yellow Violet at the Continental Divide

The Nemesis Mountain loomed above us across Red Rock Road from this hill. It was covered with snow and presented itself with much majesty and beauty. A great setting for looking for wildflowers. Won't you consider coming to visit us at RedRock RV park. The wildflowers are yet to peak and when they do, they are spectacular. Thanks for listening (again).

Nemesis Mountain and the Continental Divide between Idaho and Montana (7300')

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Meadow Vue Ranch Walk

I hadn't been to the Meadow Vue Ranch in a few days (west and adjacent to the RedRock RV Park) to see what flowers were popping up. So, Reggie and I explored the east most pasture of this ranch this morning. To remind you, the Meadow Vue Ranch is 400 acres of ranchland owned by Dennis Moedl. The development rights were bought for 380 of those acres to be put aside for scenic and wildlife conservation easement thanks to the Nature Conservancy and Dennis.

It was cloudy and a 43F cool, with rain and thunderstorms forecast today (we need it for the continued success of the wildflowers!)

So far the ranch is cow-less and gives us the freedom to explore without interruption. Mostly Sagebrush buttercup is showing, but now the beautiful Leafy Bluebells are scattered all over. These small versions of the popular bluebells have beautiful shades of blue and mauve. In addition, the white, low-lying Spreading Phlox can be found here and there. Also, pervasive throughout most of this pasture is the Wyoming Kittentails. Also present are the Shooting Stars, though they are not in all areas. They tend to like the more moist spots.

New since my last visit is the first specimens of the colorful red Mountain or Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella). This is considered a weed due to it's slightly toxic effect on livestock, but it does make a nice accent for the other wildflowers with it's dark red color. This plant is part of the buckwheat family. The leaves have a lemony, tangy or nicely tart flavor. There is some confusion on my part as to the identification of this plant due to several sorrels that resemble it.

Mountain Sorrel is blooming now.

I did find a couple specimens of the Vase Flower near a small snow-fed stream on the property. But these are unusual out here due to the drier and less shady characteristics of the range. (There is still snow hanging around in places on the property.)

Elk Thistle is starting to grow in the ranchlands.

Another weed that is starting to grow is the Elk Thistle. It starts in such a symmetric way, flattened on the ground forming a large circle. When these bloom, large purple heads grow from the center and the plant stands at least 2 to 3 feet tall.

Pumice like volcanic rock is exposed on the ranch here.

One unique aspect of this property is a parcel of uncovered volcanic rock near the snow fed stream. Although this entire area (greater Yellowstone area) is known for it's volcanic activity, the area from Sawtelle Peak to Henry's Lake has few exposed areas of volcanic rock. Mostly, this land North of Sawtelle Peak is composed of slope wash, alluvial fans, tuffs produced during the eruption(s) of the Yellowstone volcanic system, & glacial moraines. Some of this uncovered volcanic rock is extremely porous, one example containing many pea sized or greater holes where obivously the lava was filled with gas. This might be some form of pumice, formed when hot lava instantly contacts water (Henry's Lake?). Most of this rock is covered with various types of lichen, adding to it's odd beauty.

Also evident is a large depression in one rock that looks like a mortar, a bowl like depression ground into the rock and used by Indians to grind grains for food. There are parts of the mortar that are smooth (presumably from the grinding action of the pedestal.) Henry’s Lake, known for its tremendous trout fishing, was a favorite of the American Indian tribes who set up camps along the lake’s shores. Indian artifacts, like this mortar, can still be found along the banks.

Come visit, but be careful exploring the pasture when the cows are here. The bulls can get jealous.

Also please leave it as you find it, or carry away some other visitor's carelessly discarded litter.

Hard to see here in 3D, but little bubbles in the volcanic rock.

RedRock RV Park from the Meadow Vue Ranch pasture with snowbank still hanging in!

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Another Wildflower walk.

Yesterday, I took my Segway and went down Red Rock road about 4 miles west to a meadow (pasture) along Duck Creek to see if any more wildflowers than those I've found next to RedRock RV Park had matured. Last year this spot yielded large numbers of Indian Paintbrush. I could see them growing, but they were not with their characteristic bright red or orange color yet. Most of the flowers I encountered along the way and at the meadow were the Glacier Lily. There were full fields of them in places. I spotted a couple Vase Flower specimens and a couple Shooting Stars.

A couple bright gold Dandelions were growing next to the creek. Soon these will be everywhere, creating fields of beautiful yellow.

Close to the creek were numerous willows, staple food for Moose. Interesting was the varied male and female catkins growing at the tips of the williows (the male ones are called pussywillows. Here's another photo I took without the flowers.) The male plants have tiny yellow flowers on the catkins. The willows are dioecious, meaning that the female and male parts are on separate plants. (Here's a site that gives you blow by blow photographic analysis of the development of the male pussywillow. Very nice photos.) This time of year the willows stems are bright orange or red and contrast nicely with the snows that often pile around them.

I heard from a camper that the Spooting Star was in full bloom in large areas near the Continental Divide along Red Rock Road. I will investigate that for myself in the next days.

I have found that there are periods in which several new species of wildflower start blooming at once and then there will be a quiet period where those in bloom will continue to mature before any other new ones pop up. For meadow #1, I think we are in the quiet period. I use those periods to find especially beautiful specimens of wildflowers I've previously found to photograph for their pure and simple beauty.

This morning we walked through Meadow #1 and found mostly maturing flowers that I had already found. Most notable and beautiful was a single specimen of the Arrowleaf Balsamroot that had fully opened.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) in full bloom

I expected to see the Spring Beauty in full bloom, but instead I saw many specimens but none were fully open. I wasn't exactly sure if that was because it was early morning. I'll find out later.

On my way out of meadow #1, I discovered the Meadow Rue starting to bloom (so to speak, since they really don't have petals.) I couldn't tell at this stage whether it was a male or female plant.

The Shooting Stars were discussed before, but today I found two specimens of a white or albino strain of the same plant. These were the only two in the entire area (I searched) in meadow #1. They are particularly beautiful next to their more colorful purple variety.

I walked up the path to the forest across from the RV park this afternoon expecting to find only the Glacier Lily blooming (as it is throughout the forest now.) On my way out I discovered the small plant Fairy Bells (Disporum). It's beautiful bell-shaped white bloom occurs mostly in pairs. It was growing under a douglas fir tree and there were several specimens. Soon I'll find this in meadow #1 as well.

Please come visit us soon, as the wildflower profusion will be here before you know it and you will have missed out on it. (Except if you read this blog.)

To complete the day, I found this American Goldfinch on the ground under my feeder at the RV Park. He came last year too (I assume it's the same one.) I've never seen more than one around here at the same time.

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) at RedRock RV Park.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Fence Birds

This morning's walk west down Red Rock road from the RedRock RV Park was done with my eye on the birds that live around here. (As opposed to the wildflowers as I have done for the last few days.) There is a barbed wire fence courtesy of the Meadow Vue ranch next door that follows the road. Every morning, and this was no exception, little birds sit there and jump ahead as Reggie and I approach. Today I brought along my heavy "big bertha" a Canon 500mm lens (with 1.4x extension on a 1.6x sensor camera). I was ready for them.

It was a beautiful morning again with bright sunshine, temps around 43F and a bright blue sky. The Centennial Mountains continue to lose snow given that we haven't had a good storm here in a week, but they were still beautiful as always.

The birds often are small and brown and disappear into the background, so you have to keep a good eye on the fence. Plus, for me, Reggie walks quite a bit ahead of me and often keeps them moving down the fence well ahead of me. When I see a bird, I call Reggie (my Golden Retreiver, to come back to me.

The first bird we encountered was about the most common one around here, the American Robin. Normally he is hopping around looking for worms and insects in the RV park, but I guess he was on a break sitting on the fence post, because he seemed to be very relaxed as I approached closely and pointed big bertha at him.

Next, a slight movement alerted me to another bird not far away. He was a little larger than a sparrow and appeared to have a black head. I confirmed this by looking into my view finder. I had to walk a bit until he settled down to take this picture. This is an Eastern Kingbird, part of the flycatcher family. He feasts on the numerous insects at the Ranch. He is quite attractive with his black head and white breast. He followed us down the road (at least 50 feet ahead) the entire way.

Next I saw what appears to be a Sage sparrow. There are numerous birds that flit about in the sagebrush around here and I presume that he is one of them. Very common looking as many sparrows are to the uninitiated eye, but nevertheless, the is one of the fence birds around here. The next one appears to be an adult Vesper sparrow which was quite a bit larger than the Sage sparrow.

Probably one of the most beautiful of the "fence birds" is the Mountain bluebird. The male is bright blue and bright sunlight enhances his brillance. The female is not as bright but still has touches of blue. I was hoping to find one of the male bluebirds, but first encountered this female. She was accomodating to my photography, but couldn't help me find the male. They don't always fly together. I assume they find more food when they split up? I later found the male further down the road and he was ready to pose for me. I must have taken 40 images of him in 10 minutes. He was proud to show off his brilliant blue plumage to me. When he jumped to a post covered in red and orange lichen I was thrilled to take his photo with such bright contrasting colors to his plumage.

A pleasant surprise was meeting the Chipping Sparrow. His bright rufous head made this sparrow delightful to behold. Again, sitting on the barbed wire seemed to satisfy him for quite a while as I took his picture.

A walk down the road wouldn't be complete without seeing the paired Tree Swallows swooping down to find insects for breakfast. Eventually they need to rest and settle down on the wire. They are brilliant in the right sun angle.

Although not technically a "fence" bird in my definition, I couldn't resist taking in the beautiful Yellow-headed Blackbird waiting his turn at a feeder in the RV Park. Along with him, on the ground, under the feeder was the brown-headed cowbird, often mistaken for a blackbird. In the sun his true colors are shown to advantage.

Come see us at RedRock RV Park and make your own early morning journey.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Beautiful morning to explore..,

We woke up to a beautiful crisp morning in the Centennial Mountain meadows at RedRock RV Park. No clouds, and the air was as clear as it gets. Last night dipped to 28F after several 48F nights and 75F days.

I grabbed my wildflower camera (with flash ring) and Reggie and I headed for meadow #1, down Red Rock road a tad to check on nature's progress in the last two days since we've visited. The walk down the road was quiet, save the occasionally Raven squawk, with not a vehicle to pass us in almost a mile. I wasn't disappointed in our visit, though I had to look closely. Many of the flowers are tiny, especially in the first days of their life cycle.

The Glacier Lily continues to be the dominant flower there with new blooms every day. Their bright yellow petals are a joy to see in such numbers. Each flower is slightly different in shape than the other. Their oblong green fleshy leaves seem to be a holy shroud which sits below each flower hoisted high above as in homage to something divine. Their long stamens are often bright red hanging down from the flower as if bell clappers.

The first new flower to catch my eye was the Upland Yellow Violet (Viola praemorsa). This is also known as the goosefoot violet. It is a very small plant and flower that blooms after the first snow melts as evidenced by my find. The flower is about 1/2" wide and the plant only a few inches tall. I found it growing in meadow #1 on a slope exposed to morning sun. There are only a few specimens at the moment. Probably due to the cold night and early time of day, most of the flowers were drooping their heads down. I'm not sure about the classification hower. It could be the valley violet as well (Viola vallicola) though I do believe it's the upland yellow violet as described.

As I mentioned in my last trip to this meadow, the shooting stars were starting to bloom. They continue their growth. I found this one specimen growing up and through an Oregon Grape that had turned red (from last season). It makes for quite a contrast in colors, doesn't it?

Speaking of the Oregon Grape, I found several specimens starting to put out buds. This plant eventually has attractive little yellow flowers followed by dark purple "grapes" later in the season. This is not closely related to grapes, but is called so because of the clusters of purple fruits or berries it produces. (It's also the state flower of Oregon.)

This plant is interesting in how it's leaves die and form beautiful colors from bright red to orange to brown to several shades of green. I believe it keeps most of it's leaves from year to year though.

I almost missed this little guy. I'm not sure what it is but it resembles Nutall's Rockcrest. It has four-lobed white flowers drooping from the top of a stalk and a lancet shaped leaf with spines on it. Only a couple flowers are opened in this picture.

Another tiny plant that I discovered while crawling around on my knees to photograph the Shooting Star is the Blubous Woodland Star (Lithophragma glabrum). This little flower produces bright red buds that open into little white/purple star shaped flowers. They sit on top of a long stalk and often have more than one flower per stalk. You have to look carefully for this little guy because he gets missed easily. It's found only in the western United States.

On the slope with morning sun I also found the first specimens of the soon to be ubiquitous Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) wildflower. This has a large daisy like yellow flower when mature but now has a meek looking unfurled flower. The leaves are arrow shaped. (I haven't dug up the roots to see what is meant by Balsam root.) You'll see this throughout the forest soon. It tends to grow by itself (as opposed to the mule ears that look similar but grow in large groups together) and these accent the area with bright yellow/orange flowers.

The Vase Flower continues to open and I found this first specimen this morning that was fully open. You can see up into the vase and it's smooth inner purple parts and yellow stamens.

I stumbled (literally) on this lichen encrusted flat rock among the wildflowers. It was ever bit as colorful and beautiful to me as the wildflowers. The lichen are just another form of life competing for the sunlight and nutrients that are found in the forest.

On the way back I snapped this shot of the aspens against the Douglas Fir along Red Rock Road. The aspens continue to grow their leaves and green up nicely. Please plan to come and see us if you can. RedRock RV park is a great base to explore the natural world including the flowers, birds, mammals, geology and scenery.

Aspens are greening after a long winter season. Here they are contrasted against the conifers along Red Rock road near Island Park, Idaho.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Flowers Yet to Be...

Reggie and I took a walk, off trail through the forest canopy across from the RedRock RV Park this morning. There were large sections still covered with snow, but the snow melt has been considerable in the last few days, uncovering a lot of forest floor. I was looking for evidence of wildflowers preparing to bloom or just starting to grow. I've always thought it would be an interesting project to photograph several of the common wildflowers in their complete life cycle. Whether I do that or not, it's interesting (to me) to see the precursor of many of the flowers. The problem is keeping track of them in their various stages. I'll keep working on that idea.

Meanwhile I walked with my head down throughout the forest to see what was coming up. (I was counting on Reggie to warn me of any nearby bears.) Immature wildflowers are hard to identify by species (not many books have such identification aids), but certainly there were many little plants poking through the dried and dead foliage from the remains of last seasons flowers and grasses. Many different shapes and sizes of immature plants were definitely working hard to grow up and display their beautiful flowers.

I recognized a couple, including the Meadow Rue. It has a distinctive leaf and is actually very beautiful with a dark green fringed with magenta. It often forms a sheath around a central set of round globules. (That's not technical talk, just a descriptive phrase.)

A couple solid red plants were poking through the debris. I assume they were non-chlorophyll plants, but not sure.

Some of the shrubs were getting their leaves also. Many of the shrubs bloom later with attractive flowers.

One of the best things about looking for these premature plants is finding them in such perfect condition, uneaten by insects, untorn by winds or other forest stresses. They are as nature intended them fresh with their intended colors and shapes.

The only blooming plants under this forest canopy today was the Glacier Lily. In fact both blooming and yet to bloom plants of this species seemed to dominate the forest floor everywhere. There were sections that were covered in their bright yellow colors.

Glacier Lilies blooming under the forest canopy near RedRock RV park.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Wildflowers are peeking out..

This morning, Reggie and I walked down Red Rock road again to see what wildflowers might be starting to bloom. We went to the little meadow up a small hill about .7 miles west from the RV Park (I call it meadow #1 to distinguish it from the meadow across the street.) A couple days ago I had found the Glacier Lily in full bloom, a few specimens of the Sagebrush Buttercup, and a couple Yellow Bell flowers.) Today, a few more have begun to come alive.

Now, the meadow #1 area is covered with Glacier Lilies in many states of unfolding. Some pointing downward and others presenting their bright red stamens to the sun. All in all, the Glacier Lilies are beautiful and worth studying the many different physical contortions they make to gain access to the sunlight in the forest.

The snow is quickly melting and leaving new opportunities for wildflowers to start unfolding. I found a couple more of the beautiful Yellow Bells. There will be many more soon, I'm sure, but for now the few must suffice.

A cluster of Alpine Shooting Star in meadow #1 today.

I was soon surprised to see the several examples of the Alpine Shooting star (Dodecatheon pulchellum). From my records of last year, these are blooming a day or so sooner this year. They weren't there on my last visit a couple days ago. It's a beautiful flower and it's magenta and yellow coloring catches the eye quickly as you walk through the forest.

I also found the purple Vase Flower (Clematis hirsutissima) in bud form, not unfolding yet, but soon to do so. It's leathery purple bell or vase shaped flower will soon be found throughout this meadow. Only a few specimens were evident, but many more are preparing themselves to bud in the next days. This flower is also know by the common names leatherflower and sugarbowls.

One of the most beautiful flowers in the upper meadow is the Western Spring Beauty (Claytonia lanceolata). I found many of these not yet unfurled, but curled up in small little bullets waiting to "spring" upon us soon. These white and pink flowers will cover large sections of the upper meadow soon.

The nine-leaf lomatium is also starting to bloom. This is a rather undistinquished little plant with very tiny yellow blooms. I found a couple specimens in the meadow #1.

Right out side the RedRock RV Park I found the very first Dandelion specimen blooming. Some find this flower a bother, but I enjoy the fields of yellow covering the ranch next door and the play area at the Park until they mow them.

I walked up into the meadow across from the RV Park today and found only the Glacier Lily blooming. There was a few specimens that I recognized as the Meadow Rue growing without their flowers yet. The snow is still spotty up there so until most of it melts there won't be much activity from that location. The meadow is still very brown, with green starting to peek through from the many wildflowers and grasses trying to establish themselves.

Western Spring Beauty buds waiting to unfurl.

The first hummingbird of the season was spotted looking for the potted plants that are established yearly on the RV park lawn. The pots aren't there yet, but many of the residents are planning to put their feeders out tomorrow for these hungry little guys.

Leafy Bluebell is one of the earliest wildflowers and grows in the sagebrush areas around our park.

Later in the day, Reggie and I looked for the Leafy Bluebells (Mertensias oblongifolia) out in the Meadow Vue ranchlands right next to the RV Park. I knew they should be there since I had found them on this day last year. Sure to form, I found a few of them starting up under the sagebrush. They are beautiful bunches of little bell shaped blue and pink flowers. They usually don't get larger than about 2 to 3" tall. This plant is found only in the western states. A couple specimens of the shooting star found earlier today in the forest was found in the among the sagebrush. Later in the month there will be a profusion of them here in a few places.

I also found this little lady bug (Coccinella septempunctata) hiding on a branch under the sagebrush. Actually it was hanging on tight in the high wind that just cropped up which was also trying to rip my hat from my head. Both of us survived!

Another natural sign of spring was obvious from this vantage point of the forest was the leafing of the aspens. The leaves are not fully unfurled but the tops of all the aspen trees across from the RV Park are now showing green, where just a couple days ago there were not.

For many people not familiar with this area, talking about spring coming in the late part of May sounds silly. Spring officially starts March 21, and ends by June 21st, only a month away. But here at 6500 feet in the mountains, spring will just be getting in full swing by June 21st.

Aspens are starting to get their leaves across from the RV Park.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Henry's Lake is waking up..

We walked down to Henry's Lake again today. It was sunny and relatively warm after several days of cool, windy weather. That was a relief. We still had to cross barriers of snow along the road. Again, no cars had been to the launch area because of the snow, so it is was quiet at the lake.

Much ice had disappeared since our visit about a week earlier. Most of the western end of Henry's Lake was ice free. As we approached the lake, I spotted a large White Pelican taking off, presumably surprised by our visit. I didn't see any others. Later this month, this end of the lake will be full of these giant fishermen. They are graceful and in my opinion very beautiful birds. I look forward to their arrival (more than the fishermen do.) More on these guys in later blogs.

Immediately evident on the lake were the Lesser Scaup swimming close to the launch. They often spend time in the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, but occasionally you'll see this interesting bird here. They like to dive to the bottom and find interesting things to eat. They having been declining in large numbers over the last 30 years and scientists are trying to find out why.

The Henry's Lake mountains were particularly beautiful this afternoon with the deep blue color of Henry's Lake and the deep blue sky framing it. Snow still clung to the cliffs and shore and was at least 10 feet into the lake. Reggie enjoyed playing in the snow next to the water, but I warned him against being too close to the edge as I didn't want him to fall into water that I might have to negotiate to help him out (risking my falling in too.. the water is really cold now.)

Wyoming Kittentails wildflowers with Black Mountain and Henry's Lake in the background.

My attention was turned to a few ducks out about 100 feet. They appeared to be the Western Grebe. This is a beautiful duck with bright red eyes and a long white neck. Further down the lakeshore to the west were large numbers of Canada Geese covorting in the water.

A big surprise confronted me as Reggie and I walked along the cliffs above the shore. I looked down and at a place where the snow had parted from the shoreline, there was a large number of large trout swimming around within feet of the shore. I'd estimate there were from 80 to 100 trout from 14 to 18" in length. I stood and watched for several minutes. Fish were doing fish things, biting each others tail and chasing one another, grazing, and jumping. I wondered what a fisherman would have felt in this pre-season time? (Wondering where his stick of dynamite was?) The fishermen will have to wait until May 23 for the opening of the fishing season here. I suspect most of these were the large hybrid trout (a cross between the female cutthroat and the male rainbow trout.) These are most common in Henry's Lake. Some of these guys get to be 18 lbs. It's rare to see so many in such a small area.

I was looking for new flowers as I walked along the cliffs. The Sagebrush buttercup and the Wyoming kittentails were everywhere. I did find tufts of Spreading Phlox (Phlox longifolia) growing along the cliffs of the lake. They are in bunches of beautiful five petaled flowers with center posts of yellow stamens. These are found as white and also blue flowers. There was also a very small yellow blooming spreading mat flower that I haven't yet identified. That was the extent of the flowers so far.

Walking back from the lake we had a nice view of Sawtelle Peak looming over the RedRock RV Park. A nice end to a great day here.

Sawtelle Peak looms above us as we hike back to RedRock RV Park.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Spring is full of firsts....

Spring is full of firsts. In fact, that's what inspires me to write this blog. It's a diary documenting WHENI discover new forms of life in the fantastic life cycle that includes early spring to late fall here at RedRock RV Park. Every day there's something new popping up or flying in, or hatching or well, you get the picture. Finding and photographing each of them is an interesting avocation each year for me.

Last night was our first thunderstorm of the season. Hail, thunder, rain and lightening. The temperature fell 10 degrees in about 30 minutes. It left the ground white again with pea size hail pellets for our morning walk. We decided to see what was developing in what I call Meadow #1. It's a couple small meadows along a trail rising on a hill about 1/2 mile from the RedRock RV Park (near Island Park, ID). Last year, I found many of our local wildflowers there first.

Clark's Nutcracker was waiting for us at the entrance to the RedRock RV Park.

As we left the RV park, our Clark's Nutcracker was hanging around out front. He must have a nest nearby. We walked west on Red Rock road taking in the beauty of the East Centennials in a brightly lit, almost cloudless cold morning. One of the firsts I encountered was the male mountain bluebird on the barbed wire fence along the ranch boundary. Beautiful and brilliantly blue in the rising sun he perched close by, checking us out. It's the first time since we've been here that I spotted him. The mountain bluebird migrates from Mexico or southern California in early Spring, so more than likely he has just arrived after his long flight. Soon, more will arrive here to make our walks more pleasant and colorful.

Reggie was wearing his new blue sweater knitted by Karen Rector, our good friend and purveyer of things knitted. She's staying at the RedRock RV Park too this summer with husband Steve. Reggie looked sharp wearing his new sweater in the early morning sun. We walked up the path to encounter again the early blooming yellow Glacier Lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum).

The Glacier Lily with drops of morning dew in the meadow #1.

I noticed a slight difference in one of the yellow flowers and bent down to investigate. The odd one wasn't a lily, but the first example of the Yellow Bell wildflower (Fritillaria pudica). I found a couple more examples of it in the area with the plentiful morning sun. The glistening morning dew covering these flowers make them all the more beautiful in the morning sun.

Yellow Bell wildflower is very small and only a few are out yet.

Although not blooming, the small and low growing Oregon Grape shrub was ubiquitous in this meadow. Most are either burnt red or some combination of green and red. Their blooms will wait for another month of warming. Most everthing else was dead vegetation from last season.

The Oregon Grape was not blooming but it was everywhere in the meadow.

The upper meadow was covered with snow, so no new plants to photograph today.

The upper meadow on this trail was still covered with snow in most places. Content that I'd discovered all the new blooming plant life on this particular walk, we returned, hiking through the meadows between the road and the forest. A couple of the taller plants from last season still stood erect, shadows of their former self and now brown instead of yellow and green, having escaped being smashed by the weight of the deep snows. Like dried flowers in a scrapbook, this was natures own scrapbook.

While returning, I heard a strange flapping noise above me and looked up to see that it was being made by the wings of a large raven passing overhead. All I could hear was the flapping noise, as the raven was quiet otherwise (that's unusual!). The ravens hang out in the nearby forest and often are heard fighting or doing whatever ravens do when screaming at the top of their little lungs.

Next I heard the loud echos of the Sand Hill cranes as they took flight down the road. I watched them soar and pass above me with awe. They are very large birds with wing spans up to 6 feet, very noisy when startled and they pair up for life. They are also very pretty birds, migrating from several places far south of here, like the famous Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico. They usually lay eggs in early May and hatch one brood of 1 to 3 colts (as the young birds are called) within about 30 days after laying the eggs. Hopefully, you'll hear more about these guys as the spring progresses, as a couple pairs hang out near here.

Again, no mammal sightings this morning, but a new flower and a couple new birds for the season have graced our presence and will remain for the season.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Early Morning Pasture walk

This morning, Reggie (my Golden Retriever) and I decided to walk through the pasture at the ranch just west of the RedRock RV Park. This is an opportunity afforded by the absence of the cattle that frequent this area in late May or early June. After they arrive, the temptation for Reggie to roll in fresh cow paddies is too great and thus I refrain from walking with him there for obvious reasons. Cleaning his fur after such an occasion is just too close to nature for me!

This ranch is one of the several that the Nature Conservancy has arranged to keep in it's undeveloped state thanks to owner Dennis Moedl. Ranching is permitted but no further development. It's a great way to keep this land for wildflowers, wild animals and scenic views.

Looking west and the East Centennial Mtns across the conservation protected ranchlands next to RedRock RV park on a cloudy morning.

It's a cloudy morning with the East Centennial peaks partially covered in clouds and snow. Rain is forecast for today. It's about 42F which is about 15 degrees warmer than yesterday morning at this time. Thanks for small favors!

Getting up early means we don't see a human soul and the area is very quiet, save for the birds. Our first encounter with wildlife was a large Swainson's hawk sitting on a post in the back of the RV Park. He looked at us quizzically and after a minute decided we were enough of a threat to cause him to depart. These are common hawks for this area and one or two make the RV Park their home base. He probably just returned from his long trek from South America. The Swainson's migrate almost 6,000 miles each year from Argentina to spend spring and summer in Island Park (and other places in the west).

Most of the snow is gone now, with a few patches still on the Henry's Lake south access road on this steepest part, preventing cars and trucks from getting any further. That makes for further isolation and quiet during our walk.

Sagebrush buttercup is ubiquitous on the hill we climbed.

Crossing over into the ranch, you are met by many patches of cow paddies of varying ages between the sagebrush. Some are from last year, but it is obvious that several years accumulation in various stages of decay are present. The grass between the sagebrush is very short now and will start to grow soon, anticipating the cattle's return which will make it short again. The dominating color (other than pale green) is yellow from the small Sagebrush buttercup flowers (Ranunculus glaberrimus) . This single flower is scattered all over the hill we walk across.

Sagebrush buttercup wildflowers are the first to bloom in this area, with Centennial Mtns.

The other major feature are the many large holes dug presumably by the badgers in the area. Reggie doesn't smell any badgers, so I'm wondering where they are. Some holes look fresh as of last fall. Are they asleep in the holes? I don't think so or Reggie would have let me know by his insistent sniffing.

We reach the overlook of Henry's Lake at the top of this hill and notice that the ice has subsided considerably from 2 days ago. There is still a reasonable amount on the lake, but I suspect it will be gone by Monday since temperatures are supposed to peak in the mid 70's by Sunday and Monday.

It's at this spot last year that I found a good number of Wyoming Kittentails wildflowers. Here they were again. Small little purple flowers resembling bottlebrushes more than kittentails to me. They are only about 2" to 3" short but they make for a nice change from the acres of brown decaying material that lies among the sagebrush. They seem to like this location because other than an isolated one I found further north earlier in the week, these are the only ones in this area.

This one was growing with the buttercup. Henry's Lake mountains are in the background.

Ever so often I'll see an isolated quartz rock laying about. It seems out of place since there are few rocks on this hillside. The rock is streaked with red but is clearly quartz in origin. Some of the other isolated small rocks, further down in the pasture are sedimentary, looking like pieces of limestone. Down from this hill on the west are protrusions of lava stone. In fact, there is evidence of Indian occupation since there are mortars where American Indians ground their grain on the volcanic rocks there. Of course this greater Yellowstone area is rich with a history of volcanic eruptions. I couldn't say if this outcrop was a result of the famous Island Park explosion that resulted in the giant caldera not too far away from here.

Small quartz rock is one of many spread sparsely about this hill. Centennial Mtns in background.

We saw no signs of any mammals this morning. We did scare a hawk that was searching around among the sagebrush for insects. It was white and brown, probably a young Swainson's hawk.

We enjoyed our little excursion this morning. Reggie lifted his leg on numerous sagebrush and enjoyed the smells of cows, badgers, ground squirrels and who know what else. I know things will get more interesting as spring progresses, but for now, I'm content to enjoy the little joys of exploring the nearby fields in search of new signs of life blossoming after the long and hard winter.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009


The first signs of spring...

The RedRock RV park opened it's gates on May 7th this year. This is 8 days earlier than last year. The park needs to be partially cleared and dried up to open. Nature was less wet this winter than last so we got in earlier this year.

Getting here at the time we did allows us to see the blossoming of spring from the start. But before that starts we experience the cold nights and brisk daily winds coming off the high East Centennial Mountains above us. The mountains are still covered with a heavy dose of snow. Henry's Lake is starting to break up from its winter cover, but there's still plenty of snow around the area. The few days of sun we get help to further melt the snow and feels very good when we are out and about.

Henry's Lake with ice breaking up.

The meadows across the street from the RV Park, which in late June and July are covered with a variety of colorful wildflowers are now a bleak, brown field thick with last years wildflowers that spent the winter under many feet of snow. The aspens are still bare, but close examination shows green buds growing rapidly at the tips of the branches. The forest is quiet, save for the occasional crow cries.

The ranchlands around the RV Park are without the normal population of cows, but beneath and between the sagebrush are the first harbingers of spring, the yellow waxy Sagebrush buttercup wildflower and an occasional tiny Wyoming pussytails cropping up. Evident everywhere are tiny sprigs of green whose identity await their further growth.

Today Reggie (my Golden Retriever) and I walked down RedRock Road about a half a mile up into a meadow that will display a wide variety of wildflowers only one to two months from now. The first sign of spring there are the little golden Glacier Lilies popping their heads up through the brown decaying flowers from last season. Occasionally, you'll see the Glacier Lily poking through the remaining snow cover.

Birds are starting to appear. This early morning, for the second morning in a row, I've spotted a beautiful Clark's Nutcracker jay waiting for Reggie and me to pass. As we approach him, he flies ahead and perches on the fence about 12 feet away. This happens for a half-mile until we turn away. It's like he is lonely and needs our company.

The bird feeders are out and seemingly have attracted most of the brown-headed cowbirds from miles around. An occasional beautiful yellow-headed blackbird is mixed within the group along with a white-crowned sparrow. Small yellow finches and red house finches are nearby in another RVer's yard where thistle seed is being served. (I still can't find my finch food bag.) The robins are busy with building their nests. One has decided that our motorhome is too close to its nest in the Spruce tree adjacent and spent the early morning attacking the window (or he's just seeing his reflection and attacking the bird in the window.) Who knows?

On our afternoon walk, Reggie spotted two juvenile Moose right across from the RV park, partially hidden by the aspens. They were trotting in the snow, most likely looking for mom. We followed at quite a distance for 5 minutes and they continued their journey through the forest.

So, while we aren't in the most beautiful part of the season yet, it's comforting to know that all the signs point to its inevitable arrival in the not-too distant future.

As I write this, a gentle rain, mixed with ice, pelts the rooftop of the motorhome to remind us that nature continues its slow march to life. Without the snow and the rain, no life exists here.

Plan on visiting us early this spring to catch the unfolding of life. Yellowstone National Park is only 22 miles from here and we will be visiting it and reporting often. I think this Park is a great base for visiting Yellowstone and the nearby Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, only 20 miles to the west of us.


Welcome to our Nature Notes

This is a small isolated RV park in a beautiful natural setting near Island Park, Idaho and West Yellowstone, Montana. I'm the webmaster for the RV park, and have a keen interest in things wild and natural and would like to share them with you when appropriate. I also dabble in nature photography.

Stay tuned as we ramp up from a very cold and early Spring. Nature is quiet now, but it's starting to stir and as the days get longer and warmer, the flowers will bloom, the fish will spawn, the birds will sing and all nature will become a show for those of you interested in stopping long enough to notice.

Hopefully, I can be one of your guides to this process. We'd love to have you visit us and experience this first hand, but if you can't, enjoy our blog. Come back and visit often as I'll try to update this as often as requires (at least a few times per week.) I'd appreciate any feedback, especially any corrections you might have for me.

James "Newt" Perdue

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