Saturday, March 29, 2014

Snow Geese Migration at Freeze Out Lake : Happy in Montana

Izaak Walton Inn in Essex 
Hopping in the trusty vehicle we head  East on Hwy 2 towards the southern border of Glacier Park .
First destination is Essex and the Izaak Walton Inn. We are just checking things out . Here in the heart of the mountains there has been a lot of snow . 5 to 6 feet on the side of the road into the Inn. The road itself has at least 6 inches of packed ice . Up ahead are some car swallowing holes filled with slushy ice water. However I don't know they are there yet.
Essex Caboose 
The caboose is one of the places you can secure lodging if you are feeling adventurous. Remember this is March 23rd. We are grateful for the sun here. After a couple of close calls with the giant slush holes , we are back on Hwy 2 and rolling towards Browning. Just past Browning on the east side of town we dip south on Hwy 89 and head to Choteau.
Freeze Out Snow Geese 
Our destination is Freeze Out Lake just East of Choteau near Fairfield.  Freeze Out is a shallow reservoir that is on the migration route of snow geese, swans and canadian geese. There are about 40,000 snow geese on the lake today .Some estimate 300,000 migrate through in March. The sound of all these birds is amazing to hear. ( see end of blog for a video ) You have to wonder what they are saying to each other . It is an overcast day but this is not dampening their spirits .
For some great close up pictures of the snow geese check jason savage photography  . He has some nice captures of these birds as well as other wildlife .
40,000 Snow Geese 
So the birds are landing and calling to each other on the lake. Every once in a while they lift up as a group and circle the lake in a large mass . Then they settle again , more goose squawking . Despite the cold and the wind there is a vibrant energy in the air as these migrating birds land for a bit of rest .
Freeze Out Lake

Snow Geese preparing to take off 
This is a great place for these geese to rest . They have the protection of the water and fields to glean nearby . Grains for fermentation are grown in abundance in this area. Some good energy for the geese as they prepare to fly north to the tip of Canada at the Arctic Circle and the Hudson Bay.
Snow Geese 

Taking off late afternoon

Wetlands near Freeze Out Lake 
I am always amazed at the strength and determination of these migrating birds. What great faith to follow that internal programming , to fly into the evening pushing farther North . No maps, no GPS ,
 nolong range vision , just following their internal compass.
Dino in Bynum
Back on Hwy 89 we slow down in Bynum Montana. Yes that is a dinosaur. Apparently there were some prehistoric reptiles in the area many years ago with some good fossil beds to unearth these ancient terrors.  Now this nice town of 31 souls hosts the Two Medicine Dinosaur Museum where you can explore these reptiles of old. The locals need to be really hearty . For one the Dinos and two it is fairly isolated here not to mention the ever present wind found on the eastern front.
High Plains 
Driving north on Hwy 89 we are in the high plains and in view of the Eastern Rocky Mountain Front. It is windy and cold in the 20s but the sun is out and we will take that . A big decision whether to go back home by Marias Pass or south to Rogers Pass. Hard decisions. Earlier in the day there was a good snow storm on the Eastern Marias Pass to Browning . Marias Pass won out and the weather was decent considering this is the northern most crossing of the continental divide by a state highway. Of course there is a more northern crossing with the Going to the Sun road but it is deep under the 30 + feet of snow from this winter.
The Front Range 

Marias Pass with a good view of the Lewis overthrust 
One of the more interesting aspects of living in NW MT is the geology . ok I suppose the snow is a close second. Marias Pass is a great example of the Lewis Overthrust fault . A large chunk of real estate consisting of older rocks that was shoved on top of the younger rocks. In the above picture you can see the fault line despite the snow . It is the distinctive horizontal line about halfway down the mountain. At Marias Pass there is a nice presentation of the geology and exploration of the pass.
Marias Pass 
The Amtrak Empire Builder runs through this area . This makes for a nice trip. The next day driving home the neighborhood elk were hanging out in the fields with their wild eyes.
Neighbor Elk

Below is a nice 11 second video of the snow geese and all of their wonderful goose chat . Courtesy of Kathleen Speier .

This blog today is dedicated to Ana Claire who was born 5 years ago during the epic migration of the Snow Geese . Happy Birthday Ana !!  May you grow to be just as brave and strong as these beautiful birds.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring Snow

Spring is here !
Oops surely this is the wrong picture for the first day of Spring. The vernal equinox, a significant point of the calendar. A time of auspicious power. Today we start to leave winter behind in an official manner. 32 degrees all day with snow and a treat of golden sunlight at the end of the day . A time to rejoice at the coming warmth.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Closer than you think

Spring Thaw 
Spring is just a week away. This week the Varied thrush started singing in the woods. You can see and hear one on the Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche e hike  at this link . The sixth slide has a picture of the Thrush and it's song . A sure sign that winter is on the run. Another  resource is an Audubon link with a really nice  description of the Thrush with recordings of their song.

 We can tell it is soon to be Spring by the more prolific sunshine and the warmer temperatures. The snow pack persists but the air warms to 47 degrees. You can hear the sound of water moving every where . It is under your feet , under the ice from over night freezing , it is under the snow pack. The steady dripping , running and that particularly fascinating sound of water escaping under thin ice sheets.  A particular chorus of happy sounds almost a tinkling , of water escaping the ice lock of winter to be free once more to run to the Ocean. So we are the junction so to speak of winter and spring. Giving way to warmer temperatures and time to think about planting , hiking , biking and all the glorious pursuits of the warmer days.

" I am well again , I came to life in the cool winds and crystal waters of the mountains. "  ~John Muir

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Bigger Heads : Happy in Montana

The causeway
A quick jaunt to the lake . Sunset is not too far off. It is said that living in a cold climate or high latitude causes the brain to work harder for survival . It makes you a bit more clever as your life does depend upon your ingenuity with the changing seasons. Shelter , food , clothing all need to be more proactive and prepared for versus hanging on the tropical beach. There is actually quite a bit of interesting research on this from adaptive skills to cranial and brain size. What kind of person goes around measuring brain sizes  ?
Foot path through the marsh
So a trip to Echo an hour before sunset .  I was looking for the Otters. The lake is quite frozen except for a small patch of open water up at the northern end of the marsh where the foot path winds across a culvert . I would suppose they are hanging out there now instead of down by the main Causeway.
Frozen Echo Lake and the Swans
 Below is a perfect Mouse House in the form of an old stump . It looks like the kind of house that some little critter would like  to have as home base.
A mouse house 

Pete's Ridge in the setting sun light 
 As we take a walk along the lake the sun starts to set lighting the surrounding peaks with some rosy twilight colors.
Heading home 
 After our hike we head back to the car and up the road to the house . The Swan Mountains are glowing . Sunset is an especially nice time here in the Northern latitudes. There are a few moments each day when the sky transforms to magic .
Jewel Basin
Goodnight for now to the Jewel Basin. Aptly named for it's gorgeous peaks and views.