Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Trip West - Glacier National Park (3 of 4)

     We made the last legs of our trip on our legs, for the sake of getting in some mileage! We did a 10 mile hike on day 5 to Iceberg Lake in the Many Glacier Section of the Park (East Side). And on our final full day we started with an easy hike to Avalanche lake, combo'd with the Trail of the Cedars then took the shuttle to Logan Pass to do a little bit of the breathtaking Highline Trail.
When you know the drive to Many Glacier is a long one-- but you just can't pass this view and NOT pull over! Cloudy and wildfire haze over St. Mary Lake.
The #1 rule in Glacier: When you see something that makes your jaw drop, you find a pull off and soak it all in.

Now THIS, this is a chipmunk! A Lesser Chipmunk to be precise- note the stripe that continues through the eye. This chipper is feasting on the coveted berry. Prized by small chipmunks to the largest grizzly-- a sweet little reminder that we are about to walk through their buffet line...

The trail cut through (shady) pines, wetter forests, then to scrubby mountain sides, and eventually to those beautiful alpine meadows... But in that more scrubby section-- I was super stoked to see this not-so-shy spruce grouse. Looks to be a male, not as flashy as the one we saw at Hidden Meadow, possibly younger and a bit immature.

He scraped around the ground and even took a (cute) little hop to reach a low hanging berry -- wings are overrated. H e was clearly on a mission: breakfast.

Grouse are popular game birds- but I suppose in a park where guns are not allowed and no one is trying to shoot you, you become quite comfy around the large, gawking, bi-pedals mammals. Although I found far less people gawk at birds- most people were not impressed to know I was looking through my binoculars or camera at a bird. 

"Oh. It's just a bird."
People come to glacier to see wildlife, but I find it ridiculous that birds are dismissed. If one tried, your wildlife list in the park could rack up when you throw birds and if you're really cool-- insects! into the mix to really rack up a nice list of species encountered in the park.
Yeah, everyone saw the goat chewing its cud on the trailside... but holy crap, did they totally miss that HUGE golden eagle that felt so close over our heads? Yeah, they did-- heck, I nearly did too (I found it's good to sometimes turn around-- even you think you saw everything on the first pass).

And oh yeah, I SAW A GOLDEN EAGLE! And wow, it was SO AWESOME.

Spruce grouse is really happy it did not see the golden eagle.

Like I said, insects-- I loved that this grasshopper/cricket had long body length lines that looked so much like the alternating dark and light green lines on the blade it decided to perch upon.

A blurry- but really happy to see this life bird- DIPPER!
Want to see a bird that walks with some serious swagger... to you I introduce the American Dipper. It walks with a little dip in its step like it owns this mountain creek.

Also, this tiny little thing DIVES into the stream, even flapping and swimming underwater to catch its prey-- insect larvae even small fish. It's an aquatic songbird-- the only one in North America at that!

At first, I thought this was iceberg lake-- and figured ah, it's been warm... the ice melted... but hey, pretty flowers.

Little did I know.

A golden mantled squirrel welcomed us to the end of our hike... or begged for food- one can never tell.

I love the wilderness in its eyes.

Oh.
THIS is Iceberg Lake!

I wish I could share the dumb look on my face. My sisters call it my "Child of wonder face," like a kid seeing something for the very first time. This place was magnificent. Photos do it zero justice. And thinking about it, and all its beauty makes me feel good and at peace.
The perfect place to enjoy a well deserved lunch and literally just bask in this scenery.

I really was thinking about how not surprised I would be if there was just a few penguins living here, using the ice as a place to rest from a long swim hunting and avoiding orca whales... Then I had to remember we were nearly 6000ft in elevation in Montana. 

Was the water cold, you ask? Oh yeah, frigid!

These icebergs are really just the snow pack that melts and slides down from the mountainside into this lake, in a bowl of slopes. The shape of this place, this lake is caused by, you guessed it, glaciers!


More lush bear grass in bloom.

This is the only area I really noticed these diurnal moths. They fluttered and landed on flowers to feed, they are called police car moths as their black and white patterns evoke images of those old-timey police cars.
The red at their... shoulders? even looks like sirens!
A nice close inspection reveals those feathery antennae- which reminds you that this is a moth, not a butterfly. Not all moths are noctournal- there are quite a few that are out by day-- some even mimicking diurnal flighted creatures.

A fat caterpillar crossed our path-- a moth caterpillar, of the elegant sheep moth.
A group hiking behind us was a dad and his two (teenage) kids. This dad was my kind of guy- he was so excited to see this cat, snapped a few pics, kids scoffed and did one of those "oh, dad" eyerolls and kept marching forward. Keep on nerding on dad, never lose that sense of wonder!

So we depart Many Glacier, stop at the (weirdest) roadside bar/supper club/cafe) and get a needed does of caffeine and Ashley at the wheel is all like, "OH MY GOD, WHAT IS THIS!?"
A radio-collared black bear, she crosses the road right in front of our car.

Yeah, light not in my favor-- but not gonna even think about getting out of the car. (stupid idea, btw.)

She pauses to gaze, before she turns back to the direction in which she was originally headed.

THEN THIS.

This is cub #1. #1 Rule with bears... never separate a mama and her cub(s). So we decided it's best to let these guys cross, enjoy the moment then drive off as soon as they make it across. Lingering cars only help to desensitize bears to people. You don't want to make bears feel comfy around people.

A little tongue out as this little cutie makes it across the road toward mom.

BUT THEN. #2!!!!!! 
And then when you thought it was over.... #3!! 3 cubs! Must be a good year to have three cubs trailing mom! And now we officially have a bear jam, but once #3 got across we made sure to get a move on.


On our drive home, Renee who is an air quality monitor was very interested in the haze happening all day today in the park. We pulled over for a view of lake McDonald, and the air smelled like it had a hint of that campfire smell to it. In checking air qualities, Glacier this day was on a moderate alert for the smoke from wildfires drifting from West to East. Yikes, I wonder what it looks like to be in the red!

On our final full day, we got up and out super early to secure a parking spot at Trail of the Cedars (it gets packed quickly). We hiked the trail along Avalanche Creek and then took the trail to Avalanche Lake.
Avalanche creek is fast, winding, and beautiful. The water flows down amazing rock formations carved by fast-flowing water and the lake is fed by three waterfalls.


This forest felt very different from all the others. It was lush, with moss carpeting the ground. There were cedars, spruce, and cottonwood trees, ones we didn't see at all in other parts of the park.

And surprise, surprise, Avalanche Lake is beautiful.

The lake was so still, like a mirror. The only disruptions were feeding fish or a diving Goldeneye. Even the one loon on the lake was tucked up sleeping on this still, place-- water at rest before it rushes down the creek.

Had some great life birds here including Vaux's swift, MacGillivary's warbler. Supposedly its the only place in the park to find Black Swifts, a mysterious bird, if found you should tell rangers- but Avalanche Creek and Lake is one of the few places they have been seen, albeit rarely, but otherwise they are considered a rare bird in Montana.

And another lifer, the chestnut-backed Chickadee. My favorite thing about chickadees is that they all do the "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" call, but each species had different quality to their song, some are more hoarse or nasal. These guys sounded like they had a cold in comparison to the familiar black-capped chickadee.

After our hike at Avalanche Creek, we strategically took a shuttle from there to Logan Pass, to avoid parking woes and sneak in a nap before another hike along the breath-taking, a little off-putting, but worth it even if your scared of height hike along the High Line Trail.

The insect variety in the alpine meadows was amazing, bumble and honey bees were all over the flowers. Some patches of flower even buzzed as you walked by because they'd be covered in bees. The bees are not aggressive in any way, although a few flew face level, perhaps checking out the odd creatures gawking at their food sources.

The Highline takes you along a path carved into the cliffside, above a portion of the Going To The Sun Road providing unobstructed views of the peaks and valleys in one amazing vista. 

You can see a small part of the Going To The Sun Road below us.

Lots of squirrels, as always. Munching close to the trail, not giving a care about you watching as it finds the perfect leaf.

Waterfalls tumbled down the cliffs, right onto your trail. They grew little mossy gardens. In some spots water just simply trickled through rocks creating this sweet little lush spot of moss and flowers, happily growing from the rocks.

Friends for comparison to this HUGE place. We are merely just little creatures in this amazingly gigantic world.

So I did an actual Google search "Lorax tree flowers Glacier National Park," and I found out the ID to these odd things that look like they came from the world of Dr. Seuss- they are the fruits of the Western Pasqueflower. The flower is part of the buttercup family and this is what happens after the bloom which occurs as soon as the snow melts. Here is some video footage of the flower through a whole growing season.

What an amazing world we live in!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Trip West - Glacier National Park (2 of 4)

     Each day we did a bit more and eased ourselves into the park, with longer hikes, checking out areas further away from our cabin. Did we plan for it to work out that way? No. But in the end, I think we were all glad that it did and if you're not a regular hiker, it might not be a bad idea to do that.
     With an easy hike on Sunday, a boat ride and hike combo on Monday, on Tuesday we decided let's torture our knees and ride a horse for 2 hours! Actually I LOVE horses and I LOVE trail rides so, I am in no way complaining, but it does take a toll on your rump and knees. On Tuesday before our afternoon trail ride we also woke up and arrived early to hike the Hidden Lake trail at Logan Pass (still not early enough for a nearly full lot). For Wednesday my friend Renee and I drove to Polebridge while our friend Ashley rode her bike for 60 miles in the scenery- yeah, no big deal. Anyway, both days were amazing - and again to not overflow with pictures, you'll check out our visits to Many Glacier and Polebridge for now.

When the welcome sign doesn't have a single car in line to grab a photo... you take on the opportunity. I met Ashley and Renee in my freshman year of undergrad, Ash and Renee have known each other since before then, growing up in Western NY. They are wonderful friends to have kept in touch with and to have spent a week here with, it was really great to spend some time out here together!
Also, the plaque below the NPS one del cares this park an International Peace Park it spans the U.S.-Canada border. Canadian and American flags fly at equal heights throughout the park. Wildlife and nature knows no boundaries so this park is symbolic and was declared such a site in 1932 between Montana and Alberta; especially in the current state and mind-set of our nation it felt good to be visiting such a place. 

Logan Pass is right on the continental divide, its higher in elevation than many other parts of the park and it's about an hours drive from the West Side of the park. When we first arrived I have barely any pictures because we were in a passing cloud and visibility was poor. But then, eventually the sun burned through and our out & back hike felt like a brand new hike on our way back.

Logan pass had a large variety of ground-type squirrels including this guy- a hoary marmot. These large squirrels love these alpine meadows as they eat pretty much any plant in it! This species lives in colonies, although we saw no others, and hibernate for up to 8 months of the year.

A look up the slopes shows 2 mountain goats coming down the snow pack.

The marmot helped itself to the trail - wildlife are not shy to using the trails, especially if it is an easier way to pass through and gain access to food, or a sunny rock. Hoary marmots also bask in the morning sun, although this one didn't spend too much time on this rock alongside the trail.

These two are only coming down closer to the trail and the alpine plants.

Cruddy shots BUT a life bird for me, and American Pipit! No wonder I have yet to find these guys in Brooklyn, they are the same color as the ground they walk on. 

This individual looks like it going through a molt, looks a bit raggedy.

Favorite part of the pipit... the walk, that tail bobbing is too cute! Some birds we saw it was important to not only see them and their colors, shape, etc-- but to notice unique behaviors, like the tail bob/tail twerk. While I had my peterson app on my phone, I still had a hard time in the field with my western birds.

Golden mantled squirrel feasting on flowers, YUM!

So, like a rectangle is a square, but a square not a rectangle.... a chipmunk is a squirrel, but a squirrel is not (always) a chipmunk. Chipmunks are recognized by facial stripes, and they are indeed a type of ground squirrel. This species can thrive in a variety of habitats including those not alpine.

We saw a lot of this plant, weird and beautiful, upon entering the gift shop did I learn that this is bear grass.

Bear grass is not grass (closer related to lilies) and really has nothing to do with bears. Generally in the park it blooms in large numbers every 5-10 years. This we were told was a good year for bear grass. Many folks say the plant only blooms every 5-7 years, but in this article, it explains really- the blooms are more prolific when certain conditions exists for that to happen.

A very worn and old Painted Lady Butterfly!

A lot of this in bloom, fireweed. This plant gets its name for its ability to colonize and carpet areas just after a fire. They are beautiful in turning the meadows purple in their abundance.

A pine siskin on some more bear grass.

A few columbine flowers were on the hidden lake trail, not nearly as big as the ones growing in Colorado where I was last summer.

A tough one- But I am pretty darn sure this is an Edith's Checkerspot, after much asking and hinting by my butterfly expert contact, they cued me into checking out the checkerspots. This species is a western butterfly I would not encounter on the East coast.

The bear grass does not get old! None of the park does!

Remember those goats from the start of this hike? Oh they came down trail-side!

This one sat doing dome R & R, rest and regurgitation, chewing its cud. Close up you could watch all the magic of that food bolus coming up, being processed and heading down for the next part of its digestion journey. Soon after another bolus comes up.

The other mountain goat seems to have not yet had its fill, still grazing the lush plants along the trails.

You may have wondered why one of the goats appears to be radio collared... well, it turns out there is a study being done of these goats- specifically about their interactions with humans. Turns out they really like our pee, they like how bears stay away from us (mostly), and the person doing this study is under the advisement of one of my WCS Colleagues, Joel Berger.
This NY Times article highlights the study and is where we hiked and saw the most goats.

When a goat is just chillin' off the trail and you can grab some shots, you do. We got as many as we could, fairly quick, then moved on, as to not spend too much time and contribute that many more bodies to the crowd that grew near these animals.


And now, flowers!
The alpine meadow blooms late because some of the snow just melted as recently as July. In a way, its a chance to relive spring, and you can feel that same feeling of rejoice that the animals get when food is so abundant.

Was happy to find this cute flower, Elephant's Head. I learned this one in the alpine habitats of Colorado last summer.

And most every flower had a pollinator photobomb. Like I said, there was a (literal) buzz in the air for the presence of these flowers, butterflies, moths, and various other insects were very keen on all the blooms.

Another pollinator taking advantage of this interesting bloom.
Also, taking advantage of pollinators were predators, between the birds and predatory wasps and hornets, like was not just rainbows and butterflies on the alpine slopes.

I really like this plant, the Indian Paintbrushes can really vary in their red hue from deep red to pink even some violet hues.

Alpine meadows to rock, in Glacier the tree line ends at 6000 ft. We were just at and above that. So, alpine meadows to rock was the last line of plants before you start going to lichens, moss, and rock.


A Columbian Ground Squirrel standing attentive. These squirrels were EVERYWHERE.

And they are loud, if you hear chirping, its usually these guys, and not birds.

And their chirping makes for funny photo ops.

I called this guy Steve, because I think he is calling back this buddy on the BBC...




We left Logan pass to continue on to Many Glacier for our horseback ride. And we then had a LOVELY surprise-- a group of male bighorn sheep!
...daintily eating flowers!

I have seen bighorn sheep before, but always female and their young. So seeing the boys that day, I was beyond impressed with those horns, WOW!

This was totally the guy in charge of this group. He walked a walk and even butted heads with a few of the fellas who quickly just moved aside.

Rams live in bachelor herds, banding together for safety and honestly, for mating advantages. The big man might get the ladies but, younger rams can learn all the right and wrong ways to do things. Also, while big rams are concerned with defending what they think is theirs, little males can be sneaky and sometimes get chances to mate.

When we heard this guy clonk his horns with other, the sound, so organic and woody- like a robust hardwood. It was so exciting to hear in real life and not through the speakers of a living room sound system.

I mean, that's a sexy sheep- I bet the ewes have an eye for him!

You can see his horns in comparison to another ram- so thick and tightly wound.


Upon arriving to the Many Glacier Area -- which is so close to Logan Pass as the crow flies, but by road, its another hour and a half drive -- oh yeah, DUCKS!
A female Goldeneye with her brood!

In terms of ducks, we saw many females and with chicks. The park is famous for its harlequin ducks, especially on the swift mountain streams, but we didn't see any.

The hotel at Many Glacier had mud nests of cliff swallows under every part of the roof, especially facing the Swiftcurrent Lake. Little funny faces would peer down at you from above.

With those forward facing eyes, swallows can be the master fliers that they are!

Those living quarters look so spacious! Made of mud and spit, the adult swallows, a mouthful at a time, construct these amazing nests.

Goldeneye chick, so cute, they were never too far from shore.

Upon leaving we had out first (and very tedious) bear sighting. A grizzly, wayyyyyy up the mountain slope. This is a 500mm zoom, cropped, heavily. So this bear was far away, as it should be. It was really hard to find this bear, especially when drunk hotel residents are trying to explain the area it's in to you...

Thanks to my friends for being so patient and giving me a far better explanation of where it was after they found it themselves.

On Wednesday, Renee and I drove to Polebridge, on the NW side of the park. It was a gravely, dusty, slower, and bumpy ride. Polebridge town is a little hippy joint with a cute general store that sells a lot of stuff including yummy cookies and fresh baked goods, to cheeses sandwiches, and gifts.
We hiked a trail to Hidden meadow, an easy flat 3 mile hike that goes through aspen forest, pines, meadow, and pond.
The pond was hoppin' with the lifer, redhead female and her chicks.


Also, lifer trumpeter swans!

And a loon and its chick-- making their loon noises!
You can listen for those common loon calls and yodels in the video footage I took below- listen closely...

Our walk back gave us gorgeous looks at a male spruce grouse, another life bird-- we saw a female on our horseback ride.

On our drive back from Polebridge there was a lot of areas that were once fires, but you can see new growth happening quickly below the old poles.

And along the Whitefish River I saw a real Osprey Nest that is NOT on a platform! I always wondered if I'd ever see a non-platform osprey nest.