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.