Conditions can be harsh on the tundra-like plateau atop Beartooth Pass between Montana and Wyoming. Even here, at 10,000 feet above sea level, wild flowers abound when spring finally arrives…and sometimes before true springlike conditions actually exist. However, a keen eye and slow, methodical pace is necessary to really notice the variety of foliage interspersed among the short grass and rocks.
Below you will find an image of the landscape, showing the “tundra” as it appeared yesterday. The temperature dropped to 33 degrees Fahrenheit, accompanied by blowing sleet and snow. Certainly the overnight temperature was well below freezing, yet these hardy plants thrive here.
A very different aspect of the wild flowers here are that they tend to be very small, much smaller than we commonly see in lower elevations across the west. In fact, none of the blossoms in the slideshow below were larger than the size of a dime, and most had a very low growth habit. (Mouse over the slideshow to access the controls.)
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The moose is singularly grotesque and awkward to look at. Why should it stand so high at the shoulders? Why have so long a head? Why have no tail to speak of?” I think “grotesque” is being overly critical, but would have to agree with the awkward assessment. Despite their unique look, they remain one of my favorite mammals to see and photograph. On my trip homeward through Idaho I found a willing subject to spend a little time watching and shooting.
Thoreau also wrote, “These are God’s own horses, poor, timid creatures, that will run fast enough as soon as they smell you, though they are nine feet high.” In most cases, I fully agree with him here, however this fellow was aware of my presence, yet not at all bothered.
Okay, so most people know that the Palouse is a farming region of eastern Washington, renown for offering spectacular vistas of rolling cropland. But if Montana had a Palouse, springtime along the Hiline would be a contender for that title. Brilliant canola blossoms brighten the day under threatening thunderclouds in the distance.
I again checked on the nest last Sunday, and found the ~8 week old eaglet had replaced a lot of down with feathers over the preceding two weeks. Wisely he remained very still while I was there, so there wasn’t any opportunity to capture anything extraordinary. Still, the rapidity of the changes this bird is going through is pretty amazing in itself.
His head still has a fair bit of down to replace, but I’m sure that won’t take too long.
Golden Eagles commonly fledge in the 45-81 day of age range, meaning that this bird could take wing at any time now. After fledging, he will still rely on his parents for help with food and protection for up to another 80 days before he becomes fully independent. I have an upcoming trip that won’t allow me to return to the nest until week 10, so this may well be the final update…
Just a handful of this year’s crop of kids.
With the distinction of being the largest shorebird in the world, the Long-billed Curlew has a bill that is over one-third of the length of its body. In spite of being a shorebird, these birds breed in grasslands, plains and prairies. The female will typically lay four eggs, and she will help care for the chicks initially, but will abandon them after about two weeks, leaving the male to raise the chicks until they fledge at 32-45 days of age.
Last week there were a number of Curlew pairs foraging for bugs in the pastures of north-central Montana, and I found this one to be animated, entertaining and photogenic!