Late summer in the Golden Triangle region of Montana is traditionally characterized by the gold-colored spectrum of ripening wheat and barley. But now and then a specialty crop is found, and in the case of safflower, the flower makes for a lively contrast to the landscape.
An online acquaintance from New Zealand posts a tagline with his signature that reads, “Isn’t it a cool thing in nature that the colours never seem to clash!” I think our Creator did that on purpose!
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.
Haliaeetus leucocephalus, to be precise, otherwise known as the Bald Eagle. I made a short excursion to Roundup this morning, and caught a few of these birds out and about. A juvenile was holding fast to a tree, not wanting to brave the gusty wind, but eventually decided to follow a mature eagle on a mission to the south. Bald Eagles don’t develop the characteristic white head and dark brown body until after their fourth year.
A little further to the west I found a mature Bald Eagle perched in a dormant tree. Evidently he didn’t appreciate being the subject of my lens, and quickly took wing for a more private location.
Last week I was fortunate enough to find a few birds of prey to photograph. While traveling through southwest North Dakota, I captured a number of images of a Bald Eagle in flight. Although it was a blustery, gusty day, he rode the winds with masterful control. (Click on each image to see them in larger format.)
After pulling off the highway and onto the county road leading home, I noticed a small hawk struggling to keep his balance atop of a cedar tree. I managed to get a few shots of him before he tired from fighting the swaying branches and flew away. He was later identified as a Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk.
And about a mile from home, a Rough-legged Hawk, which is a common winter visitor, tried to lay low on a power pole. With the brisk wind strafing his face, he soon relinquished his perch to find a place better sheltered.
The waning minutes of the winter solstice are ticking away, marking the end of the shortest day of the year. I’m not sure why, but the days have seemed shorter than normal for this time of year for the last month. Maybe it is because winter conditions arrived early this fall, and never really relented very much. While winter is just now officially beginning, it is exciting to know that the sun will start hanging around a little more each day.
Over the past week I sought to capture a few images that are ordinary for a Montana winter, but might look unique to folks who haven’t wintered this far north. Starting with a rather obvious and expected occurrence that shouldn’t surprise too many people is a frozen reservoir. Taken along Highway 12 between White Sulphur Springs and Martinsdale, the Martinsdale Reservoir has already formed a thick cap of ice. Soon there will be a number of ice fishing huts scattered across the frozen sheet. I’ve never tried my hand at ice fishing, and haven’t felt compelled to do so. There is something about sitting or standing on ice for hours without any major physical activity that just sounds down right cold to me! Besides, until a fish is found that tastes like beef, I prefer not to eat the stuff.
Artemisia is the genus of several groups of plants, including sagebrush. Many people would contend that sagebrush is unattractive and a nuisance in range and pasture environments. I am not going to get into a discussion of the pros and cons of sagebrush, but will say that I appreciate most sages in moderation. An oft overlooked benefit of sagebrush, particularly in areas prone to high winds, is that the leeward side of sagebrush will catch the snow. Those small drifts will commonly freeze in place and then slowly melt during warmer weather, allowing the moisture to soak into the soil.
The final winter image is lovely portrait of a Western Conifer Seed Bug. As their name implies, these little critters enjoy feasting on pine seeds. However, they don’t much appreciate winter weather, so as autumn plays out, the Conifer Seed Bug seeks out a warm place to overwinter. They frequently find their way into homes, either crawling through small openings around doors and windows, or hitch-hiking on people and pets to get a free ride inside. They are perfectly harmless to people, but can cause alarm in a couple distinct ways. First, they don’t seem to be great fliers. Well, that may not be truly accurate…I think they can fly pretty well, they just don’t land very gracefully. It is pretty normal to hear a short rush of wing beats, followed by a crash landing into a wall, window, or people. They don’t bite or sting, but even without presenting that kind of risk, most people don’t appreciate them indoors and will often either kill them or try to relocate them outside. Both of these solutions will often result in the Conifer Seed Bug releasing a chemical cocktail that has a rather unpleasant odor. Even using a triple-folded paper towel to pick up the bug will not protect a person from ending up with stinky fingers. The best solution I’ve found is to encourage them to walk onto a hand or other object, then carry them outside and release them. The Western Conifer Seed Bug pictured below was a spectator as I washed dishes in the kitchen this evening, so afterwards I invited him into my office for a quick photo shoot on a house plant. It was his decision to pose upside-down!
In the Book of Job we can read about God’s hand in our winter weather, “From the chamber of the south comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds of the north. By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen. Also with moisture He saturates the thick clouds; He scatters His bright clouds. And they swirl about, being turned by His guidance, that they may do whatever He commands them on the face of the whole earth.” Job 37:9-12
Along with the cooler weather, the shorter days of fall trigger a number seasonal breeding animals into estrus, which tends to cause the males to pretty much lose their minds. From what I’ve seen in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana over the past couple weeks, it is obvious that the whitetail and mule deer are in the thick of the rut right now. In fact, last Tuesday I came within about 15 feet of this Muley buck, and he never acknowledged my presence, despite my being out in the open and walking behind him.
There was quite a bit of rut activity at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, with Mule and Whitetail bucks on the move and seeking receptive does to mate with.
Closer to home, along the Musselshell River, a buck inspects a small band of deer on a hayfield.
As I drive home, yet another buck crosses in front of me as if I don’t even exist and is on a mission as he travels through our neighbor’s place.
This time of year, if you happen upon a forgotten, rural graveyard along the northern plains in the evening with a little moonlight, a quick glance may reveal what appear to be ghosts standing guard. Very likely these ghosts are bright blooms of the native Yucca plants that make themselves at home in the arid plains. Nick-named Ghosts in the Graveyard, in Montana our most common species is the Small Soapweed Yucca (Yucca glauca). Climatic conditions this year must have been perfect for these hardy plants, as their explosion of blossoms is unlike any other year in recent history. The short-lived blooms give the landscape a truly unique look, and they also bring beauty to a plant that is oft derided because of the lance-tipped leaves than can inflict tremendous pain to the unwary pedestrian.
A Ghost Tale
A great many years ago, there were twelve men rowing a boat across a stormy, raging sea. The men were frantic, and certain of their impending demise, when they saw what appeared to be a ghost coming towards them across the sea. Their worries about the sea became minor compared to the terror of this approaching apparition, but their fears were soon allayed, when what they thought was a ghost said, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid” (Mark 6:50). Speaking these words, Jesus Christ arrived to provide unexpected help and encouragement at a time of desperate need. He continues to offer us that help today, because Christ, not evil spirits, is the ruler of heaven and earth. No matter what is challenging us, health concerns, financial troubles, problems at work or home, or sinful addictions, put your faith in Jesus Christ and allow Him to calm the stormy seas of your life.