August 25, 2008

A Berry Good Weekend

Our theme for this weekend seemed to be "how many berries can we stuff in our faces before we throw up?" We never actually found out the answer to that question, but we did both experience berry-overload at various points during the weekend. Saturday we took a trip up to Huckleberry Mountain specifically to pick it's namesake berries. But as you can see from the handful, we didn't find just huckleberries.

Here's a photo-montage of the various, non-huck yummies we found along the trail.

Saskatoon (aka, Western Serviceberry)
Because we left the plant guide in the car, assuming that we'd be able to easily identify any huckleberries we found along the trail, we were initially confused about whether or not these were hucks or not. Turns out they're not. Also turns out they don't taste very good. Not that they're inedible, just rather bland.

Thimbleberry
These were the real treasure we discovered along the trail. Incredibly sweet and yummy, we were amazed that other hikers had apparently been ignoring them. Not that we minded. Sonja and I were happy to exploit the other hikers' disinterest in these little gems.

Clasp-leaf Twisted Stalk (aka, Watermelon Berries)
Another surprise were all the uneaten watermelon berries we saw. Either the other hikers along the trail were so intent on the huckleberries that they just didn't care about all the rest, or not many people around here know how good these things are. Oh well, more for us!

We also saw a couple berries that we did not try, mostly cuz they looked like eating them would give us a gastronomic experience we'd rather avoid. Here are two of those.

Queencup
I don't know about you, but this just looks like a berry you don't want to eat. We didn't know what it was until we got back to the car and looked it up. All the guide says is that these neat little berries are "inedible". No fun descriptions of all the nasty things that might happen to someone who decides to try eating one. Oh well...

Utah Honeysuckle (aka, twinberries)
The guide didn't actually say whether or not these berries were edible. But something just didn't look right about them, so we left them alone. Of course, we've made decisions like that about odd-looking fruits we've encountered before. During our trip to Hawaii, we hiked out to the end of the NaPali Coast Trail and made camp on the beach. The entire time we were there we noticed these odd little non-descript, round, green, ping-pong ball sized fruits dropping off the trees left and right. When you opened one up it was bright orange inside. We made the decision they were probably poisonous and left them alone. When we got back to town the next day we were chatting with some other hikers and they asked if we gorged ourselves on all the ripe passionfruit falling off the trees along the beach. D'oh!

Regardless of whether or not we made a mistake in not eating the twinberries, we certainly enjoyed eating the rest.



August 20, 2008

August 19, 2008

Alpine Wildflowers

Our timing was impeccable with our arrival at Glacier National Park during the peak of alpine wildflower season. The colors of these tiny survivors have been spectacular during our hikes up above treeline. Here is a sampling of some of my wildflower photographs from the past two weekend hikes we took into the alpine tundra.

Rosey Paintbrush
Castilleja rhexifolia

Yellow Columbine
Aguilegia flavescens

Common Pearlyeverlasting
Anaphalis margaritacea

Explorer's Bog Gentian
Gentiana calycosa

Alpine Forget-Me-Not
Eritrichium nanum

Alpine Fireweed
Epilobium latifolium


August 18, 2008

Goat Days on Siyeh Pass

Another weekend, another hike in Glacier. It was sort of a special occasion, though, since this past weekend was the first annual Mountain Goat Days survey, sponsored by the Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center (CCRLC). I figured since I now work there I might as well participate in some of their activities.

The purpose of Goat Days was to try to get as many volunteers out in the field in as many different parts of the park as possible, all scanning the cliffs for mountain goats. As of right now, the park service has no real estimate of how many goats inhabit Glacier National Park, and as a result, have no idea what is happening to the population with the impacts of global climate change.

So Goat Days was born. It will hopefully give the park a point-in-time assessment of how many goats might be in the park. At least in areas that are visible from the 700 or so miles of trails that criss-cross the backcountry. And if this thing catches on and becomes an annual park-wide event, we may actually be able to extrapolate some general population trends. But that's still a ways off.

To do our part, Sonja and I elected to conduct two surveys, one in an area called Preston Park and the other on top of Siyeh Pass.

We opted to split up, with each of us conducting one of the two surveys to save time. You can see how excited I was about getting to be the one to climb to the top of the pass. That ridgeline behind me is the eastern slope of the Continental Divide, with Piegan Mountain behind my right shoulder.

While I didn't see a single goat during my survey, I was greeted by a nursery group of bighorn sheep when I got to the top of the pass. At 8,080 feet in elevation, it's supposedly the highest maintained trail in the park.

One of the things I look forward to most after climbing (then descending) up 2,900 feet over a 9.4 mile hike is to peel off the hot, sweaty boots and dip my feet into a crystal clear, and frigidly cold, mountain stream.

Ahhhhhh....

There are very few things that feel quite as refreshing as this.

I did end up seeing A goat...as I was hiking back down the pass after my survey was over. Sonja saw eleven, ten of which were actually during her survey. Lucky.

August 14, 2008

Grin and Bear It

Pop Quiz: Who belongs to the choppers you see below?

Still not sure of the answer? How about another clue. This one will probably give it away, though. Here's another, rather characteristic body part of the same animal:

Ok, that makes it easy. It is, in fact, a member of one of North America's most infamous (and wrongly so, I might add) inhabitants: Ursus arctos horribilis...the Grizzly. But this isn't just any grizzly. It happens to be the very first grizzly that Sonja got to help outfit with a radio collar!

Yesterday we were informed by one of my coworkers that a local biologist from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks was going to be processing a young male grizzly they had captured in the Swan Range just to the south and east of the park. And wouldn't you know it? They had room for an extra hand to help out. So Sonja jumped at the opportunity and got to help outfit this bear with a radio collar.

No, the bear is not dead...just tranquilized. Sonja said these guys are really professional with how they treated the bear, handling it with the utmost care to ensure that it was not harmed at all by the experience. Unfortunately, Sonja wasn't able to join the team for its release back into the wild but the lead biologist did ask if she'd be interested in helping out with future captures.

She said yes.

Here's a short video of the bear in the capture cage just prior to it being poked in the butt with the tranquilizer.

video

That growl is pretty darn impressive for such a small grizzly!

August 12, 2008

Getting to Know Glacier

I didn't have any new pictures to post, so here's another one from our hike on Saturday at Logan Pass.

Tomorrow I get to explore Glacier National Park as an employee for the first time. I'll be getting paid to drive over the Going to the Sun Road to visit the St. Mary Visitor Center and attend an alpine research training session one of my coworkers is presenting.

I also wanted to mention that my new commute is a drag. I have to choose between either a 2 minute walk or a 30 second bike ride between my front door and my office. Bummer, huh? At least the Red-breasted Nuthatches and Columbia ground squirrels (yes, those are the ones we used to feed at Two Medicine, Janine) keep me entertained on my way to work.

I also forgot to mention that the other evening we took Harvey and Luna for a walk down the bike path to Lake McDonald, during which we saw not one, but two black bears cross the path in front of us. They both seemed to be doing their best to ignore us as they crashed through the woods. I don't blame them, considering the bear jam they had to deal with as they crossed the park road minutes before. Surprisingly, neither Harvey nor Luna seemed all that interested in them while they were visible. Their ears perked up a bit, but there wasn't any barking or freaking out. At least until we got to the spot along the path where the bears had crossed. Then it was a whole different story.

Have I mentioned how much I love my new home?

August 11, 2008

Home, Sweet Home!

I always hoped that one day I'd be fortunate enough to get a job at my dream park. But I never thought that it would happen so soon! But here we are, living and working at one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

It's not just a national park, either. It's also an International Peace Park, a World Heritage Site, and a National Biosphere Reserve. Yes, Glacier National Park is so awesome it needs to be protected four different ways.

So, we arrived on Friday around lunchtime and began settling into our new, temporary house.

We're still hoping that we can figure out a way to live in park housing long-term, but it's not a done deal, yet. So we're going to be spending much of our upcoming weekends house hunting.

But we're also planning on doing a fair bit of exploring, too. This is Sonja enjoying sunset on the shore of Lake McDonald.

Some of my most vivid memories of visiting Glacier as a kid (besides the bears and mountains and the awesome Going to the Sun Road) are of the rocks. Every stream, every lake, every puddle just seems to explode with color in a way I've not encountered anywhere else.

So, to kick off our exploration of our new home (did I mention we're now living at Glacier National Park? Cuz we are!) we decided to make the short drive from our house up the Going to the Sun Road to Logan Pass on Saturday morning. A nice, easy trip from our house.

Something else I remember quite well from visiting Glacier is seeing the incredible wildflowers along the boardwalk up at the top of the pass. I know that's one of the reason Glacier is one of my mom's favorite places.

Paintbrush, alpine monkeyflower and some little yellow thing I never learned the name of seemed to be the most prominent flowers blooming on Saturday.

This is an alpine monkeyflower (I think) being visited by a honeybee.

It wasn't just the flora that came out to welcome us to Glacier, either. The bighorn sheep made a very photogenic appearance.

Maybe it's because I hadn't had an opportunity to walk the boardwalk at Logan Pass since I was around 7 years old, but I never remember the wildlife getting this close. Well, no wildlife bigger than a ground squirrel, anyway. That's Sonja standing on the boardwalk behind the sheep. I swear that the sheep approached me and not the other way around.

And the sheep weren't the only ones. The mountain goats wanted in on the action, too. I was really bummed when I got home and saw that the camera focused on the mountain and not the goat when I took this picture. Talk about a perfect pose. Bummer...

And when I say they got close, I mean they got close! As a park ranger, it's my job to make sure that people don't approach too close to wildlife. Particularly to wildlife that can seriously injure them.

But honestly, I don't think there was a way we could have avoided getting this close to these goats. There were about ten of us standing on the trail, trying to figure out what to do as the goats surrounded us. It quickly became apparent that they couldn't care less about us. We might as well have been rocks as far as they were concerned.


This was particularly surprising to me considering there were two tiny kids in the group. The little ones were definitely the most skittish around us, but even they still passed with ten feet of everyone.

We were apparently so boring that the goats had to entertain themselves. These two started horsing around and chasing each other in the snow no more than 30 feet from us.

I always wondered where people went to get such good photos of mountain goats, considering their usual habitat and general skittishness. I guess now I know.

Anyway, I think it's safe to assume that you can expect to see lots of pretty pictures being posted on here in the coming weeks as we get to know our new home a little better. If you'd like to see all 29 photos from this past weekend (plus some extras from a little side-trip we took on the way here last week), you can visit my photoset at flickr.

But for now, all I can say is...it's good to be home!

August 02, 2008

Of Cuckoos and Careers

I spotted what will, in all likelihood, be my last Arizona life bird...at least for a little while anyway. I was walking to work yesterday morning when I encountered a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. I'd been trying to find one of these ever since I learned they nested here. It took me until four days before we move to actually see one. Fortunately, I had a video camera with me, so I got some footage of the encounter:


And speaking of our big move, it's looking very likely that Sonja will have a job waiting for her when we arrive at Glacier! She'll be working as a bio-tech doing wildlife observations along the Going to the Sun Road. From what her new supervisor says, the job focuses mostly on grizzly-road interactions, so she'll be spending most of her time looking for bears. Both of us are really excited for this really amazing opportunity for her! Everything just seems to be coming together perfectly for us.

We leave on Tuesday morning, and plan on arriving in our new, temporary home on Friday. I hope to post at least once more before we leave, but you know how I tend to be about that. Either way, I'll be sure to post some pictures of Montana as soon as we get settled in.