My coffee cup has had a good life.
And it ain’t done yet.
Herons have always seemed particularly Buddha-like to me, despite their distinctly non-chubby physiques. They stand in a meditative trance, perfectly able to stay that way for as long as they want. When they’re fishing they’re masters of patience, ever so slowly wading the shoreline.
Even young herons in a crowded rookery will stand perfectly still – especially if they sense they’re being watched. They’re pretty good at the hiding in plain sight game, too.
But once mom shows up at feeding time – cover your ears! The racket and squabbling starts on a dime and seems to escalate the whole time she’s at the nest. It sounds like wild beasts on a rampage in the trees.
Their hairdos even change to a wild punk rock style. From chill to frantic in zero seconds.
Mom takes this racket for as long as she can stand it, and then – without even a “see ya later”, is gone.
The kids watch her until she’s out of sight, wild hair now dejectedly tamed,
and calmly return to the land of Zen.
Early morning, Many Glacier Campground, June 6, 2015
Something is crashing through the willows at the edge of our campsite. I put down my coffee and stand to see what is making such a racket. I see three shapes through the bushes, and start to sit down again – just some deer.
Hold on. That’s no deer.
She lifts her head into the sunlight to get a better look at us.
To my surprise, she doesn’t bolt, but just keeps on browsing while keeping a close eye on her kids. At one point something startles them and one of the calves makes a run for it. Mama wakes up then, and chases the wanderer around the underbrush until he gets back under control. She then decides that putting the creek between her and the campers is a good idea. The smaller calf is not too sure about crossing the stream, but he finally decides to brave it. Being left behind is not a good option!
Mom gives him a reassuring peck when he gets to the other side.
I’m sure that the little family will disappear into the woods now.
But no, they hang around while mama enjoys the tasty willow shoots and the morning sunshine.
After a while mom decides that she’s browsed enough and she leads her kids upstream. Not a bad way to start the morning!
I’m sitting on the side of a steep hill, scoping out a stunning Golden Eagle nest. The eagle in the nest is doing the same thing she’s been doing for the past 6 weeks – laying in the nest. It’s been 42 days, and I’m beginning to worry that this nest is going to fail.
I take one more look, and see a little fuzz of white moving around behind the eagle. I look again, and – hooray – it’s an eaglet! Success. I feel like a proud grandparent.
The little guy starts throwing himself around the nest until I’m sure he’s going to tumble over the side. But he stays safe.
I was lucky to find this nest. I’ve seen Golden Eagle nests before, but they’re usually high up on cliffs, and seeing what’s going on in the nest is nearly impossible. But this couple built their nest high in a dead Ponderosa pine overlooking the Helena valley. I could climb above the nest and safely keep an eye on the eagles. Since March 20, that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s a spectacular setting.
Unlike Bald Eagle pairs, who take turns sitting on the nest, the Golden Eagle female does the majority of the incubating. The male’s job is to bring her food. In my many weeks of watching the nest I only caught the male bringing food to the nest one time, and he didn’t hang around long after he dropped it off.
I could usually see the male soaring above the valley, while the female sat. And sat.
She would occasionally stand up for a stretch, but she was sure patient.
I was patient, too. Although it’s not exactly hard duty, hanging out on a gorgeous hillside taking in the view.
I first saw the eaglet on May 4. He’s still a fluffy white ball, but he’s changed from a baseball to a softball to almost as big as a volleyball. The parents are doing a good job.
Fingers crossed that he stays safe!
I’m standing on the edge of the Blitzen River, watching – and being watched by – a pair of Northern Harriers. I think they must have a nest nearby, since they don’t seem to like the fact that I’m hanging around.
The female does a couple of fly-bys, checking me out. The third time, she is vocal in her displeasure: she doesn’t want me there.
That spurs her partner into action. He screeches a response and circles me as well, giving me the evil eye on the first pass and diving at my head on the second. I swing my arms and he veers off, but I’m duly chastened. I get the heck out of there.
The Malheur Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon is a grand birding destination, especially in early May before the mosquitoes have woken up. It’s an oasis in the high desert, with hundreds of bird species both stopping through as they migrate north and nesting. We camped at Page Springs Campground among tall cottonwoods and watched orioles and warblers and song sparrows as we had our morning coffee. We easily filled four days wandering the area, seeing new birds every day.
On the trail along the river we watched and listened to cute little Bushtits, Yellow-breasted Chats (the first I’ve ever seen), Bullock’s Orioles, a gorgeous Lazuli Bunting, and hundreds of bright little Yellow Warblers.
The open meadows and ponds were full of Ibises, swallows, Cinnamon Teals and shorebirds like the Short-billed Dowitcher.
Stands of cottonwoods along the ponds and marshes provided habitat for Kestrels, Phoebes and Northern Flickers.
There was even a Great Horned Owl with two chicks. The mom flew off when we arrived,
leaving the kids to nap on their own. One little guy woke up and kept an eye on us for a while,
but eventually lost interest and turned around to join his brother in his nap. Owls are chill, that’s for sure!
They’re out there. You know they are. The critters are all around us, watching…they know we’re there, that’s for sure.
If we’re patient, we might find them.
There’s someone on this snowy Yellowstone hillside. Do you see him?
No? Well, not surprising.
How about now?
Yes? No? Here, I’ll get a little closer.
Pretty sneaky, eh?
And what about the bushes? We’re always walking through bushes, right? When they’re missing their leaves you’re pretty sure that nothing’s hiding in there, I bet.
Don’t be so sure.
You see him, right? He had a harder time hiding out in the open…but still.
The critters in the bushes aren’t always scary, of course. See anybody here?
Birds. Many birds. How many do you see?
Did you see the crane?
Of course there are critters in the trees, too. See anyone here?
Here he is:
Yep, they’re sneaky, that’s for sure.
I’m sitting in a meadow near Harrison Lake, watching a pair of Short-eared Owls courting high above me. Their soft “wup-wup-wups” and the wing-clapping of the male is surprisingly loud, even when they’re hundreds of feet away. A pair of courting loons calls to each from the other side of the lake, and a Northern Harrier decides that it’s time for him to do his roller-coaster mating dance as well. No female Harrier that I can see: maybe it’s just a practice run.
I don’t want to be anywhere else. This is what it means to be here now.
Of course, it’s not surprising. It’s a perfect sunny day, in a beautiful place. Why would I want to be anywhere else?
But, of course, there are plenty of times when a beautiful place is not enough to stop my “monkey mind.” Today, though, is not one of them.
The owls are intent on each other…at least the male is intent on the female. She seems more interested in looking for dinner.
The male, though, is interested in what the heck I’m doing down there.
At one point they both land on a hillside, and disappear into the browns and greys of the sagebrush. I keep watching, though, and suddenly…
A dance? I don’t know, but it’s pretty lovely.
Even without the owls, the Montana countryside is breathtaking in April.
And when the owls decide it’s time for a rest, the Northern Harrier gives up his mating dance rehearsal and starts hunting for dinner. It doesn’t take him long, either. If I were a female Harrier, I do believe this example of hunting prowess would be more impressive than his silly roller coaster acrobatics.
Of course, the Meadowlark and the Yellow-headed Blackbirds need to add their two cents.
The sun sets slowly behind the Tobacco Root Mountains, and all is right with this little corner of the world.
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