Woods Gulch, home to the Flammulated Owl, is one of my favorite short hikes in the Rattlesnake area. The hike itself is awesome as it blasts straight up the gulch, along a small creek, until you reach a ridge that is the haunt of hte small, dark-eyed owls. Today, we were not looking for owls, but we were enjoying the fantastic nature and a good leg stretcher.
Vida, Olivia, and myself went for a quick evening hike along the South Fork of Lolo Creek. The waters were raging as the intense spring run-off continues to build. The star of the hike was a small female rubber boa that was just lying on the trail (made me jump a few feet when I almost step on it, full disclosure). I picked it up (of course, I picked it up), and the serpent was very cold to the touch, but within several minutes it was getting more active as the heat from my hands warmed it. I handed to vida, you immediately started stating that she “was not a snake person”. She did this repeatedly and quite loudly. Eventually, the rubber boa was set down to the side of the trail, and it slowly crept away.
The intense sun is warming the landscape and the snow is receding up the mountainsides. It is that odd time of year when you can’t really hike up too far, but you really want outside in that sunshine. The solution take a relaxing drive over to the Lochsa and hike to Weir Hot Springs. The easy hike is really short (about 1/2 mile), and the water at Weir is perfect – the Goldilocks of hot springs. When we arrived, there was another couple in the pool, and a second pair followed us. But, soon we had the place to ourselves – perfection!
After soaking, we made our way to the Lochsa Lodge for a beer and the Lochsa Monster Burger, a massive hunk of beef topped with ham, fried pickles, and gobs of cheese.
The best part of the day, bbq’ing up a couple of grass-fed ribeyes and watching a little Austin Powers – Yeah, Baby!
A beautiful day demanded a hike, but most of the area hikes are gumbo-like mixture of slush, mud, and ice. So what to do? Take the short hike into Jerry Johnson Hot Springs in Idaho near the Lochsa River. The hike is a little less than a mile and half, and it is incredibly easy.
- Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, Idaho, US-ID
- Mar 22, 2014 2:45 PM – 4:15 PM
- Protocol: Traveling
- 2.4 mile(s)
- 10 species
- Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) 1
- Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) 1
- Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) 2
- Common Raven (Corvus corax) 1
- Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens) 2
- Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) 5
- Pacific Wren (Troglodytes pacificus) 4
- American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) 6
- American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 3
- Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius) 1
Found this lone winter-plumaged Horned Grebe at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge this afternoon. A sure sign of spring is the arrival of migrants, and this birds coupled with a pair of Tundra Swans heralds the turning of the seasons.
This past weekend, my pal Jorge and I took a winter’s walk along the Bitterroot River at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. The light snow continued to fall and accumulate. The powder was already knee deep and the air had frigid edges to it, but there were cracks in winter’s facade. Red-winged Blackbirds sang from the banks of the river as an American Dipper dove into the icy waters. I have always loved transitions, or maybe it is better to say, I enjoy the edges of transitions. Those points were things almost tip over…the most exciting points of experience.
Late summer sun filtered through the thick and lofty boughs of the western red cedars that hung over this small stream. Pools occasionally formed in the downstream sides of the buttress roots. Searching for the Idaho Giant Salamander, many of the pools were without the amphibian, but many contained small, dark ancient-looking fish. I assumed they were horthead sculpins based on the habitat and locations, and today I learned that I may have been mistaken. An error of identification that I am happy to make.
Scientists at the University of Montana and the US Forest Service announced the discovery of the Cedar Sculpin, a new species of fish native to mountain streams of Idaho and Montana. A new species being described in my own neck of the woods is such a rare occurrence that I was slightly agape with astonishment. Recent species discoveries tend to be in far-flung remote places that are difficult for science to explore. Michael Young, one of the lead researchers, has this to say about his discovery, “It’s really exciting to find a new species of fish. It’s something you might expect in more remote parts of the world, but not in the U.S.”
The Cedar Sculpin looks very superficially like the shorthead sculpin. However, when the research begin to pay close attention to presumed shorthead sculpins from the area, they found significant morphological differences. The genetic study sealed the fact that tributaries of the Spokane River basin in Idaho and the middle Clark Fork River basin in Montana had within their waters a new species of sculpin. It appears that the Cedar Sculpin and the parent population of the shorthead sculpin have been geographically separated for thousands of years, resulting in the isolated population drift into a new species. A new piece of biological diversity has been added to our knowledge. Now it is up to us to conserve of the habitat from this unique endemic species.
“Virginia Rail!”, Tom shouted. Rushing over, we catch a glimpse of the dark rail as it slipped through the dead blades of grass and cattails. The thin air bristled at the pig-like grunt call of this secretive species. This rail had taken us all-day to find, and it was our 60th species on our portion of the Stevensville Christmas Bird Count circle. This segment encompasses the entirety of the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, some 2,800 acres. It had been a great day of sixty seen bird species, with the team surpassing the old record of 57 species. We worked hard for each bird, and the experiences from the endeavor stacked up through the day. But, time went unnoticed and slipped past too fast.
Through 2014, I am undertaking what I call the Mindful Big Year, a year where I aspire to experience birding and the natural world in a mindful way and record the totality of the year in journal entries on this blog.
Birding is more than just birds. Birding is a biological study, natural world immersion program, spiritual practice, conservation effort, economic agent for positive change, and goodwill ambassadorship program all rolled into one incredibly powerful package. The problem is that most of the public and many of our fellow birders do not ponder this facet of the activity. I am starting the Mindful Big Year to start relating these largely unknown experiences and stories. I want to touch on spiritual aspects of birding. I want to know to balance family, work, and birding passion. I want to share the natural world in order to protect it.
You may think that I seem grandiose, but please take a moment to ponder it. How many times have you been silently walking through a still forest, only to notice that you have been become immersed into the world as it is at that moment? No concerns, no desires – just the birds and the present. This is a moment of mindfulness, the very basis of any meditative practice. Birding is spiritual.
Let’s do another thought experiment by way of the following quote.
“I’ve been bird-watching in Israel with both Palestinians and Israeli bird-watchers who’ve gone out with me early in the morning, both inside Jerusalem and in other places.”
This statement is from perhaps the greatest agent of peace in our time, former President Jimmy Carter. He has used his birding passion as part of his peace-making toolbox. When people are totally enthralled by the beauty of a displaying Houbara Bustard, it is hard to aim weapons at one another.
I firmly believe that we as birders can help change the world for the better of all living beings. We can help protect wild areas, save endangered species, provide much-needed monies to less than fortunate economies – all by birding. I hope that my little voice via the Mindful Big Year can help, but I sincerely encourage you to help in your own way, even if that is sharing your passion.
“All of us have the capacity to be mindful. All it involves is cultivating our ability to pay attention in the present moment… and leads to realms of relaxation, calmness and insight within yourself.” - Jon Kabel-Zinn
This year will be my practice.