Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Lee Metcalf NWR

After 5000 miles and 10 states, we've arrived at our summer home at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. We arrived on a Tuesday afternoon amid scattered snow and rain showers, marveling at the beauty of the area. We were met by Bob, the Outdoor Recreation Planner, who directed us to our brand-new concrete pad with electric, water, and sewer hookups. The next morning we met the manager and other members of the staff, a great group of people who made us feel welcome and appreciated. Our job, in turn for the use of the RV pad and hookups, is to staff the visitor center on Saturdays and Sundays, days that the center was not open in the past. The more we learned about the job, the more apprehensive we became - after all, we were supposed to answer questions about the dozens of types of birds, ducks, shorebirds, geese, and other animals. Up until now, I thought the term "duck" preceded by the appropriate color was a pretty technical description; now we discovered that they had names like Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Ducks, Mallards, Hooded Mergansers, Coots, Loons, Grebes .......who knew? But equipped with a Sibley Guide to Birds and false bravado, we spent our first weekend without incident or too much embarrassment, which I attribute to the snazzy shirts that gave us both an air of credibility. We enjoyed furnishing information on the location of a pair of Bald Eagles that are feeding their young, where the resident Badger has been sighted, and the latest arrivals (Avocets) as birds continue to migrate North. In addition, we take care of a small gift shop and work a number of office projects for the staff. We're thoroughly enjoying the experience and meeting people and find that the 2 on/5 off work schedule sure beats our former work routines. We've had the chance to hike and explore the refuge and the local area, and look forward to warmer weather so that the back country roads are accessible. The refuge is located in the Bitterroot Valley which is about 10 miles wide at its widest and 100 miles long, running North to South from Missoula, surrounded by the Bitterroot mountains to the West and Emerald mountains to the East. With over 2800 acres and numerous ponds and streams, the refuge provides a valuable resting area for migrating wildfowl and also hosts a large population of local wildlife. Columbian Ground Squirrels (looks like a fox squirrel with a short tail), Ring-neck Pheasant, Coyote, and a lots of White-tail deer are common sights. Looking out our windshield is sometimes like watching a version of "Wild Kingdom", with Great Blue Heron hunting rodents, Coyote stalking Pheasants, and Red Tail Hawks and Osprey looking for mice and voles. In the coming weeks we hope to explore Missoula, LoLo Pass to the West, and some of the hiking trails in the lower elevations. Keep checking our site, now that we're settled in I'll try to update it every week. Thanks again for keeping in touch and we hope you'll come visit!

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