Thursday, June 05, 2008

Staying Busy!

It's been a busy time here at Lee Metcalf NWR; schools here are still in session until June 6th, and many area schools are taking the opportunity for one last field trip out to see us. Today, for example, Brenda is teaching over 60 elementary school kids about water biology. Using samples of pond scum and water, she gets a lot of "oohs" and "eeyous" showing the kids what's in the water using microscopes and magnifying glasses. Today's class has brought lunch and afterward will get rides on horse-drawn wagons as they tour the refuge. It's really gratifying to work with the youngsters, especially the 1st thru 3rd grade; after that it gets progressively more difficult as texting, preening, and social interaction become more important. Hopefully some of them will retain an interest in nature and return as adults to enjoy the refuge. We've also been busy conducting "Behind the Signs" tours, taking groups into the closed portion of the refuge on guided trips. The tours have been very successful, I think in part because we all enjoy going someplace that's normally closed to us, but also because they have an opportunity to see wildlife not seen elsewhere. Porcupines in trees, ducks with babies, osprey, bald eagles and chicks, grebes and sandhill cranes.....some have even claimed to have seen Jimmy Hoffa lurking behind a tree! The folks have all been appreciative of the tours and we've had a lot of fun doing them. We've also been working on a presentation to educate RV'rs at local campgrounds on the benefits of visiting the refuge. We're working with three of the largest RV parks in Missoula, and as the tourists begin to arrive for the summer season, we expect to be giving the presentation on Friday and Saturday evenings. We've also been hiking and touring the area and although Brenda is still "Mooseless in Montana", we've seen a variety of interesting wildlife. Standing on the banks of the Bitterroot river watching the torrent as the mountain snow melts, we watched this mink come roaring up the bank with what looked like a mouse in it's mouth. It was only later when I expanded the picture that it was clear that she was carrying a baby; probably relocating it from a flooded den. On a drive to south end of the valley, we watched bighorn sheep graze along the road. The ewes with their kids were quite relaxed as we stopped and took pictures - the kids were jumping around and playing; it was quite a sight! There are still many ducks on the ponds; most will stay here the summer and we're starting to see ducklings following their mom around on the water. We found this beautiful cinnamon teal pair on a pond along the trail. You can see by the male (on the left) how they got their name. The ducks are probably still here because they're confused - it's been cold and rainy, much like April. This year's snowpack was 157% of normal, so we expect the rivers to remain high for the rest of the month. At least it bodes well for a wet summer; last year was hot, dry, and resulted in a busy fire season. We'll continue to explore in spite of the weather, after all, there's got to be a moose out there somewhere......tomorrow we're going to "town" (Missoula), it's Brenda's birthday and I promised her dinner at the restaurant of her choice (Golden Corral or Ryan's). I'll close with this picture of the beautiful tree swallow, very common here but still stunning when the sun reflects off of it's iridescent feathers. C'mon back and see what we're up to!

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