The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
April 24th, 2005
|My wife and I were lucky enough to see a male and female Kestrel during a recent hike at the Willoughby Wildlife Viewing Area in the Bitterroot Valley. I took some time after returning from the hike to draw a likeness.
The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) is the most widespread of falcon species. They hunt small birds, mammals, lizards, and insects. They can be easily identified from the pumping of their tail after they land on a perch. The usually nest in tree cavities and are similar to other falcons in that they do not typically build their own nest. Although the Kestrel is widespread, it is considered endangered in some areas.
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Drawings from White Sands Campground, Clearwater National Forest, Idaho
April 12th, 2005
We found a hiking trail along Colt Killed Creek in the Clearwater National Forest. This Idaho forest has several spots along the Lewis & Clark Trail marked. The expedition made their way over the most arduous part of their journey in the late Fall, 1805. Their trek over the Bitterroot Mountains was possible only with the help of the Lemhi Shoshone guide "Old Toby" (Tee-Toby). The crossing was the second attemp to cross the Bitterroots, the first being a failed attempt to cross at Lemhi Pass, several miles to the south of Lolo Pass. The trail over the mountains comprised some 140 miles and nearly wrecked the expedition. They survived only by reaching a Shoshone village and receiving food and shelter from the harsh elements.
For more information on the Lewis & Clark Trail in Montana, click HERE.
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Montana's (In)Famous Bird: The Magpie
March 28th, 2005
Black-billed magpies are a veritable icon in Montana. These intelligent birds have a mixed reputation for a sometimes reluctantly admitted beauty and as a thief responsible for stealing poultry eggs and raiding orchards. They are omnivores, but feed primarily on insects. The also eat seeds, berries, and nuts in the winter and are also seen feeding on carrion along roadsides. Magpies have an unusual ability to find food using their sense of smell.
Magpies are monogamous and form long-term pair bonds. They build large canopied stick nests with entrances on each side. Nests can reach three feet in diameter and are created on a base of mud or manure and are lined with weeds, hair, and grass. The pair lay 6-7 eggs in a clutch and the male brings food to the female as she incubates the eggs. Both parents feed the young after they hatch, normally after about 18 days. The hatchlings leave the nest after 3-4 weeks and join other broods, but are fed by their parents for an additional 3-4 weeks.
The magpie is a collector of objects and has long been been linked with Native American mythology:
Minnehaha, the daughter of a Blackfoot tribe hunter, said to the buffalo herd, “Oh, if you would only come over the cliff, I would marry one of you.” She was surprised that they responded and tumbled over the cliff to provide food for her people. But she was carried away by the elder buffalo to be his bride. Her father searched for her and was stampeded to death. Minnehaha cried and asked the magpie to find a piece of her father's bones. The magpie found one, and Minnehaha chanted a song that brought her father to life. The buffalo chief said, if you teach that song of restoration to us, we'll sacrifice ourselves to feed your people. Then they taught her their sacred Buffalo Dance.
Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (1988), pp. 75-78
Magpies have a behavior called "gatherings", where they flock around a dead magpie. Once the dead magpie is found, up to 40 birds can gather in trees and other nearby structures. The magpies will fly down 1 or 2 at a time and walk around the body calling loudly, often pecking at the wings or tail.
The next time you see a magpie, remember that these birds deserve a little understanding and respect, especially considering the special role they have played in adapting to the changing landscape of the West
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Lolo National Forest
March 20th, 2005
We took a tour of Lolo National Forest starting along the Blackfoot River. We saw several new birds that we had not seen before. I have started drawing these in my sketchbook after returning from our trips. Below are some samples:
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Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge
March 19th, 2005
We immediately noticed some white swans that we identified as Tundra Swan based on the flatter backs than the Trumpeter Swans and the similarity between the male and female birds. Although they were at the edge of binocular range, we were fairly confident in our identification.
While scanning the other birds near the swans, we spotted a duck with a long, needle-like tail and a white stripe running up the neck. We checked our Sibley Bird Guide and identified it as a Northern Pintail - a first for us!
Other ducks appeared with strange white stripes up their foreheads, a white patch just below the wing, and a dark back end. These turned out to be American Wigeons another first for us!
A strange bird with a white plume of feathers thrust up from its head appeared, accompanied by a smaller bird with more subdued, reddish swoop of feathers extended back from the top of the head, kind of like the early version of Daffy Duck. We frantically flipped through the field guide and found these to be the male and female versions of the Hooded Merganser. This was the third FIRST for us in just about 15 minutes. Wow!
While watching the mergansers and studying their plumage and diving behavior, we saw a new type of duck fly in behind them and begin diving as well. We focused on the gray belly, dark back, dark chest, and white spur extending upward toward the shoulder. The head was very dark with a lighter band encircling the bill. The Sibley Guide confirmed that this was a Ring-Neck Duck. Yes, this was yet another first for us and we were totally amazed and contented at the same time.
We were amazed at the number and diversity of species in the small pond.
We went for a walk in the wildlife viewing area and were able to positively identify the small sparrow we have seen and heard the last two trips there. It is a small grayish bellied bird with bold stripes extending over its shoulder, converging into a small dark patch in the center of the breast. The song of this sparrow is amazlingly diverse and clear. It certainly lives up to the name Song Sparrow and we look forward to hearing it throughout the coming year.
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Lichens and Bryophytes from Blue Mountain, Missoula, Montana
March 8th, 2005
Lichens are one of the best indicators of air quality. They are an amazingly diverse members of the fungal kingdom, comprising some 1,000 species in the Rocky Mountains alone. They grow on trees, logs, rocks, and soil. The lichen is actually a fungus that has formed a symbiotic relationship with an algae to create a new lifeform.
Click HERE for photos of some lichen.
Almost imperceptibly, the sun begins its northward migration --
smiling warmly upon the slowly wakening world.
It rises a bit earlier each day, a spryer spring in its step,
graciously granting the world some of its contagious optimism.
With increased courage, the trees extend fingertips into the azure sky --
abandoning winter-worn caution to caress the sun's warm face.
They push forth new buds in preparation for expected partners in productivity.
With bravado, the birds synthesize sunshine into energy --
their emboldened activities harbingers of seasonal renewal.
They eagerly await colorful attire to accompany their melodies and choreography.
Waiting patiently as I wipe away the sleep from my eyes --
the sun gently rouses me from my winter slumber.
I stretch and yawn and gratefully absorb the the warm rays of coming Spring.
Richard Adams, March, 2005
Branches stretching and spreading -- rising above my upturned face.
I squint into the afternoon Sun, pleasantly warm.
The ground is cool beneath the spread blanket,
a moist reminder of recent snowmelt.
A red-breasted nuthatch disappears behind a bare oak tree.
I arrange the cones we have collected,
an inventory of the diversity of gymnosperms.
I have become more proficient at tree identification
now that the choices are fewer than a score.
Spring will bring new challenges.
I am feeling connected. I am feeling drawn.
I move my fingers up the scales of the papery spruce cone.
They snap back like new cards being shuffled.
Another cone -- a lodgepole -- stout, simple, resilient, like its parent.
Were all of the trees in this part of campus planted by humans?
When? By Whom?
Before conservation ethics, there was common respect,
tempered by a healthy dose of stark reality.
The Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, Subalpine Fir, Western White Pine --
Sentinels of my grassy clearing -- oblivious to my presence.
Rich Adams, February, 2005
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July 8, 2006
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