Posted by: atowhee | June 12, 2017

GLACIER: EXPLORING ST. MARY CANYON

Today we went north from East Glacier and explored the area west of St. Mary…following the river and then the lake of the same name.  St. Mary Lake is east of the continental divide and nearly ten miles long.  It’s deepest point is 290 feet and its elevation is almost 4500 feet.  The mountains surrounding it rise up to 9000 feet and more. IMG_4451The various shades of teal on this lake apparently confirm that it’s composed of snow melt water.  From deep to shallow, from bright sun to shaded edges the precise colors come in zones.  My wife compared those shades to the closely related tones found on a strip of color chips in a paint store…all things teal.

Yesterday we were at Two Medicine Lake which is either blue or brown, depending on sun and cloud cover.  Both lakes are swept by strong mountain winds, and contain very cold water.two med lakAs Aldo Leopold once wrote of Sandhill Cranes and their beauty, our human words fail…so it is of the landscape in Glacier National Park and the nearby Flathead Reservation.  You can write “stark, steep, bright sky, dense if stunted forest, burned hillsides of blackened tree trunks, wildflowers run riot, deep lakes of blue or turquoise or teal, river racing over loudly rattling stones, peaks carved by eons of ice into points and scalloped ridges, cirques and cols and thundering waterfalls across steep canyons”…and much more, but nothing captures the truth.  You could write a great paragraph, an essay, a book…and still miss the reality of the Grand Canyon.  Even with color images.  The same is true of this  gigantic, gorgeous, symphony of stone and sky.  To understand Glacier requires a face-to-face encounter.  Many years spent here would begin to bring some kind of understanding of its gentle meadows, harsh weather, steep walls, scaly slate hillsides, deep lakes, dying glaciers, speeding rivers in a hurry to reach an ocean. This list by-passes the near-wilderness richness of its wildlife. ZAnd tghere are birds, trees, wildflowers, butterflies…

I enjoyed some fine birding but wildflowers sang silently, capturing attention at each curve of the trail.bear grssBear grass above.  Below, how a forest burned in 2015 can look beautiful today.  One hiker we met said the dead, black tree trunks and the vibrant wildflowers beneath captured death and birth in one view.burnd forestglc lilyGlacier lily above. Below: sego lily.lily-GlcrThe list of wildflowers we enjoyed today included: blue clematis, a deep blue penstemon, a creamy ceanothus, some buckwheat sp., thimbleberry, bitter cherry as a small shrub, Indian paintbrush, a wild mint with purple flowers, aspen fleabane, yarrow, prickly wild rose, solomon’s seal, lomatium covering roadsides in sunny areas, cow parsnip, lupine (likely bigleaf), Jacob’s ladder, to name a few…

We didn’t see any of the big mammals, deer the largest.  But I did note that the Golden-mantled ground squirrels here are a bleached out and larger version of the same species seen so often in the wetter southern Cascades of Oregon.

The sounds here are of a wide variety.  The music of round rocks banging against one another in St. Mary River are the sound of nature’s own percussion section. Wind whooshes over the treetops. Lake waves slap against impervious rocks, streams tumble and rumble down steep slopes, a wild waterfall crashed out of a rock chute like a giant’s firehose, ground squirrels whistle in alarm as big bipedal mammals march past. The song of birds included whistling Swainson’s Thrushes that seem to be abundant in every forest…whistling Audubon’s and Tennessee Warblers, a triumphant male Junco who dispatched his opponent and then sang about it, Western Tanager, Robins, Varied Thrush, Cassin’s Finch, Flicker, and the drumming of a Red-naped Sapsucker.

BIRDS

Our best bird of the day was a Ruffed Grouse who calmly strode across the highway in front of us as we headed eastward back toward St. Mary town at the end of the afternoon…as grouse ambled forward two Pine Siskins fed on tasty bits they found on the highway in front of the grouse.  Our hummer was also a pleasant surprise.

Glacier NP–Sun Point Nature Trail, Glacier, Montana, US
Jun 12, 2017 12:45 PM – 5:45 PM
Comments: INCLUDES birds seen in open grasslands nearby.  28 species

Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) 1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 1
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) 2
Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) 1 female seen very clearly at Baring Falls
Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis) X
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 3
Dusky Flycatcher (Empidonax oberholseri) 1
Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) X
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) X
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) X
Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) X
Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) X
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) 1
Townsend’s Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi) 1
Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus ustulatus) 20
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) X
Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius) X
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) 2
Tennessee Warbler (Oreothlypis peregrina) X
MacGillivray’s Warbler (Geothlypis tolmiei) 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s) (Setophaga coronata auduboni) 2
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) 2
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) X
Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) X
Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) 2
Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) X
Cassin’s Finch (Haemorhous cassinii) X
Pine Siskin (Spinus pinus) 2

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