Our month in Montana is ending, and as usual, there are still lots of things that we haven’t done. Glacier Park was a dramatic highlight, but there are many beautiful places in our corner of northwest Montana.

Driving to the end of the Road

This became a favorite pastime, picking a white thread on the map and driving until it ended. Usually this meant somewhere in the mountains, where the road was blocked to prevent further use, or there was a washout, or the road simply ended at a gate marked “Private Land, Keep Out.”

This is the way we ended up at the Canadian border, and other beautiful places. Bird-watching isn’t that great in the middle of a pine forest, but the scent is heavenly, and the lakes we came across were picture-perfect. We saw clouds in formation floating by overhead. When the sun beams out from behind a cloud it can create a gorgeous landscape, like something out of an Eliot Porter photo. As a kid, we called them “god-the-father clouds,” because that’s the way holy cards showed him, riding on a cloud surrounded by sunbeams.

We didn’t go to the end of the road, exactly, on our trip to Yaak, MT. It was more like the middle of nowhere. Yaak is smack in the middle of the Kootenai National Forest, an hour drive, at least, to get to the nearest town in either direction, one in Montana, the other in Idaho. Generally, people live in Yaak to get away from the rest of us, or they visit to go fly fishing on the Yaak River. it’s a kooky place, with lots of local Bigfoot images. The center of town consists of two bars facing each other.

Wildlife Watching

When we weren’t driving to the end of the road, we were bird watching. . Any place where there is water bordered by bushes–the more overgrown the better–will hide chickadees, nuthatches, warblers, and flycatchers. The pine trees that are almost everywhere in Montana are home to more species of woodpeckers than we’ve seen anywhere else. I am not a bird photographer, it requires too big a camera and lens, but I take pictures of birds when I can, usually to try and identify them later. Here are a few photos of the wildlife we’ve seen in Montana, starting with birds. No bears or moose, but lots of interesting creatures.

Clockwise from upper left: Pileated woodpecker, two sparrows, Rufous hummingbird, Spruce grouse, hawk, Hairy woodpecker, evening grosbeak.

A flock of wild turkeys jumped to the top of the six foot fence encircling our house to eat cherries from the tree. Deer grazed around the perimeter every morning and evening, up to eleven one afternoon! Most of these were does, yearlings and fawns, but we did see an occasional buck sporting this year’s new antlers.

Clockwise from upper left: Buck with new antlers, deer in the road, the deer we began to call, “Doris”. She didn’t even get up out of the shade by the garage when we came home, and some of the deer who visit each evening.

Snake, red-tailed ground squirrel, golden-mantled ground squirrel, marmot

Panoramas of nature

We didn’t have to see wildlife to admire what was around us. The hillsides covered with trees stretching for miles was awe-inspiring, but also relaxing. Yes, there is lots of logging going on, but the forest is still here. We saw more problems emerging from the gradual expansion of housing than the actual logging. As one house after another is built in the grasslands home to grouse, partridge, sandhill cranes, and songbirds, their habitat diminishes.

There were some days when we stood surrounded by perfect habitat for birds, but saw and heard nothing. The stories you read about the decline of birds across the US are true. Often, the decline is based on a missing link in the chain of places that birds need in order to pass an entire year. They need places to stop and feed along a huge loop that may take them from Alaska to Mexico, the Caribbean, or South America. When there is no place to stop and rest, or no where to build a nest, then the birds no longer visit, or breed, and they begin to disappear. Even though Montana has lots of land for birds to occupy, there may not be land all the way along the annual route of some species, and their territory shrinks. That’s why having bird feeders in your yard may be the missing link birds need. Without them, they might not make it to Montana again next time.

We’ll miss the towering Douglas Fir, larches, and Ponderosa pines, the wonderful scent of pine trees in the hot sun, and the icy cold water in the pond. Montana in August is truly a little bit of paradise.