Swallows in the Valley

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

If you drive past the West Valley Ponds at most any time of day from early spring to fall, you can see Swallows performing aerial acrobatics as they scoop up flying insects. We have several species of Swallows that find the West Valley a welcoming summer home with plenty of habitat for nests of various types and flying insects for food to sustain them and their growing offspring. Some of the swallows forage over open fields and meadows with low vegetation. In early spring, I often see all the species at the West Valley Ponds; early in the morning they line up on power lines until the lines sag. It’s a great place to learn what they all look like. Before long, they sort things out and move out to their preferred habitat for nesting.

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State Symbols in West Valley

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Over the years, the State has adopted plants, animals, stones, songs, and other artifacts as symbolic of Montana. Here are several that I have collected just because I found them interesting, beautiful, awesome, and wonderful. Only recently have I discovered that these have gained such stature. Scroll down to see if the images inspire a reaction in you!

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Those Awesome Calypso Varieties

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Little gnomes of the forest have misplaced their slippers in many locations. From the time I’ve spent looking at them, it occurs to me that in some past life I might have lost my shoes and feel compelled to continue looking for them! Orchids have been my favorite plant family for years, but I had never seen a Calypso bulbosa before arriving in the West Valley. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about them, and this year I’ve come to understand how some of those facts fit together. In this article, I will share my pictures and the information I’ve learned about two Calypso bulbosa varieties, one nothovariety, and a variant that I have found.

Calypso bulbosa var. americana (Fairy Slipper)
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Late Spring

by Pat Jaquith

pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Linnea borealis (Twin flower)

Spring is in full swing! Everywhere you look, something is bursting with color, singing exuberantly, or growing so fast you can almost hear the cells expanding! I could almost hear the bells ringing as I lay in the damp grass looking at a patch of Twin flowers! Here are some of my favorite images taken in the third month of Spring.

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Mid-Spring

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Dandelion with Sweat Bee, Ant, and another bee 5.07.17

Busy as a bee! The pace of changes becomes fairly frantic in May. Lawns are “greening up”, perennial plants are showing color giving insects something to come out for; birds are arriving now that there are insects they can feed to growing hatchlings; the soil has warmed up and dried out enough to be worked so farmers are out there early and late… read on for more pictures and notes about this cascade of events!

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Early Spring

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Mud season 3.16.17

Winter is melting into summer. Every day is a surprise: will the snow retreat today? or will we experience a fall-back into freezing temperatures and even get some snow? When will we see some green in the in the cold, black soil of fields that were sown last fall? When will we see the first-of-the-year (FOY) Sandhill Crane? Who can guess correctly the day of ice-out on the potholes? How many geese, ducks, swans fit in the one open pool? Are those trees really starting to blossom? Will I be able to leave that heavy coat home? Read further for some of my FOY’s!

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Mountain Chickadees

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org


Mountain Chickadee at feeder 1.28.21

Spirited, social, active, acrobatic, gregarious, friendly. Maybe I should add ‘compassionate’- see the story below! Watching these little birds as they bounce along on the airwaves on their way to the bird feeder in the morning is mood-lifting. Always on the alert, head switching back and forth, they sound the first alarm when something of concern approaches.

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Tree Creepers

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Certhia americana (Brown Creeper) on Larch tree 2.01.21

Certhia americana is the only North American member of the Certhiidae (Treecreeper) family. Thanks to its long, thin tail, it measures 5.25 inches, but it appears to be about the same size as a Pygmy nuthatch, with which it could be confused. “A prisoner of the forest, the creeper seems unable to escape the gravitational pull of the tree trunk on which it creeps, ever upward” writes Bryan Pfeiffer. They live in mature coniferous forests, not wandering far afield.

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Bark Acrobats: Nuthatches

by Pat Jaquith

pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

White-breasted Nuthatch browsing the bark headfirst 4.27.16

We hit the jackpot on Nuthatch species– well, almost! Three of the four Nuthatch species in the US live here! We have Red-breasted, White-breasted, and Pygmy Nuthatches. While each has a favored tree species, our mixed forests are great places to see all of them. Nuthatches grab a seed, wedge it into a bark crevice and hammer it open as if using a hatchet – thus, their curious name! They are well-equipped for gleaning insects and seeds from all directions. Their clawed feet hook into bark providing sure traction as they cruise up, down, and around looking for food. While our environment provides everything they need, they are frequent visitors to bird feeders, gardens, and water holes, making even more opportunities to observe their acrobatic talents.

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Galls: Growth on Plants

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Winter is a good time to spot unusual things when the leaves are off and grasses are dry and beaten down by snow. Sometimes it just takes a splash of color that you wouldn’t expect to draw your attention to an unusual growth. The galls in this article all are caused by different insects but are benign, that is, they usually don’t harm the plant they are on.

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