The Golden-crowned Kinglet is a permanent resident of conifer forests in our area. Regulus comes from Latin, meaning “little king”; satrapa is of Greek origin, meaning “ruler who wears a golden crown”. Males have a patch of orange feathers between the yellow, but they rarely display them. I’m assuming this one is a female, but it’s possible it’s a male in a peaceful mood!
At only a half-inch longer than our smallest bird, the Calliope Hummingbird, and weighing a mere .2 of an ounce, it’s no wonder we don’t see this little one very often. This high-energy little insectivore usually travels with others of its kind seeking food. They hover at the ends of twigs to gather microscopic mites, aphids, and aphid eggs; in summer their choice of insects is greater, and they occasionally find fruit to add to the protein sources. In winter, their most nourishing food is inchworms, the caterpillar of the geometrid moth, that they find frozen to twigs – mostly of conifers, but occasionally on maples, too.
The female Golden-crowned Kinglet constructs a hammock-like nest of moss, lichen, spider silk, rabbit hair, twigs, feathers, and other plant materials. Then she lays 8 to 11 bee-sized eggs in two layers, using her warm legs to incubate the lower layer! Usually, birds with a low success rate in raising young or migrating have big broods; Golden-crowned Kinglets’ survival challenge is overwintering in our cold climate on a low carbohydrate diet.
A few of the flock of Red Crossbills at their daily visit for water 10.02.2020
The only species in the world with crossed bills and many other unique traits that are under scientific scrutiny, Crossbills visit our valley sometimes during periods of heavy cone crops on our Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine trees. Though I rarely saw them feeding on cones during the summer of 2020, a flock of Red Crossbills and Pine siskins made daily visits to our yard for water. The rustle of taffeta petticoats alerted me to their arrival as they landed in the larch trees behind the water pans by the garden. The brown-striped attire of juvenile Crossbills gave me some difficulty distinguishing them from the ever-present Pine Siskins when many of them landed in the water pan at once! Read on for more about these colorful, entertaining, unique birds!
Snakes usually take us by surprise when we are walking along a path or across the lawn. They may register at first as a stick in the path, but our brain suddenly alters the message and I jump as the “stick” slithers away. Here are some different snakes I have encountered in the West Valley.
Editor’s note: Captions on these images are transcribed from the reverse side of the photo. For more images from Barbara’s collection, click here.
In 1910, there were disastrous fires in northern Idaho and northwestern Montana when hundreds of thousands of acres of timberlands were destroyed; many lives were lost, and much property outside of the forests was destroyed.
In May, 1911, many timberland owners and other owners of other property in northwestern Montana met and organized the Northern Montana Fire Association (NMFA), a non-profit organization for protecting life and property in the region. A.E. (Albert) Boorman became the Chief Fire Warden and secretary/treasurer of the organization.
The boundaries of the area covered by the NMFA were from Whitefish south to Nirada (north of Hot Springs) and from Kalispell west to Lost Prairie, McGregor Lake, and Flathead Mine. In 1921, the NMFA charged $0.015 per acre to anyone – forest owner, rancher, homesteader – who appreciated the availability of a firefighting crew in the area should the need arise. As A.E. Boorman said in a Daily Interlake interview in 1921, the organization charged just enough to cover costs “and no more.”
A. E. Boorman, Blacktail Lookout. Probably July 10, 1934.
The Mountain Lady’s Slipper, aka White Lady’s Slipper, is a striking sight, whether as a single stalk like this one or a in big clump. Although their very existence requires an amazing amount of chance and even the support of a fungal partner, they find a niche that works for them in our area. I visited this solitary plant at least once every month from June to October, 2022. Read on to watch its progress.
Members of the Wood-Warblers’ family, Yellow-rumped Warblers are one of the earliest Warbler species to arrive in the West Valley. There are two main populations: “Audubon’s” breeds mainly in the mountains of the western U.S. and into British Colombia; “Myrtle” breeds from the eastern U.S. across Canada to Alaska.
Ring-necked Pheasants (Phasianus colchicus), native to China, were introduced to Montana prior to 1895. The male pheasants, flamboyantly-feathered birds with crazy-quilt plumage, are easily recognized and quite commonly seen near water, around feed lots, in hedgerows, and even in our backyards. The ground-nesting females have mottled brown colors that camouflage them as they incubate a dozen eggs at a time and tend one or two clutches of chicks per summer. Read on for more pictures of Pheasant activity and other non-native game birds we may see.
We have seven species of Upland Game Birds in our area: Wild turkeys; Ring-necked Pheasants; Hungarian (Gray) Partridge; Ruffed Grouse; Blue Grouse; and Chukar Partridge. As noted in discoveringmontana.com, prior to the 1950’s, upland bird hunting was not well-managed in Montana. Popular game birds were heavily hunted to the point that populations began to suffer. Starting in the ’50’s, it was recognized that limiting hunting would allow these species and their habitats to be self-sustaining and healthy. Today, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks controls and monitors hunting and harvesting upland bird species.
Seeing owls is always an unexpected treat because their schedule is generally opposite of mine! But occasionally, one of the several species that live in the West Valley does pass my way in daylight. These predatory birds’ coloration blends in with their environment and makes them very hard to spot. With the exception of the diurnal Pygmy Owl, their wing feathers are structured to propel them silently through the air, and their ability to perch motionless and wait and listen for prey to reveal themselves are characteristics that are key to their success as hunters.
Northern winters can be tough!! Arctic temperatures, deep snow and ice-covered roads can be enough to send some of us south. Sometimes birds that typically live north of here head south, too, but it’s food shortages that prompt that decision, and they set out in search of better ‘pickings’ . Read on to see pictures of Redpolls, Evening Grosbeaks, Bohemian Waxwings, and White-winged Crossbills that I have seen here in recent years.
When I first heard the word “gentian”, it was in reference to a veterinary medicine that I needed to apply to a cow I was tending. It was called “Gentian Blue” and although I had little understanding of its role in healing my bovine, it was the most intense blue I had ever seen! Subsequently, my appreciation of the various hues of blue have been in reference to the blue of that medicine. It was many years before I moved to the west where I saw my first flower in the Gentian family, and I was amazed to learn that the green plant I saw was a Gentian! (Frasera speciosa). That one doesn’t grow in the West Valley, but here are some I have encountered here.
John James Audubon described the diminutive (4.25″) Violet-green Swallow as “the most beautiful of all the genus hitherto discovered.” Indeed, there are few birds in our neighborhood that can compete when the sun illuminates the iridescent emerald green cape, amethyst and sapphire wings and back set off by a clean bright white belly, neck, and face. Read on for an account of one pair raising their young from a nest under the eaves.