West Valley Pioneer: Myron Miles Nicholson

by Jeanine Buettner
nammy@montanasky.com

Myron Nicholson was born in Port Byron, Illinois on July 29, 1873. Mr. Nicholson spent his early years farming in Illinois. On November 25, 1900 he married Miss Emma Osborn. That same year he moved to Chicago and engaged in the manufacture of brooms.  He then entered the Moody Bible Institute and became a Baptist minister. He served the church at Hubbard, Minnesota in 1903 and at Sherburn, Minnesota from 1904 until 1909 when he moved to Belt, Montana. A year later he moved to the Flathead and bought a farm five miles northwest of Kalispell. He retired from farming in 1937 and moved to Kalispell. He was a deacon of the local Baptist church and substituted as minister on many occasions.  

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West Valley Pioneer: James O’Boyle

by Jeanine Buettner
nammy@montanasky.com

James O’Boyle was born to Charles and Margaret O’Boyle on March 15, 1848. His father was employed by the Earl of Antrim, Hugh Seymour McDonnell (1812-1844) at the Earl’s estate in Deerpark Glenarm, County Antrim, Ireland. In 1868, at the age of 21, James set sail for New York and finding his way to Missouri for a few years. A forty-two day trip up the Missouri River brought him to Fort Benton, Montana Territory.

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Hoar Frost or Rime Ice, or Something Else?

by Skip Via
skip@westvalleynaturalists.org

I woke up on December 29, after two days of dense fog, to see everything–leaves, grasses, fencing wire, pine needles–coated in a beautiful layer of hoar frost.

But wait…hoar frost occurs only in very specific conditions: namely cold, clear, and windless nights with low humidity, when the rapid radiant heat loss from surfaces causes water vapor–not liquid water droplets, as in fog–to form delicate, needle-like crystals on those surfaces. The previous two nights had been anything but cloudless with low humidity. You could feel the cold fog droplets on your face when you walked.

But it sure LOOKS like hoar frost. What’s going on here?

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Two Tiny Birds called Kinglets

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus satrapa)

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.

Golden-crowned Kinglet sur
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Crossbills: One of a Kind in the World

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

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!

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Hydrology Snapshot, September 2023

by Skip Via
skip@westvalleynaturalists.org

Here is a quick end-of-summer hydrology snapshot as of 9/18/23. (Compare to July 2023.)

Rainfall YTD-3.4” from average
Flathead Lake Level-36” (3’) from full pool
Hungry Horse Reservoir-168” (14’) from full pool
Streamflow, Flathead River-80 cfps from normal
Snowpackn/a
Snowmeltn/a

Despite a welcome August rain (21st wettest August on record) from the remnants of Cyclone Hilary, most of the Flathead Valley is still experiencing “moderate drought.” As of this writing, we’re experiencing the 6th driest year in 129 years of record keeping. Lake levels remain at historic lows. Streamflow in the North and Middle forks of the Flathead River are at “historic lows.” Streamflow in the Flathead River is somewhat mitigated by release from the Hungry Horse dam, which by regulation must maintain a minimum streamflow level for water leaving the dam. That release is causing the water level at the dam to drop.

Local lakes and ponds have benefitted from the August rain. Water levels are noticeably higher than they were in July, but are still far below average levels. Some of this increase is due to runoff, and some is due to the raising of the water table through replenishment of the shallow aquifers that underlie most of the West Valley area.

Compare this image to the image at the top of this page and to the image from the Hydrology Snapshot, July 2023.

The other noticeable effect of the August rain event was the immediate and dramatic greening up of local flora. And lawns.

Are We Drying Up?

by Skip Via
skip@westvalleynaturalists.org

Editor’s note: In an earlier post on our website (Water Water Everywhere?) I discussed the nature of our valley water resources. Our groundwater comes from two sources–the shallow, unconfined aquifers that are replenished by precipitation, and the deeper confined aquifer from which Kalispell’s municipal water and most of the water used for irrigation in the valley is drawn. None of our water comes from reservoirs. (Whitefish gets its municipal water from Whitefish Lake.) A review of that article might provide good context for this article.

The intent of this article is intended to stimulate thought, not to advocate for a specific viewpoint. To that end, some assumptions, disclaimers and caveats:

  • I’m not a hydrologist, climatologist, or a geologist–just an interested observer;
  • Weather can change quickly in these parts;
  • Weather and climate are not the same thing;
  • I don’t know the answers to the questions I am posing.

It’s not difficult to see what a critical force water has been in the geographical and habitation history of our valley. If we didn’t have access to abundant water resources, both above and below ground, we would not be the agricultural center that we are now. And if it weren’t for glaciers, snowpack, and rushing rivers and streams, the landscape around here would look a lot different. There probably wouldn’t even be a place level enough with sufficient soil to farm at all.

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Hydrology Snapshot, July 2023

by Skip Via
skip@westvalleynaturalists.org

My intention with this post is to begin a regular documentation of the local effects that hydrological issues have on life here in the valley.

This post from last month–Water Water Everywhere?–discusses some of the hydrological factors involved in how we access water resources for drinking and agriculture here in the valley, including a discussion of the water table and the Deep Aquifer, from which most of our water is drawn. The distinction between the water table and the Deep Aquifer is important. Rainfall, which can alter the local water table either by its presence or absence, does not affect the amount of water in the Deep Aquifer. Please refer to that article for more information.

Here’s a quick Flathead Valley hydrology snapshot from July 4, 2023:

Rainfall YTD5” (avg 9.72”)
Flathead Lake Level12” below 23-year median,
9” below full pool
Valley Sreamflow60% below average
Snowpack86% of average
SnowmeltFastest in 30 years
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Indigenous Place Names

by Skip Via
skip@westvalleynaturalists.org

If an enterprise or place name here in the valley doesn’t begin with “Glacier,” there’s a good chance that it begins with “Flathead.” We live in Flathead County, in the Flathead Valley drained by the Flathead River. There’s Flathead Valley Community College, Flathead High School, Flathead National Forest, Flathead Lake, the Flathead Beacon…

But where exactly does that name come from, and what does it mean? There’s a clue in the Flathead County Seal, but there is much more to the story.

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Aurora Borealis in the Flathead

by Denise Silva (text and images)
Denise.Silva@aicpa-cima.com

The Aurora Borealis is often referred to as the Northern Lights because we see it to our north. But this is a bit of a misnomer, as the “lights” are also seen in the Southern Hemisphere, where they are referred to as the Aurora Australis. In fact, not only does Earth have auroral displays, but auroras can be seen on images of other celestial bodies, such as Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.

Aurora over Kalispell
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West Valley Geology Tour

by Skip Via
skip@westvalleynaturalists.org

Welcome to a virtual tour of some of the Flathead Valley’s prominent (and some not so prominent) geological features, courtesy of Google Earth.

This tour is a companion piece to several articles that have appeared elsewhere on our website:

This inspiration for this project came largely from the work of Dr. Lex Blood, professor emeritus, Flathead Valley Community College, for his extensive (and clearly heartfelt) efforts to make the geological history of the valley accessible to everyone. Thank you, Lex.

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Water Water Everywhere?

by Skip Via
skip@westvalleynaturalists.org

To take a virtual tour of the West Valley area, click here.

It’s easy to take water for granted here in the valley. We’re surrounded by water, with numerous streams and rivers, lakes and ponds of various sizes, and seasonal runoff from snow and rain that typically replenish the surface water that we see.

The water we drink and irrigate with here in the West Valley comes from underground aquifers–layers of permeable rocks or sediments that are saturated with water. Our shallower surface aquifers are fed by groundwater that enters the aquifers mostly through seasonal precipitation or snowmelt.

The Flathead Valley also sits directly atop a large, deep aquifer referred to in studies, appropriately enough, as The Deep Aquifer. It’s from this aquifer that our municipal water is drawn. Farms and homes also tap into the Deep Aquifer via wells for irrigation or daily use. (The city of Whitefish does not draw water from the Deep Aquifer. They draw their municipal water from Whitefish Lake and surrounding streams. See Editor’s Note, below, for clarification.)

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