High up in Glacier National Park

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep are wary of humans.

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A few weeks ago, Mr. Gidi and I went to Glacier National Park to get out of the valley heat and check out some of the park’s rare birds. Earlier plans to visit Glacier’s high country were thwarted by late winter weather and extensive snow cover on the Sun Connection Road, a not-to-be-missed tour route across the Continental Divide at Logan Pass (6,647 feet). This year, the track did not open until July 13th, among the last 3 opening dates since it first opened on July 15, 1933.

With reservation in hand, we arrive at the park at 7:00am on a stunningly gorgeous day. We headed to Logan Pass and Hidden Lake Road hoping to find White-tailed Ptarmigan in the alpine meadows like we did last year. But how different a year is!

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White-tailed Ptarmigan skulking in wildflowers along the Hidden Lake Trail, 2021.

The scene was drastically different from 2021. The snow cover in 2022 had only recently melted and alpine vegetation was barely visible. See the contrast for yourself.

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August 8, 2022 – Hidden Lake Trail, same elevation as photo below, but looking south
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August 16, 2021 – Wildflower-lined Hidden Lake Road looking north

We searched for ptarmigan on the alpine benches until our eyes were blurry, but there was no vegetation to hold the birds. And then we saw something unexpected and very exciting: some small, finch-like birds fluttering on the face of the cliff. I took a closer look at the work area and I literally said “Grey-crowned Rose Finch!” I said. Although I had seen this species in large, migratory wintering flocks in Idaho, this was my first sighting of Gray Crowned Grays in their breeding habitat.

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Grey-crowned Rose-Finches on nesting cliffs. (enlarge)

We estimated that there were ~20-30 birds (adults and juveniles) in the colony, but it could easily have been more. Adults and juveniles were busy foraging in the snowfields and bare ground, but I observed the adults still feeding their young.

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A newly hatched Rosy-Finch takes a bite from her parents. (enlarge)

I wondered why I didn’t see Rose-Finches at this site in 2021, but then remembered that there were no snowfields during my visit. Pink-Finches need areas of snow that trap wind-blown seeds and the insects they feed on. It is easy to understand how sensitive this species is to a hot climate.

A few more photos of this delicately beautiful finch.

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Adult Grey-crowned Rose-Finch. Notice that very few plant shoots are visible. (enlarge)
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Juvenile Grey-crowned Rose-finch (zoom)
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Male and female Grey-crowned Rose-Finches look similar, but females have less extensive pink. (enlarge)
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Is it a coincidence that the “pink” on this finch matches the “pink” on the rocks perfectly? (enlarge)

We also had a good look at several American Pipits, another alpine breeding songbird, which nests on the ground in the meadows and meadows. scree fields. Like the Pink-Finch, I consider them an elegantly expressed species. I also love their plaintive calls, very similar to Horned Larks.

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American Pipit foraging in a snow field. (enlarge)

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American Pipits nest in alpine meadows and Arctic tundra. (enlarge)
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American Pipits have a long hind toe (hallux) and toenail (they belong to the longspur family). This adaptation can give them extra stability when walking and foraging in snowy, muddy terrain. Gotta love those feathery wing feathers. (enlarge)

I had planned to go higher up on the trail to see the Mountain Goat, but was turned back by the “Grizzly Bear Danger” warning signs ahead. It happened. I saw some goats in the distance….if you squint into the snowy fields.

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Mountain Goats about a mile away (zoom in)

On another trail near Logan Pass I encountered more Bighorn Sheep.

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Bachelor group of senior rams (zoom)
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Bachelor group of little rams

Although plant phenology was late in 2021, there were still some beautiful wildflowers making the most of the short growing season. These were taken along the Hidden Lake Trail.

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Rose Paintbrush (Castilleja rhexifolia)
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Pink Mountain Heath (Phyllodoce empetriformis)
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American bistort (Bistorta bistortoides)
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West Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja occidentalis)
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Lewis Monkeyflower (Mimulus lewisii)
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Bear grass (Xerophyllum tenax)
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White Sweetvetch (Hedysarum sulphurescens)

On our way back down Going-to-the-Sun Road, we stopped at Haystack Creek Falls to see if the Black Swift nest we found last year was active. After an hour of eye strain, we finally found 2 nests with a chick in each. When the chicks finally move (swirling around is a better picture) – wow! they were almost oversized! How could we miss them? Because they are unbelievable it is camouflaged against the wet rock face.

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Haystack Creek Falls – powerful flow in early August. The Black Speed ​​nests are on the edge of the wet cliff in the right center of the picture. At high water, the nests were behind the falls.
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Black Swifts nest on a weir. Nests are cup nests of sphagnum moss and mud and can be reused in subsequent years. The black spot on top of each nest is a chick. (enlarge)

What a treat to be “high” all day at Glacier Nat’l Park! I hope to make another trip in the next month or two to see the fall colors. Thanks guys for diving into today’s bucket….

We’re in for a warm spell in the West with record high temperatures all week. Everyone stay cool and hydrated!

What is happening in nature around you today?

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