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Junction Butte Part One

Checking Nests and Things

by Dan Hartman
April 18, 2013

Tired of waiting for warm weather, I decided I would check out the country behind Junction Butte. Mostly I chose this spot because it was one of the few places I could traverse without wading through snow.
I quickly realized I should have worn gloves as the stiff breeze lowered the air temperature to the high teens. Bluebirds flitted about, but were not at their nesting cavities yet. The red-tailed hawk nest was empty, though I did spot them soaring overhead. I first checked the old great horned owl nest. Empty. It has been for years, but I check every spring anyway. Some year theyíll be back. Moving on through the trees, I was surprised how open it looks without growing grass. I walked slowly, inspecting the ground beneath the large trees for owl sign or bear beds.
Eventually I reached the back side of the Butte. Up in the sheer cliffs, in a dead tree is a golden eagle nest. I glassed it carefully because itís hard to see in. Empty. Moving on, I came upon a frozen pond lined with mature aspens. Flickers complained as I passed by. Leaving the timber behind I found myself walking through sagebrush. I wanted to check on a den I stumbled across last spring. It appeared to be wolf but could have been used by bear. I finally found the hole. It hadnít been used.
From here I followed a grassy swale down to the river. I then climbed up into the cliffs keeping the water to my right. Here the wind blew cold. Snow still covered the ground. I found a couple of shed elk antlers, my first of the year. A golden eagle nest lay across the river. When I first found it years ago a black bear had been sleeping beneath it so I knew a den must be nearby. I couldnít find it that day, but now am approaching it from a different direction. The old nest came into view. Empty. But far below was a cave. Thereís the den I missed last time. I try to check this nest every spring and itís always empty although quite often there will be fresh pine boughs on the nest.
I moved farther down river. The wind picked up and a few snow flurries stung my face. Rocks fell to my left. Something was moving above me. For the first time I wished Iíd remembered my bear spray. I scanned the rocky slopes. Nothing. Maybe an elk or deer? I climbed on through the rocks, looking up every now and then. Finally I reached an open meadow and was able to leave the river canyon behind. Instantly it was warmer. I continued on to an overlook. I glassed for a while, but found only bison.
I started back towards my car finishing a large circle. Along the way I checked on a natural tank that holds water from a seep. Here nesting birds can come for water after all the little streams have dried up for the summer.
I crossed a small rise and suddenly had ten rams eyeing me. This didnít surprise me as I often run into sheep around the Butte. I circled them and was leaving the rocky area in favor of sage flats when a sound high above me made me stop. I glassed the rocky top to find two large rams. To my surprise, they were chasing each other around and displaying a posturing I usually only see in the fall rut. Suddenly, they ran downhill to disappear behind a large boulder. Wack! That hollow sound of horn on horn drifted down from the heights. I glanced at the other ten rams. Their heads were all up. Alert and watching.
Well, my nest and the den were empty, but the rams were cool. Surprisingly I didnít come across any

Photos

View slide show

Aspens

Empty Owl Nest

Empty Den (except for the weasel)

Shed Elk Antler

Eagle Nest (bear den below)

Natural Water Tank

Rams In The Trees




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