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