Bush-wacking Behind Jct ButteA Lot About Nothing
by Dan Hartman
April 18, 2014Thursday dawned a beautiful day and as Friday was to be raining I decided to get a hike in. This would be my first foray into the woods since I tore up my ankles last fall, so I was a little amprehensive. I had been walking around town every chance I got, but that really doesn't compare with bush-wacking.
I chose Jct Butte for my first walk because the ground was mostly free of snow. A coyote passed by the parking area. Bighorn browsed to my right. Bison grazed just ahead. Passing through an aspen grove, a flicker perched above a cavity. Generations of the big woodpeckers have been nesting here for at least thirty years. Entering the forest, I approached an old owl nest. It seemed abandoned but I climbed up and looked in the hollow. Empty.
I moved on through the douglas fir forest. Like usual I had forgotten my bear spray, but there wasn't any bear sign anyway. The game trail was muddy. The only tracks were of bison and elk. Eventually I emerged to look out on a vast sagebrush flat. Here I turned east and traveled on keeping the forest to my right. From a small rise I glassed the cliffs to the south. A golden eagle nest was located in a dead tree somewhere below the rim. I finally picked it out. Something white lay inside. Snow. It wasn't being used. As I circled a rocky mound, bluebird chirping sounded in front of me. A female perched atop a snag, the male just below. There were two cavities, one high, one low. I passed on by, then at about 40 yards I turned for another look. The male flew to the high cavity. My first bluebird nest!
I climbed down into a hollow dotted with aspens. No bird activity yet. From here a trough led on down to the Lamar River. A strange musty smell drifted out of the breeze. It would be from a marten or a weasel. I've never come across marten sign back here as this is an isolated timber stand. Weasel then. A townsend solitare called from the trees above. It's call is like the spaced whistle of a pygmy owl, only several octaves higher. Even though I haven't been in the woods for months, it's refreshing to find my senses still worked.
I finally reached a view of the river. On the far side to the north lay a rocky mountain slope. I sat down and glassed for bears. Nothing, but I did find a possible den site. Just below the dug out hole lay an elk jaw.
I couldn't walk up river because of the snow, so turned towards the confluence. A rock had been recently turned over. So there's at least one bear around. From an overlook, I could scan the valley below. Nothing. The ledge around me was littered with bighorn sheep droppings. A good place to pick up a tick! Below me trailed off bear tracks in the snow. Days old.
I was starting to feel strains on my ankle tendons, so I started back to my car. A red-tail hawk suddenly appeared, screaming at me. Looking up I quickly spotted the nest.
Well, I'll know tomorrow if my ankles are ready for bush-wacking or am I pushing it a bit.
It's now tomorrow. My feet are stiff but otherwise ready to go. How about that?
Lamar Behind Jct. Butte
Blue Bird Nest
Possible Den Site
Bear Tracks In The Snow