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Bush-wacking Behind Jct Butte

A Lot About Nothing
by Dan Hartman

April 18, 2014

     Thursday 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?


View slide show

Lamar Behind Jct. Butte


Blue Bird Nest

The Trough

Flipped Rock

Possible Den Site

Bear Tracks In The Snow

Red-tailed Hawk