National Bison Range, Montana

 

Driving from Kalispell to National Bison Range

On our way from Kalispell and Whitefish to Missoula, we had to stop at the National Bison Range in Dixon, Montana. On our way there, we drove on a smaller road on the east side of the Flathead Lake.  Talk about beautiful views!  AND we drove through a bunch of cherry tree orchards!  I’ve seen “Flathead Cherry” jellies all over the place and we finally found where they come from.  Of course being winter the Cherry trees were dormant but I’d love to come back when they are blooming.  The drive from Flathead Lake to the Bison Range was full of wetlands and tons of ducks!  I wish we had stopped to take some pictures because they were in their beautiful breeding plumage.

National Bison Range Sign

The National Bison Range is a National Wildlife Refuge under the stewardship of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (federal government).  Historically, Bison were estimated to number between 30-60 million animals.  By the 1880’s there were about 100 bison left in North America.  The Range was established in 1908 by Theodore Roosevelt to provide a permanent home for some of the few remaining bison in United States.  The refuge includes over 18,000 acres of wildlife habitat and is home to around 350 bison.  The range and the bison are actively managed by US Fish and Wildlife staff.

I highly recommend bringing binoculars if you go to the National Bison Range.  While the animals are very well adjusted to humans, having binos will enhance your experience and bring you closer to the wildlife without disturbing them.  Note that people are not allowed to leave the tour loop or designated walking trails.  Learn more about the National Bison Range and the history of the Bison on their website.

Since we went to the National Bison Range in March which is during their “winter” season, only half of the auto tour loop was open but it was plenty and we spent a few hours seeing the sights.

Before we even got to the tour loop we came across were some white-tail and mule deer.  Once we started noticing them, they were everywhere!

National Bison Range Deer

National Bison Range Whitetail Deer

 

The tour loop ran along a ridge of a small mountain (I guess northerners would call it a hill?) which sloped up to our right.  Down slope to our left was a stream and wetlands, followed by beautiful farm land, and then gorgeous mountains in the distance.

 

National Bison Range Auto Tour Loop

National Bison Range Views

 

Soon enough, we spotted our first Bison along the stream!

National Bison Range Bison

 

We started seeing bison all along the lower slopes near the water!  In the picture below you can spot both deer and bison.

National Bison Range Views (2)

Each curve around the mountain brought a new surprise.  We spotted a single cow (female) elk…

National Bison Range Elk (2)

Little did we know that she was leading a herd! They quickly crossed the ridge and gave us some great views.National Bison Range Elk (3)

There were even a few spike bulls (young males) mixed in.  We learned that the big bulls (older males) stay up in the higher elevations as spring and summer approach.

National Bison Range Elk (4)

 

Pronghorn antelope were also lounging and feeding on some of the less steep ridges.

National Bison Range Pronghorn (2)

 

This buck (male) Pronghorn below gave us plenty of time to get some close-up pictures.  Pronghorn have such strange yet beautiful shapes to their face.

National Bison Range Pronghorn

National Bison Range Pronghorn (3)

The winter tour loop ended at a parking/viewing area.  There were a group of bison grazing in the distance so we took a few minutes to watch them through our binoculars and walk the dogs.  See those brown dots on the picture below?  Those are bison!

National Bison Range binocular viewing

A few of them were rubbing on this giant rock.  I’m sure dropping their winter coats gets a little itchy!

National Bison Range Bison rubbing

 

This big bull was sitting quietly watching over the herd.

National Bison Range bull bison

 

Bogie desperately wanted to go run but dogs aren’t allowed off leash on the Bison Range (for good reason!)

National Bison Range Bison Viewing

 

On our way back on the tour loop we thought we had seen everything there was to see.  Nope!  The elk herd that was on the steep slope had crossed the road and moved into the wetlands.

National Bison Range Elk (5)

 

One of my favorite things in the world: elk butt!

 

 

National Bison Range Elk butt

We also some some waterfowl including Canada geese feeding in the stream below the elk.

National Bison Range Canada Goose

And then we watched a funny interaction between 2 species of ducks.  First we spotted a beautiful Hooded Merganser drake (male) relaxing under a tree in the stream.  It wasn’t long before a pair of Mallards came swimming down stream.  I guess the Mallard drake (male) didn’t like the looks of the Merganser, so he chased him off!  I captured it in a few pictures below.

National Bison Range duck collage

Little Merganser didn’t stand a chance!

National Bison Range Hooded merganser and Mallard

 

The last species we saw was a Coyote, stalking the fields.  They blend in so well; if he wasn’t moving we never would’ve seen him.

National Bison Range Coyote

 

After the tour loop we stopped in at the Visitor’s Center, which is only open from 10am-2pm during the winter season.

National Bison Range visitor's center (6)

There was a giant full-body mount of a bison, along with a fresh elk shed, picked up that morning by a staff member!

National Bison Range Visitor's Center (3)

I loved this visual depiction of the historical number of Bison in North American compared to today’s Bison population.  The display really gives you an idea of how many Bison we’ve lost.  There are just a few “wild” herds left and even they are mostly within parks and wildlife refuges.

National Bison Range Visitor's Center (2) National Bison Range Visitor's Center

 

Just outside of the visitor’s center was a display holding elk sheds found on the Bison Range.  That’s a ton!  Each one weighs 20-40 pounds!

National Bison Range Visitor's Center (4)

 

We had such a great time in our few hours spent at the National Bison Range.  I would love to go back in the summer and fall to see how different everything looks and how different the wildlife behave.  This is a can’t-miss stop in Montana!

National Bison Range Visitor's Center (5)

 

 

 

 

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Getting Settled in Montana and Duck Hunting

I can’t believe we’ve lived here in Medicine Lake for one whole month already!  (I also can’t believe we are at the end of October already!).  I am in LOVE with our new house. It’s got a basement (I’ve never had a basement!), a huge master bath, new washer, dryer and dish washer, lots of big windows including big back bay window that the dogs love to look out of, and a really efficient geo-thermal central heater. Our front and back yard weren’t finished so there is just a sheet of hay woven into plastic mesh. We’re told we will get sod in the spring. The front of our house faces the lake and the back looks at a shelter belt of trees where we’ve seen pheasants, deer, and birds of prey taking refuge.When we got here the weather was beautiful.  Warm in the 70’s during the day, down in the 40’s at night.  But winter is quickly coming and we are expecting snow tomorrow!


The front of our house which faces the Lake.


The view from our front yard looking out over the Lake and the Refuge.


The view from our backyard looking at a small shelter-belt of trees.


Our master bathroom. I LOVE that tub!

Our first week was a bit boring.  Drew worked for 1 day and then got furloughed.  Our moving truck hadn’t arrived so we were sleeping on air mattresses and eating on paper plates. We couldn’t even drive around the refuge because it was closed!


Bogie didn’t mind the air mattress.

Finally at the end of our first week, our truck arrived!  No more eating dinner on an ice chest.  But more importantly, our hunting gear got here! One of the first things we did when we went into town was get our hunting licenses.  There is so much variety in the game here!  We weren’t eligible for a lot of the big game tags which sold out earlier in the year, but we did manage to buy 2 white-tailed doe deer tags which will fill our freezer nicely.


Montana hunting licenses.

Our second week was spent doing a little unpacking and a lot of hunting.  The open seasons for this week were duck and grouse so that’s what we chased!  Earlier in the week I drove to Williston, our closest “big city” (read: has a Walmart) to attend a job fair.  On the way home I spotted a tiny little pond that was full of ducks in some land that was open to hunting.  Since the refuge was closed, that was our first spot to try to duck hunt and it really paid off!


Our little honey hole.

That was the first time I successfully scouted a hunting spot so I was pretty happy about it 🙂  There were a lot of firsts this week:


Our first Montana hunt!


My first Gadwall.


My first teal (Green-winged).


Drew’s first Grouse (sharp-tailed)


Drew’s first Blue-winged Teal, in a mixed bag.


Drew’s first Canvasback

I’ve really had fun duck hunting these past few weeks. The ducks seem to come in waves and right now there aren’t many here. We are patiently waiting for the next group! They tell us it gets really good once the snow starts!

Quinta Mazatlan

Drew moved to the Rio Grande Valley in the summer of 2010 to accept a position with a national wildlife refuge.  We had just begun dating in May so it was pretty hard on me.  I drove 14 hours to visit him as often as possible.  One of those trips I left with some pretty new jewelry 🙂

We got married in May of 2011 and I moved down to Texas.

Thanks to a recommendation by Drew’s boss, I quickly found a job as a naturalist and supervisor at Quinta Mazatlan (QM).  Quinta means “country estate” and Mazatlan means “where the deer/antelope roam” and is also the name of a city in Mexico where the original builder of the estate loved to visit.


(front facade of the historic adobe home and “main house” at Quinta Mazatlan)

QM is currently a historic adobe home and 20-acre nature center featuring many gardens, native thornforest, and lots of programs for people to enjoy.  QM is also one of the 9 World Birding Centers that work together to promote eco-tourism and birding in the Rio Grande Valley.


(Green Jay- City of McAllen’s official bird – photo by John Brush)

We are under the stewardship of the City of McAllen therefore I have been an employee with the City for the past 2 years. We are also the host of the Valley’s biggest Earth Day Festival: Vida Verde (which means “live green”).

My job has included a bunch of different duties including website management, social media, program development and implementation, supervising staff, writing, public relations, and more.

I have LOVED working at Quinta Mazatlan. It’s a beautiful location in the heart of the city. Every morning I walk down Bougainvillea lane, say hello to the Eastern Screech Owl in the fallen palm, and make my way to my office in the Discovery Center.


(Eastern Screech Owl)


(Discovery Center at Quinta Mazatlan, and my office building)

The best part of this job has been working for and learning from my boss, our manager Colleen. Colleen is so inspired and she has such an incredible vision not only for Quinta Mazatlan for the the City itself. I often tell people there is no one else in the Valley that I would rather work for.


(QM board member, Jonathon Wood of the Raptor Project , and my boss Colleen)

I’ve learned SO MUCH during my time at Quinta Mazatlan. And I’ve enjoyed the beauty of our gardens, forest, and wildlife. Here are some other sights of QM:


(Texas Tortoise crossing the walkway)


(Strawberry Pitaya cactus in bloom in the Cactus Garden.  Photo by JAVIER AREVALO.)


(Red-bordered Pixie, City of McAllen official butterfly.  Photo by John Brush.)


(My favorite- Plain Chachalaca on the trails.)


(Blue Passionvine, a native vine and favorite of the Gulf Frittilary butterfly, has a beautiful bloom)


(Texas Spiny Lizard.  Photo by John Brush.)


(Buff-bellied Hummingbird)


(Bougainvillea- City of McAllen official flower)


(Red-shouldered Hawk juvie sitting over Ruby Pond.)


(The Forest Sculpture Trail features 25 life-size and larger-than-life bronze sculptures of animals native to South Texas.)

I am going to miss the people at QM most!  I’m very sad to leave my work family but excited to see where we go next.


(Sunset over Quinta Mazatlan)

So many people have asked us “So what’s Christine going to do” when we move? Short answer: I don’t know! When we get there, Drew will start right away in his new position. But as soon as possible (December? March?), they are going to send him to training which will take the better part of a year to complete, in a few different places around the country. We don’t know exactly how this will work for me. The first part of his training he has to stay on-site at the training facility and it’s a very intense program so I probably won’t get to stay with him. But his field trainings will be different. So my employment is wide open right now! Which is kind of a cool feeling. I started working when I was 16 and have had a job every since. This will be a new experience for me! We will see how long I will enjoying being a house wife before I go insane and have to find work, haha!

Move countdown: 10 days!!

RGV Bucket List: Wildlife

I’ve lived in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas for 2 years now. D moved here a year before me to take a refuge management job, and I followed right before we got married in 2011. We planned to stay here for 2-3 years, both of us working full time and building our savings. Now that time is coming to a close, as D has accepted a position in northern Montana! Yes, we are moving from one border to the other!
Mexico to Canada
We have a little over a month left in Texas and I’m contemplating all the things I wanted to do while we were here. I call it my RGV Bucket List. We also did lots of things we never expected we would be doing 3 years ago! Here I outline the Wildlife and Animals part of my RGV Bucketlist.

Birds!

Chachalaca Crossing

Chachalaca Mom and Chicks right out of the nest!

The first time I visited Santa Ana with D I took my picture next to a sign that said “Chachalaca Crossing.” I’d heard about these loud pheasant-like birds and couldn’t wait to see one. I didn’t seeing on that day, but I did end up working at a nature center where Chachalacas are encountered daily! In my first week, I watched a momma coral her two chicks that had just left the nest in a palm tree! I love these hilarious birds and their big personalities. One of my favorite moments was filling the suet feeders on a cold winter morning and feeding them suet right out of my hand.

Banded Great Kiskadee at work

Before I began working, I remember seeing a big yellow bird in our backyard while D was at work one day. I was amazed and had never seen anything like the Great Kiskadee. I pulled out my bird field guide and learned about this large flycatcher. Now I listen to their calls every day from my office window.

Green Jays on the Picnic Table at Laguna Atascosa

The Green Jay is the City Bird of McAllen. Pictures show it to be a brightly colored big bird and I assumed I would see them all the time, like Blue Jays back in the Southeast. Turns out, they are VERY well camouflaged and quite secretive. I’m still thrilled when I see a pair at our sunflower seed feeders. One of my favorite Valley birds.

Common Pauraque and it’s incredible camo

I had seen pictures of Common Pauraques on Birdchick’s blog. Well, she said the bird was in the picture, but I couldn’t really tell! Incredible leaf-litter camoflauge paired with the un-moving nature of this night-jar, I wasn’t sure I’d ever see one. But our groundskeeper always knew how to point them out and I eventually became quiet adept at finding them! I always love showing visitor’s this forest-floor bird because once you see it, you feel like you’ve been let in on a secret!

Green Parakeets on the Powerlines in McAllen

I had no idea there was such a large population of wild parakeets and parrots. I now know how to tell if its a grackle or a parakeet on the powerlines at dusk. There will always be a few parakeets upside down, and grackles never do that! I also enjoyed the parrots coming to Quinta this spring to feed on the Coral Beans early in the mornings. Both Red-crowned and Lilac-crowned visited us.

Lilac-crowned Parrot in a Coral Bean tree

Other species I love to see: Crested Caracaras, White-tailed Hawk, Eastern Screech Owls, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, and Groove-billed Ani’s!

Crested Caracara

Eastern Screech Owl at work

White-tailed Hawk stretching on a fence post

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks on a flat roof in Mission, TX

Groove-billed Ani’s

Nilgai and Deer!

Nilgai on GLO land at the mouth of the Arroyo Colorado river

When D first told me about Nilgai I didn’t understand. So it’s an antelope, as big as a horse, from India and Pakistan, just roaming free in a wildlife refuge? Now they are a regular part of our visits to Laguna Atascosa, and a regular meat in our freezer. Because nilgai are exotic, there is no closed season for hunting them. As long as you are in the right place, you can shoot them. When we were duck hunting, we always passed public land where nilgai roamed and subsequently we always had a rifle with us, just in case. This planning paid off when a friend of ours shot 2 nilgai in the middle of a duck hunt and has been sharing that meat with us since! If you’ve never had nilgai steaks, I highly reccommend them!

Escaped Fallow Deer

White-tailed Deer buck at El Canelo Ranch

Herps!

Texas Tortoise at Laguna Atascosa

I love most of the herptefauna down here too. The Texas Tortoise, a species of concern, is spotted regularly in wild places, munching on Prickly Pear Cactus fruit.

Holding an Indigo Snake I found at the McAllen Nature Center (currently closed)

The beautiful blue-black Indigo Snake (another species of concern) is a big strong snake that eats rattlesnakes, but is very docile when handling. And of course there are more dangerous herps here as I learned when a Black-striped Snake bit me and sent me to the ER for pain and swelling for 16 hours. This happened at work too, so that was some fun paperwork (/sarcasm).

American Alligator near a water trough at Laguna Atascosa

I ALWAYS love seeing American alligators!

Ranch Animals!
I’ve gotten to get up close and personal with lots of ranch animals. Ranching both cattle and white-tails is big down here. Here are some of my favorites…

Saying Hello to Longhorn cattle at Rancho Lomitas

Texas Longhorn at Rancho Lomitas in Rio Grande City

Feeding Bison at Rancho El Charco in La Joya

Wild-roaming Black Bucks at Rancho El Charco in La Joya

Gemsbok Oryx at Rancho El Charco in La Joya. She was not interested in my apple.

Bottle-feeding White-tailed Deer fawns at El Canelo Ranch

Surprises!

“Playing” with Dolphins in the Intercoastal Channel in the Lower Laguna Madre

Every time we go fishing or duck hunting from the Arroyo Colorado, we see dolphins using the deep channels! One of our first times out, they came right up to our boat!

Assisting with a White-tailed Deer artificial insemination program at El Canelo Ranc

We also got the opportunity to assist with a White-tailed Deer artificial insemination at El Canelo. Fascinating!

Holding a Cannonball Jelly in the Lower Laguna Madre

Another surprise was holding canonball jellyfish! They don’t sting the same way the beach jellies do, and they rarely harm humans. We were wade-fishing one day and they were swimming around us, so we took some pictures!

Red-tailed Hawk ,Raptor Banding in the RGV with Bill Clark

We got a special invitation to help out with Raptor Banding in the sugar cane fields on the border. This was such a thrill! We watched as the expert took measurements and attached bands to hawks he caught using a field trap. Then Mr. Clark let us hold the raptor and release it! This was a once-in-a-lifetiem experience for sure and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. (Mr. Clark is actually doing a Raptor Banding Field Trip as a part of the RGV Birding Festival this November if you are interested in being able to do this!)

I would still like to get a better look and even photograph Javelina. I saw one from the road one morning on our way to duck hunting, so I’m counting it, but I’d like to see them closer. Other than that, my RGV animal bucket list is pretty much complete!

Roadrunner at Laguna Atascosa